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.
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.
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.
Calls for the ‘politicization of the environment, one that is predicated upon the recognition of radically different possible socio-environmental futures’.
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.
Noel Castree theorises neoliberalism as ‘one contingent way in which the enduring imperatives and contradictions of capital accumulation can be managed’. He argues that ‘nature’s neo-liberalization’ is a ‘project driven by political economic elites that marginalizes the poor and calls forth resistance’ conceding that such resistance ‘can reconfigure the project in its specific geographical manifestation’ (Castree, 2007: 11).
Countering the dispossession of subaltern agency
The problem with these approaches is that resistances, and the political in more general terms, become added on to these stories about neo-liberalisation They are not made integral to theorizing about practices of neo-liberalisation. Instead they are treated as secondary aspects of these phenomena, as effects or reactions, rather than as things that matter in constructing accounts of the relations between space, neoliberalisation and the political.
Movements labelled as ‘environmentalisms of the poor’ or ‘subaltern political ecologies’ have challenged the dominant ways of framing environmental politics.
These movements construct political agency through the practices through which they have brought the unequal and unsustainable social and environmental relations of power that constitute neo-liberal globalisation into contestation.
T hese movements construct dynamic, productive and fissiparous geographies of antagonism and contestation. They disrupt the the nation-centred accounts of politics of Swyngedouw, Žižek and Mouffe.
Forms of subaltern politics which are constituted through ‘unruly pattern[s] of flows and alliances’ (Edwards, 2003) .
Formed through antagonistic relations to dominant ways of generating ‘globalisation’, whether these be mercantile capitalist, imperial or neo-liberal.
Forms of political activity that have contested dominant forms of globalisation, but have eschewed, challenged or exceeded bounded forms of the local.
Echoes Gramci’s notion of counter-hegemony which signals forms of resistance constituted through connections and articulations between unlike actors (see Gramsci, 1971).
Delineates new cartographies of subaltern agency.
Spatial practices of networked internationalism
Political identities and solidarities can be formed through intervening in the constitution of networked social relations.
Places can be sites where different trajectories are brought together.
Networked forms of solidarity produced through particular forms of formatting, policing and constitution of networks.
Recursive relations between the formation of solidarities and the construction of maps of grievance.
Construction of maps of grievance in relation to climate change
Contestation of US/ Bush over Kyoto
Contestation of oil companies, e.g. ESSO boycott.
This has given rise to spatially and materially heterogeneous alliances and politics, e.g. Platform, PPT process.
‘ It’s the Oil Stupid’: networking antagonisms
Scotland has been chosen as a symbolic place for the Pre-Hearing as it is one of the main oil regions in the UK, and it has been one of the bases of BP operations for many decades. Seven of Scotland’s top ten companies are in the oil and gas sector. The Scottish city of Aberdeen could be considered as the offshore capital of Europe. Four of Scotland's top ten carbon dioxide emitters are located in the Grangemouth complex in central Scotland. Grangemouth is one of the largest refineries in the UK and was owned by BP till 2006. The refinery processes crude oil from around the world making this asset of strategic importance for the UK. In 2002 BP was fined £1m for breaching safety laws. The fine was the largest of its kind imposed in Scotland, according to the Health and Safety Executive. Community activists living close to the Grangemouth refinery attended the pre-hearing to show solidarity with the Colombian people affected by BP operations overseas.
Testimony of Edgar Mojica, Human Rights Commission of Colombian Oilworkers Union USO
Edgar Mojica demonstrated that the neo-liberal reforms that have been implemented to the contract regime, replacing Contracts of Association with new Concession Contracts, allow multinational corporations to take a much increased share of oil income.
Testimony of Adelso Gallo, Social Organisations of Arauca
Gallo concluded that there is a constant pressure to eliminate the social movement in Arauca. Social, civil and political rights such as freedom of expression, of movement, of protest, of organisation are being repressed. State organisations responsible for controlling abuses have themselves become complicit. The result is a complete crisis in Arauca brought about by subservience to the multinational corporations and their plunder of natural resources.
Testimony of Shubhaa Srinivasan, Leigh Day & Co Solicitors
“ Maria owns a very small farm. She reared chickens, sold eggs, grew fruit trees such as guanabana, lemon, mango and sugar apple. Maria had one water source, which was used to sustain her farming activities. The OCENSA pipeline was constructed right across Maria’s property: this exposed vast amounts of soil, which during the rainy season got dragged down from the high points in the farm and caused land slides that destroyed Maria’s fruit trees and her entire house (located in the lower plains). Water supply through a community aqueduct was cut off and Maria has to obtain drinking water from a higher source by means of a long hose. Maria’s house regularly gets flooded during the rainy season and Maria had to build special cement structures to contain the water and take adequate precautions to protect her personal belongings to prevent them from being damaged. The first time Maria’s house was flooded the water destroyed her mattresses, a television, a heater and a fridge”.
British Petroleum and corporate social responsibility
Testimony of Manuel Vega, Corporación Social para la Asesoría y Capacitación Comunitaria - COS-PACC (Social Organisation for Community Training and Capacity Building)
Vega insisted on the joint responsibility of the Colombian state and transnationals like BP in the humanitarian, social, economic, political and cultural situation in the region and the role that the capitalist model has in all this. He concluded by asking if it is right that innocent campesinos have died and more than 50% of the population continue to live in poverty whilst BP continues to reap enormous profits from Colombia, and if this violence is just in order to guarantee security and stability for transnational capital and to attract new foreign investors.
Constitution of solidarities/ transnational networks
This event was very good at bringing diverse aspects of BP’s conduct in Colombia into contestation .
The event also brought together different activists with concern against BP.
This fed into a broader set of transnational organising practices through the PPT.
Tensions: networks formatted in particular ways
The political struggles of other places, including Scotland, subordinated to the politics/ political situation in Colombia.
The political outcomes were structured by a strong concern with human rights. This was arguably conceived of in quite narrow ways.
As a result broader aspects of environmental/ social relations such as climate change politics were slightly edged out of this set of political interventions.
Human-centred framing of transnational activism
Our fundamental concern is that the exploration, extraction and exploitation of Colombia’s oil resources by BP and other multinational corporations has been carried out at enormous, unrecognised and uncompensated loss of human life amongst communities in the oil producing regions.