The Failure of Lifestyle Environmentalism and the Promise of the Green New Deal for Working-Class People


  • Karen Bell
  • Gnisha Bevan



Environmental justice, environmental inequity, policy justice, sustainability, climate change, Green New Deal


There is an urgent need to address a range of environmental issues, including climate change, but the policies enacted to date have usually done nothing to address class inequities and have often led to increased working-class disadvantage. The causes of the climate and other environmental crises have often been located in problematic individual lifestyles, with little recognition of the time, economic and health constraints that make it difficult for working-class people to adopt green lifestyles. The Green New Deal (GND) presented an alternative policy paradigm that argued for environmental policies that, rather than increasing the pressure on disadvantaged groups, would have co-benefits for working-class people, low-income groups and communities of colour. However, the policy did not lead to electoral success for the political leaders that proposed it, in the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), due to opposition representations of it as costly and threatening to working-class jobs. We interviewed 40 working-class people in the UK to find out how much they knew about the Green New Deal, what they thought about it as an environmental policy and how they felt about environmentalism, more generally. Our research indicates that there was a general lack of knowledge about GND, but great enthusiasm about it once explained, albeit with reservations about its implementation and limitations. The GND has huge potential to benefit the lives of working-class people but, we conclude, more, and better, outreach is needed for people to understand its potential to improve their lives.