It is great with sadness that the Green European Journal learnt of the death of Bruno Latour on the morning of October 9th. The French philosopher was and no doubt will remain one of the most influential thinkers of political ecology in recent years.

Green parties emerged in the 1970s and 1980s as the main institutional manifestation of political ecology. Having determined that ecology was political, their descent into the institutions was a logical next step. Green politics challenged the existing compass of European social democracies from the outset.

Unlike the socialist tradition, they were not convinced that we should treat the world as a resource to be seized. Unleashing and harnessing the forces of production was no answer humanity’s problems faced with mounting environmental degradation. Unlike conservatives, they saw many of society’s institutions as more in need of upheaval than preservation. Struggling to place themselves politically, some reached for the fairly vapid slogan “not left, not right, but forward”. For Bruno Latour, this was a third misstep.

Latour, particularly in his later work, grappled intensely with the question of what ecology means for politics. In Down to Earth, he called for society to overcome its doomed effort to cleave itself from the earth, reading political convulsions from Trump to Brexit as signs of the yearning for an ejector seat in the era and indeed condition he dubbed the “New Climatic Regime”. In this call for us to come “down to earth”, to “land”, he pointed to how green parties could land also.

For Latour, rather than being awkward guests at a stranger’s party, the Greens (as well as the climate deniers of course) had recognised early that politics always had been about ecology. But not convinced that even they had realised what their politics were really about, he pushed the Greens to overcome the gulf between their globalist pleas for an abstract planet and the Blood and Soil siren song of their reactionary opponents. The challenge for the Greens – the force that should aspire to lead the “new ecological class” he referred to his last major work – was to map and understand the new terrain of struggle, today at once social and environmental, so as to finally base their politics on representing people living in places and the things on which they depend.

In the pages of Le Grand Continent¸ Bruno Latour’s final writings crystallised his reflections on Europe’s place in the New Climatic Regime. At once a territorial war and a climate war, the Russian invasion of Ukraine had painfully demonstrated that Europe’s struggles to find its feet amid ecological conflict are in fact the moment when Europe, and Europe as a people and place rather than institutions, are finally taking form.

Bruno Latour’s influence reaches far beyond politics, extending across science, philosophy and the arts. A train of thought that is never easy to follow, reading his work requires navigating contradictions, traps, and exclamations. At times infuriating, it is always worthwhile. For political ecology, it will remain an enduring, much appreciated guide for the difficult years ahead.

 This selection of articles explores his legacy and vital contributions to political ecologist thought in Europe.

Articles in this focus

Bringing Europe Down to Earth

Bruno Latour emphasises the need for a politics of the living moving from this European-invented space to the tangible space that he calls “dwelling place”.

Read more
Climate Changes Politics

For the French philosopher, climate has become a defining question in politics today, shaping worldviews across the spectrum of left and right.

Read more
On the Love and Rage of Extinction Rebellion

How can Extinction Rebellion move from insurrection to renewal?

Read more
Threads of Political Ecology: A Review

A selection mapping some of the major currents that have shaped political ecology in recent years and which continue to do so.

Read more
Imagining a Virtuous Break with the Modern Age

Abundance and Freedom by Pierre Charbonnier is an environmental history of ideas that links changing patterns in land use to political thought as it developed in the modern era.

Read more
To Save the Planet, Forget about the Globe

To achieve true environmental justice, we need to rethink our relationship with the planet and those we share it with.

Read more

Cookies on our website allow us to deliver better content by enhancing our understanding of what pages are visited. Data from cookies is stored anonymously and only shared with analytics partners in an anonymised form.

Find out more about our use of cookies in our privacy policy.