Friday, March 13, 2015

Building bridges

I wilfully admit that most of my recent articles have been advocacy pieces in one way or the other, all unified by a desire to "accelerate the transition to a future where all the world's inhabitants can enjoy secure, free, prosperous, and fulfilling lives on an ecologically vibrant planet” (as the Breakthrough Institute so eloquently puts it in its vision statement). Important as this agenda clearly is, I have felt a growing need to also offer a deeper and more reflective statement of what my work means for green political theory. Published in Environmental Politics with Jonathan Symons as the lead author, our new article “Green Political Theory in a Climate Changed World: Between Innovation and Restraint” is an attempt to do just that and, as such, it is also an attempt to build bridges by eschewing some of our usual political activism.

Yet, reading the article again, I feel that it projects a tragic vision of the future which I am not entirely comfortable with. At the same time, there is no point in denying that the hour is late, that great values are being lost and that the political impasse preventing effective action on climate change is likely to last for many decades hence. One of our key conclusions is that debates over the desirability of economic growth or the role of breakthrough technologies in mitigation policy are unlikely to ever be bridged by rational analysis as participants in those debates hold diametrically opposing “logics of practice” (or habitus). If that is indeed true, then much of what I have done over the last ten years, i.e. trying to persuade environmentalists about the need for global welfare capitalism, may have been a lost cause (as some recent debates on Facebook indeed suggest). Yet, a more optimistic interpretation would be that people in the “middle” may still be influenced by good arguments and more fully recognize the terrible social, economic and political costs that any “decent” from modernity would impose. If that is enough to make them commit to an opposing “ascent” strategy by which technological change, social investments and political integration are allowed to set in motion virtuous circles of global peace and prosperity remains more doubtful though. So far, the evidence does not suggest it. Instead political ambivalence, private hedonism or even outright racism remain more plausible reactions.



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