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Goethe occupies a prominent but conflicted position within recent discussions of global inequalities embedded into the notion of “world literature.” Scholars have also debated Goethe’s environmental thought. Some critics describe him as a progressive environmental thinker, while others paint him as a staunch conservative resistant to changing views of nature. The present study claims that merging these two fields yields a better understanding of both political power and environmental change in Goethe’s writings. Drawing on theories of world literature, postcolonial studies, and environmental humanities, the present essay argues that Goethe’s texts display ambivalence with regards to both political power and environmental change. The argument is developed, in dialogue with past environmental interpretations of Goethe’s work, through an analysis of Die Wahlverwandtschaften. The essay proposes that Die Wahlverwandtschaften can serve as a key text for understanding the tensions in Goethe’s relations to environment, world literature, and political power.