Making Our Planetary Suicide a ‘Rational’ Project

Superstorm Sandy damage in Seaside Heights New Jersey (Image: Anthony Quintano)
Superstorm Sandy damage in Seaside Heights New Jersey (Image: Anthony Quintano)

Over the last year or so, Daniel Nyberg and I have been writing a paper exploring the role of political myths in underpinning corporate responses to climate change. The paper has now been published online in the journal Environmental Politics, and you can download a PDF of the article here. I’ve also presented the paper in a Sydney Environment Institute seminar (audio file below).

As set out in an earlier post the basic argument explores how the current climate crisis reveals a process of ‘creative self-destruction’ in which capital accumulation has resulted in the cannibalistic consumption of Earth’s life-support systems. However, within this end-game of human hubris we are also witnessing an ever more imaginative exploitation of nature as corporations seek competitive advantage within an environmentally-compromised world. Here we identify three key political myths:

  1. the myth of corporate environmentalism, in which corporations are presented as the lead players in mitigating environmental damage and helping us to adapt to our new climate through technological innovation and the production and consumption of ‘green’ products and services;
  2. the myth of corporate citizenship, which further develops the expansion of corporate capitalism by presenting the corporation as a civil actor best placed to determine political agendas and deliver social and environmental needs; and
  3. the myth of corporate omnipotence, which portrays corporate capitalism as the superior form of economic organisation in which the climate crisis can be ‘resolved’ via market mechanisms and the further commodification of nature.

Taken together, these myths work to justify certain forms of ‘action’ in dealing with climate change and also critically, ruling out other responses. Issues of regulatory oversight or the mandatory prohibition of fossil fuel extraction and use are excluded from current debate (despite the evident scientific need for a rapid decarbonisation of economic activity). This is an appealing imaginary of human progress and technological advance in which corporations and markets are couched as saviours from the threats of nature. By contrast, we argue this social imaginary should be more aptly be viewed as a tragedy of grand proportions which aims to make our planetary suicide a ‘rational’ project.

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