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Impossible Sustainability and the Post-political Condition



A great variety of examples of calamities and disasters all testify to the blurring of boundaries between the human and the artificial, the technological and the natural, the non-human and the cyborg-human; they certainly also suggest that there are all manner of Natures out there. While some of the examples promise ’sustainable’ forms of development, others seem to stray further away from what might be labelled as sustainable. Sustainable processes are sought for around the world and solutions for our precarious environmental condition are feverishly developed. So, while one sort of sustainability seems to be predicated upon feverishly developing new Natures (like artificial meat, cloned stem cells or manufactured clean water), forcing Nature to act in a way we deem sustainable or socially necessary, the other type is predicated upon limiting or redressing our intervention in Nature, returning it to a presumably more benign condition, so that human and non-human sustainability in the medium- and long-term can be assured. Despite the apparent contradictions of these two ways of ’becoming sustainable’, they share the same basic vision that techno-natural and socio-metabolic interventions are urgently needed if we wish to secure the survival of the planet and much of what it contains. The examples suggest that we urgently need to interpolate our understandings of Nature, revisit what we mean by Nature, and, what we assume Nature to be.
Impossible “Sustainability” and the Post-Political Condition
Erik Swyngedouw
Department of Geography, School of Environment and Development, Manchester
University, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
In: David Gibbs and Rob Krueger (Eds.) The Sustainable Development Paradox, Guilford
Press, New York (2007), pp. 13-40.
“Well, my dear Adeimantus, what is the nature of tyranny? It’s
obvious, I suppose, that it arises out of democracy” (Plato, The
“Barbarism or Socialism” (K. Marx)
“Kyoto or the Apocalypse” (Green saying)
This chapter seeks to destabilise some of the most persistent myths about nature,
sustainability and environmental politics. First, I shall argue that there is no such thing as a
singular Nature around which a policy of ‘sustainability’ can be constructed. Rather, there are
a multitude of natures and a multitude of existing or possible socio-natural relations. Second,
the obsession with a singular nature that requires ‘sustaining’ is sustained by an apocalyptic
imaginary that forecloses asking serious political questions about possible socio-
environmental trajectories, particularly in the context of a neo-liberal hegemony. Third, and
most importantly, I shall argue that environmental issues and their political ‘framing’
contribute to the making and consolidation of a post-political and post-democratic condition,
one that actually forecloses the possibility of a real politics of the environment. I conclude
with a call of a politicization of the environment, one that is predicated upon the recognition
of radically different possible socio-environmental futures and the proliferation of new socio-
environmental imaginaries.
1. The Question of Natures
“Nature does not exist” … or …When vegetarians will eat meat!
The Guardian International reported recently (13th August 2005) how a University of
Maryland scientist had succeeded in producing “cultured meat”. Soon, he said, “it will be
possible to substitute reared beef or chicken with artificially grown meat tissue. It will not be
any longer necessary to kill an animal in order to get access to its meat. We can just rear it in
industrialised labs”. A magical solution, so it seems, that might tempt vegetarians to return to
the flock of animal protein devotees, while promising yet again (after the failed earlier
promises made by the pundits of pesticides, the green revolution and now genetic engineering
and GM products) the final solution for world hunger and a more sustainable life for the
millions of people who go hungry now. Meanwhile, NASA is spending circa US$ 40 million
a year on how to recycle wastewater and return it to potable conditions, something that would
of course be necessary to permit space missions of long duration, but which would be of
significant importance on earth as well. At the same time, sophisticated new technologies are
developed for sustainable water harvesting, for a more rational use of water, or a better
recycling of residual waters, efforts defended on the basis of the need to reach the Millennium
Development Goals that promise, among others, a reduction by half of the 2.5 billion people
that do not have adequate access to safe water and sanitation.
In the mean time, other ‘natures’ keep wrecking havoc around the world. The Tsunami
disaster comes readily to mind, as do the endless forest fires that blazed through Spain in the
summer of 2005 during the country’s driest summer since records started, killing dozens of
people and scorching the land; HIV continues its genocidal march through Sub-Saharan
Africa, summer heat waves killed thousands of people prematurely in 2004 in France. In
2006, Europeans watched anxiously the nomadic wanderings of the avian flue virus and
waits, almost stoically, for the moment it will pass more easily from birds to humans. While
all this is going on, South Korea’s leading bio-tech scientist, Hwang Woo Suk proudly
presented, in August 2005, the Seoul National University Puppy (SNUPPY) to the global
press as the first cloned dog (a Labrador) while a few months later, in December 2005, this
science hero was forced to withdraw a paper on human stem cells from Science after
accusations of intellectual fraud (later confirmed, prompting his resignation and wounding
South-Korea’s great biotech dream). In the UK, male life expectancy between the ‘best’ and
‘worst’ areas is now more than 11 years and the gap is widening with life expectancy actually
falling (for the first time since the second world war) in some areas1. Tuberculosis is endemic
again in East London, obesity is rapidly becoming the most seriously lethal socio-ecological
condition in our fat cities (Marvin and Medd, 2006), and, as the ultimate cynical gesture,
nuclear energy is again celebrated and iconized by many elites, among whom Tony Blair, as
the world’s saviour, the ultimate response to the climatic calamities promised by continuing
carbon accumulation in our atmosphere while satisfying our insatiable taste for energy.
This great variety of examples all testify to the blurring of boundaries between the human and
the artificial, the technological and the natural, the non-human and the cyborg-human; they
certainly also suggest that there are all manner of ‘natures’ out there. While some of the above
examples promise ‘sustainable’ forms of development, others seem to stray further away from
what might be labelled as sustainable. At first glance, Frankenstein meat, cyborg waters and
stem cell research are exemplary cases of possibly ‘sustainable’ ways of dealing with
apparently important socio-environmental problems while solving significant social problems
(animal ethics and food supply on the one hand, dwindling freshwater resources or
unsustainable body metabolisms on the other). Sustainable processes are sought for around
the world and solutions for our precarious environmental condition are feverishly developed.
Sustainability, so it seems, is in the making, even for vegetarians.
Meanwhile, as some of the other examples attest, socio-environmental processes keep on
wrecking havoc in many places around the world. ‘Responsible’ scientists, environmentalists
of a variety of ideological stripes and colours, together with a growing number of world
leaders and politicians, keep on spreading apocalyptic and dystopian messages about the clear
and present danger of pending environmental catastrophes that will be unleashed if we refrain
from immediate and determined action. Particularly the threat of global warming is framed in
apocalyptic terms if the atmospheric accumulation of CO2 (which is of course the classic ‘side
effect’ of the accumulation of capital in the troposphere) continues unheeded. Table 1 collects
a sample of some of the most graphic recent doomsday media headlines on the theme. The
world as we know it will come to a premature end (or be seriously mangled) unless we
urgently reverse, stop, or at least slow down global warming and return the climate to its
status quo ante. Political and regulatory technologies (such as the Kyoto Protocol) and CO2
reducing techno-machinery (like hybrid cars) are developed that would, so the hope goes, stop
the threatening evolution and return the earth’s temperature to its benevolent earlier condition.
From this perspective, sustainability is predicated upon a return, if we can, to a perceived
global climatologic equilibrium situation that would permit a sustainable continuation of the
present world’s way of life.
Insert Table 1 about here
So, while one sort of sustainability seems to be predicated upon feverishly developing new
natures (like artificial meat, cloned stem cells, or manufactured clean water), forcing nature to
act in a way we deem sustainable or socially necessary, the other type is predicated upon
limiting or redressing our intervention in nature, returning it to a presumably more benign
condition, so that human and non-human sustainability in the medium and long term can be
assured. Despite the apparent contradictions of these two ways of ‘becoming sustainable’ (one
predicated upon preserving nature’s status quo, the other predicated upon producing new
natures), they share the same basic vision that techno-natural and socio-metabolic
interventions are urgently needed if we wish to secure the survival of the planet and much of
what it contains. But these examples also show that ‘nature’ is not always what it seems to
be. Frankenstein meat, dirty water, bird - flue virus symbiosis, stem cells, fat bodies, heat
waves, tsunamis, hurricanes, genetic diversity, CO2, to name just a few, are radically different
things, expressing radically different natures, pushing in radically different directions, with
radically different consequences and outcomes, and with radically different human/non-
human connectivities. If anything, before we can even begin to unpack ‘sustainability’, the
above examples certainly suggest that we urgently need to interpolate our understandings of
‘nature’, revisit what we mean by nature, and, what we assume ‘nature’ to be.
Surrendering Nature – Indeterminate natures
Slavoj Žižek suggests in Looking Awry that the current ecological crisis is indeed a radical
condition that not only constitutes a real and present danger, but, equally importantly,
“questions our most unquestionable presuppositions, the very horizon of our meaning, our
everyday understanding of ‘nature’ as a regular, rhythmic process” (Zizek, (1992) 2002: 34).
It raises serious questions about what were long considered self-evident certainties. He argues
that this fundamental threat to our deepest convictions of what we always thought we knew
for certain about nature is co-constitutive of our general unwillingness to take the ecological
crisis completely serious. It is this destabilising effect that explains “the fact that the typical,
predominant reaction to it still consists in a variation of the famous disavowal, “I know very
well (that things are deadly serious, that what is at stake is our very survival), but just the
same I don’t really believe, … and that is why I continue to act as if ecology is of no lasting
consequence for my everyday life” (page 35). The same unwillingness to question our very
assumptions about what nature is (and even more so what natures might ‘become’) also leads
to the typical obsessive reactions of those who DO take the ecological crisis seriously. Žižek
considers both the case of the environmental activist, who in his or her relentless and
obsessive activism to achieve a transformation of society in more ecologically sustainable
ways expresses a fear that to stop acting would lead to catastrophic consequences. In his
words, obsessive acting becomes a tactic to stave off the ultimate catastrophe, i.e. “if I stop
doing what I am doing, the world will come to an end in an ecological Armageddon”. Others,
of course, see all manner of transcendental signs in the ‘revenge of nature’, read it as a
message that signals our destructive intervention in nature and urge us to change our
relationship with nature. In other words, we have to listen to nature’s call, as expressed by the
pending environmental catastrophe, and respond to its message that pleas for a more benign,
associational relation with nature, a post-human affective connectivity, as a cosmopolitical
“partner in dialogue”. While the first attitude radically ignores the reality of possible
ecological disaster, the other two, which are usually associated with actors defending
‘sustainable’ solutions for our current predicament, are equally problematic in that they both
ignore, or are blind to the inseparable gap between our symbolic representation (our
understanding) of Nature and the actual acting of a wide range of radically different and, often
contingent, natures. In other words, there is – of necessity – an unbridgeable gap, a void,
between our dominant view of Nature (as a predictable and determined set of processes that
tends towards a (dynamic) equilibrium – but one that is disturbed by our human actions and
can be ‘rectified’ with proper sustainable practices) and the acting of natures as an (often)
unpredictable, differentiated, incoherent, open-ended, complex, chaotic (although by no
means unordered or un-patterned) set of processes. The latter implies the existence not only of
many natures, but, more importantly, it also assumes the possibility of all sorts of possible
future natures, all manner of imaginable different human-non human assemblages and
articulations, and all kinds of different possible socio-environmental becomings.
The inability to take ‘natures’ seriously is dramatically illustrated by the controversy over the
degree to which disturbing environmental change is actually taking place and the risks or
dangers associated with it. Lomborg’s The Sceptical Environmentalist captures one side of
this controversy in all its phantasmagorical perversity (Lomborg, 1998), while climate change
doomsday pundits represent the other. Both sides of the debate argue from an imaginary
position of the presumed existence of a dynamic balance and equilibrium, the point of ‘good’
nature, but one side claims that the world is veering off the correct path, while the other side
(Lomborg and other sceptics) argues that we are still pretty much on nature’s course. With our
gaze firmly fixed on capturing an imaginary ‘idealised’ Nature, the controversy further
solidifies our conviction of the possibility of a harmonious, balanced, and fundamentally
benign ONE Nature if we would just get our interaction with it right, an argument blindly
(and stubbornly) fixed on the question of where Nature’s rightful point of benign existence
resides. This futile debate, circling around an assumedly centred, known, and singular Nature,
certainly permits -- in fact invites -- imagining ecological catastrophe at some distant point
(global burning (or freezing) through climate change, resource depletion, death by
overpopulation). Indeed, imagining catastrophe and fantasising about the final ecological
Armageddon seems considerably easier for most environmentalists than envisaging relatively
small changes in the socio-political and cultural-economic organisation of local and global
life here and now. Or put differently, the world’s premature ending in a climatic Armageddon
seems easier to imagine (and sell to the public) than a transformation of (or end to) the neo-
liberal capitalist order that keeps on practicing expanding energy use and widening and
deepening its ecological footprint.
It is this sort of considerations that led Slavoj Žižek controversially to state that “nature does
not exist”. Of course, he does not imply that there are no such ‘things’ as quarks or other
subatomic particles, black holes, tsunamis, sunshine, trees, or HIV viruses. Even less would
he decry the radical effects of CO2 and other greenhouse gases on the climate or the lethal
consequences of water contamination for the world’s poor. On the contrary, they are very
real, many posing serious environmental problems, occasionally threatening entire
populations (AIDS, for example), but he insists that the Nature we see and work with is
necessarily radically imagined, scripted, symbolically charged; and is radically distant from
the natures that are there, which are complex, chaotic, often unpredictable, often radically
contingent, risky, patterned in endlessly complex ways, ordered along ‘strange’ attractors. In
other words, there is no balanced, dynamic equilibrium based nature out there that needs or
requires salvation in name of either Nature itself or of an equally imagined universal human
survival. ‘Nature’ simply does not exist. There is nothing foundational in nature that needs,
demands, or requires sustaining. The debate and controversies over nature and what do with
it, in contrast, signals rather our political inability to engage in directly political and social
argument and strategies about re-arranging the social co-ordinates of everyday life and the
arrangements of socio-metabolic organisation (something usually called capitalism) that we
inhabit. In order words, imagining a benign and ‘sustainable’ Nature avoids asking the
politically sensitive, but vital, question as to what kind of socio-environmental arrangements
do we wish to produce, how can this be achieved, and what sort of natures do we wish to
2. What is Environment: Impossible Sustainability?/Undesirable Sustainability?
Desiring (un)sustainability
So, if ‘Nature’ does not exist, what, then, to say about sustainability, a concept (and
associated set of fuzzy practices) that is deeply indebted and intensely connected to the
particular imaginations of Nature suggested above. Since its early definition in the Brundtland
report of 1987, the concept (but not much of the practice) of ‘sustainability’ has really taken
off. A cursory glance at both popular and academic publications will quickly assemble a
whole array of ‘sustainabilities’: sustainable environments, sustainable development,
sustainable growth, sustainable wetlands, sustainable bodies, sustainable companies,
sustainable processes, sustainable incomes, sustainable cities, sustainable technologies,
sustainable water provision, even sustainable poverty, sustainable accumulation, sustainable
markets, and sustainable loss. I have not been able to find a single source that is against
‘sustainability’. Greenpeace is in favour, George Bush Jr. and Sr. are, the World Bank and its
chairman (a prime war monger in Iraq) are, the pope is, my son Arno is, the rubber tappers in
the Brazilian Amazon are, Bill Gates is, the labour unions are. All are presumably concerned
about the long-term socio-environmental survival of (parts of) humanity; most just keep on
doing business as usual. The clear and present danger posed by the environmental question is
obviously not dramatic enough to be taken seriously in terms of embarking on a different
socio-environmental trajectory. That is left to do some other time and certainly not before the
day after tomorrow. Of course, this cacophony of voices and imaginations also points to the
inability to agree on the meaning or, better, to the lack of a singular ‘Nature’. There are
obviously multiple imaginations that mobilise or appropriate sustainability as radically and
truthfully theirs, based on equally imaginative variations of what constitutes ‘Nature’.
Environmentalists (whether activists or scientists) invariably invoke the global physical
processes that threaten our existence, and insist on the need to re-engineer nature, so that it
can return to a ‘sustainable’ path. Armed with their charts, formulas, models, numbers, and
grant applications, to which activists usually add the inevitable pictures of scorched land,
factories or cars emitting carbon fumes, dying animals and plants, suffering humans,
apocalyptic rhetoric, and calls for subsidies and financial support, scientists, activists, and all
manner of assorted other human and non-human actants enter the domain of the social, the
public, and, most importantly, the political. Thus “natures” enter the political. A particular
and symbolically enshrined nature enters the parliament of politics, but does so in a
duplicitous manner. It is a treacherously deceitful Nature that enters politics, one that is
packaged, numbered, calculated, coded, modelled, represented by those who claim to possess,
know, understand, speak for the “real Nature”. In other words, what enters the domain of
politics is the coded and symbolised versions of nature mobilised by scientists, activists,
industrialists and the like. This is particularly evident in examples such as the debate over
GMOs, global climate change, BSE, biodiversity loss, and other equally pressing issues.
Invariably, the acting of Nature -- as scripted by the bearers of nature’s knowledge – enters
the political machinery as coded language that also already posits its political and social
solution and does not tolerate, in the name of Nature, dissent other than that framed by its
own formulations. It is in this sense of course that the argument about climate change is
exclusively formulated in terms of believers and non-believers, as a quasi-religious faith, but
the weapons of the struggle in this case are matters of fact like data, models, and physico-
chemical analysis. And the solutions to the question of sustainability are already pre-figured
by the way in which nature is made to speak. Creeping increases in long term global
temperatures, which will cause untold suffering and damage, are caused by CO2 output.
Hence, the solution to future climate ills resides in cutting back on CO2 emissions.
Notwithstanding the validity of the role of CO2 in co-constituting the process of climate
change, the problematic of the future calamities the world faces is posited primarily in terms
of the physical acting of one of nature’s components, CO2 as is its solution found in bringing
CO2 within our symbolic (socio-economic) order, futilely attempted with the Kyoto
agreement or other neo-liberal market-based mechanisms. Questioning the politics of climate
change in itself is already seen as an act of treachery, as an unlawful activity, banned by
‘Nature’ itself.
Undesirable sustainability: Environmental Politics as Post-politics
Although there may be no Nature, there certainly is a politics of nature or a politics of the
environment. The collages of apparently contradictory and overlapping vignettes of the
environmental conditions outlined above share one common threat that many of us, Bush and
Blair, my son and Greenpeace, Oxfam and the World Bank, agree on. The world is in
environmental trouble. And we need to act politically now.
Both the 2004 Tsunami and New Orleans’s Katrina brought the politicisation of Nature home
with a vengeance. Although the Tsunami had everything to do with the earth’s geodetic acting
out and with the powerless of South East Asia drowning in its consequences and absolutely
nothing with climate change or other environmentally degrading practices, the Tsunami
calamity was and continues to be staged as a socio-environmental catastrophe, another
assertion of the urgent need to revert to more ‘sustainable’ socio-environmental practices.
New Orleans’ socio-environmental disaster was of a different kind. While there may be a
connection between the number and intensity of hurricanes and climate change, that of course
does account neither for the dramatic destructions of poor people’s lives in the city nor for the
plainly blatant racist spectacles that were fed into the media on a daily basis in the aftermath
of the hurricane’s rampage through the city. The imaginary staged in the aftermath of the
socio-environmental catastrophe of New Orleans singled out disempowered African
Americans twice, first as victims, then as criminals. Even the New York Times conceded that
80% of the reported ‘crimes’ taking place in unruly and disintegrating New Orleans in the
aftermath of the hurricane’s devastations were based on rumour and innuendo. A perverse
example of how liberal humanitarian concern is saturated with racialised coding and moral
disgust with the poorest and most excluded parts of society. Of course, after the poor were
hurricaned out of New Orleans, the wrecked city is rapidly turning into a fairy-tale
playground for urban developers and city boosters who will make sure, this time around, that
New Orleans will be rebuilt in their image of a sustainable capitalist city: green, white, rich,
conservative, and neo-liberal (Davis, 2006).
The popular response to Katrina, the barrage of apocalyptic warnings of the pending
catastrophes wrecked by climate change and the need to take urgent remedial action to
engineer a retro-fitted ‘balanced’ climate are perfect examples of the tactics and
configurations associated with the present post-political condition, primarily in the US and
Europe. Indeed, a politics of sustainability, predicated upon a radically conservative and
reactionary view of a singular – and ontologically stable and harmonious – Nature is
necessarily one that eradicates or evacuates the ‘political’ from debates over what to do with
natures. The key political question is one that centres on the question of what kind of natures
we which to inhabit, what kinds of natures we which to preserve, to make, or, if need be, to
wipe off the surface of the planet (like the HIV virus, for example), and on how to get there.
The fantasy of ‘sustainability’ imagines the possibility of an originally fundamentally
harmonious Nature, one that is now out-of-synch but, which, if ‘properly’ managed, we can
and have to return to by means of a series of technological, managerial, and organisational
fixes. As suggested above, many, from different social, cultural, and philosophical
positionalities, agree with this dictum. Disagreement is allowed, but only with respect to the
choice of technologies, the mix of organisational fixes, the detail of the managerial
adjustments, and the urgency of their timing and implementation. Nature’s apocalyptic future,
if unheeded, symbolises and nurtures the solidification of the post-political condition. And the
excavation and critical assessment of this post-political condition nurtured and embodied by
most of current Western socio-environmental politics is what we shall turn to next.
3. The Post-Political Post-Democratic Condition: Evacuating Socio-Environmental
Post-Political !?
Slavoj Žižek and Chantal Mouffe, among others, define the post-political as a political
formation that actually forecloses the political, that prevents the politicization of particulars
(Žižek 1999a: 35; 2006; Mouffe, 2005). A situation or an event becomes “‘political when a
particular demand (cutting greenhouse gases, stopping the exploitation of a particular resource
and so on) starts to function as a metaphoric condensation of the global opposition against
Them, those in power, so that the protest is no longer just about that demand, but about the
universal dimension that resonates in that particular demand. …. What post-politics tends to
prevent is precisely this metaphoric universalization of particular demands: post-politics
mobilizes the vast apparatus of experts, social workers, and so on, to reduce the overall
demand (complaint) of a particular group to just this demand, with its particular content – no
wonder that this suffocating closure gives birth to ‘irrational’ outbursts of violence as the only
way to give expression to the dimension beyond particularity” (Žižek 1999b: 204). In Europe
and the US, in particular, such post-political arrangements are largely in place. Post-politics
reject ideological divisions and the explicit universalisation of particular political demands.
Instead, the post-political condition is one in which a consensus has been built around the
inevitability of neo-liberal capitalism as an economic system, parliamentary democracy as the
political ideal, humanitarianism and inclusive cosmopolitanism as a moral foundation. As
Žižek (1999b: 198) puts it:
“In post-politics, the conflict of global ideological visions embodied in different
parties which compete for power is replaced by the collaboration of enlightened
technocrats (economists, public opinion specialists, …) and liberal multiculturalists;
via the process of negotiation of interests, a compromise is reached in the guise of a
more or less universal consensus. Post-politics thus emphasizes the need to leave old
ideological visions behind and confront new issues, armed with the necessary expert
knowledge and free deliberation that takes people’s concrete needs and demands into
Post-politics is thus about the administration of social or ecological matters, and they remain
of course fully within the realm of the possible, of existing socio-ecological relations. “The
ultimate sign of post-politics in all Western countries”, Žižek (2002: 303) argues, “is the
growth of a managerial approach to government: government is reconceived as a managerial
function, deprived of its proper political dimension”. Post-politics refuses politicisation in the
classical Greek sense, that is, as the metaphorical universalization of particular demands,
which aims at “more” than negotiation of interests:
“[T]he political act (intervention) proper is not simply something that works well
within the framework of existing relations, but something that changes the very
framework that determines how things work …. [A]uthentic politics … is the art of the
impossible – it changes the very parameters of what is considered ‘possible’ in the
existing constellation (emphasis in original)” (Žižek, 1999b: 199)
A genuine politics, therefore, is “the moment in which a particular demand is not simply part
of the negotiation of interests but aims at something more, and starts to function as the
metaphoric condensation of the global restructuring of the entire socials space” (Žižek 1999b:
208). It is about the recognition of conflict as constitutive of the social condition, and the
naming of the socio-ecological spaces that can become. The political becomes for Žižek and
Rancière the space of litigation (Žižek, 1998), the space for those who are not-All, who are
uncounted and unnamed, not part of the ‘police’ (symbolic or state) order. A true political
space is always a space of contestation for those who have no name or no place. As Diken and
Laustsen (2004: 9) put it: “Politics in this sense is the ability to debate, question and renew the
fundament on which political struggle unfolds, the ability to radically criticise a given order
and to fight for a new and better one. In a nutshell, then, politics necessitates accepting
conflict”. A radical-progressive position “should insist on the unconditional primacy of the
inherent antagonism as constitutive of the political”. (Žižek 1999a: 29).
Post-political parliamentary rule, in contrast, permits the politicization of everything and
anything, but only in a non-committal way and as non-conflict. Absolute and irreversible
choices are kept away; politics becomes something one can do without making decisions that
divide and separate (Thomson, 2003). A consensual post-politics arises thus, one that either
eliminates fundamental conflict (i.e. we all agree that climate change is a real problem that
requires urgent attention) or elevates it to antithetical ultra-politics. Those who deny the
realities of a dangerous climate change are blinded radicals that put themselves outside the
legitimate social (symbolic) order. The same ‘fundamentalist’ label is of course also put on
those who argue that dealing with climate change requires a fundamental reorganisation of the
hegemonic neo-liberal-capitalist order. The consensual times we are currently living in have
thus eliminated a genuine political space of disagreement. However, consensus does not equal
peace or absence of fundamental conflict (Rancière, 2005a: 8). Under a post-political
condition, “[e]verything is politicised, can be discussed, but only in a non-committal way and
as a non-conflict. Absolute and irreversible choices are kept away; politics becomes
something one can do without making decisions that divide and separate. When pluralism
becomes an end in itself, real politics is pushed to other arenas” (Diken and Laustsen, 2004:
7), in the present case to street rebellion and protest, and terrorist tactics (cfr animal lib
movement in the UK).
Difficulties and problems, such as environmental concerns that are generally staged and
accepted as problematic need to be dealt with through compromise, managerial and technical
arrangement, and the production of consensus. “Consensus means that whatever your
personal commitments, interests and values may be, you perceive the same things, you give
them the same name. But there is no contest on what appears, on what is given in a situation
and as a situation” (Rancière, 2003; §4). The key feature of consensus is “the annulment of
dissensus ….. the ‘end of politics’” (Rancière, 2001; §32). The most utopian alternative to
capitalism left to our disposal is to develop post-political alternatives to creating a more just
and sustainable society, since it would not make any economic sense not to do so. Of course,
this post-political world eludes choice and freedom (other than those tolerated by the
consensus). And in the absence of real politicization of particulars, the only position of real
dissent is that of either the traditionalist (those stuck in the past who refuse to accept the
inevitability of the new global neo-liberal order) or the fundamentalist. The only way to deal
with them is by sheer violence, by suspending their ‘humanitarian’ and ‘democratic’ rights.
The post-political relies on either including all in a consensual pluralist order and on
excluding radically those who posit themselves outside the consensus. For them, as Agamben
(20005) argues, the law is suspended; they are literally put outside the law and treated as
extremists and terrorists.
The environment and debates over the environment and nature are not only perfect
expressions of such a post-political order, but in fact, the mobilisation of environmental issues
is one of the key arenas through which this post-political consensus becomes constructed,
when “politics proper is progressively replaced by expert social administration” (Žižek, 2005:
117). The fact that Bush does not want to play ball on the climate change theme is indeed
seen by both the political elites in Europe and by the environmentalists as a serious threat to
the post-political consensus. That is why both political elites and opposition groups label him
as a radical conservative. Bill Clinton, of course, embodied the post-political consensus in a
much more sophisticated and articulated manner, not to speak of his unfortunate successor, Al
Gore, who recently resurfaced as a newborn climate change warrior (The Independent, 22
May 2006).
The post-political environmental consensus, therefore, is one that is radically reactionary, one
that forestalls the articulation of divergent, conflicting, and alternative trajectories of future
socio-environmental possibilities and of human-human and human-nature articulations and
assemblages. It holds on to a harmonious view of nature that can be recaptured while re-
producing if not solidifying a liberal-capitalist order for which there seems to be no
alternative. Much of the sustainability argument has evacuated the politics of the possible, the
radical contestation of alternative future socio-environmental possibilities and socio-natural
arrangements, and silences the radical antagonisms and conflicts that are constitutive of our
socio-natural orders by externalising conflict. In climate change, for example, the conflict is
posed as one of society versus CO2. In fact, the sustainable future desired by ‘sustainablity’
pundits has no name. While alternative futures in the past were named and counted (for
example, communism, socialism, anarchism, libertarianism, liberalism), the desired
sustainable environmental future has no name and no process, only a state or condition. This
is as exemplified by the following apocalyptic warning in which the celebrated quote from
Marx’s Communist Manifesto and its invocation of the ‘the spectre of communism that is
haunting the world’ (once the celebrated name of hope for liberation) is replaced by the
spectre of Armageddon:
“A specter is haunting the entire world: but it is not that of communism. ….. Climate
change - no more, no less than nature’s payback for what we are doing to our precious
planet - is day by day now revealing itself. Not only in a welter of devastating
scientific data and analysis but in the repeated extreme weather conditions to which
we are all, directly or indirectly, regular observers, and, increasingly, victims”
(Levene, 2005).
Climate Change is of course not a politics, let only a political programme or socio-
environmental project; it is pure negation, the negativity of the political; one we can all
concur with, around which a consensus can be built, but which eludes conflict, evacuates the
very political moment. By doing so, it does not translate Marx’s dictum for the contemporary
period, but turns it into its radical travesty.
From the Post-Political to Post-Democracy
There is of course a close relationship between the post-political condition and the
functioning of the political system. In particular, the post-political threatens the very
foundation upon which a democratic polity rests. Indeed. French philosopher Jacques
Rancière defines this kind of consensual post-politics as harbouring a ‘post-democracy’,
rather than seeing it as forming a deepened democracy:
“Postdemocracy is the government practice and conceptual legitimation of a
democracy after the demos, a democracy that has eliminated the appearance,
miscount, and dispute of the people and is thereby reducible to the sole interplay of
state mechanisms and combinations … It is the practice and theory of what is
appropriate with no gap left between the forms of the State and the state of social
relations” (Rancière, 1995: 142-153; also in Mouffe, 2005: 29).
In this post-democratic post-political era, in contrast, adversarial politics (of the left/right
variety or of radically divergent struggles over imagining socio-environmental futures for
example) are considered hopelessly out of date. Although disagreement and debate are of
course still possible, they operate within an overall model of consensus and agreement
(Crouch, 2004). There is indeed, in the domain of environmental policies and politics, a
widespread consensus that Nature and The Environment need to be taken seriously, and that
appropriate managerial-technological apparatuses can and should be negotiated to avoid
imminent environmental catastrophe. At the same time, of course, there is hegemonic
consensus that no alternative to liberal-global hegemony is possible.
This post-political frame is of course politically correlative to the theoretical argument,
advanced most coherently by sociologists like Ulrich Beck or Anthony Giddens. They argue
that adversarial politics organised around collective identities that were shaped by the internal
relations of class-based capitalism are replaced by an increasingly individualised, fragmented,
‘reflexive’ series of social conditions. For Beck, for example, “simple modernization
ultimately situates the motor of social change in categories of instrumental rationality
(reflection), ‘reflexive’ modernization conceptualizes the motive power of social change in
categories of the side-effect (reflexivity). Things at first unseen and unreflected, but
externalized, add up to structural rupture that separates industrial from “new modernities” in
the present and the future” (Beck 1997: 38). From this perspective, “the distinction between
danger (characteristic of pre-modern and modern societies) and risk (the central aspect of late
modern risk society) refers to technological change. However, the transition from danger to
risk can be related to the … process of the weakening of the state. In risk society what is
missing is an authority that can symbolise what goes wrong. Risk is, in other words, the
danger that cannot be symbolised” (Diken and Laustsen (2004: 11; see also Žižek 1999b: 322-
347); that what has no name. Politicisation, then, is to make things enter the parliament of
politics (see Latour, 2004), but the post-democratic condition does so in a consensual
conversation in tune with the post-political evacuation of real antagonism. The environmental
apocalypse in the making puts the state on the spot (cfr. BSE, avian flue, climate change), yet
exposes the impotence of the state to ‘solve’ or ‘divert’ the risk, and undermines the citizens’
sense of security guaranteed by the state.
It is these ‘side-effects’ identified by Ulrich Beck (such as, for example, the accumulation of
CO2) that are becoming the key arenas around which political configuration and action
crystallise, and of course, (global) environmental problems are the classic example of such
effects, unwittingly produced by modernization itself, but now requiring second ‘reflexive’
modernization to deal with. The old left/right collective politics that were allegedly generated
from within the social relations that constituted modernity are no longer, if they ever were,
valid or performative. This, of course, also means that the traditional theatres of politics (state,
parliament, parties, etc…) are not any longer the exclusive terrain of the political: “the
political constellation of industrial society is becoming unpolitical, while what was unpolitical
in industrialism is becoming politicals” (Beck, 1994: 18). It is exactly the side-effects (the
risks) of modernising globalisation that need management, that require politicization. A new
form of politics (what Rancière, Žižek, and Mouffe exactly define as post-politics) thus arises,
what Beck calls sub-politics:
“’Sub-politics’ is distinguished from ‘politics’ in that (a) agents outside the political or
corporatist system are allowed also to appear on the stage of social design (this group
includes professional and occupational groups, the technical intelligentsia in
companies, research institutions and management, skilled workers, citizens’
initiatives, the public sphere and so on), and (b) not only social and collective agents
but individuals as well compete with the latter and each other for the emerging power
to shape politics” (Beck, 1994: 22).
Chantal Mouffe (2005: 40-41) summarizes Beck’s prophetic vision of a new democracy as
“In a risk society, which has become aware of the possibility of an ecological crisis, a
series of issues which were previously considered of a private character, such as those
concerning the lifestyle and diet, have left the realm of the intimate and the private and
have become politicized. The relation of the individual to nature is typical of this
transformation since it is now inescapably interconnected with a multiplicity of global
forces from which it is impossible to escape. Moreover, technological progress and
scientific development in the field of medicine and genetic engineering are now
forcing people to make decisions in the field of ‘body politics’ hitherto unimaginable.
…. What is needed is the creation of forums where a consensus could be built between
the experts, the politicians, the industrialists and citizens on ways of establishing
possible forms of co-operation among them. This would require the transformation of
expert systems into democratic public spheres”.
This post-political constitution, which we have elsewhere defined as new forms of autocratic
governance-beyond-the-state (Swyngedouw 2005), reconfigures the act of governing to a
stakeholder based arrangement of governance in which the traditional state forms (national,
regional, or local government) partakes together with experts, NGOs, and other ‘responsible’
partners (see Crouch, 2004). Not only is the political arena evacuated from radical dissent,
critique, and fundamental conflict, but the parameters of democratic governing itself are being
shifted, announcing new forms of governmentality, in which traditional disciplinary society is
transfigured into a society of control through disembedded networks (like ‘the Kyoto
Protocol’; ‘the Dublin Statement’, the ‘Rio Summit’, etc….). These new global forms of
‘governance’ are expressive of the post-political configuration (Mouffe, 2005: 103):
“Governance entails an explicit reference to ‘mechanisms’ or ‘organized’ and
coordinated activities’ appropriate to the solution of some specific problems. Unlike
government, governance refers to ‘policies’ rather than ‘politics’ because it is not a
binding decision-making structure. Its recipients are not ‘the people’ as collective
political subject, but ‘the population’ that can be affected by global issues such as the
environment, migration, or the use of natural resources” (Urbinati, 2003: 80).
Anthony Giddens (1991; 1994; 1998) has also been a key intellectual interlocutor of this post-
political consensus. He argues that globalised modernity has brought in its wake all manner of
uncertainties as a result of human’s proliferating interventions in nature and in social life,
resulting in an explosive growth of all sorts of environmental and life-related issues. The
ensuing “life politics is about the challenges that face collective humanity” (Giddens, 1994:
10). What is required now, in a context of greater uncertainty but also with enhanced
individual autonomy to make choices, is to generate active ‘trust’ achieved through a
‘dialogic democracy’. Such ‘dialogic’ mode is exactly the consensual politics Jacques defines
as post-democratic (Rancière, 1995; 2005b). As Chantal Mouffe (2005: 45) maintains,
“[a]ctive trust implies a reflexive engagement of lay people with expert systems instead of
their reliance on expert authority”. Bruno Latour, in his politics of nature, of course equally
calls for such new truly democratic cosmo-political constitution through which both human
and non-human actants enter in a new public sphere, where matters of fact are turned into
matters of concern, articulated and brought together through heterogeneous and flat networks
of related and relationally constituted human/non-human assemblages (Latour, 2004; 2005).
Nothing is fixed, sure, or given, everything continuously in doubt, negotiated, brought into the
political field. Political space is not a contingent space where that what has no name is
brought into the discussion, is give a name, and is counted, but rather things and people are
‘hailed’ to become part of the consensual dialogue, of the dialogic community. The question
remains of course of ‘who does what sort of hailing’. Thinking about true and false, doubt and
certainty, right or wrong, friend or foe, would no longer be possible, the advent of a truly
cosmopolitan order in a truly cosmopolitical (Stengers, 2003) constitution looms around the
corner as the genuine possibility in the new modernity.
In the domain of the environment, climate change, biodiversity preservation, sustainable
socio-technical environmental entanglements and the like exemplify the emergence of this
new post-political configuration: they are an unexpected and unplanned by-product of
modernization, they affect the way we do things, and, in turn, a new politics emerges to deal
with them. This liberal cosmpolitical ‘inclusive’ politics suggested by Beck and his fellow-
travellers as a radical answer to unbridled and unchecked neo-liberal capitalist globalisation,
of course, is predicated upon three assumptions:
a) The social and ecological problems caused by modernity/capitalism are external
side-effects; they are not an inherent and integral part of the de-territorialised and
re-territorialised relations of global neo-liberal capitalism. That is why we speak of
the excluded or the poor, and not about social power relations that produce wealth
and poverty, or empowerment and disempowerment. A strictly populist politics
emerges here; one that elevates the interest of ‘the people’, ‘nature’, or ‘the
environment’ to the level of the universal rather than aspiring to universalise the
claims of particular natures, environments, or social groups or classes.
b) These side-effects are posited as global, universal, and threatening: they are a total
threat, of apocalyptic nightmarish proportions.
c) The ‘enemy’ or the target of concern is thereby of course continuously
externalised. The ‘enemy’ is always vague, ambiguous, and ultimately vacant,
empty and unnamed (CO2, gene pools, desertification, etc…). They can be
managed through a consensual dialogical politics. Demands become depoliticised
or rather radical politics is not about demands but about things.
4. Environmental Populism versus a Politics of the Environment
The Post-Political condition articulates, therefore, with a populist political tactic as the
conduit to instigate ‘desirable’ change. Environmental politics and debates over ‘sustainable’
futures in the face of pending environmental catastrophe are a prime expression of the
populist ploy of the post-political post-democratic condition. In this part, we shall chart the
characteristics of populism (see, among others, Canovan (1999); Laclau (2005); Mouffe
(2005); Žižek (2005) and how this is reflected in mainstream environmental concerns.
First, populism invokes ‘THE’ Environment and ‘THE’ people if not Humanity as whole in a
material and philosophical manner. All people are affected by environmental problems and
the whole of humanity (as well as large parts of the non-human) is under threat from
environmental catastrophes. At the same time, the environment is running wild, veering off
the path of (sustainable) control. As such, populism cuts across the idiosyncrasies of different
human and non-human ‘natures’ and their specific ‘acting outs’, silences ideological and
other constitutive social differences and papers over conflicts of interests by distilling a
common threat or challenge to both Nature and Humanity.
Second, populism is based on a politics of ‘the people know best’ (although the latter category
remains often empty, unnamed), supported by an assumedly neutral scientific technocracy,
and advocates a direct relationship between people and political participation. It is assumed
that this will lead to a good, if not optimal, solution, a view strangely at odds with the
presumed radical openness, uncertainty and undecidability of the excessive risks associated
with Beck’s or Giddens’ second modernity. The architecture of populist governing takes the
form of stakeholder participation or forms of participatory governance that operates beyond-
the-state and permits a form of self-management, self-organisation, and controlled self-
disciplining (see Dean, 1999; Swyngedouw, 2005; Lemke, 1999; Crouch, 2004), under the
aegis of a non-disputed liberal-capitalist order.
Third, populism customarily invokes the spectre of annihilating apocalyptic futures if no
direct and immediate action is taken. The classic racist invocation of Enoch Powell’s
notorious 1968 ‘Streams of Blood’ speech to warn of the immanent dangers of unchecked
immigration into the UK has of course become the emblematic populist statement as are many
of the slogans assembled in Table 1. If we refrain from acting (in a technocratic-managerial
manner now), our world’s future is in grave danger.
Fourth, populist tactics do not identify a privileged subject of change (like the proletariat for
Marx, women for feminists, or the ‘creative class’ for competitive capitalism), but instead
invoke a common condition or predicament, the need for common humanity-wide action,
mutual collaboration and co-operation. There are no internal social tensions or internal
generative conflicts. Instead the enemy is always externalised and objectified. Populism’s
fundamental fantasy is of an Intruder, or more usually a group of intruders, who have
corrupted the system. CO2 stands here as the classic example of a fetishised and externalised
foe that requires dealing with if sustainable climate futures are to be attained. Problems
therefore are not the result of the ‘system’, of unevenly distributed power relations, of the
networks of control and influence, of rampant injustices, or of a fatal flow inscribed in the
system, but are blamed on an outsider. That is why the solution can be found in dealing with
the ‘pathological’ phenomenon, the resolution for which resides in the system itself. It is not
the system that is the problem, but its pathological syndrome (for which the cure is internal).
While CO2 is externalised as the socio-climatic enemy, a potential cure in the guise of the
Kyoto principles is generated from within the market functioning of the system itself. The
‘enemy’ is, therefore, always vague, ambiguous, socially empty or vacuous, and homogenised
(like ‘CO2 ’); the ‘enemy’ is a mere thing, not socially embodied, named, and counted.
Fifth, populist demands are always addressed to the elites. Populism as a project always
addressed demands to the ruling elites; it is not about changing the elites, but calling the elites
to undertake action. A non-populist politics is exactly about obliterating the elite, imagining
the impossible nicely formulated in the following joke: “An IRA man in a balaclava is at the
gates of heaven when St Peter comes to him and says, 'I'm afraid I can't let you in'. 'Who
wants to get in?' the IRA man retorts. 'You've got twenty minutes to get the fuck out.'”
Sixth, no proper names are assigned to a post-political populist politics (Badiou, 2005a). Post-
political populism is associated with a politics of not naming in the sense of giving a definite
or proper name to its domain or field of action. Only vague concepts like climate change
policy, biodiversity policy or a vacuous sustainable policy replaces the proper names of
politics. These proper names, according to Rancière (1995) (see also Badiou (2005b)) are
what constitutes a genuine democracy, that is a space where the unnamed, the uncounted, and,
consequently, un-symbolised become named and counted. Consider, for example, how class
struggle in the 19th and 20th century was exactly about naming the proletariat, its counting,
symbolisation and consequent entry into the techno-machinery of the state.
Seventh, populism becomes expressed in particular demands (get rid of immigrants, reduce
CO2) that remain particular and foreclose universalisation as a positive socio-environmental
project. In other words, the environmental problem does not posit a positive and named socio-
environmental situation, an embodied vision, a desire that awaits its realisation, a fiction to be
realised. In that sense, populist tactics do not solve problems, they are moved around.
Consider, for example, the current argument over how the nuclear option is again portrayed as
a possible sustainable energy future and as an alternative to deal both with CO2 emissions and
peakoil. It hardly arouses the passions for what sort of better society might arise from this.
In sum, post-political post-democracy rests, in its environmental guise, on the following
foundations. First, the social and ecological problems caused by modernity/capitalism are
external side-effects; they are not an inherent and integral part of the relations of gobal neo-
liberal capitalism. Second, a strictly populist politics emerges here; one that elevates the
interest of an imaginary ‘the People’, ‘Nature’, or ‘the environment’ to the level of the
universal rather than aspiring to universalise the claims of particular socio-natures,
environments, or social groups or classes. Third, these side-effects are constituted as global,
universal, and threatening: they are a total threat. Fourth, the ‘enemy’ or the target of concern
is thereby of course continuously externalised and disembodied. The ‘enemy’ is always
vague, ambiguous, unnamed and uncounted, and ultimately empty. Fifth, the target of concern
can be managed through a consensual dialogical politics and, consequently, demands become
5. Producing New Environments: A Politics of Socio-Natures
A true politics for Jacques Rancière (but also for others like Badiou, Žižek, or Mouffe) is a
democratic political community, conceived as:
“A community of interruptions, fractures, irregular and local, through with egalitarian
logic comes and divides the police community from itself. It is a community of worlds
in community that are intervals of subjectification: intervals constructed between
identities, between spaces and places. Political being-together is a being-between:
between identities, between worlds …. Between several names, several identities,
several statuses” (Rancière, 1998: 137-138).
Ranciere’s notion of the political is characterised in terms of division, conflict, and polemic
(Valentine, 2005: 46). Therefore, “democracy always works against the pacification of social
disruption, against the management of consensus and ‘stability’ …. The concern of
democracy is not with the formulation of agreement or the preservation of order but with the
invention of new and hitherto unauthorised modes of disaggregation, disagreement and
disorder” (Hallward, 2005: 34-35). The politics of sustainability and the environment,
therefore, in their populist post-political guise are the antithesis of democracy, and contribute
to a further hollowing out of what for Rancière and others constitute the very horizon of
democracy as a radically heterogeneous and conflicting one.
Therefore, as Badiou (2005a) argues, a new radical politics must revolve around the
construction of great new fictions that create real possibilities for constructing different socio-
environmental futures. To the extent that the current post-political condition, which combines
apocalyptic environmental visions with a hegemonic neoliberal view of social ordering,
constitutes one particular fiction (one that in fact forecloses dissent, conflict, and the
possibility of a different future), there is an urgent need for different stories and fictions that
can be mobilised for realisation. This requires foregrounding and naming different socio-
environmental futures, making the new and impossible enter the realm of politics and of
democracy, and recognizing conflict, difference, and struggle over the naming and trajectories
of these futures. Socio-environmental conflict, therefore, should not be subsumed under the
homogenizing mantle of a populist environmentalist-sustainability discourse, but should be
legitimised as constitutive of a democratic order.
In the final paragraphs of this chapter, I shall outline what constitutes for me, the key drivers
of conflict and where the possibilities for different fictions, and consequently new
environmental futures, might tentatively reside.
Processes of socio-physical entanglement (what Marx called metabolic circulation) transform
both social and physical environments and produce specific, differentiated and unique social
and physical milieus with new and distinct qualities (Swyngedouw, 2006). In other words,
environments are combined socio-physical constructions that are actively (both by humans
and non-humans) and historically produced, both in terms of social content and physical-
environmental qualities. Whether we consider the making urban parks, natural reserves, or
skyscrapers, they each contain and express fused socio-physical processes that contain and
embody particular metabolic and social relations (see Heynen, Kaika, and Swyngedouw,
2006). There is, in this sense, no single Nature, no One-All, but rather a great variety of
distinct and often radically different (if not antagonistic) natures. There is nothing a-priory
unnatural or unsustainable, therefore, about produced environments like cities, genetically
modified organisms, dammed rivers, or irrigated fields. The world is a Cyborg world, part
natural part social, part technical part cultural, but with no clear boundaries, centres, or
margins. The type and character of physical and environmental change, and the resulting
socio-environmental flows, networks and practices are not independent from the specific
historical social, cultural, political, or economic conditions and the institutions that
accompany them. All socio-spatial processes are invariably also predicated upon the
circulation and metabolism of physical, chemical, or biological components. Non-humans of
course play an active role in mobilizing socio-natural circulatory and metabolic processes. It
is these circulatory conduits that link often distant places and ecosystems together and permit
relating local processes with wider socio-metabolic flows, networks, configurations, and
dynamics. These socio-environmental metabolisms produce a series of both enabling and
disabling socio-environmental conditions. Of course, such produced milieus often embody
contradictory or conflicting tendencies. While environmental (both social and physical)
qualities may be enhanced in some places and for some humans and non-humans, they often
lead to a deterioration of social, physical, and/or ecological conditions and qualities
elsewhere. Processes of metabolic change are, therefore, never socially or ecologically
neutral. This results in conditions under which particular trajectories of socio-environmental
change undermine the stability or coherence of some social groups, places or ecologies, while
their sustainability elsewhere might be enhanced. Social power relations (whether material or
discursive, economic, political, and/or cultural) through which metabolic circulatory
processes take place are particularly important. It is these power geometries, the human and
non-human actors, and the socio-natural networks carrying them that ultimately decide who
will have access to or control over, and who will be excluded from access to or control over,
resources or other components of the environment and who or what will be positively or
negatively enrolled in such metabolic imbroglios. These power geometries, in turn, shape the
particular social and political configurations and the environments in which we live. Henri
Lefebvre’s ‘Right to the City’ also invariably implies a ‘Right to Metabolism’.
Questions of socio-environmental sustainability are fundamentally political questions
revolving around attempts to tease out who (or what) gains from and who pays for, who
benefits from and who suffers (and in what ways) from particular processes of metabolic
circulatory change. Such politicisation seeks answers to questions about what or who needs to
be sustained and how this can be maintained or achieved. This includes naming socio-
environmental trajectories, enrolling them in a political process that is radically differentiated
and oppositional. Clearly, Bush’s notion of and desire for sustainability is not that of a
Chinese peasant, a maquiladora woman worker or a Greenpeace activist. It is important to
unravel the nature of the social relationships that unfold between individuals and social
groups and how these, in turn, are mediated by and structured through processes of socio-
ecological change. In other words, environmental transformation is not independent from
class, gender, ethnic, or other power struggles. Socio-ecological ‘sustainability’ can only be
achieved by means of a democratically (in the sense of a genuine political space) organised
process of socio-environmental (re)-construction. The political program is to enhance the
democratic content of socio-environmental construction by means of identifying the strategies
through which a more equitable distribution of social power and a democratically more
genuine mode of the production of natures can be achieved.
A radical socio-environmental political programme, therefore, has to crystallise around
imagining new ways to organise processes of socio-metabolic transformation. This requires
first of all a radical re-politicisation of the ‘economic’ as it is exactly the latter that structures
socio-metabolic processes. But this is predicated upon traversing the fantasy that the
‘economic’ is the determining instance of the political. Recapturing the political mains
foregrounding the political arena as the decisive material and symbolic space, as the space
from which different socio-environmental futures can be imagined, fought over, and
constructed. This, of course, turns the question of sustainability radically to a question of
democracy and the recuperation of the horizon of democracy as the terrain for the cultivation
of conflict and the naming of different socio-environmental futures.
Table 1. The Desire of the Apocalypse – Recent media headlines
“Global Warming and Ozone Loss: Apocalypse Soon”
“Sea levels likely to rise much faster than was predicted”
“Global warming is causing the Greenland ice cap to disintegrate far faster than anyone
“Global warming 30 times quicker than it used to be”
“Climate change: On the edge” (all quotes above from The Independent, 17/02/06)
“WATER WARS” (Independent, 28/02/06)
“The Four Horsemen of Industrial Society: War, Over-Population, Climate Change &
Peak Oil” (Published on 12 Jan 2006 by Energy Bulletin)
“Pentagon warns Bush of apocalyptic climate change by 2020”
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... The Western development model is understood here as an oxymoron (Latouche, 2009); a toxic term to be deconstructed and rejected (Dearden, 2014). In a post-political condition, (Swyngedouw, 2007) pluriversal alternatives affirm dissidence to re-politicise socio-ecological transformation. In short, it is urgent to dissolve the productivist concept of progress as a unidirectional concept, most especially its mechanistic view of economic growth (Kallis, 2015). ...
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This chapter lays out both the critique of the oxymoron sustainable development as well as the potential and nuances of a post-development agenda. Post-development is generally meant as an era or approach in which development would no longer be the central organizing principle of social life. We highlight the contribution by Joan Martinez Alier with an ecological critique to development and his work on the global movement for environmental justice to show that activists should be considered as theory and knowledge producers in their own right. We then propose to deepen and widen a research, dialogue and action agenda for activists, policy makers and scholars on a variety of worldviews and practices relating to our collective search for an ecologically wise and socially just world. This could be one base in the search for alternatives to United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in an attempt to truly ‘transforming the world’. In fact, it is an agenda towards the pluriverse: ‘a world where many worlds fit’, as the Zapatista say.
... Both concepts have been criticized for their vagueness and lack of precision as well as for their catchword character (see Hollands 2008Hollands , 2014Swyngedouw 2010). Indeed, the sustainable and the smart cities aim at no less than a "better" life in the city of tomorrow. ...
Both the smart and the sustainable cities represent a positive vision of future urban development. This chapter analyzes and discusses definitions and notions of both concepts, as well as their emergence, establishment, and development. Both concepts share similarities, such as the far-reaching and integrative claim to bring positive change to cities or the notion to operationalize the terms sustainable and smart by defining subcategories. However, the differences between both concepts far outweigh the similarities. Indeed, sustainability and the sustainable city, on the one hand, and the smart city, on the other hand, are distinctly different in terms of their development history, the main driving forces behind, and the theoretical scope. The understanding of (urban) sustainability was strongly influenced and brought forward by the ideas and commitments of intellectuals, leading politicians, and environmental movements, whereas multinational technology companies mainly coined the development of the smart city concept. Besides, the significantly more comprehensively defined term sustainability had a consistent underlying idea from the beginning onward, whereas the smart city concept still lacks terminological and content-related clarity as well as a generally accepted definition.
... Bunun yanı sıra bu kavram, eski ideolojik vizyonları geride bırakma ve yeni sorunlarla yüzleşme, gerekli uzman bilgisi ve insanların somut ihtiyaçlarını ve taleplerini hesaba katan özgür müzakere sürecini ifade eder. Ayrıca post politik parlamenter kural, taahhütsüz ve çatışmasız bir şekilde her şeyin siyasallaşmasına izin verir(Swyngedouw, 2010). Post politika tartışmayı kışkırtma, direniş ve vatandaşlık fikirlerini yeniden canlandırma yeteneğidir. ...
There is now no doubt thatTerritorial Agenda the twenty-first century is being defined by the ecologicalEcologicaland climate crisisClimate Crisis. This is not only manifesting in increasingly severe periodic weather disasters but also pernicious creeping trends which are having profound and uneven implications on the EU territory. The latest IPCC reports are unambiguous in their warnings that the climate crisisClimate Crisis is progressing at a pace much faster than feared and there remains only a brief window to secure a liveable future. While the EU has been to the fore at an international level in setting ambitious targets and policies, and in showing global leadership, the rhetoric continues not to be matched by action on the ground which corresponds to the scale and urgency of the task at hand. Indeed, much of the language of cohesion policy continues the incremental ecologicalEcological modernisation technocracy of the past which has failed to deliver the rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented systemic changes in all aspects of society required to avert the worst consequences of global heating, many of which are now irreversible. Despite soothing sustainability discourses, the exit from fossil fuels and adaptationAdaptation to a warming world will not be a smooth process and is likely to result in increasingly variegated spatial inequalitiesInequalities and instabilities, severely testing EU political solidarity as it is buffeted by an unfamiliar, complex array of endogenous and exogenous risks. Applying a critical political-economy perspective, this chapter will unpack the immanent contradictions ensconced within cohesion policy which, it will be argued, perpetuates the status quo and prohibits it from making meaningful contribution to rapidly addressing the environmental problematiqueEnvironmental Problematique, and presents the case for why a radical epistemological and ontological shift from a ‘place-based’ to an ‘adaptation-based’ territorial developmentTerritorial Development paradigm is imperative for the European project to safely navigate the perilous transformation to a post-carbon world, and for achieving effective policy action in practice.
The rising number of new contaminants in the environment continues to raise deep concern. Pollutant removal from wastewaters has always been critical for maintaining the quality of the available water resources. Carbon-based nanomaterials have received special attention due to their large specific surface area and associated adsorption sites, carbon nanotubes (CNT) have attracted in environmental remediation, particularly in wastewater treatment. In this regards, disposal of pharmaceutical wastewater is given greater consideration, and appropriate steps are taken to ensure safety. CNT have been successfully used to remove the pharmaceutical pollutant by electrochemical treatment. CNT are prepared using the chemical vapor deposition method and are coated on anode electrodes. Synthesis of the Carbon nanotubes were characterized by different advanced analytic techniques represents the presence of 1.09–3.89 nm of the particle size with 12.9 mV of zeta potential. High resolution XPS spectra of C 1 s gives one peak situated at 284.68 eV equivalent to C–C bond and for O 1 s can be expanded into two peaks located at 529.4 eV and 531.44 eV which are related to lattice oxygen and oxygen vacancies. The Raman spectrum of CNT shows the ID/IG ratio as 0.85, which demonstrate clearly the purity of product. Statistical analysis of variance (ANOVA) has carried to confirm the efficiency. Three independent variables like pH, voltage, and Dosage are selected and the R2 value obtained have been ranged from 0.6 to 0.8. Response surface methodology is adapted to achieve high efficiency of CNT. As a result, after conventional waste water treatment CNT efficiently removed pharmaceutical pollutants in waste water, and further analysis revealed that pollutant removal ranged from 83.0 to 91.5%.
The concept of sustainability has been recognized as a landmark of modern societies and remains the only internationally and consensually recognized global development concept (Jacobsson, 2019). It is based upon the need for a "change of course" in the social, economic, cultural and environmental policies, to bring about the necessary transformation of the existing system (Raco, 2014). At the same time, however, it is presented as an abstract concept that, instead of mapping an agenda and signalling any commitment for a structural transformation of liberal consumer capitalism, seems to be an artistic extension of its life expectancy (Swyngedoow, 2010). According to Fuchs (2017), questions about capitalism and class are largely neglected when actions are promoted that support increased sustainability in neoliberal society. Starting from this paradox, our main research question is to capture how the term "sustainability" is presented in relation to the existing neoliberal system, as well as which ideologies are expressed as neutral in the context of public information. The aim of this research is to determine the role of the Greek media in shaping the semantics of sustainable development. Specifically, after clarifying the terms and conditions through domestic and international literature, the framing analysis of four online media relevant publications is applied as a method of examination. The study aims to identify which discourses are constructed, how many and which publications refer to sustainability in relation to the frames of 'sustainable development' and 'degrowth' and which of these are presented as neutral ideological frames. The analysis reveals an interesting paradox, pointing to contradictory perceptions of problems, responsibilities and solutions in relation to sustainable development, depending on whether it relates to the private or public sector.
This chapter focuses specifically on the role of universities as climate leaders, a role that many have suggested universities are well placed to adopt. However, tensions exist as many universities have become increasingly neoliberalised in their ideology and actions. By exploring three areas of university action – teaching, buildings, and air travel – the chapter explores the neoliberal nature of higher education and suggests it acts as an impediment to climate action. Further, the chapter suggests that the climate emergency is critical and represents an urgent need for action: the civic university agenda is not yet tackling this. Universities could provide more radical space for debate, experimentation and new practices for addressing the climate emergency and living well in the ‘Anthropocene’.
The paramount beneficiaries of Katrina relief aid have been the giant engineering firms KBR (a Halliburton subsidiary) and the Shaw Group, which enjoy the services of lobbyist Joe Allbaugh (a former FEMA director and Bush's 2000 campaign manager). FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers, while unable to explain to Governor Blanco last fall exactly how they were spending money in Louisiana, have tolerated levels of profiteering that would raise eyebrows even on the war-torn Euphrates. (Some of this largesse, of course, is guaranteed to be recycled as GOP campaign contributions.) FEMA, for example, has paid the Shaw Group $175 per square (100 square feet) to install tarps on storm-damaged roofs in New Orleans. Yet the actual installers earn as little as $2 per square, and the tarps are provided by FEMA. Similarly, the Army Corps pays prime contractors about $20 per cubic yard of storm debris removed, yet some bulldozer operators receive only $1. Every level of the contracting food chain, in other words, is grotesquely overfed except the bottom rung, where the actual work is carried out. While the Friends of Bush mine gold from the wreckage of New Orleans, many disappointed recovery workers-often Mexican or Salvadoran immigrants camped out in city parks and derelict shopping centers-can barely make ends meet.
Alibi for militarist interventions, sacralization for the tyranny of the market, ideological foundation for the fundamentalism of the politically correct: can the 'symbolic fiction' of universal rights be recuperated for the progressive politicization of actual socio-economic relations?