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  • Mark 2:25 pm on July 1, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: climate change, , ,   

    Did oil prices cause the financial crisis? 

    I’m a little wary of the causation here but it’s a provocative claim. Perhaps it does constitute an INUS condition, as J.L. Mackie put it, with the oil price spike igniting a precarious system which could have gone up in flames for other reasons. From Societies beyond Oil, by John Urry, pg 34-35:

    But this extravaganza came to a shuddering halt when oil prices increased in the early years of this century. Suburban houses could not be sold, especially where they were in far-flung oil-dependent locations. Financial products and institutions were found to be worthless. Easy money, easy credit and easy oil had gone together. And when oil prices hit the roof in these US suburbs, then easy money and credit came to an abrupt halt and the presumed upward shift in property prices was shown to be a false dream. The financial house of cards had been built upon cheap oil. When the oil got prohibitively expensive the house of cards collapsed to the ground. Timothy Mitchell observes how the ‘shortage of oil from 2005 to 2008 … caused a six-fold increase in its price. … The surge in oil prices triggered the global financial crisis of 2008–9.’

  • Mark 10:18 am on June 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: climate change, , liquid modernity,   

    The liquid powering liquid modernity 

    From John Urry’s Societies beyond Oil pg 9:

    Leading social analyst Zygmunt Bauman famously described the twentieth-century development of all this movement as a ‘liquid modernity’. But what he did not examine was how there was in fact a literal liquid –oil –that made this modernity, oiling the wheels of a globalizing society. It seemed that the modern world had struck ‘black gold’. Its supplies of oil powered up societies in many novel ways and this high carbon pathway would move onwards and upwards, developing and reinforcing Western modernity as both ‘business as usual’ and as ‘natural’. Urbanist David Owen refers to this twentieth-century development as ‘liquid civilization’, a mobile civilization based on the very cheap liquid of oil and for which there are no significant alternatives.

  • Mark 8:04 am on June 18, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: climate change, , ,   

    Professionalisation as capture  

    From Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything pg 203:

    These are the tough tools with which the environmental movement won its greatest string of victories. But with that success came some rather significant changes. For a great many groups, the work of environmentalism stopped being about organizing protests and teach-ins and became about drafting laws, then suing corporations for violating them, as well as challenging governments for failing to enforce them. In rapid fashion, what had been a rabble of hippies became a movement of lawyers, lobbyists, and U.N. summit hoppers. As a result, many of these newly professional environmentalists came to pride themselves on being the ultimate insiders, able to wheel and deal across the political spectrum. And so long as the victories kept coming, their insider strategy seemed to be working.

  • Mark 12:28 pm on June 13, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , climate change,   

    Fast movements struggle with slow issues  

    From Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything pg 158:

    Because this is a crisis that is, by its nature, slow moving and intensely place based. In its early stages, and in between the wrenching disasters, climate is about an early blooming of a particular flower, an unusually thin layer of ice on a lake, the late arrival of a migratory bird—noticing these small changes requires the kind of communion that comes from knowing a place deeply, not just as scenery but also as sustenance, and when local knowledge is passed on with a sense of sacred trust from one generation to the next. How many of us still live like that? Similarly, climate change is also about the inescapable impact of the actions of past generations not just on the present, but on generations in the future. These time frames are a language that has become foreign to a great many of us. Indeed Western culture has worked very hard to erase Indigenous cosmologies that call on the past and the future to interrogate present-day actions, with long-dead ancestors always present, alongside the generations yet to come. 

    In short: more bad timing. Just when we needed to slow down and notice the subtle changes in the natural world that are telling us that something is seriously amiss, we have sped up; just when we needed longer time horizons to see how the actions of our past impact the prospects for our future, we entered into the never-ending feed of the perpetual now, slicing and dicing our attention spans as never before.

  • Mark 2:33 pm on June 11, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , climate change, , ,   

    Why the EU matters for the future of the climate  

    I’ll add this to reigning in big tech as the best argument I can see for supporting the EU. Could any other power structure in Europe achieve this outcome? From pg 137 of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything:

    A 2012 report by the German National Center for Aerospace, Energy and Transport Research (DLR), for instance, demonstrated that 67 percent of the electicity in all of the EU could come from renewables by 2030, with that number reaching 96 percent by 2050. But, clearly, this will become a reality only if the right policies are in place.

  • Mark 7:45 pm on June 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , climate change   

    Can capitalism survive climate change? 

    From The Uninhabitable Earth pg 162-163:

    The question is a prism, spitting out different answers to different ranges of the political spectrum, and where you fall on that range probably reflects what you mean by “capitalism.” Global warming could cultivate emergent forms of eco-socialism on one end of the spectrum, and could also conceivably produce a collapse of faith in anything but the market, on the other. Trade will surely endure, perhaps even thrive, as indeed it did before capitalism—individuals making trades and exchanges outside a single totalizing system to organize the activity. Rent-seeking, too, will continue, with those who can scrambling to accumulate whatever advantages they can buy—the incentive only increasing in a world more barren of resources, and more mournful of recent apparent abundance, now disappeared.

    • landzek 2:52 am on June 12, 2019 Permalink

      Man; you read a lot. I guess that’s kind of your job though. 🙂. I think I was destined not to be an academic from the start because I have always read extremely slowly and for whatever reason I was good at hiding it maybe. At least, none of my teachers ever assessed me for reading speed or something like that.


      If indeed the climate is changing because of human activity then I would make an argument that there is no climate change without capitalism.

      Because the climate is always changing, if we are having an impact or are making a change in a different way than it should, then it must be exactly the ideas that we are having which allow the context by which climate change has meaning as a human involvement. And there is no possibility of having a contact outside of capitalism except to say that there is a context that is outside of capitalism, which then is existing within the context of capitalism itself. Climate change and capitalism are inseparable. And so when the climate actually changes to a significant degree that there is no more capitalism, there will be by definition no more climate change — except the fact that the climate is changing all the time. The measurements we make to show human involvement in the world necessarily show the significance of human involvement because the way that we are understanding it is exactly the context of our understanding of it, which is necessarily involved with the human being in a climate . 🥦😆

  • Mark 12:04 pm on June 9, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , climate change, , , ,   

    The epistemology of apocalypse  

    From Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything pg 105:

    The word “apocalypse” derives from the Greek apokalypsis, which means “something uncovered” or revealed. Besides the need for a dramatically better health care system, there was much else uncovered and revealed when the floodwaters retreated in New York that October. The disaster revealed how dangerous it is to be dependent on centralized forms of energy that can be knocked out in one blow. It revealed the life-and-death cost of social isolation, since it was the people who did not know their neighbors, or who were frightened of them, who were most at risk. Meanwhile, it was the tightest-knit communities, where neighbors took responsibility for one another’s safety, that were best able to literally weather the storm.

  • Mark 11:23 am on June 5, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: climate change, ,   

    Neoliberalism: the ideological wall blocking climate action  

    From This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, pg 72:

    Indeed the three policy pillars of the neoliberal age—privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector, and the lowering of income and corporate taxes, paid for with cuts to public spending—are each incompatible with many of the actions we must take to bring our emissions to safe levels.

    Klein offed a fascinating suggestion of a grand narrative that could have been, as an unprecedented upsurge of climate awareness & political cooperation in 1989 was swamped by the ‘end of history’ and the building of this ideological wall. 

  • Mark 9:33 am on June 1, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: climate change,   

    Climate change as doorstep politics 

    A few months ago James Meadway, advisor to John McDonnell, predicted on Novara media that climate change would soon become a doorstep issue in the UK. If unpredictable weather events become a regular part of life for people, the recognition of their underlying cause is immensely significant. However this passage from Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything left me feeling pessimistic. From pg 34-45:

    When public opinion on the big social and political issues changes, the trends tend to be relatively gradual. Abrupt shifts, when they come, are usually precipitated by dramatic events. Which is why pollsters were so surprised by what had happened to perceptions about climate change in just four years. A 2007 Harris poll found that 71 percent of Americans believed that the continued burning of fossil fuels would alter the climate. By 2009 the figure had dropped to 51 percent. In June 2011 the number was down to 44 percent—well under half the population. Similar trends have been tracked in the U.K. and Australia. Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center for People & the Press, described the statistics in the United States as “among the largest shifts over a short period of time seen in recent public opinion history.” 13 The overall belief in climate change has rebounded somewhat since its 2010–11 low in the United States. (Some have hypothesized that experience with extreme weather events could be contributing, though “the evidence is at best very sketchy at this point,” says Riley Dunlap, a sociologist at Oklahoma State University who specializes in the politics of climate change.) But what remains striking is that on the right-wing side of the political spectrum, the numbers are still way down. 14

    This question of how the ruptured expectations of everyday life are explained (or explained away) is an immensely interesting one. How will denialism sustain himself when the evidence something is changing becomes increasingly impossible to deny? Accept the change and attribute it to something else? Claim the change is innocuous? Deny it all together?

  • Mark 6:24 pm on May 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , climate change, , the robots are coming,   

    Climate change and digitalisation 

    I’ve been thinking a lot in the last couple of weeks about climate change and digitalisation. For instance the climatic significance of digital technology is increasingly recognised, as well as the resource constraints this implies for some of the wilder claims made about the coming frontiers of digitalisation. This also represents an ideological tension as one emerging grand narrative, or rather cluster thereof, concerns the implications of digitalisation (‘the robots are coming for our jobs!’, the possibility of fully automated luxury communism, industrial revolution 4.0, Jeff and Elon taking us into space etc) whereas the other concerns the implications of climate change. But one aspect I hadn’t thought about was this argument about the implications for economic productivity. From The Unhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells pg 120:

    For the past few decades, economists have wondered why the computer revolution and the internet have not brought meaningful productivity gains to the industrialized world. Spreadsheets, database management software, email—these innovations alone would seem to promise huge gains in efficiency for any business or economy adopting them. But those gains simply haven’t materialized; in fact, the economic period in which those innovations were introduced, along with literally thousands of similar computer-driven efficiencies, has been characterized, especially in the developed West, by wage and productivity stagnation and dampened economic growth. One speculative possibility: computers have made us more efficient and productive, but at the same time climate change has had the opposite effect, diminishing or wiping out entirely the impact of technology. How could this be? One theory is the negative cognitive effects of direct heat and air pollution, both of which are accumulating more research support by the day. And whether or not that theory explains the great stagnation of the last several decades, we do know that, globally, warmer temperatures do dampen worker productivity.

  • Mark 7:41 pm on May 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: climate change, narratives, rise of the robots   

    Should climate change be a master narrative? 

    Should climate change be a master narrative? It certainly has competition from neo-conservative narratives of the Chinese century, techno-dystopian narratives of the ‘rise of the robots’ or populist narratives of the great revival. But I find David Wallace-Wells very plausible here in The Unhabitable Earth on pg 53:

    In this way, climate change appears to be not merely one challenge among many facing a planet already struggling with civil strife and war and horrifying inequality and far too many other insoluble hardships to iterate, but the all-encompassing stage on which all those challenges will be met—a whole sphere, in other words, which literally contains within it all of the world’s future problems and all of its possible solutions.

  • Mark 11:52 am on January 20, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: climate change, , , technocracy, uncertainty   

    Why doesn’t technocrat have an antonym? 

    My notes on Hudson, M. (2018). Ending technocracy with a neologism? Avivocracy as a conceptual tool. Technology in Society, 55, 136-139.

    What does it mean to call someone technocratic? In this intriguing paper, Marc Hudson observes that the term is “thrown about as a term of abuse, but without a clear alternative other than ritual(istic) invocations of the need for citizens to be involved in decision making” (136). The common understanding of the term is clear enough, “derived from Greek words τέχνη, tekhn meaning skill and κράτος, kratos meaning power”:

    Technocracy is commonly understood as a type of governing/administration where everything is built upon self-proclaimed fully rationalised (and ideally evidence-based policy) and methods, in which all decisions and actions claim to be based upon scientific and technological knowledge. (136)

    But without an antonym, it’s hard to see what is at stake is using the designation and it muddies the war rather than clarifying matters. It is a term that almost always has negative connotations and is used near exclusively by critics of (what they define as) technocracy. A moralistic and pejorative term of this sort is likely to be dismissed by many of those who tend to be defined as technocrats, leading to the ironic state of affairs that it’s a framing which actually empowers those it intends to critique because “because it enables them to dismiss critics as merely moralistic” (136). Hudson therefore seeks an antonym purged of this moralism, able to demoralise claims about sustainability and position them as fully rational alternatives to the status quo. He lays out the case against technocrats on 137:

    Technocrats are criticised as actors who – by preventing certain
    ideas, values and their advocates entering the rooms where decisions
    are being made – institutionalise epistemic injustice, and use
    ‘practicality’ as an intellectual baton

    The core complaints about technocracy are familiar: the hubris of technocrats, their lack of accountability, their depoliticising effects. However it still leaves the question of the antonym of technocracy, with Hudson convincingly arguing that “the term democracy has become so emptied of meaning that on its own it does not act as an adequate antonym to technocracy”, even when qualified as monitory or deliberative (137). He considers a range of other possibilities: Luddism (rejected because of its pervasive, if inaccurate, connotations of technophobia), Holacracy (retaining the impulse towards control but channeling it through self-organised teams rather than a bureaucracy) and Permaculture (building stability through the modelling of natural processes, providing little vantage point from which to problematising technocracy). For this reason he reaches for a neologism:

    With the existing possibilities inadequate, what is needed is a word that refers to a form of rule by capturing the importance of acknowledging irreducible uncertainty, ambiguity and uncontrollability, beyond the usual blandishments about a ‘risk society’. A word is needed which espouses cognitive humility, acceptance of limitations (something some policymakers struggle with – and the need for “clumsy organisations” to deal with wicked problems and super wicked problems. (137)
    Avivocracy is intended to capture “the need for an acute awareness of the limitations of our ability not merely to see the world, but to control it” (138). It encompasses ”

    the efforts of reflexive governance, adaptive governance, flux ontology, grassroots resilience, monitory democracy, transitions management (rightly understood) and
    other ways of advocating reform of existing sclerotic and not fit-for-purpose institutions” (138). Democratising implications follow from this but it is a consequence rather than a cause with the weigh of avivocracy resting in an orientation to “the permanent, irreducible and escalating uncertainties of twenty-first century human civilisation” (138). If technocracy seeks to control, shut down or transcend these uncertainties, avivocracy seeks to cope with them and grow through them. It is not anti-technogical but rather suggests an orientation towards technology.
  • Mark 7:57 pm on July 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , climate change, , drought, environmental sociology, nature and society, , , ,   

    Politico-environmental crisis 

    In Naomi Klein’s new book No Is Not Enough, there’s a lucid overview of the intersection between political and environmental crisis. The role of drought in fermenting the conditions for the Syrian civil war was something which Marc Hudson first explained to me last year. From pg 182-183:

    The irony is particularly acute because many of the conflicts driving migration today have already been exacerbated by climate change. For instance, before civil war broke out in Syria, the country faced its deepest drought on record—roughly 1.5 million people were internally displaced as a result. A great many displaced farmers moved to the border city of Daraa, which happens to be where the Syrian uprising broke out in 2011. Drought was not the only factor in bringing tensions to a head, but many analysts, including former secretary of state John Kerry, are convinced it was a key contributor.

    In fact, if we chart the locations of the most intense conflict spots in the world right now—from the bloodiest battlefields in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Iraq—what becomes clear is that these also happen to be some of the hottest and driest places on earth. The Israeli architect Eyal Weizman has mapped the targets of Western drone strikes and found an “astounding coincidence.” The strikes are intensely concentrated in regions with an average of just 200 millimeters (7.8 inches) of rainfall per year—so little that even slight climate disruption can push them into drought.

    In other words, we are bombing the driest places on the planet, which also happen to be the most destabilized. A frank explanation for this was provided in a US military report published by the Center for Naval Analyses a decade ago: “The Middle East has always been associated with two natural resources, oil (because of its abundance) and water (because of its scarcity).” When it comes to oil, water, and war in the Middle East, certain patterns have become clear over time. First, Western fighter jets follow that abundance of oil in the region, setting off spirals of violence and destabilization. Next come the Western drones, closely tracking water scarcity as drought and conflict mix together. And just as bombs follow oil, and drones follow drought—so, now, boats follow both. Boats filled with refugees fleeing homes ravaged by war and drought in the driest parts of the planet.

    Surely these intersections should be at the forefront of how we imagine social processes? I realise there are many reasons why this isn’t the case but the one I’ve been pondering is the sustained hold of the nature/society distinction. If we see nature and society as distinct domains, we’re liable to be blind towards the environmental factors at work in social catastrophe. Only an idiot would deny the relationship in principle but the effects are projected into the future, as an expected horizon in which the natural will impact upon the social. But in doing so, their present entanglement with all the consequences flowing from this, comes to be lost in the analysis of events which are interpreted as narrowly political.

  • Mark 9:29 pm on December 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , climate change, , , ,   

    The Climate Agenda of Elites 

    From Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, loc 234-246:

    the key question surrounding climate change is not whether climate change is occurring, but rather who will survive the change. Even in the worst-case scenarios, scientists are not arguing that the Earth will become totally uninhabitable. What will happen—and is happening—is that struggles over space and resources will intensify as habitats degrade. In this context—and particularly in concert with the technological trends discussed above—it may be possible for a small elite to continue to pollute the planet, protecting their own comfort while condemning most of the world’s population to misery. It is that agenda, not any serious engagement with climate science, that drives corporate titans in the direction of denialism.

  • Mark 6:28 am on October 1, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: carney, climate change, , ,   

    over-reach by unelected technocrats 

    This is the debate which the Financial Times says has been prompted by Mark Carney’s intervention on climate change earlier in the week. His point seemed rather incisive to me, observing that “Since the 1980s the number of registered weather-related loss events has tripled” and that furthermore “Inflation-adjusted insurance losses from these events have increased from an annual average of around $10bn in the 1980s to around $50bn over the past decade”. Given the climatological evidence suggests that “challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance compared with what might come”, it’s a systemic issue for insurance which needs to be addressed. His concern stems from what he terms the tragedy of the horizon:

    We don’t need an army of actuaries to tell us that the catastrophic impacts of climate change will be felt beyond the traditional horizons of most actors – imposing a cost on future generations that the current generation has no direct incentive to fix.
    That means beyond:
    • the business cycle; 9
    • the political cycle; and
    • the horizon of technocratic authorities, like central banks, who are bound by their mandates.
    The horizon for monetary policy extends out to 2-3 years. For financial stability it is a bit longer, but typically only to the outer boundaries of the credit cycle – about a decade. 10
    In other words, once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late.

    As someone who is instinctively and reflectively hostile to technocrats, this strikes me as one of the strongest arguments it is possible to point to for the value of such figures. Their appointment frees them from narrowly political concerns, facilitating interventions which would be constrained by, among other things, the temporal horizons of other actors. This ‘freeing’ is both narrow and shallow. It is also a profoundly political act in its own right, representing a crucial strategy for placing increasing portions of economic questions beyond political scrutiny. But an adequate sociology of technocrats should recognize that insulating policy from politics will tend, all other things being equal, to grant a degree of freedom to the policy maker which is lacking for the politician (though indeed many other constraints may follow from the institutional arrangements in which the technocrat is embedded).

    I find the reaction to Carney’s speech curious because I find his intervention itself so plausible. But some have argued that this ‘over-reach’ risks politicizing his role in a way that would lead appointees to be made on the basis of political criteria in future. The interesting question becomes whether such criteria might be applied to other technocrats whose role within contemporary Europe I find much less persuasive. Can we see a nascent elite cultural reaction against the encroachment of technocracy in Europe over recent years? Or is ‘over-reach’ simply what technocrats do when one disagrees with the views they are espousing?

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