Sunday, July 24, 2011

The post-Concorde world and the risk of planetary entrapment

Here below follows my abstract for the Annual Meeting of the Western Political Science Association to be held in Portland, Oregon, in March 2012:

The Aérospatiale-BAC “Concorde” was one of the fastest but also most polluting civilian aircrafts ever built. Capable of sustained flight at twice the speed of sound and at altitudes high enough to make the curvature of the Earth visible to its passengers, Concorde was a powerful symbol of the technological optimism that characterized the 1960’s. As such, and much like the now dismantled US manned space programme, the spirit of Concorde stands in stark contrast to the prevailing pessimism about the human enterprise. Instead of an accelerating modernity and rapid space colonization (as commonly envisaged fifty years ago) we have for some time witnessed a fading modernity with geriatric nuclear reactors, ageing infrastructure and paralyzing public austerity.

Although political ecologists may not have succeeded in bringing about the kind of structural end of global capitalism that they have long wished for, they have been surprisingly successful in spreading sufficient epistemic noise and doubt to deprive modern project of its utopian energies. Combined with neo-liberal rhetoric about the inherent wastefulness of public investments, this has created a very real risk that humanity will fall short of developing the technology necessary to break free of its planetary entrapment yet not halt the rate of environmental destruction to a degree that would ensure our survival here on Earth.

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