My latest paper – The Moral Geography of the Earth System

My latest paper is now out entitled, The Moral Geography of the Earth System. It is currently free access here (thanks Wiley!). And it is permanently open-access here, though only in read-only. If there is a problem with the second link try pasting this in your browser: https://rdcu.be/bw0VI (or click the link in the header to my publications page and go from there).

I’m especially keen on reactions to this article, which tries to do a couple of things to set up a concluding argument: that the form of integration achieved under neoliberal forms of sustainable development is now giving way to new forms of neoliberalism without nature.

The first half argues that one of the key things the Anthropocene is often taken to imply is the loss of ‘other’ spaces, places, and landscapes since one set of (cumulative) social actions now affect how the Earth system functions. The Capitalocene, for instance, is a way to describle those social actions as being primarily compelled and constrained by capitalist forms of accumulation or extraction. As interesting as those debates are, I’m interested here in how response to this loss of others has generated new attempts to describe how we might understand belonging in a new geological era. New debates around the (1) novelty of the Anthropocene, (2) temporal mis-matches between history and geology, (3) new ontological ideas about what is or may exist (or what is or may become), and (4) what sorts of agents need to be accounted for all shape this new arena. I try to think through the accounts of some of the most cited proponents of each. These aren’t necessarily the best accounts of each, and I didn’t pick them with a view to adjudicate. Rather, I chose them because even some of the most widely circulating accounts both have some residual problems (which I point out) and also tend to have targets to the side of new practices now shaping notions of belonging in the Anthropocene–perhaps most notably because they focus on macro, or meta-ethical claims about the proposed epoch as a whole, which is partly why I highlight the Earth system (which is changing in many different ways) rather than the Anthropocene.

So, the second part of the paper looks at two of these new practices as they are circulating in international law and, to some extent, among members of the Anthropocene Working Group. The first of these practices is the idea that we should use the planetary boundaries framework as a kind of grundnorm (a norm basic to all others) in global governance.  The second practice is the idea that humans are part of a geological sphere known as the technosphere that includes buildings, internet cables, and all of the materials and energy that are now organized to support humans. Both of these concepts are gaining steam, albeit in their own ways, as they circulate in the interdisciplinary conversations about how to make sense and semblance of different normative concerns that arise in the context of human impacts on the Earth system.

The final section of the paper names a phenomenon I term neoliberalism without nature. In part, this is a side-long response to arguments that neoliberalism has been rearranging nature for some time through new commodity chains, privatization, and so on. What I am more keen to point out, however, is that nature isn’t needed for any of this. That is, the economy doesn’t need some sort of ‘frontier’ or new space for accumulation in the classic sense that some political economists promote. In fact, I think the idea of neoliberalism without nature helps to focus a set of familial critiques developed by people like Eve Chiapello and Melinda Cooper, who have been pointing out how different financial technologies and practices increasingly shape understandings of how the environment and the economy are entangled with one another. I think that there is some room to expand on these kinds of critiques. I don’t do that in this article, but have plans to do so in the works.

 

 

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