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Media reports, spurred on by a flood of scientific research galvanized by popular interest and concern, kept the environment high on the political agenda. Climate conferences attracted global attention only comparable to other mega-events like the Olympics, and prominent politicians biked to work or visited the Antarctic to bear witness to the facts and effects of climate change. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases nonetheless continued their seemingly unstoppable climb. However, an allegedly much greater catastrophe for civilization had begun to unfold when the financial crisis exploded in the fall of 2007 and pulled the core capitalist countries into the longest and deepest recession since the Great Depression. Despite significant differences, both catastrophic narratives share an uncanny similarity, particularly if viewed from the place of enunciation. While the ecological Armageddon points at a universal, potentially species-wide destruction, the economic catastrophe is a particular one related solely to the threatened reproduction of, basically, capitalist relations.
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Apocalypse Now! Fear and
Doomsday Pleasures
Erik Swyngedouw
To cite this article: Erik Swyngedouw (2013): Apocalypse Now! Fear and Doomsday
Pleasures, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 24:1, 9-18
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Apocalypse Now! Fear and Doomsday Pleasures
Erik Swyngedouw*
If we do nothing, the consequences for every person on this earth will be severe
and unprecedented*with vast numbers of environmental refugees, social
instability and decimated economies: far worse than anything which we are
seeing today ...We have 100 months left to act. (Prince Charles, March 2009; see
also New Economics Foundation [http://www.neweconomics.org/content/one-
hundred-months]).
A few months after the outbreak of the deepest and longest crisis of capitalism
since the Great Depression, Prince Charles, heir to the throne in the U.K., uttered
the above prophetic words, announcing the coming climatic Armageddon. We are
now four years later and nothing substantial of the sort that Charles had in mind has
been done to stem climate change. The ‘‘Passage to the Act’’ was nonetheless the
intention of Charles’s intervention. His statement was indeed a call to arms, driven
by a deep-seated belief that something serious can and should be done. His
apocalyptic framing of the environmental pickle we are in is not an unusual
discursive tactic. Warnings of ‘‘dangerous climate change’’ and pending disaster are
repeated ad nauseam by many scientists, activists, business leaders, and politicians. It
serves primarily to nudge behavioral change and urge action. Such narratives in fact
combine an unbridled optimism in the species capacities of humans to act if urgency
requires it and in the scientific, technological, and organizational inventiveness of
some to come up with the right mix of measures to deflect the arrow of time such
that civilization as we know it can continue a while longer.
Until 2007-2008, climate change and related environmental concerns were
indeed fairly high on the social and political agenda. Media reports, spurred on by a
flood of scientific research galvanized by popular interest and concern, kept the
environment high on the political agenda. Climate conferences attracted global
attention only comparable to other mega-events like the Olympics, and prominent
politicians biked to work or visited the Antarctic to bear witness to the facts and
effects of climate change. CO
2
and other greenhouse gases nonetheless continued
their seemingly unstoppable climb. However, an allegedly much greater catastrophe
for civilization had begun to unfold when the financial crisis exploded in the fall of
2007 and pulled the core capitalist countries into the longest and deepest recession
since the Great Depression. While, unsurprisingly, the output of climate gasses did
fall the subsequent year as Western economies contracted (but have again begun their
*erik.swyngedouw@manchester.ac.uk
#2013 The Center for Political Ecology www.cnsjournal.org
Capitalism Nature Socialism, 2013
Vol. 24, No. 1, 918, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10455752.2012.759252
Downloaded by [The University of Manchester Library] at 02:51 08 February 2013
inexorable climb), no effort has been spared to salvage the financialized economy
from its home-grown wreckage and to mobilize unprecedented public means to put
the profit-train back on the rails, albeit without much success so far. Apocalyptic
imaginaries of potential social and economic disintegration saturated the landscape,
urging people into not only putting their trust unreservedly in the hands of the
various national and global elites, but also supporting the elitesclunky and desperate
attempts to save their way of life.
Despite significant differences, both catastrophic narratives share an uncanny
similarity, particularly if viewed from the place of enunciation. While the ecological
Armageddon points at a universal, potentially species-wide destruction, the economic
catastrophe is a particular one related solely to the threatened reproduction of,
basically, capitalist relations. Yet, the discursive mobilization of catastrophe follows
broadly similar lines. Imaginaries of a dystopian future are nurtured, not in the least
by various political and economic elites, to invoke the specter of the inevitable if
NOTHING is done so that SOMETHING WILL be done. Their performative
gesture is, of course, to turn the revealed (ecological or political-economic)
ENDGAME into a manageable CRISIS. While catastrophe denotes the irreversible
radical transformation of the existing into a spiralling abyssal decline, crisis is a
conjunctural condition that requires particular techno-managerial attention by those
entitled or assigned to do so. The notion of crisis also promises the possibility to
contain the crisis such that the dystopian revelation is postponed or deflected. Thus,
the embrace of catastrophic language serves primarily to turn nightmare into crisis
management, to assure that the situation is serious but not catastrophic. Unless you
are from the cynical Left*‘‘dont panic now, we told you that crisis would come’’*
or from the doomsday preachers who revel in the perverse pleasures offered by
the announcement of the end*the nurturing of fear, which is invariably followed by
a set of techno-managerial fixes, serves precisely to de-politicize. Nurturing fear also
serves to leave the action to those who promise salvation, to insist that the Big Other
does exist, and to follow the leader who admits that the situation is grave, but insists
that homeland security (ecological, economic, or otherwise) is in good hands
(Swyngedouw 2010a). We can safely continue shopping!
What we are witnessing is a strange reversal whereby the specter of economic
and/or ecological catastrophe is mobilized primarily by the elites from the global
North. Neither Prince Charles nor Al Gore can be accused of revolutionary zeal. For
them, the ecological condition is*correctly of course*understood as potentially
threatening to civilization as we know it. At the same time, their image of a dystopian
future functions as a fantasy that sustains a practice of adjusting things today such
that civilization as we know it (neoliberal capitalism) can continue for a bit longer,
spurred on by the conviction that radical change can be achieved without changing
radically the contours of capitalist eco-development. The imaginary of crisis and
potential collapse produces an ecology of fear, danger, and uncertainty while
reassuring ‘‘the people’’ (or, rather, the population) that the techno-scientific and
10 ERIK SWYNGEDOUW
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socio-economic elites have the necessary tool-kit to readjust the machine such that
things can stay basically as they are.
What is of course radically disavowed in their pronouncements is the fact that
many people in many places of the world already live in the socio-ecological
catastrophe. The ecological Armageddon is already a reality. While the elites nurture
an apocalyptic dystopia that can nonetheless be avoided (for them), the majority of
the world already lives ‘‘within the collapse of civilization’’ (The Invisible Committee
2009). The Apocalypse is indeed a combined and uneven one, both in time and
across space (see Calder Williams 2011).
A flood of literature on the relationship between apocalyptic imaginaries,
popular culture, and politics has excavated the uses and abuses of revelatory visions
(Skrimshire 2010; Calder Williams 2011). Despite the important differences
between the transcendental biblical use of the apocalypse and the thoroughly
material and socio-physical ecological catastrophes-to-come, the latter, too, de-
politicize matters. As Alain Badiou contends:
[T]he rise of the ‘‘rights of Nature’’ is a contemporary form of the opium for the
people. It is an only slightly camouflaged religion: the millenarian terror, concern
for everything save the properly political destiny of peoples, new instruments for
control of everyday life, the obsession with hygiene, the fear of death and
catastrophes ...It is a gigantic operation in the depoliticization of subjects.
(Badiou 2008, 139)
Environmental problems are indeed commonly staged as universally threatening
to the survival of humankind, announcing the premature termination of civilization
as we know it and sustained by what Mike Davis (1999) aptly called ‘‘ecologies of
fear.’’ Much of the discursive matrix through which the presentation of the
environmental condition we are in is quilted systematically by the continuous
invocation of fear and danger, the specter of ecological annihilation, or at least
seriously distressed socio-ecological conditions for many people in the near future.
The nurturing of fear, in turn, is sustained in part by a particular set of
phantasmagorical imaginations that serve to reinforce the seriousness of the situation
(Katz 1995). The apocalyptic imaginary of a world without water or at least with
endemic water shortages; ravaged by hurricanes whose intensity is amplified by
climate change; pictures of scorched land as global warming shifts the geo-pluvial
regime and the spatial variability of droughts and floods; icebergs that disintegrate;
alarming reductions in biodiversity as species disappear or are threatened by
extinction; post-apocalyptic images of nuclear wastelands; the threat of peak-oil;
the devastations raked by wildfires, tsunamis, spreading diseases like SARS, Avian
Flu, Ebola, or HIV*all these imaginaries of a Nature out of synch, destabilized,
threatening, and out of control are paralleled by equally disturbing images of a
society that continues piling up waste, pumping CO
2
into the atmosphere,
recombining DNA, deforesting the earth, etc ...In sum, our ecological predicament
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is sutured by millennialism fears sustained by an apocalyptic rhetoric and
representational tactics, and by a series of performative gestures signalling an
overwhelming, mind-boggling danger*one that threatens to undermine the very
coordinates of our everyday lives and routines and may shake up the foundations of
all we took and take for granted.
Of course, apocalyptic imaginaries have been around for a long time as an
integral part of Western thought, first of Christianity and later emerging as the
underbelly of fast-forwarding technological modernization and its associated
doomsday thinkers. However, present day millennialism preaches an apocalypse
without the promise of redemption. Saint Johns biblical apocalypse, for example,
found its redemption in Gods infinite love, while relegating the outcasts to an
afterlife of permanent suffering. The proliferation of modern apocalyptic imaginaries
also held up the promise of redemption: the horsemen of the apocalypse, whether
riding under the name of the proletarian, technology, or capitalism, could be tamed
with appropriate political and social revolutions. The environmental apocalypse, in
contrast, takes different forms. It is not immediate and total (but slow and painful),
not revelatory (it does not announce the dawn of a new rose-tinted era); no
redemption is promised (for the righteous ones), and there are no outcasts. Indeed, if
the boat goes done, the first-class passengers will also drown.
As Martin Jay argued, while traditional apocalyptic versions still held out the
hope for redemption, for a ‘‘second coming,’’ for the promise of a ‘‘new dawn,’’
environmental apocalyptic imaginaries are ‘‘leaving behind any hope of rebirth or
renewal ...in favor of an unquenchable fascination with being on the verge of an end
that never comes’’ (Jay 1994, 33). The emergence of new forms of millennialism
around the environmental nexus is indeed of a particular kind that promises neither
redemption nor realization. As Klaus Scherpe insists, this is not simply apocalypse
now, but apocalypse forever. It is a vision that does not suggest, prefigure, or expect
the necessity of an event that will alter the course of history (Scherpe 1987). Derrida
(referring to the nuclear threat in the 1980s) sums this up most succinctly: ‘‘here,
precisely, is announced*as promise or as threat*an apocalypse without apocalypse,
an apocalypse without vision, without truth, without revelation ...without message
and without destination, without sender and without decidable addressee ...an
apocalypse beyond good and evil’’ (Derrida 1982). The environmentally apocalyptic
future, forever postponed, neither promises redemption nor does it possess a name,
a positive designation.
The attractions of such an apocalyptic imaginary are related to a series of
characteristics. In contrast to standard left arguments about the apocalyptic dynamics
of unbridled capitalism, I would argue that sustaining and nurturing apocalyptic
imageries are an integral and vital part of the new cultural politics of capitalism for
which the management of fear is a central leitmotiv (Badiou 2007) and provides part
of the cultural support for a process of post-politicization (Swyngedouw 2010a).
At the symbolic level, apocalyptic imaginaries are extraordinarily powerful in
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disavowing or displacing social conflict and antagonisms. Apocalyptic imaginations
are decidedly populist and foreclose a proper political framing. Or in other words,
the presentation of climate change as a global humanitarian cause produces a
thoroughly depoliticized imaginary, one that does not revolve around choosing one
trajectory rather than another, or identifies clear adversaries in a political process; it is
one that is not articulated with specific political programs or socio-ecological projects
or transformations. It insists that we have to make sure that radical techno-
managerial and socio-cultural transformations, organized within the horizons of a
capitalist order that is beyond dispute, are initiated that retrofit the climate
(Swyngedouw 2007). In other words, we have to change radically, but within the
contours of the existing state of the situation*‘‘the partition of the sensible’’ in
Rancie
`res (1998) words, so that nothing really has to change.
The negative desire for an apocalypse that few believe will really happen (if we
were to belief that the earth is really in the dismal state we are told it is in, we would
not be sitting around writing and reading arcane academic journal articles) finds its
positive injunction around a fetishist invocation of CO
2
as the ‘‘thing’’ around which
our environmental dreams, aspirations, contestations, as well as policies crystallize.
The ‘‘point de capiton,’’ the quilting point through which the signifying chain that
weaves a discursive matrix of meaning and content for the climate change
problematic, is CO
2
*the objet petit a that simultaneously expresses our deepest
fears and is the thing around which the desire for change, for a better socio-climatic
world, is expressed (see Swyngedouw 2010b).
The fetishist disavowal of the multiple and complex relations through which
environmental changes unfold finds its completion in the double reductionism to
this singular socio-chemical component (CO
2
). The reification of complex processes
to a thing-like object-cause in the form of a socio-chemical compound around which
our environmental desires crystallize is furthermore inscribed with a particular social
meaning and function through its enrolment as commodity in the processes of
capital circulation and market exchange (Bumpus and Liverman 2008; Liverman
2009). The commodification of CO
2
*primarily via the Kyoto protocol and various
offsetting schemes*in turn, has triggered a rapidly growing derivatives market of
futures and options. On the European Climate Exchange, for example, trade in CO
2
futures and options grew from zero in 2005 to 463 million tons in June 2009, with
prices fluctuating from over t30 to less than t10 per ton over this time period
(see www.ecx.eu, accessed July 30, 2009). There is indeed an uncanny articulation
between the financialization of everything under neoliberal capitalism and the
managerial or institutional architecture of carbon-trading schemes.
The proposed transformations often take a distinct dystopian turn when the
Malthusian specter of overpopulation is fused with concerns with the climate,
whereby, perversely, newborns are indentified as the main culprits of galloping
climate change and resource depletion, a view supported by luminaries like Sir
David Attenborough (OM CH CVO CBE), Dr. Jane Goodall (DBE), Dr. James
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Lovelock (CBE), and Sir Crispin Tickell (GCMG KCVO), among others (see www.
optimumpopulation.org, accessed August 2, 2010). Eco-warrior and Gaia-theorist,
James Lovelock (2010, 9495), put it even more chillingly:
...[w]hat if at some time in the next few years we realize, as we did in the 1940s,
that democracy had temporarily to be suspended and we had to accept a
disciplined regime that saw the U.K. as a legitimate but limited safe haven for
civilization ...Orderly survival requires an unusual degree of human under-
standing and leadership and may require, as in war, the suspension of democratic
government for the duration of the survival emergency.
Of course, the economy is ‘‘greening,’’ ‘‘sustainable’’ policies and practices are now
part of the standard toolkit of any private or public actor, carbon is traded, trees are
planted, activists act, energy efficiency increases, and technologies are retrofitted.
Nonetheless, greenhouse gasses keep on rising, and old and new fossil energy sources
continue to be exploited (coal, fracking, and tar sands in particular). ‘‘Greening’’ the
economy does not seem to deflect the process of disastrous socio-environmental
transformation. In the meantime, climate change scientists continue to crunch their
numbers and calibrate their models. There is growing consensus now that the Kyoto
objective to keep global warming below 28Celsius cannot any longer be achieved,
regardless of measures taken. Even a global temperature rise of 48Celsius seems
inevitable now, while some fear, if things continue as they are, that even greater
temperature increases are very likely (New et al. 2011). A four degree rise will have
profound effects and, in all likelihood, push climate behavior over the tipping point
whereby catastrophic change is inevitable, unleashing very fast and unpredictable
geographical transformations in climate patterns. It is a bleak picture, one that will
undoubtedly dwarf the already doomsday-laden imaginary that Prince Charles painted.
In light of the above, what is the proper leftist response? I discern broadly three
perspectives. The first one centers on nudging behavioral change in a more
sustainable direction. Under the mantra of ‘‘it is better to do something (like
recycling, growing organic food, and the like) rather than nothing,’’ many liberal
environmentalists mobilize the apocalyptic imaginary in an effort to encourage
individuals to modify attitudes and behavior, and to impress on politicians and
business leaders the need to heed the environmental clarion call. Sustainability hinges
here on individual preference and consumer sovereignty. They also insist that that
catastrophe can still be averted if proper action is taken, action that does not
necessarily overhaul social relations but does postpone the environmental catastrophe
so that life as we know it can continue for a while longer.
The second strand fully endorses the environmental cataclysm and revels in the
certainty that this had already been predicted a long time ago. The standard response
here is, ‘‘you see, we told you so.’’ This is strictly parallel to forms of Marxist analysis
of the current financial crisis in capitalism: ‘‘Dont complain now, we did tell you so.’’
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Against this cynical stand, the third, and for me proper, leftist response to the
apocalyptic imaginary is twofold and cuts through the deadlock embodied by the
first two responses. To begin with, the revelatory promise of the apocalyptic
narrative has to be fully rejected. In the face of the cataclysmic imaginaries mobilized
to assure that the apocalypse will NOT happen (if the right techno-managerial
actions are taken), the only reasonable response is ‘‘Dont worry (Al Gore, Prince
Charles, many environmental activists ....), you are really right, the environmental
apocalypse WILL not only happen, it has already happened, IT IS ALREADY
HERE.’’ Many are already living in the post-apocalyptic interstices of life, whereby
the fusion of environmental transformation and social conditions, render life ‘‘bare.’’
The fact that the socio-environmental imbroglio has already passed the point of no
return has to be fully asserted. The socio-environmental Armageddon is already here
for many; it is not some distant dystopian promise mobilized to trigger response
today. Water conflicts, struggles for food, environmental refugees, etc. testify to the
socio-ecological predicament that choreographs everyday life for the majority of
the worlds population. Things are already too late; they have always already been
too late. There is no Arcadian place, time, or environment to return to, no benign
socio-ecological past that needs to be maintained or stabilized. Many already live
in the interstices of the apocalypse, albeit a combined and uneven one. It is only
within the realization of the apocalyptic reality of the now that a new politics might
emerge.
The second gesture of a proper leftist response is to reverse the order between
the universal and the particular that today dominates the catastrophic political
imaginary. This order maintains that salvaging the particular historical-geographical
configuration we are in depends on re-thinking and re-framing the human-
environment articulation in a universal sense. We have to change our relationship
with nature so that capitalism can continue somehow. Not only does this argument
to preserve capitalism guarantee the prolongation of the combined and uneven
apocalypse of the present, it forecloses considering fundamental change to the
actually existing unequal forms of organizing the society-environment relations.
Indeed, the apocalyptic imaginary is one that generally still holds on to a dualistic
view of nature and culture. The argument is built on the view that humans have
perturbed the ecological dynamic balance in ways inimical to human (and possibly
non-human) long-term survival, and the solution consists broadly in bringing
humans (in a universal sense) back in line with the possibilities and constraints
imposed by ecological limits and dynamics. A universal transformation is required in
order to maintain the present. And this can and should be done through managing
the present particular configuration. This is the message of Al Gore or Prince Charles
and many other environmental pundits. A left socio-environmental perspective
has to insist that we need to transform this universal message into a particular one.
The historically and geographically specific dynamics of capitalism have banned an
external nature radically to a sphere beyond earth. On earth, there is no external
nature left. It is from this particular historical-geographical configuration that a
radical politics of transformation has to be thought and practiced. Only through the
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transformation of the particular socio-ecological relations of capitalism can a generic
egalitarian, free, and common re-ordering of the human/non-human imbroglios be
forged.
Those who already recognized the irreversible dynamics of the socio-environ-
mental imbroglio that has been forged over the past few centuries coined a new term
to classify the epoch we are in. ‘‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’’ became a popular
catch-phrase to inform us that we are now in a new geological era, one in which
humans are co-producers of the deep geological time that hitherto had slowly
grinded away irrespective of humansdabbling with the surface layers of earth,
oceans, and atmosphere. Noble prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen introduced ‘‘the
Anthropocene,’’ coined about a decade ago as the successor name of the Holocene,
the relatively benign geo-climatic period that allegedly permitted agriculture to
flourish, cities to be formed, and humans to thrive (Crutzen and Stoermer 2000).
Since the beginning of industrialization, so the Anthropocenic argument goes,
humansincreasing interactions with their physical conditions of existence have
resulted in a qualitative shift in geo-climatic acting of the earth system. The
Anthropocene is nothing else than the geological name for capitalism WITH nature.
Acidification of oceans, biodiversity transformations, gene displacements and
recombinations, climate change, big infrastructures effecting the earths geodetic
dynamics, among others, resulted in knotting together ‘‘natural’’ and ‘‘social’’
processes such that humans have become active agents in co-shaping earths deep
geological time. Now that the era has been named as the Anthropocene, we can argue
at length over its meaning, content, existence, and possible modes of engagement.
Nonetheless, it affirms that humans and nature are co-produced and that the
particular historical epoch that goes under the name of capitalism forged this mutual
determination.
The Anthropocene is just another name for insisting on Natures death. This
cannot be unmade, however hard we try. The past is forever closed and the future*
including natures future*is radically open, up for grabs. Indeed, the affirmation of
the historical-geographical co-production of society WITH nature radically
politicizes nature, makes nature enter into the domain of contested socio-physical
relations and assemblages. We cannot escape ‘‘producing nature’’; rather, it forces us
to make choices about what socio-natural worlds we wish to inhabit. It is from this
particular position, therefore, that the environmental conundrum ought to be
approached so that a qualitative transformation of BOTH society AND nature has to
be envisaged.
This perspective moves the gaze from thinking through a ‘‘politics of the
environment’’ to ‘‘politicizing the environment’’ (Swyngedouw 2011; 2012). The
human world is now an active agent in shaping the non-human world. This extends
the terrain of the political to domains hitherto left to the mechanics of nature.
The non-human world becomes ‘‘enrolled’’ in a process of politicization. And that is
precisely what needs to be fully endorsed. The Anthropocene opens up a terrain
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whereby different natures can be contemplated and actually co-produced. And the
struggle over these trajectories and, from a leftist perspective, the process of the
egalitarian socio-ecological production of the commons of life is precisely what our
politics are all about. Yes, the apocalypse is already here, but do not despair, let us
fully endorse the emancipatory possibilities of apocalyptic life.
Perhaps we should modify the now over-worked statement of the Italian Marxist
Amadeo Bordiga that ‘‘if the ship goes down, the first-class passengers drown too.’’
Amadeo was plainly wrong. Remember the movie Titanic (as well as the real
catastrophe). A large number of the first-class passengers found a lifeboat; the others
were trapped in the belly of the beast. Indeed the social and ecological catastrophe we
are already in is not shared equally. While the elites fear both economic and
ecological collapse, the consequences and implications are highly uneven. The elites
fears are indeed only matched by the actually existing socio-ecological and economic
catastrophes many already live in. The apocalypse is combined and uneven. And it is
within this reality that political choices have to be made and sides taken.
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Swyngedouw, E. 2010a. ‘‘Apocalypse Forever? Post-Political Populism and the Specter of Climate
Change.’’ Theory, Culture & Society 27 (23): 213232.
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18 ERIK SWYNGEDOUW
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... The challenge to the planet is laid out in excruciating detail with crisis, disaster and apocalypse at the heart of their description of the future (Peet et al., 2011). These "Cultures of Fear" (to borrow from Glassner, 2010), or, "Ecologies of Fear" to borrow from Mike Davis (Davis, 1999) concern many political ecologists, (e.g.: Peet et al., 2011;Swyngedouw, 2010aSwyngedouw, , 2013a because the urgency and speed required for action to be effective creates a space for acceptance of solutions which might otherwise be considered unwise. ...
... (2008), a strong document with legal targets and mechanisms for achieving them, yet he and his colleagues were simultaneously producing papers which argued the UK was destined to overshoot those targets, especially in the area of aviation and international marine shipping Bows, 2011, 2012;Anderson et al., 2006;Bows and Anderson, 2007;Bows et al., 2012). I began to consider the idea that, perhaps, the fear of an impending disaster was not the best way to spur action on climate change, a thought which I later found out was supported by numerous scholars going back to the 1990s (Butt, 2018;Davis, 1999Davis, , 2007Glassner, 2010;Hulme, 2008;O'Neill and Nicholson-Cole, 2009;Swyngedouw, 2010aSwyngedouw, , 2013a. ...
... The thesis, therefore, takes the shape of a critical examination of the interaction between the depoliticising effects of climate change, with a specific focus on the processes and justification of ecological gentrification in contemporary, Western cities. This material is closely related to recent theoretical work published by Erik Swyngedouw and Henrik Ernstson (Swyngedouw, 2010a(Swyngedouw, , 2013a(Swyngedouw, , 2013b(Swyngedouw, , 2018Ernstson, 2018, 2019), however, the work presented in this thesis differs in two key ways: one conceptual and one empirical. The conceptual work done by Swyngedouw and Ernstson focuses on the philosophical debates around the relationship between climate change, sustainability and post-politics; this thesis will use these conceptual framings and relate them to ecological gentrification in cities and, further, These fieldsites are included for reasons which will be discussed more thoroughly in the methodology section, but mainly because each contains important signification of a relationship to the apocalypse. ...
Thesis
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This thesis explores the theoretical basis for expanding the definition of ecological gentrification to include apocalyptic narratives of climate change. It argues that apocalyptic narratives are increasingly used as a justificatory regime for continuing and expanding patterns of urban exclusion. The argument employs a number of key theoretical perspectives including: Lefebvrean Urban Theory, Marxist Value Theory, Debordian Spectacle, Political Ecology and Lacanian Psychoanalysis. The thesis takes the production of space, as presented by Lefebvre, as a starting point to understand the key tenets of Urban Political Ecology. A discussion of the production of nature gives way to an argument which holds the city as a particular moment in the urbanisation of nature, making the management of nature for various social purposes the key function of urban planning. The city is conceptualised, therein, as a commodification of nature, which leads in late modernity, to the circulation of apocalyptic spectacles and phantasmagoria, which further entrench capitalist enclosures of the commons. The argument explores how various forms of climate change narratives, from the scientific to the fictive, often fall into the tropes of apocalypticism, which reproduce and reflect contemporary anxieties about the future. As explored through Rancière, Swyngedouw, and Žižek, this gives rise to different forms of subversion and foreclosure of the political moment. Such political critiques question which forms of ‘the political’ urban apocalyptic narratives make possible or impossible, with the most likely outcomes being either a political moment proper, post-politics, or ultra-politics. Extant literatures indicate that sustainable urban regeneration may, in fact, lead to increased social inequality due to the attractiveness of these projects to more affluent residents seeking low-carbon lifestyles. I argue that, given the anxiety over climate change and the commodification of nature by urbanisation, low-carbon, elite focused urban planning, sometimes termed ecological gentrification, utilises apocalyptic anxieties to achieve its aims in a post-political moment. This argument emerges from the political ecological critique that nature is often conflated with truth, making any call for action in the name of natural imperatives, such as climate change mitigation, an incontestable call in contemporary society. One consequence is that various forms of gentrification become hard to resist as a false dichotomy is established: either gentrify with sustainable housing, or achieve social equality but fail to tackle climate change. Empirical analysis is conducted via critical visual semiotics in field-sites including London, Amsterdam, and Hamburg. Their contemporary urbanscapes are deconstructed for ideological meaning to reveal worrying significations surrounding heroism, immunity from crisis, and exclusivist communities created in opposition to climate change. I argue that in order to maintain coherency amongst community members, the commodity being sold, via spectacles of immuno-political signification, is protection from the apocalypse. For such immuno-politics to function, the apocalypse has to continue to occur, but not affect the consumers of the commodity. Immuno-political fantasies thus enable the loss of the habitable planet to be reconciled through capitalist consumption of ‘solutions’. In conclusion, the thesis argues for a re-imagining of ecological gentrification as a more insidious process, one which, if allowed to continue uncritically, simply subverts the call for real solutions into cultural capitalism and further enclosure of the commons, weakening our ability to tackle, effectively, climate change.
... The traction that resilience has gained, and the analytical focus on social-ecological systems that it has popularized, has met with strong critiques from other strands of social science, an effort spearheaded largely but by no means exclusively by political ecologists and geographers (Cote and Nightingale, 2012;Cretney, 2014;Jennings, 2011;MacKinnon and Derickson, 2013;Orlove, 2009;Taylor, 2014;Watts, 2011). They have been quick to challenge the dominant IPCC definition of adaptation and the resulting proliferation of approaches rooted in resilience thinking (Bryant, 2016;Macgregor, 2014;Swyngedouw, 2013;Taylor, 2014). Pelling (2011, p. 21), for instance, refers to adaptation in an alternative manner as "the process through which an actor is able to reflect upon and enact change in those practices and underlying institutions that generate root and proximate causes of risk, frame capacity to cope and further rounds of adaptation to climate change" (emphasis added). ...
... Thus, framing adaptation (and development, in general) as resilience introduces a new socio-environmental reality, which unlike the more positive message of sustainability of the previous decades is marked by the incessant possibility of environmental and economic shocks that can disrupt or destroy human life (Barr and Devine-Wright, 2012). By doing so, resilience-based approaches securitize climate change and create oppressive ecologies of fear, legitimizing the growing control of experts and technocrats proficient in the resilience trade over those deemed too vulnerable to adapt to the impending impacts of climate change on their own (Chaturvedi and Doyle, 2015;Swyngedouw, 2013). Resilience and resilience thinking can thus be seen as a nihilism that works to depoliticize development and deprive local people of their political power and subjectivity (Evans and Reid, 2013;Velicu and Kaika, 2017). ...
... This heuristic, descendent from hazards research and ecology, creates an illusion of an unbalanced human-nature system which, due to its high complexity, requires careful intervention by experts (e.g. economists, hydrologists, engineers, agronomists) in order to either secure or regain a state of resilience (Castree, 2005;Luke, 1999;Swyngedouw, 2013;Taylor, 2014). In this case, the Santomean population's insufficient resilience to climate change impacts is associated with the country's low agricultural outputs caused by an agricultural system thrown out of balance by a changing climatean issue bound to be exacerbated by future alterations in the rain regime and rising sea levels. ...
Article
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Over the last two decades, resilience has steadily gainedtraction in discussions on the theory and practice of adaptation to climate change. The conceptiswidely considereduseful forexplaininghow coupled social-ecological systems (SESs) resist climate-relatedstressors or undergo change. At the same time, however, there has been an upswell of critique on resilience and climate-resilient development, stemming most prominently from the quarters of political ecology and geography. This articleseeks to contribute to this literatureby using the analytical lens of post-politics to critically evaluateresilience and climate-resilient development in a local adaptationcontext. Four major critiques are lodgedagainst resilience: (1) its inability to sufficiently recognize the large-scale political, economic, and socialforces affecting and effecting change, (2) its oversight of the analyzed systems’ internal dynamics, (3) the depoliticized, techno-managerialnature of resilience-centered solutions, and (4) the theoretical vagueness of resilience as applied by development actors.The paperpresents a grounded critique of the termbased onempirical evidence collected through a quasi-ethnography of aclimate change adaptation project implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the national government in São Tomé and Príncipe. It is argued that resilience, despite its theoretical attractiveness and growing popularity among donors,continues to dehumanizedevelopmentand renders adaptation post-political. The article also discusses alternative, more human-centeredapproaches rooted in vulnerability and climate justice, which offera more nuanced understanding of climate impacts and theassociatedchallenges that they pose at the local level. (PDF) Thwarting adaptation’s potential? A critique of resilience and climate-resilient development. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333615275_Thwarting_adaptation's_potential_A_critique_of_resilience_and_climate-resilient_development [accessed Jun 06 2019].
... La reciente y prolífica cinematografía sobre futuros apocalípticos de diversa índole es un buen ejemplo de lo señalado por Swyngedouw. El cambio climático se expresa de manera metafórica como un shock climático, un clima peligroso, un enemigo común (Swyngedouw, 2013), algo externo que viene a sacudir de maneras sorprendentes nuestra casa común. Se construye, de esta manera, una visión que erradica las diferencias a lo largo y ancho del planeta y presenta a la humanidad como un espacio social homogéneo (Methmann y Rothe, 2012). ...
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Todo ser humano posee relación con su ambiente natural, razón por la que el mundo como espacio común de vida, debe interesar a todos, tanto para la preservación a las futuras generaciones como también para tener al día de hoy un mejor presente y apostarle a un futuro limpio. Ambiente y Sociedad, es un breve aporte a la construcción epistémica sobre tales discusiones. Los conocimientos ancestrales como parte importante en el proceso de comunicación para el desarrollo, ante el cambio climático, propicia la reflexión y plantea puntos de análisis desde la ciencia de la comunicación focalizada al desarrollo en territorios mayas. Importancia de los espacios verdes para la conservación de aves urbanas, propone varias estrategias de gestión en esta línea, incluyendo la funcionalidad ecológica de los sitios verdes urbanos, la conectividad entre áreas, coordinación con el gobierno central y gobiernos locales, así como estrategias de comunicación y educación ambiental a la comunidad. Servicios ecosistémicos en la planificación del desarrollo: un acercamiento desde la conservación de los murciélagos. Analiza como el manejo del hábitat y el mantenimiento de elementos naturales dentro del paisaje son necesario para mantener la provisión de servicios. El mapache (Procyon lotor), del conflicto a la coexistencia. Analiza como este ha logrado sobrevivir en ambientes cambiantes, aprovechando un problema ambiental en las urbes: el manejo de los desechos. Migraciones por la variabilidad climática: historias de vida y camino. Ofrece una mirada desde la caravana migrante ocurrida en la frontera Guatemala-México, en el año 2018 en un contexto de cambio climático. Entre mercados de aire y futuros apocalípticos: la crisis climática desde la obra de Castoriadis, construye una contra argumentación a la concepción de la crisis climática y sus discursos hegemónicos como la manifestación de una significación social dominante, que margina la autonomía de pensamiento, la creatividad y la emocionalidad, como componentes fundantes en la creación de sentido alterno.
... Following Ž izˇek's use of Lacan 'to psychoanalyze our whole world', as Alain Badiou (2005: 41) once put it, a variety of scholars have already started to work on a Lacanian approach to the Anthropocene. Lacanian theory has been employed to engage with the role of fantasy (Healy, 2014), anxiety (Robbins and Moore, 2013), enjoyment (Fletcher, 2018) and the political implications (Swyngedouw, 2013(Swyngedouw, , 2015 within the Anthropocene. In the following, I will take a step back to see what Lacan has to say about 'nature' itself and how this relates to the Anthropocene. ...
Article
The current epoch is often described by cultural theorists as facing an ontological turn with regard to the question of nature. In the Anthropocene, ‘Mother Nature’ makes space for ‘Gaia’, a nature that is inseparably related to culture. In turn, Gaia has vehemently been criticized as a harmonious figure of whole-ism. Utilizing a psychoanalytic framework, this paper traces the shift from Nature to Gaia through Jacques Lacan's ‘formulas of sexuation’. From a Lacanian standpoint, sexual difference paves the way towards two different ways of relating nature and culture. Addressing the case of ruination, the author engages with the two underlying ontologies taking place in debates on nature: the narrative of Mother Nature based on a ‘masculine’ ontology, and the notion of Gaia as following a ‘feminine’ ontology. The paper concludes by outlining a feminine reading of the Anthropocene that captures nature and culture as ruined and immanently out of joint.
... They appeal to subjectivities already normalized within fossil-fueled consumer capitalism. Climate Capitalism's technocratic approach articulates with a 'depoliticization' tendency in mainstream environmentalism (Swyngedouw 2013). Implicitly, Climate Capitalism mobilizes fear, particularly fear of change. ...
Article
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With the highest per capita carbon emissions among the G20, Canada presents the interesting case of a climate laggard and, in some respects, a first-world petro-state. In these circumstances, a regime of obstruction, with a distinctive political-economic architecture, has taken shape. This regime is constituted through modalities of power that protect revenue streams issuing from carbon extraction, processing and transport while bolstering popular support for an accumulation strategy in which fossil capital figures as a leading fraction. It incorporates a panoply of hegemonic practices at different scales, reaching into civil and political society, and into Indigenous communities whose land claims and worldviews challenge state mandated property rights. This article first highlights findings from a six-year collaborative investigation of the modalities through which fossil capital's economic and political-cultural power is exercised at different scales, then outlines how the passive-revolutionary project of 'climate capitalism' is taking shape in the Canadian context as a response to climate crisis, and finally considers how a project of energy democracy, might hold the potential to catalyze the formation of an alternative historical bloc, opening onto eco-socialism.
... As the prevalence of apocalyptic narratives leads to its social and cultural normalisation, the environment is irremediably transformed into a problem that needs to be managed through various technical fixes. This proto-typically neoliberal discourse serves both to de-politicise environmental action and to disavow the fact that, for many people, the predicted crisis is already underway (Swyngedouw, 2013;Menga and Swyngedouw, 2018). ...
Article
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It is widely recognised that the growing awareness that we are living in the Anthropocene-an unstable geological epoch in which humans and their actions are catalysing catastrophic environmental change-is troubling humanity's understanding and perception of temporality and the ways in which we come to terms with socio-ecological change. This article begins by arguing in favour of posthumanism as an approach to this problem, one in which the prefix 'post' does not come as an apocalyptic warning, but rather signals a new way of thinking, an encouragement to move beyond a humanist perspective, and to abandon a social discourse and a worldview fundamentally centred on the human. The article then explores how the impending environmental catastrophe can be productively reimagined through graphic narratives, arguing that popular culture in general, and comics in particular, emerge as productive sites for geographers to interrogate and develop posthuman methodologies and narratives. Developing our analysis around two comics in particular-Here (McGuire, 2014) and Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller et al., 2015)-we show how graphic narrative can help us to move beyond the nature-society divide that is rendered anachronistic by the Anthropocene.
... Instead, we are left with a fundamental question of what to do with this knowledge about the ongoingand already materialized -collapses, and how to proceed in reorganizing human activities (see e.g. Swyngedouw, 2013). ...
Chapter
Work is a fruitful site to reflect various responsibilities deriving from the notion of the Anthropocene. Previous research on labour studies has discussed both labour and employee agency as potentialities of worker activities in the current, interconnected capitalist system. We bring these conceptualisations with varying historical roots together as ‘worker agency’, which could influence the sphere of globalised work and eventually the undesired developments that sustain the Anthropocene. We provide empirical examples of the idea of worker agency from two work organizations that promote sustainability and operate with recycled materials in the Global North. Based on the previous literature and these empirical illustrations, we reflect on the potential of the new worker agency to challenge the contemporary ways of organizing work, social relations, and the economy. Keywords: Anthropocene, responsibility, work, employment, agency, global production networks, global destruction networks.
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In this paper, environmental justice is considered from an interdisciplinary and integrative perspective that combines theories and studies in geography, environmental policy and planning with a justice psychology approach. This opens up an integrated view, which takes into account both societal and individual aspects of the perception and evaluation of environmental justice. In this sense, notions of environmental justice(s) are seen as the result of discursive processes, historical contexts and a social localization and standardization that is shaped by both cognitive evaluation processes and emotions. Additionally, environmental justice in participation processes is considered in the context of environmental and sustainability policy and its implementation, first summarising the points of criticism of participation processes and then discussing environmental justice as an aspect of participation practice. From this, some key points for a more justice-sensitive design of participation processes in the context of environmental and sustainability policies and programmes (e.g. adaptation to climate change, urban planning, energy system transformation) are derived. This interdisciplinary analysis shows that there is not 'one' environmental justice, but a multitude of ideas and evaluations based on different concepts and perceptions.
Article
Anxieties over the potential impacts of climate change, often framed in apocalyptic language, are having a profound, but little studied effect on the contemporary Western urbanscape. This article examines the ways in which current theorizations of 'ecological gentrification' express only half the process, describing how green space is used for social control, but not how ecology is used as a justification regime for such projects. As urbanites seek out housing and living practices that have a lower environmental impact, urban planners have responded by providing large‐scale regeneration of the urbanscape. With the demand for this housing increasing, questions of inequality, displacement and dispossession arise. I ask whether apocalyptic anxiety is being enrolled in the justification regimes of these projects to make them hard to resist at the planning and implementation stages. The article shows that, in capitalizing on collective anxiety surrounding an apocalyptic future, these projects depoliticize subjects by using the empty signifier, ‘Sustainability’, leading them into an immuno‐political relationship to the urbanscape. This leaves subjects feeling protected from both responsibility for, and the impacts of, climate change. Ultimately, this has the consequence of gentrification coupled with potentially worsening consumptive practices, rebound effects and the depoliticization of the environmentally conscious urbanite.
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Considering the worsening climate crisis, we argue that our present conditions require a particular approach to the past in order to disrupt current intellectual trajectories. We enrol Walter Benjamin's concept of history, via the writings of Svetlana Alexievich and Margaret Atwood, with the aim of bringing a criticality to the present to make us reconsider the ways we think about and act in our present world. Based on Alexievich and Atwood's work, we develop research conceptualizations of forgotten and alternative histories to open up a space to consider a future climate-changed world beyond the dominant tropes of inevitable dystopian apocalypse and clever technological adaptation. We offer the concept of 'hope without optimism' in encouraging management and organization studies scholars to develop a discipline fit for the Anthropocene.
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This article interrogates the relationship between two apparently disjointed themes: the consensual presentation and mainstreaming of the global problem of climate change on the one hand and the debate in political theory/philosophy that centers around the emergence and consolidation of a post-political and post-democratic condition on the other. The argument advanced in this article attempts to tease out this apparently paradoxical condition. On the one hand, the climate is seemingly politicized as never before and has been propelled high on the policy agenda. On the other hand, a number of increasingly influential political philosophers insist on how the post-politicization (or de-politicization) of the public sphere (in parallel and intertwined with processes of neoliberalization) have been key markers of the political process over the past few decades. We proceed in four steps. First, we briefly outline the basic contours of the argument and its premises. Second, we explore the ways in which the present climate conundrum is predominantly staged through the mobilization of particular apocalyptic imaginaries. Third, we argue that this specific (re-)presentation of climate change and its associated policies is sustained by decidedly populist gestures. Finally, we discuss how this particular choreographing of climate change is one of the arenas through which a post-political frame and post-democratic political configuration have been mediated.
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Nobel-price winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen introduced in 2000 the concept of the Anthropocene as the name for the successor geological period to the Holocene. The Holocene started about 12,000 years ago and is characterized by the relatively stable and temperate climatic and environmental conditions that were conducive to the development of human societies. Until recently, human development had relatively little impact on the dynamics of geological time. Although disagreement exists over the exact birth date of the Anthropocene, it is indisputable that the impact of human activity on the geo-climatic environment became more pronounced from the industrial revolution onwards, leading to a situation in which humans are now widely considered to have an eco-geologically critical impact on the earth's bio-physical system. The most obvious example is the accumulation of greenhouse gases like CO2 and Methane (CH4) in the atmosphere and the changes this induces in climatic dynamics. Others are the growing homogenization of biodiversity as a result of human-induced species migration, mass extinction and bio-diversity loss, the manufacturing of new (sub-)species through genetic modification, or the geodetic consequences resulting from, for example, large dam construction, mining and changing sea-levels.(Online publication September 22 2011)
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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.
Article
This article examines the governance of international carbon offsets, analyzing the political economy of the origins and governance of offsets. We examine how the governance structures of the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism and unregulated voluntary carbon offsets differ in regulation and in complexity of the chain that links consumers and reducers of carbon, with specific consequences for carbon reductions, development, and the ability to provide “accumulation by decarbonization.” We show how carbon offsets represent capital-accumulation strategies that devolve governance over the atmosphere to supranational and nonstate actors and to the market.