Hypatia Symposium – Interview with Michael Doan

Michael Doan, Eastern Michigan University, on “Complex Problems and Motivational Inertia.”  This video interview, conducted by C. Shaheen Moosa, accompanies Doan’s article “Climate Change and Complacency,” published in Volume  29, number 3, 2014.

Browse the entire special issue of Hypatia here.

Hypatia Symposium – Interview with Heidi Grasswick

Heidi Grasswickthe George Nye and Anne Walker Boardman Professor of Mental and Moral Science at Middlebury College, on “Climate Change, Positionality, and Responsible Trust.”  This video interview, conducted by C. Shaheen Moosa, accompanies Grasswick’s “Climate Change Science and Responsible Trust: A Situated Approach,” published in Volumed 29, number 3, 2014.

Browse the entire special issue of Hypatia here.




Hypatia Symposium – Climate Change, Buen Vivir, and the Dialectic of Enlightenment: Toward a Feminist Critical Philosophy of Climate Justice by REGINA COCHRANE

Climate Change, Buen Vivir, and the Dialectic of Enlightenment: Toward a Feminist Critical Philosophy of Climate Justice

hypatia_coverRegina%20Cochrane%20 REGINA COCHRANE

Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Calgary

The following is an EXCERPT, click here to read the full article

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The issue is not… what the critics of civilization… have in mind. The point is rather that the Enlightenment must consider itself, if men are not to be wholly betrayed. The task to be accomplished is not the conservation of the past, but the redemption of the hopes of the past. (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972, xv)

1 The Climate Crisis in Latin America: A Crisis of Modern Civilization?

In the lead-up to and wake of the failure of the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP 15) in Copenhagen in December 2009, a number of important mobilizations focusing on the climate crisis have been initiated and/or held in Latin American regions severely affected by climate change. Most of these regions—notably, the Andes and the Amazon—also have a significant indigenous presence. The 2009 World Social Forum, which met in the Amazonian city of Belém and marked the first significant inclusion of indigenous perspectives within the WSF framework, opened with a Pan-Amazonian Day focusing on climate change. In an initiative originating at this meeting, indigenous delegates invited groups from around the world to organize local actions later the same year, as part of a Global Mobilization for Mother Earth, in order to “open up the debate… with the proposal of the indigenous peoples, so as to halt climate catastrophe” (CAOI et al. 2009). This was followed by the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights, called by Bolivian president Evo Morales and held in Cochabamba in April 2010. Discussions on indigenous responses to climate change continued at the 2010 Americas Social Forum in Asuncíon, Paraguay—the only Latin American country to grant official status to an indigenous language (Guaraní)—and at the Rio+20 People’s Summit, held in conjunction with the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. The Cochabamba climate conference and the Asuncíon ASF were also notable for the inclusion of workshops bringing urban feminists together with indigenous women to discuss the implications, for women, of these proposed responses to climate change.

Although most activists and NGOs from the Global South attribute the climate crisis to “the prevailing socio-economic system in the world today—a system that has proven capable of generating unprecedented wealth for some at the same time [as] impoverishing the majority of people and devastating the planet” (Quintos and Corpus 2010, 6), these recent Latin American mobilizations have shifted the blame instead to what they describe as a culturally oriented “civilizational crisis.” This focus is illustrated by the 2009 call for the Global Mobilization for Mother Earth:

Greed for profit and accumulation, the individualism of capitalism, have brought about a deep financial, economic, productive, social, cultural, racial and religious crisis.… So many and such deep simultaneous crises form an authentic crisis of civilization itself: a crisis of the myth and the snare of “capitalist development and modernity”; of Eurocentrism, with its one-nation state, cultural homogeneity, Western positive law, developmentalism and commercialization.… We, the indigenous peoples, for thousands of years have built civilizations based on balance and harmony between human beings and Mother Nature. For that reason, we knew how to conserve biodiversity and to produce foods essential for humanity, in societies without exploitation. Today we offer our values, our practices and our knowledge to save the planet, without capitalist imposition, destruction nor contamination. (CAOI et al. 2009)

In more specific terms, what has been offered at recent Latin American mobilizations, as values, practices, and knowledge capable of responding to climate change and “saving the planet,” is the recuperation of the indigenous Andean cosmovision of sumak kawsay(Quechua) or suma qamaňa (Aymara), which translate into Spanish as buen vivir or vivir bien (Huanacuni Mamani 2010, 15) and into English as “good living” or “living well.” This stance is stated most forcefully and most clearly in the position statement drawn up and distributed by a coalition of indigenous organizations at the Rio+20 People’s Summit:

The climate crisis is not a technical but rather an ethical and political problem. We must turn our eyes toward Mother Earth, see her as something sacred, treat her with respect. This is the main contribution of the indigenous peoples of the Andes and their organizations: a new civilizational paradigm, Buen Vivir as the alternative to climate change and to the civilizational crisis. (CAOI et al. 2012, 7)1

Hence, as Christophe Aguiton and Hélène Cabioc’h succinctly observe in the title of their article discussing the emergence of the concept of buen vivir at the Belém WSF and the Cochabamba climate conference, “climate justice calls into question Western modernity” (Aguiton and Cabioc’h 2010, 64). Moreover, the key aspect of modernity questioned is modern reason. Buen vivir is thus presented as a “new approach to Nature, different from modern rationality such as the West has brought” (69).

This call for a civilizational shift to buen vivir in response to climate change has to be understood in relation to contemporary political developments in Ecuador and Bolivia—which have large indigenous populations—as well as trends in wider academic circles in Latin America. Both Ecuador and Bolivia reformed their constitutions, in 2008 and 2009 respectively, officially adopting the status of “plurinational” states and incorporating buen vivir/vivir bien as ordering principles in their new constitutions (León 2010, 98). According to Aymara sociologist María Eugenia Choque, these reforms are in keeping with an “Indianist ideology” that, in response to five centuries of extreme racism and marginalization, seeks to recover indigenous identity and self-esteem by reconstructing indigenous communal authorities (Lanza 2012, 3). It is important to note here, as well, the involvement in these debates of Latin American academics—mostly sociologists and economists—whose previous work focused on critiques of Eurocentrism, coloniality/modernity, Enlightenment universalism, and Western epistemology (Escobar 2010, 76–80), and “civilizational models” (Lander 2000, 12).2

Most indigenous advocates of buen vivir and their academic allies call for the rejection of Western values and “modern rationality,” except for limited applications or hybdridizations in fields such as (green) technology (Quirola Suárez 2009, 107; cf. Lanza 2012, 3) and law (Santos 2010, 157). However, certain Latin American feminists are questioning this proposed “civilizational shift.” Pointing to the dangers of idealizing and essentializing traditional communities, Bolivian sociologist Cecilia Salazar, for example, contends that modernity cannot be reduced to capitalism and that it contains emancipatory elements like the individual rights associated with leading one’s own life (Lanza 2012, 15).

While searching for alternatives to the multifaceted crisis of global warming (Acosta 2010, 78), “there is no room, then, for either dogmas or orthodoxies” (87), insists Ecuadorian economist Alberto Acosta. Indeed, given its incorporation of “critical” trends in Western thought, Acosta emphasizes that buen vivir is not purely Andean in either its origins or its aspirations (Escobar 2012, xxvi). In a debate that has turned into a minefield of identity politics,3 Acosta’s intervention opens up space for a contribution from feminist political philosophy in order to examine, at a more theoretical level, some central assumptions being made in the above responses to global warming. Hence, the discussion that follows will delve further into Salazar’s stance on the emancipatory elements in modernity by linking a more developed version of this position to a critique of certain problematic suppositions about nature, the reason/nature divide, and Enlightenment prevalent in contemporary debates about buen vivir. It will argue that, in order to adequately address both the climate crisis and feminist concerns about buen vivir as a response to climate change, a different critique of Enlightenment modernity is necessary—one drawing on Adorno’s nonidentitarian philosophy of negative dialectics and on the negative dialectical understanding of Enlightenment modernity that he developed with early Frankfurt School colleague Max Horkheimer.

In order to make the case that Adorno’s negative dialectical understanding of Enlightenment constitutes an important point of departure for a feminist critical philosophy of climate justice, this paper will be organized as follows. In part II, the arguments for buen vivir as a response to climate change, made by Latin American academics and indigenous intellectuals, will be analyzed in more detail in order to uncover problematic assumptions therein about nature, the reason/nature divide, and Enlightenment modernity. Part III will examine feminist critiques of buen vivir and relate these critiques to the assumptions uncovered in the previous section. In part IV, Adorno and Horkheimer’s understanding of nonidentity, the disenchantment of nature, and the dialectic of Enlightenment will be explored in order to reveal certain resonances with buen vivir while moving beyond the limitations of buen vivir as highlighted by indigenous Andean and Latina feminists. The paper will conclude, in part V, with a brief discussion of how feminist critiques of buen vivir and feminist calls for climate justice can be furthered via engagement with an environmental feminist philosophy informed by a negative dialectical critique of Enlightenment.

Buen Vivir as a Response to Climate Change and the Crisis of Enlightenment Reason

Ecuadorian feminist economist Magdalena León provides a useful summary overview of the main tenets of buen vivir:

Buen Vivir is described as the collective achievement of a full life or a life [lived] in fulfillment, based on harmoni[ous] and balanced relations among human beings and all living beings, [co-existing] in reciprocity and complementarity. It involves the acknowledgement that human beings are part of nature, that we depend on it and that we are inter-dependent among ourselves. This perspective signals a break with the centrality of the individual, as well as the superiority of human beings and the notions of progress, development and “well-being” in the capitalist sense. (León 2012, 24)

For León, global warming is the product of a “civilizing pattern” that is destroying the foundations of life. In contrast, buen vivir represents an evolving economic alternative that is “displacing not only the centrality of the market but also the centrality of human beings [and] giv[ing] way to the acknowledgement of life in an integral sense” (23).

The emphasis accorded by León to the break with the individual and to collectivity, harmony, reciprocity, complementarity, and interdependence among humans and with nonhuman nature all indicate that buen vivir subscribes to a holistic ontology of nature, at both the human and nonhuman levels. Moreover, acknowledging that humans form part of nature while insisting on their nonsuperiority/noncentrality to life as such—assertions in keeping with a holistic understanding of nature—problematizes the separation of human from nonhuman life produced by the Enlightenment’s disenchantment of nature. Finally, questioning the centrality of the individual, progress, and science-and-technology-based development—all central pillars of the European Enlightenment project—when added to the implicit call to re-enchant nature implies a fundamental challenge to Enlightenment and rationality per se. That these interrelated themes are central in the endeavor to recuperate buen vivir can be supported by a more detailed examination of how each is treated in writings of other Latin American academics and indigenous intellectuals supporting the buen vivir project.

In keeping with the holistic vision that it draws from ancestral knowledge (Benalcázar 2009, 130), buen vivir “proposes a cosmovision of harmony of human communities with nature, in which the human being is part of a community of persons that, in turn, is a constituent element of the Pachamama herself, of Mother Earth” (Quirola Suárez 2009, 105). Buen vivir is thus a communitarian paradigm (Huanacuni Mamani 2010, 40) that views the human being as naturally cooperative and gregarious, as “a social and solidary individual who attains fulfillment in life shared with others” (Ramírez 2010, 125), in a community extending beyond social relations to a profound relation to life itself (Huanacuni Mamani 2010, 33). In this larger community of humans with nonhuman nature, harmony is maintained by keeping consumption within the limits that the ecosystem can sustain (49). Hence, buen vivir is a value system specifying ethical and spiritual codes of conduct in relation to the greater social and natural environment (Wray 2009, 55-56).

Proponents of buen vivir insist on the need for strengthening and defending human rights and democracy (Acosta 2010, 91). Indeed, they view “buen vivir, then, serv[ing] as a platform to discuss and apply responses… [to both] the devastating effects of climate change… and increasing social marginalization and violence” (Acosta 2012, 299). The emphasis, however, is placed on new laws conceived in holistic rather than individualistic terms and thus rooted in complementarity (Lanza 2012, 21), collective rights (Benalcázar 2009, 144), intergenerational justice (Quirola Suárez 2009, 104), ancestral communitarian natural law (Huanacuni Mamani 2010, 70), and cultural rights (Wray 2009, 56).

It is true, as Mexican economist Ana Esther Ceceña notes, that the separation of society from nature originates with Western culture and is not typical of the aboriginal cultures of the Americas (Ceceña 2010, 46). However, to claim that this separation arose from differences, dating back millennia, between a predatory, dualistic, hierarchical, and individualizing—that is, a proto-capitalist—culture, “born with the exaltation of the human,” and one that was nonpredatory, pluralistic, fraternal, convivial, and nature-identified (Ceceña 2012, 307–11) is essentialist and ahistorical. Equally essentialist and ahistorical is the claim that the human struggle for survival was gradually transformed into the desperate effort to dominate nature, a project that was ultimately accorded justification in the European philosophy of Bacon and Descartes (Acosta and Machado 2012, 68–69). Indeed, it must be emphasized that in premodern Europe—as in the indigenous cultures of the Americas—the prevailing mode of social organization was communal and the earth was viewed as a nurturing mother (Merchant 1980, 1–2).4

Delving into the issue at a deeper level by drawing on the Weberian notion of the “disenchantment of nature,” Venezuelan sociologist Edgardo Lander notes the rise to hegemony, in the Western world, of a form of reason that separates itself from the rest of nature. This reason is associated with a subject who turns nature into an external thing or object to be known, in order to control it and thus transform it into material goods for human consumption. For Lander, it is the sustained growth of this “industrial civilization” and its “logic of mercantilization” that has led to the contemporary civilizational crisis—a crisis whose leading edge is nature’s destruction “in most profound terms [via] so-called climate change” (Lander 2010, 161–65). This Eurocentric, colonial (171), and “carcinogenic civilizational pattern” (164), which naturalizes human inequality and wages a systematic war against nature, must be radically questioned (171). He elaborates on this:

This exteriority [of reason to nature] has big implications. In the first place, it implies that, unlike [in] other cultures, so-called nature is totally disenchanted; that is, nature completely loses all sacred character.… If the human is thought of as the other, different from so-called nature, an absolutely instrumental relation is thus established with so-called nature—I am saying “so-called nature” because obviously we are all part of nature, we are all part of life, there does not exist any possibil[ity of] separation between humans and life—a relation so instrumental that it appears perfectly normal to us that we speak of water, that we speak of iron, that we speak of the forest as natural resources.… Life is not a resource. Therefore, to think of life as a resource is to think in a totally instrumental form, totally negating of and destructive of life. (Lander 2010, 162, my emphasis)

Lander’s insistence on the need, before time runs out, for a new “cosmovision” capable of healing the radical human–nature separation introduced by the West and its modern civilizational pattern (159–63) is widely shared by proponents of buen vivir. Whereas Ceceña proposes “turning back” this separation that was spread by Western colonization (Ceceña 2010, 46–47), Acosta seeks to facilitate the “re-encounter” of humanity and nature by “bind[ing] the Gordian knot cut by the force of a conception of life that turned out to be predatory and indeed intolerable” (Acosta 2012, 297). If the disenchantment of nature is a totally negative phenomenon arising out of greed and the desire for vivir mejor—a “living better” rooted in unlimited progress, endless accumulation, and competition that relegates the vast majority to “living badly,” vivir mal—calling for its reversal would seem to be the only option.

Hypatia Symposium – Weathering: Climate Change and the “Thick Time” of Transcorporeality by ASTRIDA NEIMANIS, RACHEL LOEWEN WALKER

Weathering: Climate Change and the “Thick Time” of Transcorporeality

hypatia_coverAstrida Neimanisloewen_walker







Researcher, Gender Studies, TEMA Institute,  Linköping University, Sweden


Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Saskatchewan


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Introduction: Toward a New Imaginary of Climate Change

If there is something like climate change, perhaps it takes this form: not only a mutation of this climate (warming, depleting, becoming more volatile) but an alteration of what we take climate to be. (Colebrook2012, 36)

Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. August. Spruce trees at Swallowtail, root-toes curled around the rocky outcrop in a resigned sort of precarity. Made to coexist with the credence of the Fundy weather, these timbered lives are permanently swayed, their strong backbones constantly giving way to the wind. The weather-archive of their multiply ringed existences has stories to tell: of a hurricane’s landfall, or the eye of a maritime gale; of coastal droughts, and semidiurnal tides, and the Atlantic sun filtered through sea smoke and autumn fog and the clear-eyed blue of nothing at all. How has the hot breath of the earth, the battering of its rain, the reprieve of its gentle snows shaped my own sinews, my gait, the ebb and flow of my own bodily humors? Duration, spread across my skin with the slow sweep of the seasons. Like these trees, we are all, each of us, weathering.

Although framed in a language of urgency and impending crisis, “climate change” has taken on an abstract quality in contemporary Western societies. Melting ice caps and rising sea levels are “perceived as spatially and temporally distant” (Slocum 2004, 1) from our everyday lives. This distance is related to the time scale and global reach of the problem, but also stems from scientific discourses that “produce vast quantities of sometimes contradictory, abstract statistics and data” (Duxbury 2010, 295). Commentators repeatedly note that climate change has become “difficult to comprehend or connect with in an appreciable way” (294). Claire Colebrook has argued that we suffer from a “hyper-hypo-affective disorder” (Colebrook 2011, 45) whereby despite being surrounded by warnings of resource depletion, predictions of changing weather patterns, and a growing cinematic imaginary of the world’s end, “there is neither panic nor any apparent affective comportment that would indicate that anyone really feels or fears [this threat]” (53). She describes this imaginary as one invested in the consumption of affect (transfixing news coverage of a “natural” disaster; the rush of an apocalyptic movie) without intensity—without any mobilization of responsivity or sense that our bodies and our time are mutually implicated in environmental changes. It is within this context that we recognize the need for a different kind of ethos in relation to climate change, one that would mobilize the responsivity and intensity of which Colebrook writes. We need to rethink the “spacetimematter” of climate change and our implication therein.

Like other climate change theorists and activists, we propose to bridge the distance of abstraction by bringing climate change home. As described in many climate change appeals, this home is a Western, urban, and domesticated home that more often than not seeks to extract itself from the weather-world. But we recall, too, that oikos is both “home” and another way of saying “eco.” In this paper we thus also invite our readers to be interpellated into the ecological spacetime of a much more expansive home, at once as distant as that melting icecap, and as close as our own skin. This home is a transcorporeal one, “where human corporeality… is inseparable from ‘nature’ or ‘environment’” (Alaimo 2008, 238). To bring climate change home, in this context, entails reconfiguring our spatial and temporal relations to the weather-world and cultivating an imaginary where our bodies are makers, transfer points, and sensors of the “climate change” from which we might otherwise feel too distant, or that may seem to us too abstract to get a bodily grip on. We propose that if we can reimagine “climate change” and the fleshy, damp immediacy of our own embodied existences as intimately imbricated, and begin to understand that the weather and the climate are not phenomena “in” which we live at all—where climate would be some natural backdrop to our separate human dramas—but are rather of us, in us, through us, we might ignite the intensity that Colebrook calls for.

To build this project, we draw on feminist new materialist and posthumanist approaches that help us to understand climate change and human bodies as partaking in a common space, a conjoined time, a mutual worlding that we call weathering. We maintain that this sort of concept-creation can help gestate the new imaginary we call for. Like the more immediately embodied interventions by eco-artists such as Kirsten Justesen, Basia Irland, or Roni Horn that have the ability to frame climate change in powerful and personally felt ways (Alaimo2009; Duxbury 2010), we argue, along with Elizabeth Grosz, that philosophical interventions can also “move [us] beyond the horizon of the present” (Grosz 2012, 15): concepts can supply us with “the provocation to think otherwise, to become otherwise” (22). Weathering is one such provocation. In creating this concept, we draw on Stacy Alaimo’s conception of transcorporeality to counter the fallacy of a bifurcated understanding of “nature” and “culture”—or of weather and humans—and propose instead an understanding of ourselves as weather bodies. The ebb and flow of meteorological life transits through us, just as the actions, matters, and meanings of our own bodies return to the climate in myriad ways. In order to better explicate the mechanics of these transactions, and the ontology they evidence, we also draw on Karen Barad’s theory of intra-action. Barad’s understanding of things as perpetually worlding—that is, as materializing from the intra-actions of always emergent things-in-phenomena—suggests to us the concept of weathering. With Barad, we recognize that relata do not precede relations (Barad 2007, 136): neither humans (replete with tools, products, and prostheses) nor the meteorological milieu of weather patterns, phases, and events can be understood as a priori relata. Instead, it is through weathering—the intra-active process of a mutual becoming—that humans and climate change come to matter.

Weathering, then, is a logic, a way of being/becoming, or a mode of affecting and differentiating that brings humans into relation with more-than-human weather. We can grasp the transcorporeality of weathering as a spatial overlap of human bodies and weathery nature. Rain might extend into our arthritic joints, sun might literally color our skin, and the chill of the wind might echo through the hidden hallways of our eardrums. But not coincidentally, the idea of weathering also invokes a certain perdurance—a getting on with, a getting by, a getting through. If transcorporeality is to be a meaningful theory for understanding climate change, then more careful attention to the temporalities that are an inextricable part of these relations is required. In part, we make this call because climate change as both phenomenon and discourse is thoroughly temporal: changing weather patterns, time-lines of the earth’s rising temperatures, and charts mapping its slowly mutating climatic cycles remind us that weather and climate are far from static events. At the same time, neoliberal “progress narratives” of human-directed salvation jockey for position in the dominant climate change imaginary with environmental “sustainability narratives” of holding onto or even reverting to a pristine almost-past (the incompatibility of these temporal orientations most often going unremarked). Our proposal to reimagine climate change as a transcorporeal, intra-active phenomenon, then, is one that pays specific attention to the temporality of weather bodies—both human and more-than-human.

This intervention in our cultural imaginary of climate change would enable us to think the relationship between human bodies and climate according to what we call “thick time,” a transcorporeal stretching between present, future, and past, that foregrounds a nonchronological durationality. This project shifts away from the dominant temporality of climate change discourse, where progress and sustainability narratives meld in the anticipatory mode of “what should we do to stop climate change?” and instead asks “how is climate change me?” We seek to cultivate a sensibility that attunes us not only to the “now” of the weather, but toward ourselves and the world as weather bodies, mutually caught up in the whirlwind of a weather-world, in the thickness of climate-time. In short, as weathering.

Importantly, this shift away from the “stop climate change” temporal narrative is not for us a weakening of possibilities for ethico-political engagement, but rather an opening up of a different sort of political and ethical orientation toward these questions: a politics of possibility and an ethics of responsivity. Whereas a politics of possibility rejects the idea that climate change can be stopped or solved according to predetermined actions, an ethics of responsivity recognizes that the dream of solution must give way to an ongoing engagement with a weather-world in flux: an engagement that must necessarily extend beyond our individualized “home” to the larger transcorporeal one that we share.

Nor does our proposal seek to denigrate other feminist analyses of climate change that underline the gendered, racialized, and colonial power politics at play in both how climate change is experienced and how responsibility should be attributed (for example, Alaimo 2009; Seager 2009; Cuomo 2011; Glazebrook 2011). In fact, it is in explicit recognition of the ways in which bodies are differently situated in relation to climate change that we call for greater attention to our own weathering. If climate change is an abstract notion, this is closely bound to a privileged Western life that is committed to keeping the weather and its exigencies out, and that is geared toward the achievement of a flat, linear temporality of progress undisturbed by those same exigencies. For academics (including feminist philosophers) and others similarly bound to a temporality of school terms, grant cycles, and publishing deadlines, we are pressed upon by the imperative to seal out the weather. Moreover, international air travel, transnational collaborations, and research or sabbatical stays are themselves weathermakers, and to live continuously across time zones can aggravate the cultivation of the sensibility of thick time we describe in these pages. Yet if such a life is the reality of our authorial we, and perhaps of your readerly one, too, we feel compelled to explore how an embodied existence more or less beholden to velocity, placelessness, and screen-based sociality can nonetheless nurture the sort of imaginary we call for. In other words, the interpellated “we” of this paper is fairly specific, even while weathering as a way of living this imaginary is not limited to this “we.” Weathering is already lived, in nuanced and particular ways, by the subsistence farmer, the young person sleeping rough, the woman who collects household water from a drying reservoir miles from her home, the wheelchair-user on a flooded city street (not to mention the spawning salmon, the baobab tree, the algal bloom, the Arctic ice). Each of these bodies has its own temporality, its own rhythms of weathering, yet we are all implicated in one another’s spacetimes as weathermakers. The ethos of responsivity we call for demands attunement to and acknowledgment of these other temporalities, and a more humble, generous, and self-reflexive understanding of how our own weathering may bear upon that of others.

One final caveat is necessary before proceeding. In both scientific and common discourse, one will not find the easy flow between and interchange of the phenomena of “weather” and “climate” (or climate change) that you will find here. As explained by phenomenologist Julien Knebusch, whereas weather normally refers to a temporary state in the atmosphere, climate is more likely to refer to “large meteorological time such as seasons.” When we sense climate, we do not sense only the immediacy of the weather, but the relative stability of the weather over time. As Knebusch writes, even if climate stability is, on a larger scale, a myth, “for human sensations such stability is not a myth at all” (Knebusch n.d., 5). Whereas climate illuminates patterns over time, weather events are often surprising, capricious, and (seemingly) isolated—they may fulfill these overall patterns, or not. Knebusch notes that the feeling of weather is in fact most palpable when it contrasts with or interrupts the “constancy over time” that climate suggests to us (6). Such distinctions promote a spatialized view of climate time (that is, as something that we are “in” and whose linear progression we are outside observers to), while also suggesting that weather has no temporality at all. We hope to show that these distinctions between climate and weather are tenuous. Attention to the material archive of weather in any body—a human, a starfish, a tropical storm—reveals the history of a lightning flash, or the thick present of a February heat wave. Excavating the thick time of a weather event also illuminates a patterning in the dense duration of all phenomena. Although we recognize the practical desirability of retaining a distinction between “climate” and “weather,” in the context of our arguments here a loosening of this distinction is necessary. Our aim is to reduce the distance between the enormity of climate change and the immediacy of our own flesh. If we can hone a sensibility of ourselves as weather bodies in thick time, climate change can become palpable in the everyday, just as the duration of our bodies, prostheses, and projects becomes diffused through the thick time of the weather-world.


Hypatia Symposium – Interview with Petra Tschakert

Petra Tschakert, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and The Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) at Pennsylvania State University, discusses important themes in gender and climate change for the Hypatia Special Issue on Climate change.

Browse the entire special issue of Hypatia here

Interview conducted by C. Shaheen Moosa.

Hypatia Symposium – Gender & Geoengineering by HOLLY JEAN BUCK, ANDREA R. GAMMON, CHRISTOPHER J. PRESTON

Gender and Geoengineering

Ph.D. candidate, Development Sociology, Cornell University

Ph.D. candidate, Environmental Philosophy, Radboud University Nijmegen

Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Montana




The following is an excerpt, click here to read the full article

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In the years following Nobel Prize-winner Paul Crutzen’s 2006 landmark editorial essay on atmospheric albedo enhancement (Crutzen2006), the idea of engineering a technical solution to climate change has seen a surge of interest. The suggestion that the “perfect moral storm” (Gardiner 2011a) of climate change might be solved by turning an intractable social, economic, and political problem into a solvable technical and scientific one has created a giddy sense of relief in some quarters and a dark sense of foreboding in others. Although there is a rapidly growing literature on the ethics of geoengineering (Gardiner 2011a; Svoboda et al. 2011; Preston 2012a), very little has been written about its gender and justice dimensions. Given that the ethical considerations pertinent to geoengineering include challenges about participation, potential harm to the marginalized, hubristic attitudes about control, and the emblematic question of “whowould get to set the global thermostat?” it is clear this is an area ripe for gender analysis.

Geoengineering has been helpfully defined as “the intentional manipulation of the earth’s climate to counteract anthropogenic climate change or its warming effects” (Corner and Pidgeon 2010, 26). An early report by the UK’s Royal Society on the main technical and governance issues of geoengineering established what has become a canonical distinction between methods focusing on solar radiation management (SRM) and methods involving carbon dioxide removal (CDR). Whereas CDR would slowly remove atmospheric carbon to restore a safe level of greenhouse gases, SRM would cool the planet more rapidly by reflecting back a portion of the sun’s energy before it has the chance to warm the earth, the oceans, and the atmosphere. Examples of proposed SRM techniques include shooting aerosols into the stratosphere using ballistics, fighter jets, or specially erected hoses and pipes; spraying seawater into the air from ships with tall towers; launching mirrors into space to act as a shield; and wrapping deserts in shiny polyethylene-aluminum sheeting. Examples of the CDR “family” of technologies include afforestation, ocean fertilization, capturing carbon directly from ambient air, and burying biochar to sequester carbon within the earth (Launder and Thompson 2010; SRMGI 2011).

This two-part division of the technologies might already seem gendered for its Freudian imagery: tall spraying devices, nozzles, ejections, dressing up the earth versus fertilizing the oceans, burying things, and sequestering away material. The commonly portrayed risk profiles of the two approaches are also suggestive of a matching gendered slant. SRM gets the attention as a technologically advanced, bold, and risky method. Deployment of an atmospheric shield to deflect solar radiation suggests an Apollonian type of confrontation demanding quick action, steely nerve, and technological prowess. The Royal Society characterized CDR, by contrast, as “a longer term approach to addressing climate change” with “fewer uncertainties and risks” (Royal Society 2009, 54). CDR is usually perceived as slower, gentler, and more natural. Pollution control, if that is what CDR really amounts to, may lack some pizzazz, but it is something almost everyone can get behind, especially if it involves planting trees and engaging citizens.1

Our intention in this paper is not to address this question of whether the SRM/CDR distinction is gendered, though it may be an interesting question in its own right. We plan to look at engineering the climate more broadly in order to examine where gender appears—and where it ought to appear—in the politics, ethics, and science of geoengineering. We intend to suggest areas where the geoengineering discussion should be opened up to issues of gender. Moreover, the need is urgent given that preliminary discussions of geoengineering are rapidly moving toward field-testing and plans for the governance of future deployments.

The Gender Dimensions of Geoengineering

There are a number of compelling reasons to raise gender awareness across several geoengineering axes. From a sheer numbers perspective, half of those who will be affected by geoengineering are women, though women are currently represented at only a fraction of this proportion within the geoengineering community. From an impacts perspective, some women are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of climate change (Dankelman 2002; Cuomo 2011) and in these cases might have more to gain from the benefits geoengineering promises. At the same time, the exact impact of many geoengineering strategies on precipitation and other climate parameters is uncertain and may remain so. Some women may have more at stake in this uncertainty, for example, if they lack access to typical adaptive coping mechanisms, such as migration to cities, access to capital, or educational opportunities to pursue different types of work. From a history of science standpoint, the narrative of masculine attempts to control earth systems introduces many fascinating questions. This means that from a political, funding, and purely pragmatic perspective, geoengineering is particularly vulnerable to an ecofeminist critique, and a failure to acknowledge gender-associated concerns could easily derail the geoengineering agenda. No matter where you sit—as a citizen, policy-maker, natural or social scientist, historian, ethicist, engineer, or lobbyist—to understand what geoengineering means for society in anything more than a superficial sense, the gender-and-geoengineering dynamic must be an integral part of the conversation.

In the discussion below, we consider four contexts in which geoengineering appears to have important gender dimensions: (1) the demographics of those pushing the current agenda, (2) the overall vision of control it involves, (3) the design of particular technologies, and (4) whom geoengineering will most impact and benefit. Our treatment of these areas is intentionally introductory; we aim only to open up discussions deserving greater attention. Following that, we explore three ways the geoengineering discussion could potentially become more gender-aware.

Who Is Pushing Geoengineering?

In an article written in 2011 for the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Australian environmental commentator Clive Hamilton lambasted what he called “the geoclique” currently responsible for much of the geoengineering discourse. Using a term coined by Eli Kintisch (2010), Hamilton argued that global debate on geoengineering is dominated by a remarkably short and recurring list of individuals. According to Hamilton, this group is made up of “a very small group of North American scientists”—harboring mostly “Promethean” views of a “science-as-saviour” culture—who have made themselves the “go to guys” on climate engineering (Hamilton 2011). Hamilton suggested this clique lacks an appreciation, more common in Europe, for the “complexity and capriciousness” of the earth.

Although Hamilton’s characterization may be critiqued—some European governments are actively funding geoengineering research—it is beyond question that the geoengineering discussion is not being driven by a representative sample of those with a stake in it.

An early study of media reports on geoengineering counted the assertions made about geoengineering in print and online news articles through mid-2010, and found that women made just 3% of those assertions (15 out of 500). Women were simply not being quoted on this topic (Buck 2013).2 In geoengineering science, women author research less often than men. A look at the top 100 journal articles sorted by relevance in EBSCO Academic Search Premier—a multidisciplinary database—revealed that 17% of authors were women.3 A similar level of representation was found at the IPCC expert meeting on geoengineering held in Lima, Peru in June 2011, where 8 of the 51 attendees were women (15%) (IPCC 2012, 97). Furthermore, when women do appear in the discourse, it is frequently—though not exclusively—within domains peripheral to the “hard science” of geoengineering: social science, policy, and ethics.

Women’s under-representation in engineering more generally has been highly criticized, often out of concerns about women accessing opportunities to succeed in these fields or about lost innovation opportunities. Part of our disquiet about women’s under-representation here, however, lies not so much in the idea that women/society are missing out on geoengineering careers/discoveries, but in the framing and decision-making powers that participation in geoengineering research implies. Women’s under-representation in the early discussions of geoengineering is consistent with a more general pattern of “power inequalities in decision-making” about natural resources (Arora-Jonsson 2011, 749). In a draft report written for the Green Political Foundation, Christa Wichterich notes a persistent glass ceiling and lack of “recognition of feminine expertise” in climate matters:

Only after 14 rounds of negotiations, did the UNFCCC secretariat finally call on the parties to carry out gender-sensitive measures in 2008. When UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon assembled an advisory group on Climate Change Financing in 2010, however, he appointed 19 men. Following vehement protests, the high-level body was expanded to include then French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde. (Wichterich 2012, 4)

These low figures provoke all sorts of questions (Denton 2002). Emerging technologies are subject to rapid and contentious framing in the print and electronic media. Exactly how (and by whom) the technology gets framed has broad implications for which of the numerous ethical and political dimensions of geoengineering are seen as most salient (Nisbet 2009; Scott 2012). Women currently have a minority voice in explaining what geoengineering is and in influencing how it is presented in the media.

Of course, the gender breakdown of the participants in these types of discussions does not tell the whole story. Equally important as who is doing the talking and the framing is what are they talking about. Matters here appear to be improving, but progress is slow and still mixed (Dankelman 2002). Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) does now consider women and gender issues when considering impacts, adaptation, and vulnerabilities (for example, IPCC 2007), but only in 2011 were efforts to include references to gender throughout the Green Climate Fund finally successful (Wichterich 2012, 14). A submission by the Asia-Pacific Women’s Group to the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June of 2012 did add a gender component to the nascent geoengineering discourse, stating that:

Women are greatly concerned by corporate driven technological solutions to climate change that are harmful to the planet and people. Such technologies must be subject to rigorous, transparent and participatory assessments including the implications on women’s and children’s health and well being. (APWMGS 2012, 18)

Yet a meeting held simultaneously in Lima, Peru that discussed geoengineering at the IPCC for the first time did not include the words “women” or “gender” anywhere in its ninety-nine-page meeting report. The report mentioned the word “justice” only once. Although it’s certainly imaginable that these sorts of omissions might be justified by the nature and intent of any one particular meeting, the omissions raise questions about whether decision-making power is already skewed (Dankelman 2002; Arora-Jonsson 2011) and the geoengineering agenda currently reflects only the visions of those who dominate it.

Geoengineering and the Domination of Nature

Path-breaking work in ecofeminism in the 1980s and 1990s found the roots of the environmental crisis in a masculinist approach to nature that favored objectification and domination of the nonhuman world (Merchant 1980; Plumwood 1994). Reductivist and mechanistic trends coupled with a Baconian view of scientific knowledge as “power over nature” led to the idea of science best serving human needs only through complete and total control of the nonhuman, transforming nature “from a teacher to a slave” (Merchant 1980, 169). The image of nature as machine, devoid of animus, ready to be molded to serve a technology-driven civilization was the outcome of a sequence of ideas from European men such as Bacon, Harvey, Descartes, Newton, and Boyle. The machine image asserted a “new confidence in control as well as the narrow and instrumental view of nature associated with a technological outlook” (Plumwood 1994, 109). Faith in the predictability of mechanistic nature reached its apogee in the claim made by Pierre Laplace that, if given the position and the velocity of every particle in the universe, an intellect vast enough could predict all future states. For such an intellect, Laplace asserted, “nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes” (Laplace 1951, 4). The quest for certainty hinged on an understanding of nature as passive, determinate, and entirely predictable.

The old mechanist’s dream of predictability still lives on in much research, from the “hard” sciences to economics, quantitative social science, and geopolitical scenario-building. Carolyn Merchant writes: “the assumption of order is… fundamental to the concept of power, and both are integral to the modern scientific worldview” (Merchant 1980, 230). A growing appreciation of nonlinear dynamics and chaotic systems means that the confidence of early mechanists has today been replaced by a more sanguine approach to the possibility of perfect prediction in certain domains. Climate science offers a powerful example of a case where, despite huge advances in observation and modeling, the ability to precisely predict and control is limited. Although scientists can predict general trends with great confidence (IPCC 2007), the ability to model the exact nature of local impacts remains constrained. The complexity of the climate system provides a distinct caution against the flight to objectivity (Bordo 1987) and the quest for certainty.

These features of climate science spill over into a dilemma about geoengineering. On the one hand, the climate is obviously a physical system subject to the influence of incoming short-wave solar radiation, the composition of the atmosphere, and numerous chemical and hydrological parameters. Mechanistic principles clearly apply. Such a system might invite the “imposition of human purposes and treatment as an instrument for the achievement of human satisfactions” (Plumwood 1994, 110). The flavor of old hopes lingers within the geoengineer’s dream. On the other hand, the nonlinearity in the system makes the exact nature of geoengineering’s outcomes uncertain, especially on local and regional scales (Pongratz et al. 2012). This uncertainty is something almost all contemporary geoengineers are careful to acknowledge, if to differing degrees. Alan Robock thinks that the “inherent risks and uncertainties” are enough to prevent SRM from “ever be[ing] implemented on a global basis” (Robock 2012, 202). Juan Moreno-Cruz and his colleagues suggest that regional inequalities “may not be as severe as is often suggested” (Moreno-Cruz et al. 2011, 649).

In the first article written by an ethicist on geoengineering, Dale Jamieson lamented the hubris in “attempts to manipulate nature in order to make it conform to our desires rather than forming our desires in response to nature” (Jamieson 1996, 331). Jamieson suggests caution with the mechanistic and manipulative metaphors that have informed technological endeavor since the scientific revolution. To the extent that those metaphors can still be found within geoengineering, Carolyn Merchant’s and Val Plumwood’s ecofeminist critiques will apply as much to the age of geoengineering as they have to earlier technological endeavors.

Hypatia Symposium – Climate Change & Complacency by MICHAEL D. DOAN

Climate Change and Complacency

hypatia_covermichael_doanMICHAEL D. DOAN
Assistant Professor, History & Philosophy Department, Eastern Michigan University


The following is an EXCERPT, click here to read the full article

Browse the entire special issue here


Climate scientists, social scientists, and environmental ethicists have issued dire warnings. Current global greenhouse gas emissions trajectories exceed the worst-case scenario envisioned in the fourth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC2007), making it unlikely that the global average temperature will be held to a 2°C increase over preindustrial levels given present mitigation efforts. Societies are already coping with unusually frequent and intense weather events (heat waves, cold spells, “supercharged” storms), ecological disturbances (melting glaciers, rising sea levels, floods, droughts, wildfires), pressures to modify traditional agricultural practices, and compromised food and water security. Current inaction has prompted experts to consider even more dangerous scenarios involving more than 3 or 4 degrees of warming (Smith et al. 2009). These scenarios force societies to face devastating collapses of social and technical infrastructure, forced displacements and relocations of peoples, conflicts over lands and resources, and escalating losses of life.

Although climate change is undoubtedly a physical phenomenon, as the editors of this special issue emphasize, it is one built on complex social and political understandings and responses. Its origins and impacts cannot be understood without taking into account complex histories of the transformation and domination of lands and of peoples under settler colonialism and other imperialist systems of rule, propelled by capitalist imperatives of economic growth and white supremacist, heteropatriarchal social orderings. Indeed, the causes, benefits, and burdens of environmental degradation have rarely been parceled equally. Much less can climate change be understood in isolation from current patterns of socioeconomic inequality and political disempowerment that stand to be exacerbated in societies structured and expressed spatially along lines of gender, sexual orientation, class, ethnicity, race, age, and ability (Goldberg 1993, ch. 8; Anthony 1995; Pulido 2000; Westra and Lawson 2001; MacGregor 2010). As Chris Cuomo stresses, “climate change is a matter of global social justice” that is already intensifying the ecological and social vulnerabilities of large portions of the world’s population, in many cases “precisely because they uphold ecological values that have not been engulfed by global capitalism and technological modernization” (Cuomo 2011, 693, 695).

Sorting out the responsibilities to be assigned and assumed in responding to climate change is a task that calls for broad-based participation. However, delegations from nation-states have persistently failed to elaborate and execute long-term coordinated response strategies, and surveys and polls suggest worrisomely low levels of public engagement within nations such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada (Nisbet and Myers 2007; Leiserowitz 2008; Upham et al. 2009; Newport 2010; Leiserowitz et al. 2011). These motivational challenges are particularly pressing in nations that have historically been among the highest emitters of industrial greenhouse gasses, and that continue along unsustainable pathways of resource extraction, production, consumption, and waste. In spite of detailed documentation of the role of corporate campaigns in promoting skepticism by generating misunderstandings of climate change (Hoggan 2009; Jacques 2009; Oreskes and Conway 2010), reverberating through conversations on what is commonly called the “problem of inaction” or the “value-action gap” among communications specialists (Moser and Walser 2008; Moser 20092012), social psychologists (APA 2009; Gifford 2011), social scientists (Eliasoph 1998; Blühdorn 2007; Norgaard 2011; Webb 2012), and geographers (Bulkeley 2000; Swyngedouw 2010), these motivational challenges remain puzzling. As political sociologist Ingolfur Blühdorn notes, “Trying to make sense of the evident contradiction between late-modern society’s acknowledgement that radical and effective change is urgent and inescapable and its adamant resolve to sustain what is known to be unsustainable is a hugely important and difficult task” (Blühdorn 2007, 272). Meanwhile, accusations abound of widespread apathy, ignorance, denial, and—to the point of my paper—complacency. Charges of this sort signal that there is nothing benign about resting content with the status quo, passively allowing for the formation of misinformed, imprudent, and ethically suspicious policies and practices.

What exactly does it mean to be “complacent on climate change”? Getting a better handle on diverse forms of what we might think of as “motivational inertia” seems crucial to furthering the political project of reducing the harms of climate change. I take it that the unprecedented nature of the problem calls for the reinvention of concepts that help us hold ourselves and others accountable in meaningful ways. For this reason I want to help make “complacent” a weighty political charge—a charge that, along with “corrupt” and “cruel,” picks out a “vice” that we need to work on remedying.

To be clear, complacency is one of several forms of motivational inertia standing in need of philosophical attention: apathy, indifference, resignation, and despair have all been subject to neglect (although see Geras 1998; Tessman 2005, ch. 4). Although I am interested in developing an account of the specific phenomenon of complacency, I propose that philosophers should understand multiple forms of motivational inertia from within a general framework of motivational vices. Further, there is cause to view these as species of what Lisa Tessman calls “ordinary vices of domination” (Tessman 2005, 54–79). Very roughly, a person should be seen as in the grips of a motivational vice when the ways she has been constituted as a moral agent prevent her from inquiring into, understanding, and responding well to a range of complex ecological and social problems. Although the broader vision of vice I espouse is indebted to more traditional treatments of virtues and vices, it is distinguished by its focus on the relational dynamics and structural processes that foster, sustain, and enforce various forms of motivational inertia.1 For this reason, I will draw upon and extend the work of feminist ethicists, critical philosophers of race, and moral psychologists, especially those who take relational and structural approaches to understanding human motivational capacities (Campbell 19972003; Walker 2007; Downie and Llewellyn 2012) and the epistemic practices of situated agents (Mills 1997; Code 2006; Sullivan and Tuana 2007).

I proceed as follows. In section I, I take up the recent work of Chris Cuomo and Susan Sherwin on the ethical and political dimensions of climate change. I suggest that Cuomo’s discussion of the “insufficiency” problem and Sherwin’s call for a “public ethics” jointly point toward particularly promising harm-reduction strategies. In section II, I review extant philosophical treatments of complacency, before going on to argue that Nicholas Unwin’s and Jason Kawall’s accounts are inadequate to the task of sorting out what it means to be complacent on climate change. In section III, I offer a sketch for an alternative account. To anticipate: although complacency is commonly thought of in terms of feelings of “self-satisfaction,” I argue that regardless of an agent’s self-directed feelings and explicitly held beliefs, they are complacent on climate change insofar as they are caught up in patterns of behavior that express settled expectations of self-sufficiency. Examining the phenomenon of complacency through a critical-feminist lens, I chart relationships between motivational inertia, privilege, and power by considering the circumstances under which changes in behavior and lifestyle are promoted and pursued as suitable responses to complex ecological and social problems. I also put into question depictions of complacency as a product of epistemic negligence for which individuals are solely and wholly responsible, and as a vice that individuals might “overcome” on their own, resisting the temptation to reduce complacency to ignorance or denial. Recognizing the urgent need to work collaboratively toward sustainable societies, those who are eager to be “shaken out of” complacency on climate change should not expect their journeys to be easy, or to take place overnight, worthwhile though they may be.

I. Publicizing Climate Ethics

No individual can even begin to slow climate change by reducing her own personal and household greenhouse gas emissions, even if she recognizes an ethical responsibility to do so. To make matters worse, should the vast majority of individuals and households the world over manage to drastically reduce their privately controlled emissions (changing light-bulbs, recycling more, and so on), their collective efforts would still be inadequate. Cuomo dubs this the “insufficiency” problem (Cuomo 2011, 701). Her recent work highlights the “rarely emphasized fact” that “household consumption and personal transportation account for a significant but minority slice of total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide,” which means that, “Even if personal sphere reductions that can be directly controlled by individuals and households are ethically imperative, they are insufficient for adequate mitigation” (701).

Indeed, mitigating climate change is an extremely complex practical challenge that cannot be met solely through the efforts of ethically conscientious individuals acting qua individuals. It is a political challenge in addition to an ethically and practically demanding one, which is to say that citizens of industrialized nations are called upon to exercise political agency in recognition of responsibilities we share with others worldwide (Young 2011). Especially weighty claims have been pressed on citizens of Western nations that have contributed the most to producing the industrial greenhouse effect over the last century and a half, and that continue along unsustainable pathways of resource extraction, production, consumption, and waste.. When government and corporate agents in high-emitting nations persistently refuse to acknowledge their roles in causing climate change, and decline to take responsibility for addressing the problem, Cuomo suggests that for concerned citizens, “political activism, popular education, and effective coalitions may be even more important than private-sphere mitigation efforts such as reducing one’s own carbon footprint” (Cuomo 2011, 707).

Cuomo’s argument should give us pause for at least two reasons. First, many people living in the West have grown accustomed to the individualization of responsibility for addressing climate change. As sociologist Janette Webb points out, it is not only environmentalists who have been pushing the idea that changing a light, recycling more, and planting a tree are particularly effective ways of slowing climate change and of transforming into environmentally conscious citizens. The prevalence of these recommendations must be understood in the context of neoliberal micro-economic governance in nations such as the US, the UK, and Canada, where common tactics include deploying behavior-change technologies to enable the transformation of individuals into “green consumers,” while offering incentives (for example, differential government funding; investment options with energy firms) to induce the cooperation of environmentalist groups. One effect is that consumers are encouraged to develop the capacity for performing “carbon-calculus,” internalizing the long-term environmental costs of their purchasing behaviors (Webb 2012, 116; cf. Szasz 2011). By coming to make more informed decisions in “markets designed to associate satisfaction, prestige and self-worth with increasing consumption of carbon-intensive products” (Webb2012, 119), green consumers are led to see themselves as undergoing profound lifestyle changes. Meanwhile, because the demands placed on individuals’ limited cognitive resources “leave little room to ponder institutions, the nature and exercise of political power, or ways of collectively changing the distribution of power and influence in society” (Maniates 2001, 33), the basic lesson absorbed through this mode of governance is that “we have to change radically, but within the contours of the existing state of the situation… so that nothing really has to change” (Swyngedouw 2010, 219). On the basis of her case study of Scotland, Webb argues that these tactics allow “the work of governance to proceed seemingly productively” (expert behavioral knowledge is guiding public policy; some people have become carbon-calculators), while ultimately offering “limited and largely self-defeating means of transition to a sustainable society” (Webb 2012, 121).

Second, engaging in political activism, popular education, and forging effective coalitions need not mean struggling to create alternatives to unsustainable policies through suitably democratic processes. Eric Swyngedouw argues that nurturing “apocalyptic imaginaries” of the world coming to an end is “an integral and vital part of the new cultural politics of capitalism,” for which a central leitmotif is the management of popular fear (Swyngedouw 2010, 219). These imaginaries tend to be wielded as means of disavowing social conflicts and antagonisms, effectively clearing the ground for invocations of Humanity as an agent of change while silencing the dissent of marginalized, disempowered groups. Swyngedouw contends that stoking populist sentiment in this manner “forecloses (or at least attempts to do so) politicization and evacuates dissent through the formation of a particular regime of environmental governance that revolves around consensus, agreement, participatory negotiation of different interests and technocratic expert management in the context of a non-disputed management of market-based socio-economic organization” (227). Thus, he underscores the need to turn “the climate question into a question of democracy and its meaning” (229)—not just a question of whether to engage in collective action, but of how to do so, with whom, through what organizational forms, with what modes of collective decision-making, and so on.

In light of growing acknowledgment that the only responses that seem workable involve collective action, Susan Sherwin has issued a call for a new kind of ethics: a “public ethics” (Sherwin 20082012). Extending her earlier work on “relational autonomy,” Sherwin attends to the many ways in which the activities of individuals, groups, and institutions are framed and constrained by the actions of agents at other “levels of human organization,” reminding us how thoroughly intertwined are the actions of individuals and the organizations to which they belong.2 Whereas her earlier work focused on how the autonomy of members of oppressed groups tends to be limited by the reasonable options made available in specific circumstances, she now appreciates that when it comes to climate change, “even those individuals with privilege and power are caught up in patterns of behaviour that are contrary to their deepest interests” (Sherwin 2012, 27). The problem is that many of us “lack the skills and infrastructure options necessary for making choices that give proper weight to the long-term consequences of the practices in which we collectively engage, and we find ourselves continually encouraged to focus on immediate gratification” (25).3

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