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The Ultimate Challenge: Nationalism and Climate Change

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2020

Daniele Conversi*
Department of Contemporary History, University of the Basque Country, UPV/EHU, Leioa, Spain; Ikerbasque, Basque Foundation for Science, Bilbao, Spain
*Corresponding author. Email:,


Climate change has rapidly expanded as a key topic of research across disciplines, but it has remained virtually untouched in nationalism studies. Climate change is a boundless, uncontainable phenomenon that ignores class, geographic, and ethnonational boundaries. As such, it can hardly be comprehended within the limits of a nationalist world vision. This article reassesses this intuition by focusing on the situational and adaptive plasticity of nationalism, characterized by its notorious Janus-faced adaptability. I first identify and address a methodological stumbling block that precludes scholars in some areas of the humanities and social sciences—specifically nationalism studies—from conceptualizing and grappling with this unfolding reality. Second, I advance a typology that can work as a conceptual grid for studying similar problems that emerge at the intersection of environmental politics, climate change, and nationalism studies. I suggest two ways in which the nation and national narratives have been and are being mobilized to make sense of, contrast, reject, and incorporate new life-changing trends. I identify these, respectively, under the umbrella terms resource nationalism and green nationalism. I conclude by emphasizing the continuing relevance of nationalism in plans for ongoing global energy transitions.

State of the Field
© Association for the Study of Nationalities 2020

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