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02.07.conference.guy baeten Presentation Transcript

  • 1. Saving the planet, climate cataclysm and the staging of a Malthusian moment Guy Baeten University of Lund, Department of Human Geography, Sweden Conference on Environmental Conflict, Barcelona, 2-3 July 2010 ” The pulse of the earth”, installation in Copenhagen, Bella Center, COP15, 2009
  • 2. thoughts
    • Crisis of vision for environmental change
    • Crumbling environmental visions
      • Sustainability as ’impoverished utopia’ (Garforth, 2006)
      • Climate change: technocratising intellectual monopoly over environmental future slowly loosing its momentum
    • Vacuum filled by a coming together of disturbing environmental visions (the apocalypse, Malthus and the climate)
      • Longing for the political: post-political condition begs for politics
      • Apocalyptic imaginaries as main vehicle
      • Return of anti-humanism and the staging of a Malthusian moment
      • The left incorporates what was once regarded reactionary
  • 3. Apocalyptic aphrodisiac
    • Our collective dreams of fear and desire weigh at least as heavy, probably heavier, than our theories and analyses
    The apocalypse is part of our ideological baggage. It is aphrodisiac, nightmare, a commodity like any other. You can call it a metaphor for the collapse of capitalism, which as we all know has been imminent for more than a century. We come up against it in the most varied shapes and guises: as warning finger and scientific forecast, collective fiction and sectarian rallying cry, as product of the leisure industry, as superstition, as vulgar mythology, as a riddle, a kick, a joke, a projection. It is ever present, but never ’actual’: a second reality, an image that we construct for ourselves, an incessant production of our fantasy, the catastrophe in mind HM Enzensberger 1978 Chesley Bonestell
  • 4. Making sense
      • Fear of ’the end’ is socially constructed and then manipulated by those who seek to benefit from it (Altheide, 2002)
      • ’ Nebulous anxiety ’ (Bourke, 2005)
      • ’ Crisis of causality’ (Francois Ewald):
        • hurricane drought flood heat cold fire tsunami...
      • ’ Ecology of fear’ (Mike Davis): fear becomes the norm, exceptional risks become normal risks
      • General shift from a fearsome life towards a life with fearsome media (Grupp 2003)
      • Dystopia itself, rather than what dystopia is a response to, is the distinct problem of our times (Furedi 2007)
      • Apocalypse as a way of life: mobilising power hollowed out
        • ” Environmental crisis has plagued the world as a global awareness since the mid-twentieth century and it haunts us today. When people first became aware of the enormity of the crisis, for example through Silent Spring, 1961, they responded with alarm. Today, we are numbed by apocalyptic messages, and people know it’s bad but they have come to accept the deterioration of the planet. Apocalypse and environmental crisis have become part and parcel of everyday life”
    F Buell 2004
  • 5. Historical classics of environmental dystopia
    • First written account
      • John, Book of Revelation
    • First English novelist account
      • D Defoe, A Visitation of the Plague, 1665
    • First scientific account
      • R Malthus, 1798
    • First socialist account
    • F Engels, 1848
    • First literary accounts
    • J Carey, The Intellectual and the Masses, 1992
  • 6.
    • Today: rapid succession of climatic disaster possibilities
      • Nuclear winter
      • Global cooling
      • Global warming
  • 7.
        • From climate concern to rumbling climate cataclysms
      • OPPOSITE OF SCIENCE
        • Post-politics includes all in a consensual pluralist order and excludes radically those who posit themselves outside the consensus.
    John Houghton, IPCC, 1996 Al Gore, 1995 Tony Blair, 2005 “ The science is clear. The global warming debate is over ” Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2006 ” reducing greenhouse gas emissions will contribute to the material salvation of the planet from mankind’s greed and indifference” Those who disagree with the existence of global warming are ”intellectually, politically, and morally bankrupt” “ Global warming is too serious for the world any longer to split into opposing factions on it ”
  • 8.
    • POLITICS OF THE STATUS QUO
      • Forecloses the articulation of divergent, conflicting and alternative trajectories of future environmental possibilities
      • Nature and its problems increasingly appropriated by a techno-political elite
      • End of environmental choices, end of bottom-up imagination of environmental futures
      • One apocalyptic future, to be avoided, and then everything will be the way it is. Does not promise change whatsoever
    • END OF SOCIAL ANALYSIS
      • United humankind versus Apocalypse
    The existing notion that environmental problems are scientific conundrums that can ultimately be resolved through the application of expert knowledge ignores the incontrovertible reality that these issues are situated at the intersection of inseparable social and technoscientific systems Maurie Cohen, 2007
  • 9. Today: dystopia reproduces deeply uneven colonial, sexist, racist relations
      • Production of knowledge is firmly (not exclusively) in the hands of a white, western, male (US-dominated) scientific community
      • The saviours of the earth and humankind:
        • The politician, the producer, the prince, and Pete Postlethwaite
        • The soldier, the scientist
      • The saved: the poor, women, third world, children
      • The return of the ’strong man’ (S Faludi)
      • Unless we can devise a way of removing the CO2 from the Earth atmosphere, we will lose half of all species on Earth. Then whether we can stop the virtual extinction of mankind, well, worryingly, the jury is still out on that too
  • 10. Today: apocalyptic Malthusianism
    • From James Loveloc
    “… in a few decades the Earth could cease to be the habitat of seven billion humans; it will save itself as it dispatches all but a few of those who now live in what will become the barren regions. We in Britain live on one of the safe havens where life can continue in the heat age.” “ But what if at some time in the next few years we realise, as we did in 1939, that democracy had temporarily to be suspended and we had to accept a disciplined regime that saw the UK as a legitimate but limited safe haven for civilisation. Orderly survival requires an unusual degree of human understanding and leadership and may require, as in war, the suspension of democratic government for the duration of the survival emergency. “ I suspect that effective action to sustain this island community will come from some form of internal tribal coherence and rare leadership, not from international or European good intentions.” James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, 2009 (He nominates Sir Crispin Tickell as the new environmental authoritarian leader) World faces 'perfect storm' of problems by 2030 John Beddington, 2009, government’s chief scientific advisor There are far too many people living in Britain already. Once our population passed the 20 million level around 1850, it became too numerous. We have long passed the line of sustainability. As for the planet, its maximum sustainable population is no more than 3 billion, I would say. UK population must fall to 30m Jonathon Porritt, chair Sustainable Development Commission Aubrey Manning
  • 11. OPTIMUM POPULATION TRUST David Attenborough, Jane Goodall, Paul Ehrlich, Aubrey Manning, Jonathon Porritt, Crispin Tickell, ...
    • UK population policy: 30 million people
      • zero net migration
      • fewer economic migrants
      • encourage parents to stop at 2 children
      • reduce unplanned pregnancies among teenagers
    •   UK fertility policy
      • new guidelines for the portrayal of sex by broadcasters, aimed at countering the glamorization of sex and motherhood among vulnerable groups
      • teach people not to have sex yet
    • UK migration policies
      • reintroduction of UK border controls
      • tougher penalties for employing illegal labour
      • tougher penalties for assisting fraudulent asylum claims
      • no amnesty for illegal immigrants, deportation
      • universities should raise fees for overseas students
    Apocalyptic merger of deeply misanthropic, authoritarian, reactionary, conservative, post-democratic, xenophobic, elitist, approach to the environment
  • 12.
    • “ Babies in Dakar, Senegal. The cost-benefit analysis commissioned by the OPT claims that family planning is the cheapest way to reduce carbon emissions.” (The Guardian, 3 Dec 09)
  • 13. One apocalyptic future
      • Nature and its problems slowly monopolised by a techno-political elite
      • End of environmental democracy,
      • End of environmental imaginaries by the people,
      • Foreclosure of environmental futures,
      • Appropriation of reactionary, Malthusian, discourses by the Left
      • One natural apocalyptic future, to be avoided, and if so, everything will be the way it is.
      • What does environmental engagement mean beyond avoiding the apocalypse?
      • ” Follow me and I will lead you away from the abyss. We will save everything the way it is”
    The apocalyptic metaphor promises relief from analytical thought, as it tends to throw everything together in the same pot... Everything is conceived as a hidden sign of an imaginary totality: catastrophe in general. The tendency to hasty generalisation damages that residual power of clear thought that we still have left Enzensberger 1978