Generation Us: The Challenge of Global Warming

Provisional notes. To cleaned up when slides obtained and before communicating with Earth and Environment for discussion.

The Centre for Canadian Studies and the School of Earth and Environment, both of the University of Leeds, present ‘Generation Us: The Challenge of Global Warming’, a lecture on both the history and the future of the science of global warming. The acclaimed Canadian scientist and author, Dr. Andrew Weaver, will explore how international policy, media portrayal and technological solutions can all impact climate change, ultimately asking how modern society can turn the challenge of global warming to potential creativity and innovation. The lecture will take place on Monday, 31st October, 5pm-7pm, in Room 8.119 at the School of Earth and Environment.

Convincing account of the science of climate change. Showed the political  and age demographic of those most likely to doubt climate change is happening. Right wing and older.

Demonstrates that the agreed carbon emission targets designed to keep us below the 2 degrees ‘guard rail’ , even if we succeeed in meeting them, will not limit us to 2 degrees and 4 or more is likely.

Why scientists are bad communicators to the public. Always frame their answers with conditions and uncertainties. E’g of ‘is the sky blue?’ Also misrepresented in the media. Policies needed now to get results for future generations in 50 or more years. Not politically powerful compared with hospitals and so on – the 5 year election cycle. Bottom line: do we owe anything to future generations?

Showed how the  less developed nations who contribute less towards the problem are the most likely to be affected and the least able to mitigate or ameliorate. A Canadian emits250 time more carbon than an Ethiopian, e.g.

Continued growth on present scales is unsustainable. Equilibrium will be met but may not include humans. Gave the tragedy of the commons as a reason why we are in trouble. Individual advantage of an extra cow on the commons while costs are shared with all the others. But breaks down if all follow the same logic. Tend towards over grazing and destruction of the resource. Advocated technology as a solution – solar panels would only take up a very small are of the planet for instance. In addition the externalities should be priced in to reflect the true scarcity and cost of the resources used so that the markets work efficiently. In answer to questions about capitalism he said that a fixed capitalism woudl be prefereble to a Chinese command economy and would be possible. Why not have corporations that, having achieved a certain level of production, flatten and stop growth? A zero growth capitalism is possible.

How would this address issues of equality, equity and environmental justice? Reminiscent of Urry’s point, hopefully made tomorrow, that climate policy is framed almost exclusively in terms of science and technology coupled to a flawed and crude economic theory as a surrogate for social science. Weaver’s account of policy implications demonstrates this quite well.


What do we want? What is possible?

The right leaning media have been criticising the occupation at St Paul’s  in London for not being able to specify an alternative to the system they are against and, specifically, that their demands are poorly and inconsistently articulated. One possible response to this is that their objective is to keep the focus on the issues around the bankers’ responsibility for the economic collapse and the apparent immunity of the top 1% and their hangers-on and immediate collaborators to the consequences of their actions while the remaining 99% are bearing the financial and ideological brunt.  The occupiers’ actions provide a rallying point for discussion and further action and is drawing in ever larger numbers and organisations. The TUs are getting involved and there is even the possibility that Christians will form a defensive ring of prayer around the occupation to shield it from violent eviction!  The movement may not yet have a coherent set of ideas about an alternative society and how to get there but it is at the very least enabling and encouraging a space of dissent and resistance that leaves open a range of possibilities.

None-the-less, that discussion will sooner or later have to coalesce into a reasonably concrete vision of objectives and how to achieve them, in practice. It is difficult to over emphasise the considerable obstacles to doing this. I am currently working on some ideas about how to think about this and what the practical and political possibilities are. For the moment I will just list the conceptual resources I am starting to work with, in no particular order.

John Holloway’s ideas on Crack Capitalism and the possibilities for developing alternative modes of behaviour and ways of doing that resist reproducing the social relations of capital. Part of what I am doing is building on a critique of these ideas.

Zygmunt Bauman’s take on ‘liquid modernity’, the fact of irreducable uncertainty and what the role of sociology and socilogists should be.  This relates directly to his ideas on freedom ‘from’ and freedom ‘to’ and the possibilities of going beyond the naturalisation of the current system and promoting a dialogue, even a poly-logue, that makes thinking about and enabling alternatives that are emancipatory.

Slavoj Zizek’s view of what is possible as laid out in the Afterword –  Welcome to Interesting Times – of the paperback edition of Living in the End Times.

Norbert Elias’s ontology of ‘levels of integration’ and how, in a social developmental context, this creates increasingly far flung and dense networks of dependency and interdependency that help explain the relative lack of opportunity and power chances at the lower levels of integration (limited in autonomy, opportunity and mobility) and the relative autonomy and immunity of the higher levels of integration including, in Baumans’ terms, the free floating, trans-state and seemingly immune highly mobile global elites. It is difficult to see how much progress can be made towards a radical restructuring of society without taking these far flung networks of dependency into account.

I think to way forward for me will to be to produce a summary and critique of these thinkers ideas and then see to what extent some sort of synthesis may be of possible that is conceptually, empirically and politically useful. Maybe this is a project that could be conducted collaboratively in some way – perhaps via presentations, discussion and workshops in the sorts of spaces for resistance that are opening up?


Levels of integration, rioting and protest

Reading the introduction by Norbert Elias the  The Sociology of Community edited by Bell and Newby 1974. Richard Kilminster told me this is a recycling of an essay Elias wrote sometime before that is connected to his ideas on The Outsiders and the Established but explicitly is an application of his ideas on levels of integration. I think this is also illuminating on our current condition of burgeoning critique of our current state of affairs due to unregulated and dysfunctional capitalism but our lack of a way forward or any clear articulation of what needs to be done and to what ends. I will be making some notes here in due course on Zizek’s and Bauman’s take on this. It is a great shame Elias is no longer around to shed light on this but I think we an construct something along the lines of what he may have argued had he witnessed the Arab Spring, the the UK ‘consumerism by other means’ riots and the Occupy Wall Street movement spreading round the globe.

The nub of his argument is that as societies become more complex a higher level of integrations develops involving a restructuring of webs of interdependencies. The opportunities for relatively autonomous decision making and action in the old communities and localities become reduced and constrained as they become restructured as components of a lower level of integration. This is putting it in the most abstract terms but the important thing is to study how the resistance and instability is a consequence of this process. Although these are increasingly widespread networks of interdependencies the process does not produce an equal balance of power. The lower levels of integration become more dependent on the higher levels and are shaped, enabled and constrained by the higher levels that are much less dependent on any particular component of the lower level. This leads to a number of difficulties for members of the lower levels of integration trying to make changes and have a clear idea of what to do and to what ends. Firstly, they are in several crucial ways ‘constructed’ by the higher levels they are resisting . This can, for instance, mean that they conceptualise their predicament and its solutions in terms of the vocabulary and framework of the higher level and this reinforce it or at best modify it. This is s sort of intellectual colonisation or dependency. Secondly, the dependencies that restrict their freedoms ‘from’ and ‘to’  cannot be simply recast as an act of will. The new forms of autonomy desired cannot easily be disentangled and reconstituted form the complex webs of dependencies people are embedded in and embodied in them. There may be a nostalgic harping back to previous forms of local autonomy and living but the development of the systems of dependency we now inhabit cannot just be rewound.

Saramago quote #1

“And I would ask the political economists, the moralists, if they have already calculated the number of individuals who must be condemned to wretchedness, to overwork, to demoralization, to infantilization, to despicable ignorance, to insurmountable misfortune, to utter penury, in order to produce one rich person.” José Saramago. The Notebook page 56 The Question