From The Unhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells pg 89:

Sitting in a living room in a modern apartment in an advanced metropolis somewhere in the developed world, this threat may seem hard to credit—so many cities looking nowadays like fantasies of endless and on-demand abundance for the world’s wealthy. But of all urban entitlements, the casual expectation of never-ending drinking water is perhaps the most deeply delusional. It takes quite a lot to bring that water to your sink, your shower, and your toilet.

From The Unhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells pg 33:

Five years ago, hardly anyone outside the darkest corners of the internet had even heard of Bitcoin; today mining it consumes more electricity than is generated by all the world’s solar panels combined, which means that in just a few years we’ve assembled, out of distrust of one another and the nations behind “fiat currencies,” a program to wipe out the gains of several long, hard generations of green energy innovation. 117 It did not have to be that way. And a simple change to the algorithm could eliminate that Bitcoin footprint entirely.

I was fascinated to learn in The Unhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells that climate models end in 2100 as a matter of convention. I’d be interested to learn about how this convention emerges and what effect it has had on climate science. It’s easy to see the epistemological reasons for this, as the conditions being modelled become sufficiently complex that forecasting past a certain point becomes close to untenable. But why choose the turn of the century? It’s such a resonant point at which to cut off. I find it unnerving because, for example, my niece and nephew (5 and 3 respectively) could be expected to have an excellent chance of living to see the next century. A generation are being born now who will live to see past this horizon, with their children living to confront what could possibly come to be a literally uninhabitable earth.

The full significance of this cannot be overstated. If a million Syrians pushed Europe to the brink of fascism, what might ten or a hundred times that number do? The horrible irony is that the far right coming to the power makes it less likely that steps will be taken to control the climatological processes driving mass migration. But estimates of 200 million or even a billion climate refugees suggest a world radically different from the one we known, raising the distributing question of how fascism might seek to reinforce ‘borders’ that otherwise cease to function through militarised means. From pg 6-7 of The Unhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells:

Beginning in 2011, about one million Syrian refugees were unleashed on Europe by a civil war inflamed by climate change and drought—and in a very real sense, much of the “populist moment” the entire West is passing through now is the result of panic produced by the shock of those migrants. The likely flooding of Bangladesh threatens to create ten times as many, or more, received by a world that will be even further destabilized by climate chaos—and, one suspects, less receptive the browner those in need. And then there will be the refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the rest of South Asia—140 million by 2050, the World Bank estimates, meaning more than a hundred times Europe’s Syrian “crisis.” The U.N. projections are bleaker: 200 million climate refugees by 2050.23 Two hundred million was the entire world population at the peak of the Roman Empire, if you can imagine every single person alive and living anywhere on the planet at that time dispossessed of their home and turned outward to wander through hostile territories in search of a new one. The high end of what’s possible in the next thirty years, the United Nations says, is considerably worse: “a billion or more vulnerable poor people with little choice but to fight or flee.” A billion or more.

My notes on Liboiron, M., Tironi, M., & Calvillo, N. (2018). Toxic politics: Acting in a permanently polluted world. Social studies of science48(3), 331-349.

The authors of this paper take “a permanently polluted world” as their starting point. It is one where toxicity is ubiquitous, even if unevenly distributed. Unfortunately, “[t]he tonnage, ubiquity and longevity of industrial chemicals and their inextricable presence in living systems means that traditional models of action against toxicants such as clean up, avoidance, or antidote are anachronistic approaches to change ” (pg 332). The pervasiveness is such that we need to move beyond the traditional repertoire of management (separation, containment, clean up, immunisation) which is premised on a return to purity whiled depoliticising the production of that toxicity by treating it as a technical problem to be managed. In doing so, we can begin to see how toxic harm can work to maintain systems rather than being a pathology which ensues from systemic failure

There is conceptual work required if we are to grasp the politics of toxicity, encompassing how we conceptualise toxic harm, provide evidence for it, formulate responses to it and grasp the interests reflected in its production and management. This involves rejecting a view of toxicity as “wayward particles behaving badly” (pg 333). As they explain on pg 334, toxicity is relational:

Toxicity is a way to describe a disruption of particular existing orders, collectives, materials and relations. Toxicity and harm, in other words, are not settled categories (Ah-King and Hayward, 2013; Chen, 2012) because what counts as a good and right order is not settled.

They suggest a distinction between toxins and toxicants. The former occurs naturally in cells, whereas the latter are “characterized by human creation via industrial processes, compositional heterogeneity, mass tonnage, wide economic production and distribution processes, temporal longevity, both acute and latent effects, and increasing ubiquity in homes, bodies and environments” (pg 334). This includes naturally occurring minerals which are rendered problematic through industrial processes that lead them to occur in specific forms, locations and scales productive of harm.

Laws surrounding toxicants are based upon threshold limits, usually in relation to effects on human bodies. These are supplemented by cost benefit principles based around the avoidance of ‘excessive costs’ given available technologies. In this sense, the breakdown of order on one level (enabling toxicants to spread because it wouldn’t be ‘feasible’ to prevent it) facilitates the reproduction of order on another level (ensuring viable conditions for the continued reproduction of the commercial sector involved). I really like this insight and it’s one which can be incorporated into the morphogenetic approach in an extremely productive way.

This focus on toxicity enables us to links together these levels, providing a multi-scalar politics of life. There is a temporality to toxicity in which a slow disaster is not easily apprehended. For this reason agents seek to make it legible as a event through actions like photography or protest actions. But this easily gives rise to a politics of representation, seeing the claims of environmentalists as (at best) on a par with the claims of commercial firms. Rendering these processes legible through mechanisms like sensational images can reproduce existing differences between centre and periphery, the heard and the unheard.

Their interest is in modes of action “beyond governance-via-policy, in-the-streets-activism and science-as-usual” (pg 337). I’m not sure what their motivation is for this beyond the drive to “no longer privilege the modern humanist political subject and epistemologies based in claims and counter claims”: are they saying that a narrow politics of evidence and judgement has its corollary in public activism around public issues which have been established evidentially? I can see the analytical case for trying to get beyond this dichotomy but I’m not sure I see what is at stake politically in doing so. Their interest in actions such as  “the everyday, obligatory practices of tending to plants and others as toxic politics that do not necessarily result in scaled-up material change” doesn’t seem politically fruitful to me precisely because of the multi-scalar mode of analysis they offer (pg 341). Why should we challenge “activism as heroic, event-based and coherent” (pg 341)? Again I can see an analytical case for this, even if I disagree with it, but I don’t see what is at stake in this politically. It might be there are unintended consequences to thinking in terms of ‘effective outcomes’ but the force of this argument rests on an implicit claim about outcomes. Why is it important to “make room in dominant political imaginations for multiple forms of local, low resolution, uneventful, uneven, frustrated, desireful, ethical, appropriated and incommensurate forms of justice” (pg 343)?