Richard Widick (8/4/15)
Climate of Empire is a book manuscript in progress—a critical, theoretical, global ethnography of the human rights revolution, as it is embodied in what I call the international climate wars, in which I see converging peoples, labor and environmental movements (all of the social forces of emergent global civil society) increasingly focused on climate change and global warming.
The research question at hand: How and to what effect are new media transforming reflexive modernization by enabling the channeling of attention and information back to the centers of global accumulation from the people and places where the externalized social and environmental costs of world system expansion accumulate and generate grievances?
In 2015, that channel (of collective, social attention) is increasingly focused on The Spectacle of the unfolding climate crisis and its reflection, or rather embodiment, in the UN climate talks, which together increasingly become the figure through which critical cultural imaginations confront the difficult global political economic (development) dynamics of the 21st century.
“The spectacle,” wrote Guy Debord in 1967 (updating Marx’s crucial teaching that capital is not a thing, not just money, but rather a social relationship), “is not a collection of images; it is a social relationship mediated by images.”
Application of this insight to the problem of global warming and climate change yields the central thesis of Climate of Empire: Earth’s climate is not a collection of weather events and atmospheric conditions; it is a social relationship mediated by weather events and atmospheric conditions.
Turn on the news, watch the hurricane and drought reports, tune in to the wars of north Africa and the civl unrest in South America… what appears are images of the changing weather patterns, the disasters of uneven fossil-fueled maldevelopment, the legacies of slavery, colonialism, imperialism, and finally the still rising post-World War II permanent institutional apparatus of economic management, assembled by the victors to build a democratic, republican foundation for a coming era of universal peace and prosperity.
That was the idea. What appears is the reality — the social relationship mediated by images: namely, the climate of empire.
For this reason, I study the spectacle of the UN climate talks (meaning not only the Conferences of the Parties, but the economic and public sphere attention that they invite and which never fails to turn out en mass)
Further, by combining these formulations we derive the following: The spectacle of Earth’s climate faltering under anthropogenic global warming is not a collection of images of weather events and atmospheric conditions and the planet-killing 20th century technologies of tar sands, oil, and gas; it is the social relationship of the global empire of capital mediated by images of extreme weather events and changing atmospheric conditions and the planet-killing 20th century technologies of tar sands, oil, and gas.
In the course of this research I have participated in the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle 1999 and in the World Social Forums convened in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2005, and Caracas, Venezuela, 2006, and I have travelled to Vietnam and China to visit handbag, footwear, and apparel factories.
Here is a short audio statement of the central thesis of Climate of Empire.
The Battle in Seattle, World Trade Organization 5th Ministerial Conference, Seattle, Washington, 1999
World Social Forum 5, Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2005
World Social Forum 6, Caracas, Venezuela, 2006
Ho Chi Min City (Saigon), Vietnam, 2009
Guangzhou area, Guangdong Province, China, 2009
COP 17, Durban, South Africa, 2011
COP 18, Doha, Qatar, 2012
COP 19, Warsaw, Poland, 2013
New York City, UN Climate Summit and People’s Climate March, September 2014
COP 20, Lima, Peru, December 2014
Next up: Paris, COP 21, one month of field research (November 20 – December 20).