Critical Practice Reader Planet Politics People The London School of Architecture 2019/20
Edited by James Soane, Rae Whittow Williams & Kirti Durelle
1. Competitive Strain Syndrome Jeremy Till, taken from www.jeremytill.net/read/120/competitive-strain-syndrome
2. The Battle for the Infrastructure of Everyday Life, Dan Hill, written for the National Gallery of Victoria Triennal
3. Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin, Donna Haraway
4. Common Good(s): Redefining the public interest and the common good, Anna Minton, taken from www.howtoworktogether.org
5. Climate change and deep adaptation, Rupert Read taken from theecologist.org/2019/feb/08/climate-change-anddeep-adaptation
6. ‘The devastation of human life is in view’: what a burning world tells us about climate change, David Wallace Wells, The Guardian
7. Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy, Jem Bendell, taken from lifeworth.com/deepadaptation.pdf
8. Out of Practice: Towards new theory at the LSA, James Soane, Presented at the AAE 2019 conference
9. What You Don’t See, Brent Sturlaugson, Places Journal
10. Out of the Wreckage: A new politics for an age of crisis, George Monbiot, adapted from and published in the Guardian, 09.09.17
James Soane Director of Critical Practice
This document has been put together from open source material gathered from the world wide web to be used for educational purposes only in relation to the London School of Architecture. www.the-lsa.org – September 2019
When the LSA was set up five years ago there was a keen focus on how climate change was adversely affecting the world we inhabit and the role architecture can play in mitigation. However, over the past year we have seen an acceleration of events both in the ‘natural’ world and in our own political sphere that pushes us further into an unstable future. The debate is no longer about whether climate change is real, nor about the medium to long term implications; we are now in a climate emergency. This means that ‘business as usual’ is not an option if the catastrophic consequences of global warming, climate chaos, ecological collapse and human tragedy are to be addressed. The idea that advanced technology and geo-engineering will save the planet are neither realistic nor sustainable. Rather this reliance on progress and the project of ‘the modern’ is the root of the problem in the first place, continuing to endorse a narrative of unassailable human dominance over nature. This year we are asking very difficult and often destabilising questions which point towards a need for massive change as our political system fails to engage in the scale of the problem. Writer Tim Morton describes the issue as a hyperobject – something so big it is almost impossible to comprehend: it is imperative we try to. Our reader therefore reflects current thinking that is not concerned about individual buildings but rather our global status. The pieces by Rupert Read, Jem Bendell and David Wallace-Wells make for tough reading as they attempt to describe the dimensions of the problem. It can make us feel inert and powerless. Yet there is also a call for us to empathise and connect with the enormity of the near-future, and to embrace radical hope. The ‘deep adaption’ needed, as outlined by Bendell, attempts to offer transformational thinking that may equip and ready us to believe that we can make a difference. If the project of architecture and city-making is to create a better world, then there is an extraordinary design challenge to embrace. In the past year we have seen how the voices of school children, Extinction Rebellion and many other activists have challenged the current political and neoliberal status quo as they demand action. At the LSA we are part of this movement and we look to test transformational strategies that offer hope and a future.
Competitive Strain Syndrome Jeremy Till
In the introduction to one of the few books that address the contemporary architectural competition, the editors write: ‘Every competition remains a world of possibilities: an intermediary space-time locus for the search for excellence in architecture. In some ways, competition projects function like utopias.’ This essay examines the claim that competitions represent a form of utopia. It argues that while at face value they present an image of creative experiment and formal freedom, they do so on the back of an apparatus that can be read as deeply exploitative. Competitions are heralded as delivering architectural advances, but these so-called innovations mask an unattractive underlying system. False utopias
One of the most acute analyses of utopia is that of David Harvey, who identifies two prevalent forms of utopia. First, utopias of social process, which propose new forms of social organisation. Second, utopias of spatial form, which are based on new formal solutions. Harvey notes that, taken separately, the two forms of utopia are flawed. Those of social processes are generally developed in abstraction from a spatial context, ‘they are literally bound to no place whatsoever.’ Those of spatial form are described out of temporal and social context, and so ‘get perverted from their noble objectives by having to compromise with the social processes they are meant to control.’ It is the latter type of utopia that is aspired to in the architectural competition in its presentation of static, perfected, forms lifted out of time, and out of the social processes that both produced them and will eventually occupy them. The apparent freedom that the competition delivers is one of its attractions to architects, and of course has historically delivered examples of formal and stylistic innovation. The seminal competition-winning schemes – Sydney Opera House, Centre Pompidou, Parc de Villette and so on – are often used as justification for the competition system on the grounds that such breakthroughs would not have happened under normal procurement methods, fettered as they are by so many controls. In their utopias of spatial form, architectural competitions are the last refuge where architects can play out their intimate association with the object. Architects feel that they possess complete control for that fleeting moment of the production of the competition entry, away from the dependencies and demands of others. As the authority 2
and control of the architect has decreased in the contemporary production systems of the built environment, the competition becomes an ever more attractive sanctuary for the exercise of architectural aspirations and experiment. The privileging of the architectural object in the architectural competition is an inevitability of a system that relies on drawings as the primary mode of representation and evaluation. As Hélène Lipstadt notes, the competition is ‘a procedure that considers…the drawing to be an adequate prefiguration of the desired building, capable of being compared with other similar ones and judged for its aesthetic superiority.’ Lipstadt identifies that the birth of architectural competition in fourteenth century Renaissance Italy was dependent on the birth of the architectural drawing as a particular form of expertise that distinguished the architect from the builder or artist. She further argues that: ‘The competitions of the Renaissance, and the status that they bestowed upon architects, inform the mythology that still pervades the contemporary process…The gift of the Renaissance competition and its historiography is that of autonomy, the patent of architecture’s nobility. Because the competition project is conceived in the autonomy of a relation of designer to program and not in the give-and-take of exchange with the client, it is the preeminent example of architectural creation that is at once autonomous and socially legitimated as part of practice.’ The feeling of autonomy provided by the competition brings with it a sense of authority and control for the architect, but this comes with some serious limitations. Most obviously, by foregrounding architectural representation, the competition frames the discussion of architecture in aesthetic and formal terms, and thereby presents architecture as a timeless entity beyond the reach of social processes. The competition creates what Malcolm Reading, one of the main promoters of architectural competitions, calls a ‘partial vacuum’, into which the client is sucked in order to contribute their take on taste and function. Anyone who has sat on either side of a competition jury process can bear witness to how taste is always circling round the table, often in an unspoken but still powerful manner. This has always been the case, from the eighteenth and nineteenth century academicians of France and Italy using competitions as an ‘important part of their practice of criticism, theorisation and tastemaking’, to the Victorian era in the United Kingdom, where architects, as self-defined ‘men of taste’ , exercised their aesthetic authority in the adjudication of competitions. This concentration on aesthetics, function and form in the competition process means that other concerns are suppressed, most notably the life of the building as it unfolds over time. The Dutch architect J.P. Oud was clear about this in his criticism of competitions: ‘It is precisely the incessant to-and-fro between the wishes of the sponsor and the ideas of the architect which make building into a living embodiment of society’s needs. It is in this respect that competitions are hopelessly inadequate; because of this permanent lack of contact they lead to a cut-out architecture… because the contact between life and design is so minimal in 3
competitions it is best to use them sparingly.’ The clients’ role is reduced to contributing to the brief and then sometimes attending interviews, where they can make impulsive value-judgments as to whether they will ‘get on’ with the architect. Any sense of spatial production being a process of co-design over time is therefore lost, and with it the full social engagement with the project. In this light it is hard to agree with the RIBA’s recent assertion that competitions are ‘a highly successful procurement model that brings out the best in a project’, unless one judges success within the limited purview of taste and refinement. In addition to reducing the engagement with the client to the bare minimum, it is hard to understand how a process that involves only cursory, if any, engagement with the physical and social context could deliver the best results. If, therefore, the competition operates as any form of utopia, it must be seen as providing false hopes of excellence. But the fixation on the object beautiful also distracts from much more serious issues, namely the exploitative processes that underlie the production within the competitive process. Vampires of the profession
‘Every competition, if at all extensive, costs the profession hundreds of thousands of dollars, most of which falls on men who can ill afford the loss…No wonder that the system (of competitions) has come to be regarded as a sort of nightmare, as an incubus or vampire, stifling the breath of professional life, and draining its blood.’ — William Robert Ware, 1889 The close identification of architecture with its objects is not particular to the competition system; it is a characteristic of the wider discipline. The popular understanding of what architects do is that they design buildings. This much is true, but they also do a lot more than that. They use multiple modes of knowledge in that spatial production – technical, social, visual, processual, historical, cultural and so on. But what architectural culture validates through its education, media and awards is the final object of production. Academic validation boards (in the UK at least) obsess over pictures of buildings in student portfolios. Internet sites are saturated with images of sunlit, empty, buildings. Awards systems are too often judged on the basis of a flick through portfolios of such images. The production of competition drawings in a partial vacuum removed from the cut and thrust of actual practice allows architects to believe the myth of pure experimentation as a contribution to cultural and architectural innovation. The production of pure objects in the competition system presumes to detach architecture from the marketplace, a connection that the profession has always found problematic because it compromises the ideal of architect as artist. The competition thus exaggerates a condition that Peggy Deamer has identified as operating through the profession, namely a belief that architects are ‘outside of the work/labor discourse because what they do (is) art or design rather than work per se.’ But of course doing a competition is a form of labour, and it is important to acknowledge it as such. In delivering such labour for little or no financial reward, the profession allows itself to be 4
exploited. Worse, it abandons the idea that architectural knowledge has monetary value. The architectural competition perpetuates ‘the disastrous idea that our value resides in the object we produce and not in the knowledge that produced it.’ Competitions can therefore be read as a form of self-sacrifice both economically and epistemologically. This sacrifice is captured in Louis Kahn’s identification of a competition as ‘an offering to architecture’, though I suspect that is he referring to ‘offering’ as a noble act rather than as a gift of labour. It is extraordinary that the profession not only allows this sacrifice to happen but actually arranges for it. The RIBA is proud of the competition service that it provides to clients, upholding the architectural quality that the system produces as the primary justification. In its guidance to clients, the RIBA notes: ‘Competitions enable a wide variety of approaches to be explored simultaneously with a number of designers.’ This statement, delivered with no apparent doubt, confirms that competitions are a means of extracting free or extremely cheap labour and knowledge from profession, an abandonment overseen and sanctioned by the professional institute. One might note that if, as should be the case, the client has a clearer idea at the start as what was needed from the project, then a ‘wide variety of approaches’ would not be necessary. And if a wide variety is delivered, then one has to question against what criteria they can possibly be evaluated in the judging process. Instead the competition is presented as a fishing expedition, with architects turning handstands in order to catch the jury’s eye: ‘gymnasts in the prison yard’, indeed. The RIBA is also apparently willing to give up their member’s time and knowledge to suit the wider aims of a competition project. Their list of benefits of a competition includes to: ‘raise a project’s profile.’ It is clear that some clients use the competitions as a form of public relations in order to present the project in a better light, with credibility given by the engagement of multiple architects. This happened most notoriously in the Helsinki Guggenheim competition organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants, launched in 2014 without confirmed funding. 1751 entries and two years later, the project was abandoned when Helsinki city council voted against funding it. If one takes a very low estimate of £5000 worth of labour for each entry, then this represents over £8.5m of lost labour, approximately 10% of the overall project cost. It is worth quoting Malcolm Reading’s comments on the abandonment in full, because they say so much about what is wrong about the culture and processes of competitions. ‘2016 has turned out to be a year of extraordinary events and turmoil and perhaps the final vote should be seen from this perspective. The proposition for a Guggenheim in Helsinki captured the imagination of the global architectural community and the competition was a phenomenon in its own right. One of the most entered design contests in history with entries from 77 countries, it recorded a moment in the architectural zeitgeist. The website is a fantastic resource for architects and architectural enthusiasts and it has recorded just short of 4.5 million page views. We feel for the competitors and finalists but nothing is entirely lost. The intensity of designing to such a compelling brief generates 5
ideas and viewpoints that continue to be explored in subsequent work.’ First, Reading disingenuously associates the abandonment with the political events of 2016, Brexit and Trump. Second, he makes the oft-repeated argument that the larger number of entries, the greater the success of the competition, yet when viewed through the frame of labour, the opposite is the case. Third, he presents the website as a repository of architectural knowledge. The primary knowledge available is that of stylistic comparison, in a snapshot of contemporary forms. Real architectural knowledge, in terms of the embedded and external intelligence that it took to develop each entry, is only superficially accessible given the paucity of the evidence presented for it. As Deamer notes, ‘the myth here is that a project assigned to four A1 boards and 500 words offers either the designer or the ‘community’ deep thinking on either site or program.’ Finally, Reading suggests that the very act of entering a competition is a way of developing an architect’s skills and approaches for future work. This is sometimes used by architects as justification for entering competitions, but only really achieved when that developmental aim is clearly set aside from any dreams of actually winning. It is those dreams that dominate the competition mentality, and the collapse of them for all but a handful of entries builds the disappointment and resentment of an entire profession. It may be argued that the Helsinki Guggenheim in all its extremes does not represent the competition system as a whole. However, in terms of sacrificed labour and knowledge, its problems can be identified to a greater or lesser extent across the range of competitions. At the better end of the scale, invited competitions have become the norm for some architects to obtain work. Over time these architects, generally at the elite end of the profession, can calculate their success rate and the cost of entry and build this loss into their business model. But all this comes at real economic loss to the profession, a loss that is too often mitigated by the enforcement of excessive working hours and/or unpaid internships as the only means of completing competition entries. At the other end of the scale from the elite invited competitions are the open, and sometimes unregulated, competitions, which typically attract hundreds of entries from younger hopefuls. These competitions are not only financially exploitative but also prey on the aspirations of the profession. Such is the will to create, such is the desperation to succeed that architects - apparently willingly - sacrifice themselves to the competition machine, vampirish though it is to the profession. The breakthrough of a single architect in a competition is made on the back of hundreds of other sacrifices accompanied by endless frustration. This condition is typical of what Guy Standing has termed the precariat, a wide class of people who live out their employment in a state of precariousness, both financial and emotional. The precariat are ‘people with a relatively high level of formal education who have to accept jobs that have a status or income beneath what they believe accord with their qualifications… [they]are likely to suffer status frustration.’ To liken architects to Uber drivers or graphic designers who submit free work to logo mills might appear hyperbolic, but this combination of low pay, frustration and jeopardy is exactly what is induced by the 6
competition system. If one adds to this economic precarity the ‘complete drain on intelligence’ that Rem Koolhaas identifies in competitions, then it is surely time to question the system as it presently stands. A spatio-temporal approach
Clearly architectural competitions are not going to be abandoned completely; but they can be definitely be adjusted in their processes. The clue to a revised approach may lie in David Harvey’s reformulation of utopias so that they necessarily combine the temporal and the spatial, so bringing the social to the formal, and the dynamic to the static. A certain set of implications flow from this. First, all competitions need to be seen only as the start of the process, not as the end. Too often the winning scheme is considered as a fait accompli, with the client later only tweaking bits within the formal envelope. Competitions should never be seen as providing design ‘solutions’; how could they be given such cursory engagement with the real dynamics of site and social context? Instead, they should be taken as the beginnings of a conversation; table settings which will be necessarily disturbed over the course of the later codesign process. Second, competitions should have clear filters in place in order to limit economic, and with it social, loss on the part of the profession. This can be achieved in ways through restricting the numbers of entries. Numbers of entries need to be restricted, either by strict two stage filters or a sortition process (which randomly selects a fixed number of entries that meet baseline criteria). People may argue that this restriction will at the same time stifle the aspirations of those excluded, but surely it is better to enter fewer competitions with greater chances of success, than it is more with less chance? Third, the criteria by which competitions are assessed need to revised to take into the spatio-temporal aspects of architecture, and not just the aesthetic and formal ones. There is an increasing expectation for architects to present ‘complete’ buildings as part of the competition process, an expectation aided by the computer’s presumed ability to summon up reality from unreal elements. This expectation needs to be challenged for what it is: a complete waste of the multiple modes of architectural knowledge, and also as a form of fake completeness. Instead we need to shift from an emphasis on visual evidence to other forms of spatio-temporal descriptions. Maybe the next large architectural competition should be to redesign the architectural competition, using the above points as a starter, but filling out the conversation with many more. Only then will we avoid the disappointment of false utopias.
 Jean-Pierre Chupin, Carmela Cucuzzella, and Bechara Helal, Architecture Competitions and the Production of Culture, Quality and Knowledge: An International Inquiry (Potential Architecture Books, 2015), 12.  David Harvey, Spaces of Hope (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), 173ff.  Ibid., 174.
 Ibid., p. 179.  Helene Lipstadt, ‘The Experimental Tradition,’ in The Experimental Tradition: Essays on Competitions in Architecture, ed. Helene Lipstadt (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1989), 13.  Ibid., 15.  Malcolm Reading, ‘How Deep Thinking Wins Competitions,’ Architects Journal, April 24, 2015, http://www. architectsjournal.co.uk/news/business/how-deep-thinking-winscompetitions/8681626.article. The full quote reads: ‘Running a competition is a particular kind of accelerated design activity. Like a journey in space, everything moves at intense speed but is conducted in a partial vacuum. Some architects criticise this absence of the client voice in competitions, but this attitude is unnecessarily sophistic, and the good architect sees an opportunity to fill the gap with content.’ As will become apparent, I think criticism the lack of client voice is far from sophistry.  Barry Bergdoll, ‘Competing in the Academy and the Marketplace: European Architecture Competitions 14011927,’ in The Experimental Tradition: Essays on Competitions in Architecture, ed. Helene Lipstadt (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1989), 25–26.  At the first meeting of the RIBA in 1835, the secretary of the proposed new organisation called on architects ‘to uphold in ourselves the character of Architects, as men of taste, men of science, men of honour.’ T.S Donaldson, ‘Report of The Proceedings, at the Opening General Meeting of the Members’ (London: RIBA, 1835). My emphasis.  As quoted in: Hilde de Haan and Ids Haagsma, Architects in Competition: International Architectural Competitions of the Last 200 Years (Thames and Hudson, 1988), 18.  Royal Institute of British Architects, ‘Design Competitions: Guidance for Clients’ (London: RIBA, 2012), 2, http://competitions. architecture.com/Doc/Guidance_For_Clients.pdf.  As quoted in: Lipstadt, ‘The Experimental Tradition,’ 15.  Peggy Deamer, The Architect as Worker: Immaterial Labor, the Creative Class, and the Politics of Design (London ; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), xxx.  Peggy Deamer, ‘Work,’ in The Architect as Worker: Immaterial Labor, the Creative Class, and the Politics of Design, ed. Peggy Deamer (London ; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 72.  As quoted in: Lipstadt, ‘The Experimental Tradition,’ 10.  Royal Institute of British Architects, ‘Design Competitions: Guidance for Clients,’ 5.  This follows Tafuri. ‘how ineffectual are the brilliant gymnastics carried out in the yard of the model prison, in which architects are left free to move about on temporary reprieve.’ Manfredo Tafuri, Theories and History of Architecture (London: Granada, 1980), xxii. See also Chapter 11 of Jeremy Till, Architecture Depends (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009).  Peggy Deamer estimates a lower overall loss of $6,860,000, on the basis of 80 hours per entry. Either way, the value of lost labour is considerable. Peggy Deamer, ‘The Guggenheim Helsinki Competition: What Is the Value Proposition?,’ accessed April 1, 8
2017, http://averyreview.com.  Ibid.  A comparative table in Judith Strong’s book on competitions, shows how many competitions some elite firms have entered and their success rate: Foster and Partners, 48 competitions entered in past 5 years, success rate 19%. Richard Roger and Partners, 47, 38%. Future Systems 12, 5UK, 17%, Cullinan Studio, 11,36%. Matthew Priestman 12, 17%. Judith Strong, Winning by Design: Architectural Competitions / Judith Strong. (Oxford: Butterworth Architecture, 1996), 79. The success rate for open competitions is clearly much lower.  Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class / by Guy Standing. (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011), 10.  Rem Koolhaas, ‘There’s Been Very Little Rethinking Of What Cities Can Be’, March 20, 2015, https://www.fastcodesign. com/3044008/rem-koolhaas-theres-been-very-little-rethinking-ofwhat-cities-can-be. The full quote is ‘There is an incredible amount of wasted effort in the profession. A fair amount of it is generated through the procedure of competitions, which is a complete drain of intelligence. I don’t know of any other profession that would tolerate this. At the same time you are important, we invite your thinking, but we also announce that there is an eighty per cent chance that we will throw away your thinking and make sure that it is completely wasted.’  The task then is to define an alternative, not in terms of some static spatial form or even of some perfected emancipatory process. The task is to pull together a spatiotemporal utopianism – a dialectical utopianism – that is rooted in our present possibilities at the same time as it points towards different trajectories.’ Harvey, Spaces of Hope, 182.  For sortition in competitions see: Walter Menteth, et al., ‘Project Compass Design Contest Guidance’ (London: Project Compass, n.d.), 40.
The Battle for the Infrastructure of Everyday Life Dan Hill
The object of design in the twenty-first century is the city itself. In the nineteenth century, it was the nation state, the factory and its engines, and the channels of globalised capitalism that began to emerge around that — clippers, canals, cables and contracts. In the twentieth century, the state and global markets became more complete versions of themselves, meaning politics and possessions were the order of the day. Art and design responded accordingly, often the willing handmaidens of these shifts. Now, however, those late twentieth-century values, drifting towards individualism, have simply been stretched taut into the twenty-first, and the whole thing is ‘buffering’ as a result. Or at least has hit a punctuation point: a question mark or ellipsis in the form of events like Brexit, or a series of exclamation marks in the case of Trump (or perhaps the blast of random punctuation marks that used to denote swearwords in Asterix). The philosopher Jacques Attali, in A Brief History of the Future (2006), foresaw an end-point to this relentless drift towards the individual being the centre of things, noting the reductive movement, an endless shortening of the focal length, from religion to region to nation to person. He wrote of an erasure of nation states into a fully globalised market (‘hypercapitalism’), with two core industries: ‘insurance’ and ‘distraction’. It’s best to gloss over what follows — a planetary ‘hyperconflict’ — even if Attali ends on a broadly optimistic note of a world government as the only possible way of humanity finally addressing climate change (‘hyperdemocracy’). But in Western cultures, it feels as if we are already firmly located in our ‘distraction’ phase, whereas ‘insurance’ has perhaps manifested itself as a financialisation of most structures. Another key Attali prediction, a mass ‘nomadisation’ of migrants at both ends of the economic scale, is certainly with us, too. Attali’s blind spots are around the detail of how distraction or financialisation manifest themselves. Perhaps these technical details are always the hardest to get right — few could foresee the impact of the internet or the smartphone, hamstrung by our tendency to “look at the present through a rear-view mirror (as) we march backwards into the future”, as Marshall McLuhan had it. Attali was unable to truly comprehend the impact of computation on the way we do, well, almost everything; to perceive exactly how, as venture capitalist Marc Andreessen famously put it, that “software is eating the world”. Indeed, the effects of computation are often considered, 10
rightly or wrongly, to be invisible, ephemeral; to be virtual rather than physical. No wonder we couldn’t see it coming. Art is desperately playing catch-up, too. It either tries to capture and convey computational culture through drawing out software’s shadow, or by using its own tools against itself. James Bridle’s art wrestles directly with the dynamics of these new systems, often by marking the ground, as police would draw a chalk outline of a body at a crime scene, to denote the presence of these (not really) invisible systems, as with his drone shadow series, or Autonomous Trap 001 (2017). Richard Mosse’s extraordinary immersive multichannel video installation Incoming, 2017, in collaboration with composer Ben Frost and cinematographer Trevor Tweeten, deploys various imaging technologies to capture traces of the journeys of refugees and migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Senegal and Somalia. The awful, shattering reality of Attali’s ‘nomadisation’ is rendered using the conflicted artefacts of post-border conflicts, in turn making these military technologies both accomplice and witness. Similar to that of Bridle and Mosse, the work of designers and artists Natalie Jeremijenko, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and Hito Steyerl directly manipulates urban systems, biotech futures and digital media to reflect upon the cultures of living they are engendering. These works generate two-way relationships, with the virtual and physical infused, deliberately confusing our realities. As Brian Kuan Wood put it, addressing Steyerl’s work: When war, genocide, capital flows, digital detritus, and class warfare always take place partially within images, we are no longer dealing with the virtual but with a confusing and possibly alien concreteness that we are only beginning to understand. Or, to put it another way, briefly ponder Donald Trump’s Twitter timeline. (Then run.) Yet all of this, as powerful as it is, remains secondary to the everyday experience of living in our cities. Art lags behind, unable to capture the visceral quotidian experience of Uber, TaskRabbit, Snapchat, Giphy, Pokémon Go (which has already Been and Pokémon Gone), Helsinki’s autonomous shuttles and Singapore’s self-driving taxis, Japanese sushi-delivery robots and Domino’s Pizza delivery drones, American security-guard robots upended in shoppingmall fountains, South Korean robotic mannequins, ‘conversations’ with AI personal assistants over email, shouting at Amazon Alexa, ‘holographic’ assistants at airports, Microsoft chatbots becoming racist and genocidal on Twitter, Chinese chatbots vanishing after spurning the Communist Party, 4Chan, 3D printed handguns and Google Tango phones 3D-mapping spaces, Russian election-hacking multiplied by Cambridge Analytica and the Macedonian Fake-News Complex, Icelandic crowdsourced constitutions, Dutch police training eagles to take down illegal drones, Bitcoin hard forks, Ethereum hacks … In other words, a quick flick across the home page of The Verge or TechCrunch. Art in general has not found a foothold in these new times. This inability to be insightful about reality as it is unfolding around us is hardly unusual. Inadvertently hilarious landscape paintings emerged during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in which artists tried to depict Sheffield or Manchester or Leeds: 11
gentle, Arcadian scenes, broken only by a sudden dirty blotch of smokestacks in the middle distance, furtively and apologetically framing the dappled copses, gambolling lambs and bonneted ladies in the foreground. It took some time for painting and other visual arts to develop a suitable vocabulary for the ‘shock city’, just as contemporary art will need entirely new methods to track, explicate or simply convey the visceral reality of the contemporary city. Yet, two recent short films do articulate this moment of virtual and physical collision, and coincidentally in counterpoint to each other. Filmmaker Timo Arnall’s Internet Machine (2016) records what he calls the “invisible infrastructures of the internet … the hidden materiality of our data”. His carefully obsessive, high-definition stalking takes as a subject one of the largest, most secure and ‘fault tolerant’ data centres in the world, run by Telefónica in Alcalá, Spain. These extraordinary facilities, almost post-human, are the very physical footprint of data, and pinned down expertly and completely through slow or static framingIn contrast, Keiichi Matsuda’s short Hyper-Reality (2016) drops us headfirst into the saturated and suffused physical and virtual realities on the other end of Arnall’s data centres. Shot in the already heightened reality of Medellín’s streets, whilst also existing in purest After Effects, this short film is the corollary to Arnall’s, both in terms of concept — a hyper-stylised reality of digital services fogging our everyday lives — and aesthetically: it is a jittery, rotoscoped overload of hi-vis colour, jagged soundscapes, gamified religion and emotional trauma, in stark contrast to Arnall’s meditative stills. Where Matsuda hits us in the gut with the virtual rendered amid the physical, Arnall delivers what is almost a sociological investigation of servers themselves, a forensic examination of the physical infrastructure that constructs the virtual. Arnall writes: In experiencing these machines at work, we start to understand that the internet is not a weightless, immaterial, invisible cloud, and instead to appreciate it as a very distinct physical, architectural and material system. Indeed, this is where the world is. Digital and physical cannot be neatly separated as if they were a simple software update of Cartesian duality. Hence the physical reality of the city is where digital culture is at — a real car turns up when you order an Uber, after all — and also where design is at its most powerful, in shaping the systems that produce the world, and simultaneously producing a reflection of them. Where the twentieth-century city found articulation in the cultural production of Cubism and Didion, Alphaville and hip-hop, Reich and Ballard, it was most obviously manifest in architecture and design itself, where the shift to individualism and the ‘century of the self’ meant an increased focus on the private home, and the products that would furnish it, from Fritz Hansen to Herman Miller, Iittala to IKEA. The emerging urban middle class begat product design, industrial design — furniture and furnishings, and the shows like Salone del Mobile (Milan Furniture Fair) that would generate and support demand. The interior became more important than the exterior of dwellings. These inert objects stood in for a way of living, but were increasingly private. The city life of the early twentieth century — publicly lived in cafes and squares, markets and 12
streets — retreated throughout the late twentieth century, as cars begat suburbs begat houses begat Grand Designs, MasterChef and Elle Decoration. As the twenty-first century begins to assert its own patterns, those twentieth-century models unravel in interesting ways, as the private dissipates back into an increasingly public culture. Andre Jaque’s installation Ikea Disobedients, 2012, describes how the ‘hackability’ of IKEA is its reality. The actual diversity of IKEA owners contrasts sharply with the homogenous family patterns and places that Jaques found portrayed in IKEA’s catalogues. Indeed, the diversity of uses that IKEA’s products are put to also goes well beyond the original intent, their ‘mods’ representing a shift from a twentiethcentury idea of furniture as a single assembly to a twenty-first-century idea of the malleable platform, the recombinant kit of parts. It also represents a shift from private to public, flipping those onceprivate living rooms into exhibition mode. Broadening this to spaces and infrastructures, we can see that these, too, have a public culture, which shapes a sense of what ‘public’ is. And this is where the idea of public itself is most at threat: do we build our cities, that pre-eminent public good, and their associated infrastructures — such as mobility, energy, water, waste, public space, housing and so on — around that stretched taut individualism, or upon the potential of a renewed public? In the twentieth century, our infrastructure was largely inert; our culture sat on top, or drove over it. Famously, Joan Didion called freeways “the only secular communion Los Angeles has”, describing a grimly shared sensibility propped up upon the snaking concrete systems poured over California, impossible to ignore, yet intransigent, brutish, incapable of flexing — hardly something one could hack (at least without causing major delays on the 101). Frank Lloyd Wright knew that infrastructure was a form of culture. In The Disappearing City (1932), he said, “In the gasoline service station may be seen the beginning of an important advance agent of decentralization”. And thus for him, the humble ‘servo’ was a first marker laid down for his Broadacre City project. While Broadacre City was never realised, it paved the way for the pattern of mid to late twentieth-century sprawling urbanism, focused on increasingly individualised patterns of living. That design leads directly to the endless Melbourne suburbs that now choke the city: The unrelenting flat suburban grind of the northern suburbs surrounded them. The further they drove, the more Rosie thought the world around them was getting uglier, the heavy grey sky weighing down on the landscape, crushing down on them. The lawns and nature strips they passed were yellowing, grim, parched. The natural world seemed leached of colour. She thought it was because this world was so far from the breath of the ocean, that it was starved for air. — ‘The Slap’, Christos Tsiolkas (2008) Or, as landscape architect Richard Weller memorably put it, “The Australian suburbs are the places that cars built when we weren’t looking”. The problem was that we were looking. The passage from Tsiolkas reveals the impact of letting the twentieth century leak through into the twenty-first, just as the thoroughly twenty-first-century Tesla Solar Roof technology is 13
unimaginatively slapped on top of an horrific McMansion, as if plucked from the dusty old pages of a Sears, Roebuck catalogue, available in ‘Textured’, ‘Smooth’, ‘Tuscan’ and ‘Slate’. Whilst solar cells and batteries are potentially transformational components in themselves, the product concept that Elon Musk’s Tesla has wrapped around them reveals the paucity of thinking in that company, an inability to conceptualise and realise the different business or ownership models that are latent within the technology. For all the sheen, Tesla is currently a twentieth century company, only wearing the costume of the twenty-first. Yet a genuinely new set of conditions is emerging. Compare one of those LA flyovers to Joris Laarman’s 3D-printed canal bridge in Amsterdam; these are entirely different cultures, expressed through infrastructure. See also Laarman’s formal experiments in furniture and other objects, deploying industrial multi-axis robots with 3D toolkits at community scale, drawing out a ‘new craft’ of digital production and local production, potentially underpinned by quite different value models to those of twentieth-century infrastructure. Just as a neighbourhood micro-grid shared by a series of blocks — as with LandCorp’s Gen Y Demonstration Housing Project at White Gum Valley, Perth — is quite different to Tesla’s Solar Roof, despite both being powered by the same sun. While a freeway is often publicly owned, after a fashion, there is a different order of possibility implied in Laarman’s fabrication experiments. They shift the focus of design away from the acquisition of static products, piling up in the homes of individuals, to something far more interesting and socially powerful: to shared systems, civic systems. This is another reality unfolding around us, in part driven by old instincts — rediscovering the sun as an energy source, or the neighbourhood as a form of collective organisation — and in part by new technologies, such as Internet of Things–based responsiveness in these everyday systems. This culture, as Raymond Williams might’ve said, will develop its own ‘structures of feeling’. This could go either way. Adam Greenfield, surveying the array of generally useless ‘Internet of Things’ devices tumbling off Kickstarter, and out of the labs of the ‘big five’ of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, as having their own particular sensibility: When we pause to listen to it, the overriding emotion of the internet of things is a melancholy that rolls off of it in waves and sheets. The entire pretext on which it depends is a milieu of continuously shattered attention. (Greenfield, 2017) Quite so. Yet because of this, rather than being “continuously shattered”, we must pay more attention to these sensibilities, atmospheres, dynamics. This is the distraction industry at play, and we must reappropriate it, for it is increasingly the modern world being played out in cities around us right now. Due to this new plasticity of infrastructure, buildings and objects, we express ourselves through our cities more so than through art. Uber, for example, clearly expresses a certain condition, a harrowingly bleak individualism, the ne plus ultra of the Californian Ideology, as if The Fountainhead has been consumed wholly and vomited out into an assemblage of code, venture capital and lobbyists, libertarian 14
bile sprayed over our streets, communities and the genuine collective achievements of the past century. If we are to avoid this form of acidic melancholy, design has a job to do. In fact, as Greenfield sees with the potential of fabrication, many of those dynamics, if unmoored from their ideologies and reappropriated — a form of Ikea Disobedients at the scale of the city — could be put to use in ways that do not necessarily lead to individualism, shattered attentions and the fatal ‘distraction’ that Attali foresaw. For instance, the Kenyan minibuses known as matatus are just as much a transport system as Uber — and a visualisation of the movement of Ubers and matatus would no doubt look rather similar — yet the ownership and dynamics are completely different. This is not to say that the matatu is some idealised form of shared transport — a swift glance at its safety record would reveal otherwise. It’s simply noting that these dynamics are available to us all, in a huge diversity of ways. In a quite different context, there’s no technical reason why Transport for London, or Public Transport Victoria, could not have done Uber for London or Melbourne before Uber did. And the value to the local economy would have been profoundly different as a result, never mind it would have provided a way of mitigating all of Uber’s other deleterious effects on cities. Uber, Lyft et al are now thought to be slowing down traffic in Manhattan, due to increased congestion. So leaving aside what we might euphemistically call ‘issues’ around the way they did business under apparently disgraced founder Travis Kalanick, or their impact on their ‘non-employees’, it appears that Uber is not even improving mobility — just as Airbnb looks like it may be raising rents in cities with already soaring housing costs. Yet briefly peeling away all those other aspects, we’re left with the sense of Uber as a well-designed app and a bunch of lawyers and lobbyists. Making that good user experience is not hard — it is a known known. And if you’re a local transport agency, you are the law, effectively, so there’s little need for lawyers and lobbyists. To reframe an on-demand taxi network, underpinned by a good app, as locally owned public transport rather than VC-backed global corporation is entirely possible. These are the cultural systems we have to engage with as designers. Our cities are paused on the edge of several different alternatives. One we might call ‘business-as-usual’ (BAU), which is actually a slow, unthinking drift from twentieth-century systems into those of networked urbanism, in which we are unprepared, ill-advised and increasingly subjugated by individualising technologies applied at the urban and supranational scale. The other city before us is also full of the possibilities of the same networked urbanism, yet it is engaged with consciously and deliberately, aware of how to work with the dynamics of contemporary systems for civic outcomes. It implies a quite different form of city-making, enabled by a convergence of contemporary technologies such as building fabrication, robotics for maintenance and construction, on-demand and autonomous mobility and logistics systems, off-grid utility infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, shared amenities and spaces, and super-local decision-making platforms, underpinned by digital services and real-time data. Far more important than this technology set, however, is the question of their ownership. This is where the real invention is 15
required, the true design agenda: how do we build upon the best aspects of cooperative development and shared ownership to use these technologies in a way that reinforces the idea of the city as a public good, not a mere collision of private ones? We know the latter leads simply to untrammelled inequality, a noose slowly tightening around our cities, and clearly manifest in recent events. Yet there are real possibilities in the former. Buildings could be adaptable, modular yet customised structures, constructed as required around people’s true needs and desires, and recycled or retrofitted once beyond their use-by date. Cooperative-led housing projects, exemplified by Berlin’s baugruppen movement, provide ways of developing meaningful, resilient property largely without property developers, simply through encouraging local shared ownership, shared design and decision-making suffused with civic values. Even the outcomes are more interesting from an architectural point of view: the true complexity and diversity of how we live today is thrillingly baked into these buildings. (Contrast this with the hugely limited choice the market tends to produce.) Look at Sou Fujimoto’s early tentative ideas of what housing built around genuinely shared spaces, both intensely private and public, would be like, in his pavilion for the Muji House Vision exhibit, 2016. Or, more concretely, Zürich’s inspirational More Than Housing or Kalkbreite cooperative-led projects, or indeed the promising first flights of Melbourne’s Nightingale(s). As further buildings are required, they could be designed and constructed on site, using local fabrication facilities, materials and skills, supported by professional expertise. Systems like WikiHouse, OpenStructures, FabCity or Joris Laarman’s MX3D metal printer projects enable a networked production approach, directly shaped by its users and owners. New ‘non-grid’ infrastructure, based around on-site and locally owned energy generation and battery storage, can respond to demand in near real time, potentially enabling more careful energy use in the first place, and connected to a grid only if necessary or useful. Local decision-making can be calibrated as a series of nested, interlinked decisions, from individual up to city, via a series of civic shades and scales in between. Local mobility could be delivered via on-demand shared autonomous vehicles, alongside or working in the gaps of existing mass transit services, requiring minimal new infrastructure, and again potentially owned at the local neighbourhood scale. Most people don’t need their on-demand mobility service to work in all global cities simultaneously; they are usually just moving around Sheffield or Sousse, Seoul or São Paulo, and particular neighbourhoods therein. Systems could largely exist at this scale — think ‘Uber for a neighbourhood’ (which is not Uber) — with mass public transport connecting these cells together at a larger scale. Or indeed note that the most interesting autonomous mobility start-ups right now are not those of the Silicon Valley, but instead the Garonne Valley, where EasyMile, the Toulouse-based start-up, makes the autonomous buses that will go live on Helsinki’s streets as part of their Sohjoa programme later this year. Indeed the humble bus, as a form of utilitarian shared transport, is far more interesting than the Teslas and Waymos of this world. Citymapper, the London-based mobility app, launched a bus in 2017 — a real, live, physical bus — dubbed the Night Rider, and licensed 16
by Transport for London. In the blog post announcing the bus, Citymapper effortlessly pulls off that trick of stealing the dynamics of Silicon Valley while ignoring its attendant ideologies. From Citymapper: ‘Note to Silicon Valley: it’s a social hyper-local multi-passenger pooled vehicle. Our geo-matching technology routes the multi-seated vehicles to specially calculated lat-long locations, which optimise the boarding of multiple homo sapiens with varied demographics, while minimising waiting times, leading to efficient overall ETAs.’ Note to rest of the world: it’s a bus. As Tony Judt noted in his book The Memory Chalet (2010), the bus is the “moving spirit and incarnation of a certain idea of London … Greenliners box the city, acknowledging its astonishing scale but asserting, in its distinctive routes and endpoints, its necessary limits”. The bus, with its shared space and potential off-grid movement, combined with real-time data, predictive analytics and a strong user experience, could assume a central role in cities once again. Again, the key question is ownership and governance. In this shared networked urbanism, data is threaded together locally to make all this tick, yet data need not ‘scale’ any further than it has to. Indeed, in the ‘business as usual’ scenario, a data-driven world could easily become a suffocating prison. As Shannon Mattern put it, “In this universe, citizens relate to their city by consuming and administering its systems, and by serving as sources of measurable behavioral data”. Data could be super-local, however, and effectively fade as it reaches the limits of its use, or work to rules designed by the community that generates it, as is being prototyped by the EU-funded Decode project. It need go no further than a street, if that’s the scale of the system it’s driving. All of these things are possible. We need design to engage with this, the true infrastructure of everyday life, just as it engaged with the previous twentieth-century version of that, from gas stations to Giraud, camper vans to Cappellini. The works described earlier — from Steyerl, Bridle and Mosse to those two films from Matsuda and Arnall — cause us to reflect upon the material reality of this culture. Design’s job is to do likewise, and then to synthesise, to propose, to make: to help us understand what networks of shared ownership can be in the twenty-first century, through decisively enabling them. Infrastructure is culture. It is not simply a platform for culture, in the old sense, as with Didion’s communion on the LA freeways, but a platform in the contemporary sense, with completely different values expressed by Silicon Valley’s Uber, Kenya’s matatus or Finland’s Sohjoa, enabling diverse patterns of living, even though all are new applications running on the old hardware of twentieth-century roads. In contrast, the model of possession, of ownership, of individualism that underpins Volkswagen also underpins Tesla, at least currently, as actually less diverse, less forward-thinking. So Tesla remains a largely twentieth-century model of vehicle. Business-as-usual (BAU), in fact. We must look around us to find truly twenty-first century expressions. To be clear, these could be fleets of pedal-powered cargo bike riders with cellphones as much as robotics, an old model reappropriated for a networked age. Housing is culture. Niklas Maak, in his wonderful book ‘Living Complex: From Zombie City to the New Communal’ (discussed 17
here), describes how it is not the tired starchitect model of the twentieth century — or its counterpoint, the business-as-usual Australian suburbs noted by Tsiolkas and Weller — that that is innovative, useful or even capable of new thinking or expression. Instead, it is models like baugruppen, Nightingale, or More Than Housing, or a bevy of Japanese architects like Sou Fujimoto, Kazuyo Sejima, Ryue Nishizawa, Takaharu and Yui Tezuka and Kazunori Sakamoto, each of which addresses the true complexity, utility and pleasure of living together in shared places. Energy is culture, with an ‘out of sight, out of mind’, twentiethcentury business-as-usual approach to fossil fuel–based energy generation, exemplified with mind-numbing clarity by Australian treasurer Scott Morrison fondling a lump of coal in parliament. Or, alternatively, by renewable energy platforms like Google’s Project Sunroof, Tesla’s Powerwall, Australian start-up AllGrid, or LandCorp’s White Gum Valley project, where rooftop photovoltaics on David Barr’s Step House are underpinned by the blockchain-based algorithms of local start-up Power Ledger, to facilitate trusted local transactions. (In theory. Note that these super-local energy systems of microgrids and nanogrids could turn out to be entirely countercivic, unless designed carefully. Not only might blockchain use more energy than it saves, an algorithmic sledgehammer to crack the nut of simple local trust problems best solved in other ways, they could either reinforce and engender social fabric, or destroy it — will I share my spare kilowatts with my neighbour if we’ve fallen out over an overhanging poinciana tree? These are high-stakes design challenges.) These are different forms of design, as comfortable with predictive analytics and political structures as with people and plastics, wrestling with ambiguities and ethics as much as with affordances and physics. This is service design, interaction design, strategic design, as well as architecture, industrial design, product design fused to an array of social sciences, arts and other humanities, as well as engineering and scientific research. Ultimately, there is a new hybridised design practice lurking in here, scuttling around in the long shadows cast by those calcified twentieth-century disciplines. This would be a design practice for a networked society, understanding the value and possibility in shared spaces, places, things and rituals. Cities are where we come together in shared places. Cities are intrinsically about sharing, whether that’s the public pool, the street, an energy grid or a transport network; this is where the challenge is clearest, and most potent. Indeed the whole point of cities, paraphrasing Richard Sennett, is living together with people that are not like you. It is this fundamental civilising function that could save us from the relentless waves of individualism currently washing up on our shores, fuelled by the unthinking application of powerful technologies or BAU logics enabled by the distraction industry. We must instead engage design, in its broadest sense, with that goal in mind — of consciously living together with people that are not like you; and making that the best of all possible worlds. This is our choice: baugruppen or BAU? The object of design in the twenty-first century is the city itself.
Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin Donna Haraway There is no question that anthropogenic processes have had planetary effects, in inter/intra-action with other processes and species, for as long as our species can be identified (a few tens of thousand years); and agriculture has been huge (a few thousand years). Of course, from the start the greatest planetary terraformers (and reformers) of all have been and still are bacteria and their kin, also in inter/intra-action of myriad kinds (including with people and their practices, technological and otherwise).1 The spread of seed-dispersing plants millions of years before human agriculture was a planet-changing development, and so were many other revolutionary evolutionary ecological developmental historical events. People joined the bumptious fray early and dynamically, even before they/we were critters who were later named Homo sapiens. But I think the issues about naming relevant to the Anthropocene, Plantationocene, or Capitalocene have to do with scale, rate/ speed, synchronicity, and complexity. The constant question when considering systemic phenomena has to be, when do changes in degree become changes in kind, and what are the effects of bioculturally, biotechnically, biopolitically, historically situated people (not Man) relative to, and combined with, the effects of other species assemblages and other biotic/abiotic forces? No species, not even our own arrogant one pretending to be good individuals in socalled modern Western scripts, acts alone; assemblages of organic species and of abiotic actors make history, the evolutionary kind and the other kinds too. But, is there an inflection point of consequence that changes the name of the “game”of life on earth for everybody and everything? It’s more than climate change; it’s also extraordinary burdens of toxic chemistry, mining, depletion of lakes and rivers under and above ground, ecosystem simplification, vast genocides of people and other critters, etc, etc, in systemically linked patterns that threaten major system collapse after major system collapse after major system collapse. Recursion can be a drag. Anna Tsing in a recent paper called “Feral Biologies”suggests that the inflection point between the Holocene and the Anthropocene might be the wiping out of most of the refugia from which diverse species assemblages (with or without people) can be reconstituted after major events (like desertification, or clear cutting, or, or, ...).2 This is kin to the World-Ecology Research Network coordinator 19
Jason Moore’s arguments that cheap nature is at an end; cheapening nature cannot work much longer to sustain extraction and production in and of the contemporary world because most of the reserves of the earth have been drained, burned, depleted, poisoned, exterminated, and otherwise exhausted.3 Vast investments and hugely creative and destructive technology can drive back the reckoning, but cheap nature really is over. Anna Tsing argues that the Holocene was the long period when refugia, places of refuge, still existed, even abounded, to sustain reworlding in rich cultural and biological diversity. Perhaps the outrage meriting a name like Anthropocene is about the destruction of places and times of refuge for people and other critters. I along with others think the Anthropocene is more a boundary event than an epoch, like the K-Pg boundary between the Cretaceous and the Paleogene.4 The Anthropocene marks severe discontinuities; what comes after will not be like what came before. I think our job is to make the Anthropocene as short/thin as possible and to cultivate with each other in every way imaginable epochs to come that can replenish refuge. Right now, the earth is full of refugees, human and not, without refuge. So, I think a big new name, actually more than one name, is warranted. Thus, Anthropocene, Plantationocene,5 and Capitalocene (Andreas Malm’s and Jason Moore’s term before it was mine).6 I also insist that we need a name for the dynamic ongoing sym-chthonic forces and powers of which people are a part, within which ongoingness is at stake. Maybe, but only maybe, and only with intense commitment and collaborative work and play with other terrans, flourishing for rich multispecies assemblages that include people will be possible. I am calling all this the Chthulucene - past, present, and to come.7 These real and possible timespaces are not named after SF writer H.P. Lovecraft’s misogynist racial-nightmare monster Cthulhu (note spelling difference), but rather after the diverse earth-wide tentacular powers and forces and collected things with names like Naga, Gaia, Tangaroa (burst from water-full Papa), Terra, Haniyasu-hime, Spider Woman, Pachamama, Oya, Gorgo,Raven, A’akuluujjusi, and many many more. “My” Chthulucene, even burdened with its problematic Greek-ish tendrils, entangles myriad temporalities and spatialities and myriad intra-active entities-in-assemblages - including the more-than-human, other-than-human, inhuman, and human-as-humus. Even rendered in an American English-language text like this one, Naga, Gaia, Tangaroa, Medusa, Spider Woman, and all their kin are some of the many thousand names proper to a vein of SF that Lovecraft could not have imagined or embraced—namely, the webs of speculative fabulation, speculative feminism, science fiction, and scientific fact.8 It matters which stories tell stories, which concepts think concepts. Mathematically, visually, and narratively, it matters which figures figure figures, which systems systematize systems. All the thousand names are too big and too small; all the stories are too big and too small. As Jim Clifford taught me, we need stories (and theories) that are just big enough to gather up the complexities and keep the edges open and greedy for surprising new and old connections.9 One way to live and die well as mortal critters in the 20
Chthulucene is to join forces to reconstitute refuges, to make possible partial and robust biological-cultural-political-technological recuperation and recomposition, which must include mourning irreversible losses. Thom van Dooren and Vinciane Despret taught me that.10 There are so many losses already, and there will be many more. Renewed generative flourishing cannot grow from myths of immortality or failure to become-with the dead and the extinct. There is a lot of work for Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead.11 And even more for Ursula LeGuin’s worlding in Always Coming Home. I am a compost-ist, not a posthuman-ist: we are all compost, not posthuman. The boundary that is the Anthropocene/Capitalocene means many things, including that immense irreversible destruction is really in train, not only for the 11 billion or so people who will be on earth near the end of the 21stcentury, but for myriads of other critters too. (The incomprehensible but sober number of around 11 billion will only hold if current worldwide birth rates of human babies remain low; if they rise again, all bets are off.) The edge of extinction is not just a metaphor; system collapse is not a thriller. Ask any refugee of any species. The Chthulucene needs at least one slogan (of course, more than one); still shouting “Cyborgs for Earthly Survival,” “Run Fast, Bite Hard,” and “Shut Up and Train,” I propose “Make Kin Not Babies!” Making kin is perhaps the hardest and most urgent part. Feminists of our time have been leaders in unraveling the supposed natural necessity of ties between sex and gender, race and sex, race and nation, class and race, gender and morphology, sex and reproduction, and reproduction and composing persons (our debts here are due especially to Melanesians, in alliance with Marilyn Strathern and her ethnographer kin).12 If there is to be multispecies ecojustice, which can also embrace diverse human people, it is high time that feminists exercise leadership in imagination, theory, and action to unravel the ties of both genealogy and kin, and kin and species. Bacteria and fungi abound to give us metaphors; but, metaphors aside (good luck with that!), we have a mammalian job to do, with our biotic and abiotic sym-poietic collaborators, co-laborers. We need to make kin sym-chthonically, sym-poetically. Who and whatever we are, we need to make-with—become-with, composewith—the earth-bound (thanks for that term, Bruno Latour-inanglophone-mode).13 We, human people everywhere, must address intense, systemic urgencies; yet, so far, as Kim Stanley Robinson put it in 2312, we are living in times of “The Dithering”(in this SF narrative, lasting from 2005 to 2060—too optimistic?), a “state of indecisive agitation.”14 Perhaps the Dithering is a more apt name than either the Anthropocene or Capitalocene!The Dithering will be written into earth’s rocky strata, indeed already is written into earth’s mineralized layers. Sym-chthonic ones don’t dither; they compose and decompose, which are both dangerous and promising practices. To say the least, human hegemony is not a sym-chthonic affair. As ecosexual artists Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle say, compostingis so hot! My purpose is to make “kin” mean something other/more than entities tied by ancestry or genealogy. The gently defamiliarizing move might seem for a while to be just a mistake, but then (with 21
luck) appear as correct all along.Kin-making is making persons, not necessarily as individuals or as humans. I was moved in college by Shakespeare’s punning between kin and kind—the kindest were not necessarily kin as family; making kin and making kind (as category, care, relatives without ties by birth, lateral relatives, lots of other echoes) stretch the imagination and can change the story. Marilyn Strathern taught me that relatives in British English were originally “logical relations”and only became “family members” in the 17th century—this is definitely among the factoids I love.15 Go outside English, and the wild multiplies. I think that the stretch and recomposition of kin are allowed by the fact that all earthlings are kin in the deepest sense, and it is past time to practice better care of kinds-as-assemblages (not species one at a time).Kin is an assembling sort of word. All critters share a common “flesh,” laterally, semiotically, and genealogically. Ancestors turn out to be very interesting strangers; kin are unfamiliar (outside what we thoughtwas family or gens), uncanny, haunting, active.16 Too much for a tiny slogan, I know! Still, try. Over a couple hundred years from now, maybe the human people of this planet can again be numbered two or three billion or so, while all along the way being part of increasing well being for diverse human beings and other critters as means and not just ends. So, make kin, not babies! It matters how kin generate kin.17 End Notes (edited) 1. Intra-action is a concept given us by Karen Barad,Meeting the Universe Halfway(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007).I keep using inter-action too in order to remain legible to audiences who do not yet understand the radical change Barad’s analysis demands, but probably out of my linguistically promiscuous habits, as well. 2. Anna Tsing, “Feral Biologies,”paper for Anthropological Visions of Sustainable Futures, University College London, February 2015. 3. Jason Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life(NY: Verso, 2015). Many of Moore’s essays can be found at https://jasonwmoore. wordpress.com/ 4. I owe Scott Gilbert for pointing out, during the Ethnos conversation and other interactions at Aarhus University in October 2014, that the Anthropocene (and Plantationocene) should be considered a boundary event like the K-Pg boundary, not an epoch. See footnote 5, below. 5. In a recorded conversation for Ethnosat the University of Aarhus in October, 2014, the participants collectively generated the name Plantationocene for the devastating transformation of diverse kinds of human-tended farms, pastures, and forests into extractive and enclosed plantations, relying on slave labor and other forms of exploited, alienated, and usually spatially transported labor. 6. Personal email communications from both Jason Moore and Alf Hornborg in late 2014 told me Malm proposed the term Capitalocene in a seminar in Lund, Sweden, in 2009, when he was still a graduate student. I first used the term independently in public lectures starting in 2012. Moore is editing abook titled Capitalocene(Oakland CA: PM Press, forthcoming 2016), which will have essays by Moore, Malm, myself, and Elmar Altvater.Our collaborative webs thicken. 22
7. The suffix “–cene”proliferates!I risk this overabundance because I am in the thrall of the root meanings of –cene/kainos, namely, the temporality of the thick, fibrous, and lumpy “now,”which is ancient and not. 8. Os Mil Nomes de Gaia/the Thousand Names of Gaia was the generative international conference organized by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Déborah Danowski, and their collaborators in September 2014 in Rio de Janeiro. 9. James Clifford, Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twentyfirst Century(Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2013). 10. Thom van Dooren, Flight Ways:Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction(New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).Vinciane Despret, “Ceux qui insistent,”in Faire Art comme on fait societé, ed. Didier Debaise, et al.(Paris: Réel, 2013). For a wealth of important essays by Vinciane Despret, translated into English, see Angelaki20, no. 2, forthcoming 2015, Ethology II: Vinciane Despret, edited by Brett Buchanan, Jeffrey Bussolini, and Matthew Chrulew, preface by Donna Haraway, “A Curious Practice.” 11. Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead(NY: Tor Books, 1986). 12. Marilyn Strathern, The Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia(Oakland CA: University of California Press, 1990). 13. Bruno Latour, “Facing Gaïa: Six Lectures on the Political Theology of Nature,”Gifford Lectures, 18-28 February, 2013. 14. Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312 (London: Orbit, 2012). This extraordinary SF narrative won the Nebula Award for best novel. 15. Marilyn Strathern, “Shifting Relations,”paper for the Emerging Worlds Workshop, University of California at Santa Cruz, 8 February, 2013 16. “Gens”is another word, patriarchal by origin, with which feminists are playing. Origins and ends do not determine each other. Kin and gens are littermates in the history of Indo European languages. 17. My experience is that those I hold dear as “our people,”on the left or whatever name we can still use without apoplexy, hear neo-imperialism, neo-liberalism, misogyny, and racism (who can blame them?) in the “Not Babies” part of “Make Kin Not Babies.”
Common Good(s) – Redefining the public interest and the common good Anna Minton This paper is the starting point for wider research I am undertaking into the privatisation of public life, which I hope will form the basis of my next book. Picking up directly on the themes in my first book, Ground Control, the paper focuses on the privatisation of the city and the role of the public interest in the built environment; it investigates the rise and fall of the post war ‘comprehensive city ideal’, in which goods and services, including planning, housing and energy, were provided in the public interest. As the role of the public interest and the public good waned, the definition of the public interest was quietly altered in planning legislation, becoming instead intertwined with economic benefit. The paper will go on to look at how the public interest can be redefined and reinvented, based around the principal of universal access to common goods and a definition of the public interest which takes account of social value. In keeping with the style in Ground Control, it melds a journalistic approach with academic research across disciplines and is a companion piece to ‘Scaring the living daylights out of people: the local lobby and the failure of democracy’, which was published by Spinwatch in March 2013. Taking a close look at the development of British policy, the focus of both these pieces is on the UK but the themes are equally relevant internationally. In the context of the How to work together project, my aim for my next book on the privatisation of public life is to investigate how we can work better together as a society. This paper is the starting point for those ideas, with the aim of stimulating discussion on the broader topic. i. Introduction ‘Seen in historical perspective, the attempt to combine the equality of civil and political rights, which is the essence of democracy, with the inequality of economic and social opportunities, which is the essence of capitalism, is still in its first youth. There is su icient experience however to suggest that the result represents, at best, a transitional arrangement...The fatalism which forsees in Great Britain the inevitable clash of irreconcilable opponents, which has destroyed political civilisation in Germany and Italy, is clearly out of place. So, also, however, is the light hearted optimism which assumes that because so precarious an equipoise has maintained itself for half a century, it can be relied on with confidence to maintain itself forever. It may well be the case that democracy and capitalism, which at moments in their youth were allies, cannot 24
live together once both have come of age.’ Tawney, Preface to 1938 edition of Equality. Tawney’s disturbingly prescient quote from 1938, just a year before the out- break of the Second World War, highlights the constant tension in which democracy and free market capitalism coexist. The public domain, where political, intellectual and cultural life takes place, is the forum where this tension is played out. Today, the public domain is in crisis, no longer broadly able to represent the public interest in many of the key spheres of public life. The failure of the media to represent the public interest received much recent attention as a result of the phone hacking scandal and subsequent Leveson Inquiry. But the importance of the public interest is not limited to the media. It is also central to the physical public realm – that is the communities people live in and the democratic structures which run them in the public interest. Aristotle distinguished between the private realm of the household and the public realm, where the public life of citizens took place in the public places of the city. For Aristotle public life was conducted in public places. Today, much of public life takes place within the political, intellectual and cultural public realm, which includes the public institutions of the country, from government, the civil service and the rule of law, to universities, publicly funded arts organisations, heritage and conservation agencies and the BBC and the media. While much of public life plays out through the media and in cyberspace and is to a large extent divorced from the physical reality of the places people inhabit, the crisis around the public interest is as at least as pressing in the physical public realm as it is in the media. Just as it is the justification for government in a parliamentary democracy, the public interest has been the justification for the planning system – which is at the interface of local government and local democracy - since its inception in 1947. To- day, that system is all too o en characterised by contentious development decisions – from superstores and airport expansion to the demolition of existing communities- which ride roughshod over the wishes of local people, o en employing undemocratic tactics and dirty tricks in the process. These abuses are catalogued in ‘Scaring the living daylights out of people: the local lobby and the failure of democracy’, which is a companion piece to this paper. At least as worrying is the erosion of the physical public realm which is witnessing the privatisation of the basic services that society depends on and that we have come to take for granted for the last 100 hundred years at least. This destruction of the ‘comprehensive city ideal’ in favour of fractured and costly partial provision of public goods, from housing to energy, is investigated by this paper. At the same time, the paper aims to track the changing fortunes of the public interest, the public good and the importance of public and common goods and to investigate how the notion of the public good has been squeezed out of political life across the political spectrum. The public interest is a contentious term with a chequered history and there is an argument that it is too loaded and too tarnished and should be consigned to history. But the contention of this paper is that blatant disregard of the public interest is undermining trust, citizenship and democracy. 25
Only a renewal of the concept of the public good, defined and enshrined in legislation, can reverse this process. Over the last generation the fine balance between public and private, which characterises a healthy public domain, has shied decisively in favour of private interests, threatening universal access to public and common goods and severely damaging the functioning of society. When it comes to planning, the paper will outline how the public interest has never functioned as its post-war architects intended. Later, as privatisation took hold, the public good became interchangeable with economic benefit, disregarding the public interest and democratic rights. Now, a reinvention of the public interest, based around universal access to common goods, is proposed. ii. History of the public good: Its rise and fall The privatisation of the physical public realm in modern Britain began with the enclosure of common land in the 16th century, which was enshrined in law with the parliamentary Acts of Enclosure of the 18th century. Enclosure, which was at its peak between 1760 and 1832, was the expropriation of common lands by private landlords which ended the traditional rights of grazing on the common lands which made up most of the country. The countervailing trend to the privatisation of the enclosures was the increasingly influential idea of the public domain and the public interest. This properly took hold during the early 19th century as the British government, rocked by revolution in France and the American War of Independence and in the midst of a grave financial crisis, sought to reinvent itself. This was a paradigm moment which saw a govern- ment Commission introduce the ‘principle of public economy’ which reformed public appointments, ensuring that public o ice could no longer be bought and sold as a commodity. Rather than the private possessions that they had been, all government positions became ‘public trusts to be discharged for the benefit of the public.’ The reform of parliament after 1832 witnessed the rise of both central and local, democratically elected government, alongside growing concern with public health and social conditions on the part of the new public administrators. Political change was reflected by changes in the physical landscape, with the growing emphasis on public health overseeing the expansion of the physical public realm through the emergence of comprehensive sewerage and sanitation systems and the development of an ‘underground city’ of gas, electricity and water. During the same period the Crown Lands Act of 1851 transferred the parklands owned by Queen Victoria into public ownership while huge public protest against the private, gated estates which characterised the Georgian fabric of cities like London saw streets and public places given over to local authority control. The handing over of streets to public control was accompanied by the growth of civic and public buildings, from town halls and libraries to schools, hospitals, asylums and work houses- land and buildings which were o en le in trusts to the public ‘in perpetuity’. This ‘underground city’, alongside street networks above ground, created the foundation for contemporary cities, which by the 20th century were based on universal access to services, from sanitation and utilities to transport and telecommunications. While the aqueducts, sewers and streets of Mesopotamia and ancient Rome 26
only had partial coverage, comprehensive networks, which operated in the public interest, were at the heart of the modern city. The public interest reached its high point in the immediate post war period, underpinning the planning system, public service broadcasting and the welfare state. But, in planning in particular, its rise was swiftly followed by its fall, tarred by the failures of modernist planning and accusations of top down centralism and universalism. Though initially conceived in a spirit of post war optimism, with the aim of re- placing inner city slums with modern apartments in ‘streets in the sky’, a key impact of the tower blocks and arterial roads which sliced through cities and communities was to highlight the undemocratic nature of slum clearance. Denigrated by those on the le for its top down programmes, and by the right for interfering in the market, the notion of the public good and the public interest su ered a two-pronged assault. The critique from the le asserted that in a world of diversity there was no unified public interest, which then became little more than a smokescreen for powerful interests. Into this breach stepped Thatcherism, which was innately opposed to paternalistic state intervention, which had come to be linked with governing in the public interest. Instead Thatcherites argued that the public interest was better served by the market approach of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe saw market fundamentalists hail ‘the end of history’, as proof that a system which saw capitalism and democracy co-exist had triumphed. But rather than reflecting the delicate balance between capitalism and democracy described by Tawney, this moment of hubris which characterised the Reagan Thatcher period symbolised a decisive shift towards private interests, at the expense of the public interest, the common good and democratic rights. With the tight embrace of neo-liberal economics by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair any meaningful discussion of the public interest was effectively squeezed out of politics relating to the debt-based property-fuelled economy which drove economic growth until the financial collapse of 2008. In the US, the shameful collapse of the ‘sub prime’ property market saw those with poor credit ratings encouraged to take out mortgages they couldn’t afford, a process which witnessed the market completely subvert the public interest. In Britain, less well known changes witnessed the undermining of the public good in legislation relating to planning. From 2004, as the property boom was begin-ning to take o , ‘public benefit’ became interchangeable with ‘economic benefit’, a significant shift which is reflected in important but little-known changes to legislation. This is a change which occurred with no discussion or debate, partly because of the highly obscure nature of the relevant legislation. In the US, by contrast, a similar shift was highlighted by an infamous Supreme Court Judgement in 2005, which replaced ‘public benefit’ with ‘economic benefit’ as the benchmark test for new development. The resulting national outcry saw protestors camp on the White House lawn, leading former President George Bush to intervene personally. As a result most US states have now reversed the legislation. Yet over here the same change, which crept into the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, was barely noticed, mainly reflected in obscure guidance and statutory 27
instruments, which significantly shifted the definition of ‘public benefit’ by placing greater importance on the economic impacts of new schemes. With this vital check to the public domain so weakened, planning decisions in Britain have become increasingly characterised by democratic failure, with the wishes of local communities entirely disregarded and sham public consultations an everyday occurrence. Meanwhile, the rise of lobbying in contentious development decisions and the revolving door between local government, developers and lobbying companies – who carry out public consultations on behalf of the private sector and local government – emerged as a defining feature of a system in which abuses are routine and as characteristic of local democracy as elections themselves. At the same time the achievements of the ‘comprehensive city’ are being reversed, with the privatisation of utilities and services threatening the universal networks and access to public goods which have long been taken for granted. If this process continues it will transform the nature of cities and create an environment much more akin to that found in parts of the developing world, where entire districts have no access to electricity and sanitation, let alone broadband. While that might sounds overblown it is already the case that access to essential services, in particular public transport, is severely restricted in certain deprived areas. Planning is the interface with democracy at local level. The failure of the system to reflect the public interest is a crisis in democracy which is reflected in many other key spheres of public life, most notably in cyberspace where a handful of commercial, mostly American companies, own and control our internet activity. While this paper focuses mainly on the built environment, this is another paradigm moment for both the intellectual and physical public domain which is no less concerning than Tawney’s 1938 warning of the constant tensions faced in reconciling democracy with capitalism, which is the function of a healthy public domain. iii. The modern planning system: stymied at birth The foundations of the modern planning system in the UK, which remains internationally admired around the world, are contemporaneous with the founding of the Welfare State. This is rooted in Beveridge’s 1942 report, which became famous for its attack on the five social evils of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. Beveridge described this report as “one part only of a comprehensive policy of social progress.” Another policy plank which aimed to underpin social progress was the planning system which also had its roots in an accompanying 1942 report, which was the Uthwatt’s Report, final report of the Expert Committee on Compensation and Betterment. This report, which was realised in the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, is shot through with statement after statement emphasising the importance of the public good and community benefit over the wishes of individual private landowners. The first assumption of planning was, the authors wrote: “That it will be directed to ensuring that the best use is made of land with a view to securing economic efficiency for the community and well-being for the individual, and that it will be recognised that this involves 28
the subordination to the public good of the personal wishes and interests of landowners.” The key legal principle was to be Cicero’s maxim, “salus populi est suprema lex”. The phrase, later quoted by John Locke in his second treatise on civil government, translates as ‘the welfare of the people is the supreme law.’ The conundrum at the heart of any planning system is that the conferring of planning permission on a piece of land for the best social use – or other commercial use -immediately ensures that land soars in value. The authors referred to this as the ‘compensation difficulty’ and concluded that “a means must be found for removing the conflict between private and public interest”. They proposed that this should be done through the imposition of development charges on landowners, so that the windfall profits made from the sale of land with planning permission would be used for community benefit. The result would be not the nationalisation of land but the nationalisation for community benefit of the soaring value of land with planning permission. Illustrious predecessors who favoured a tax on the value of land included no less than Adam Smith who wrote in the Wealth of Nations that a tax on ‘ground rent’ would prevent landowners from gaining monopolies. Among political reformers, Lloyd George instigated the first attempt to tax the profits arising from planning permission in 1909 and Asquith was also a supporter claiming that a land tax would “free the land that from this very hour is shackled with the chains of feudalism.” The need for a development charge, which would plough windfall profits into community benefit while also reducing speculation, was the centrepiece of the 1947 Act but the system was incredibly complex to administer and became increasingly unpopular. The incoming Conservative government abandoned the development charge in 1951, with the consequence that the planning system has never operated as its architects intended. Since then subsequent governments have made repeated e orts to introduce variations on the development charge, with limited success. In 1967 Labour introduced a “betterment levy” set at 40 per cent of profit, which was dropped by Edward Heath in 1970. Again, Labour brought in a development land tax in 1975, set at 80 per cent of the increase in land value, which was maintained by the Thatcher government at 60 per cent. But in 1985 Nigel Lawson scrapped it, in tune with the spirit of the age and the deregulation of finance which came with ‘Big Bang’ a year later. Since then, the opaque and confusing system of ‘planning gain’ has evolved in the vacuum under a clause in legislation known as ‘Section 106’, which requires developers to make contributions to affordable housing, community facilities and even public art associated with the development. But Section 106 has produced nothing like the amount of affordable housing required, which combined with the sell-o of council housing has been a key driver behind the on-going housing crisis. Today, even the requirement for developers to provide a percentage of affordable housing has been abandoned with the Chancellor giving the house builders ‘a holiday’ from their obligations in a desperate, though misguided, e ort to get them to build. Misguided because while output remains at historic lows, the profits of the biggest house builders are anachronistically healthy for a country facing such tough economic times; profits from Barratts are up 159 per cent, Taylor Woodrow 135 per cent and Bovis 100 per cent. The top ten house builders, who have a monopoly on 29
the industry, are not building because they don’t need to, driven first and foremost by their obligations to shareholders rather than any notion of the public interest. The consequence for Britain is an unprecedented housing crisis. iv. How privatisation destroyed the public interest Housing, in common with many other aspects of the urban environment such as water and sanitation, is not simply a commodity. It is also a public good and a human right, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. From the outset the modern planning system in the UK aimed to remove “the conflict between private and public interest” though the imposition of a development charge which would plough speculative profits into community benefit. But while the rhetoric of planning in the public interest has justified the planning system ever since, the development charge never worked, undermining the foundations of the system right from the beginning. Despite that, and despite the abuses which characterised modernist system building, the period up until 1979 was characterised by adequate housing provision, in large part due to the substantial council house building programme in place until 1978. When the Conservatives came to power they introduced their hugely popular ‘Right to Buy’ policy, which gave council tenants discounts of up to 50 per cent of market value to encourage them to buy their own homes. The real significance of this policy was not the sell-o of 1.5 million homes but the refusal of the Tory government to allow councils to reinvest the money from the sales into building new homes. The upshot has been a steadily building housing crisis which, since the financial crash, has been accompanied by the collapse in private sector house building. Today, the profits of the top ten house builders notwithstanding, Britain is building fewer homes than ever before and repossessions and homelessness are rising fast. For a generation of people this means that they are neither able to buy their own homes or rent cheaper subsidised housing. The consequence is that soaring private rents mean that families in London are paying up to half their income in rent. But housing and planning are not the only public goods which are abjectly failing to meet the public interest, with the privatisation of the utilities causing chaos and confusion for consumers. Ironically, this is a situation the UK is familiar with as Britain was particularly slow to integrate its electricity suppliers, which during the 1920s were mired in the confusion of 65 different electricity companies and 49 systems. Consequently London was seen to suffer as a ‘backward metropolis’ compared to the ‘electropolis’ cities of Berlin and New York. . When the UK’s fractured and con- fusing electricity industry was nationalised in the 1930s it brought down the price of electricity and gave a huge boost to industry. Today, these lessons long forgotten, the privatisation of gas and electricity is echoing the chaos of the 1920s, this time with the consumer at the sharp end, facing confusing choices between at least 27 different companies providing gas and electricity at different tariffs. Allegations of misselling on the doorstep and profiteering on the part of the suppliers came to a head recently with claims from a whistleblower, now being investigated by the Financial Services Authority, that gas prices are rigged at artificially high levels. The one constant between this bewildering multiplicity of companies 30
and the allegations of profiteering are steeply rising prices across the board. v. Re-defining the public interest The impact of the privatisation of services on the public interest and the public good spans the domestic policy picture. So far, this discussion has examined housing and the utilities in particular depth because of its focus on the physical public realm. But the operation of the public interest is equally vital to policy in education, health, transport, the arts and the media. However, it is important not to confuse the public good and the public interest with the public sector. The public interest depends on public institutions, most notably government and the rule of law, but it is not limited to them, incorporating also charitable institutions, private individuals, private firms and agencies. In his book, ‘The Decline of the Public’, David Marquand points out that the rise of the 19th century idea of the public domain occurred at a time when the public sector grew only very slowly. Rather than a sector, public life is best understood in the Aristotelian sense as a dimension of political, social and cultural life which is interconnected with the notion of the public interest, as distinct from private interests. For Marquand, the private domain of love, friendship and personal connection and the market domain are products of nature. The public domain, on the other hand, is always at risk and only takes shape in societies where the notion of the pub- lic interest, as distinct from private interests, has taken root. Because it is dependent on constant nurture such societies are rare breeds. Since 1989 and the fall of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe debates about the future of capitalism and democracy have been portrayed in unhelpfully binary terms, with critics of the extreme free market policies pursued by successive governments dismissed as seeking a return to the days of communism, or at the very least militant socialism. The consequence of this market triumphalism in the UK has been the unleash- ing of neo-liberal economics, a process which began with the deregulation of the financial markets and ‘Big Bang’ of 1986. This has shifted the delicate balance be- tween private and public interests decisively in favour of private interests. But while the public sector has been progressively run down, with local government and local democracy in particular never recovering from the assault of the 1980s, there re- mains a huge attachment to the idea of the public domain, the public realm and the public interest. Defining the public domain in the mid-90s the Dahrendorf Commission stated: “In the public domain people act neither out of the kindness of their hearts, nor in response to incentives, monetary or otherwise, but because they have a sense of serving the community.” Creating the conditions where the civic goals of citizenship, equity and service can flourish remains the goal of politicians of every hue and is enormously popular with the public; arguably it was this idea of the public domain that David Cameron’s vague notion of the ‘Big Society’ was attempting to tap into, envisaging a smaller role for the state and a greater role for private and voluntary groups, “taking power away from politicians and giving it to people” , Critics claimed this was no more than a 31
smokescreen for the roll back of the state but its appeals to civic goals of citizenship and service, for no monetary return, does seem to echo Dahrendorf’s definition of the public domain. Ultimately, the many critics of the concept appear to have been proved right with the failure of the ‘Big Society’ guaranteed when it became clear that there was no economic basis for the policy. Instead the irony has been that while politicians exhort the public into spontaneous displays of civic activity the public institutions which typify the ‘Big Society’, such as public libraries and arts and community organisations, have been savagely cut. Bearing in mind that a healthy public domain requires a fine balance between public and private interests, the ‘Big Society’ stood no chance in the face of economic policies which favour only private interests. The public domain and the public interest has been systematically undermined over the last generation. At the same time many of the notions of the public good which underpinned the civic virtues of the Victorians and the post-war optimism of the architects of the welfare state are highly questionable. Given that, the question remains whether this concept is worth salvaging and reviving. A thorough examination of the public interest in every relevant policy area is far beyond the scope of this paper. Instead the rest of the discussion will focus on the importance of public or common goods and the threat faced by a society which is witnessing the withdrawal of those common goods. vi. The need for public and common goods A further confusion in definition arises when it comes to academic discussions of ‘public goods’. Since the 1950s economists have defined ‘public goods’ – also known as ‘collective consumption goods’ - quite separately from any discussion of the public interest. Public goods are ‘non rivalrous’, which means that each individual’s consumption does not subtract from another’s consumption, and ‘non excludable’, which means that it is impossible to exclude individuals from consuming the good. Air and national defence, for example, are public goods while food, clothing and cars are private goods. Goods which are rivalrous but non excludable are defined as ‘common pool resources’ – such as common fish stocks or coal - while goods which are non rivalrous but excludable are ‘club goods’, such as cinemas or private parks. While it is important to be aware of these distinctions this narrow economic definition of ‘public goods’ is not helpful to this paper and reflects the dominant importance of units of economic value in debates about common goods and social value. Instead the remainder of this discussion will attempt to draw together a definition of the public interest based on the need to safeguard the public goods and common goods which underpin the physical public realm. Many of these public goods, such as streets and public places and universal access to electricity, gas and water have long been taken for granted, with the assumption being that as streets have always been public they will inevitably continue to be so. As has already been touched upon this is far from the case with private estates and enclosures, which prohibited public access, characterising Britain before the advent of local government and local democracy. The much-praised urban fabric of 18th century London was very different to what it is today, with the fine Georgian squares and terraces surrounded by high gates and fences and heavily guarded 32
by private security forces who denied access to the public, on behalf of the aristocratic landlords who had carved up cities like London into private fiefdoms. As a result of growing public protest, reflected in two parliamentary inquiries during the mid-19th century, legislation was passed ensuring that henceforth all streets and public places should be handed over to local authority control, or ‘adopt- ed’ to use the jargon. This was a hard won democratic achievement and the spread of large corporately-owned private estates in an every town and city today, built on a Canary Wharf model, is an indication that this democratic achievement is going into reverse. At the same time, the triumph of the comprehensive city ideal ensured that by the 20th century the ‘underground city’ of water, gas and electricity was underpinned by universally accessible networks. Above ground these universal networks were mirrored by the spread of public transport which saw train, tube and bus routes spread out to every corner of the city and country. Today soaring utility prices are creating enclaves of fuel poverty while other services, such as broadband, are not available in some areas with BT holding competitions for localities to win broadband for their area, highlighting the extent to which broadband access is not seen as a public good. In many third world societies slum areas are entirely cut o from access to essential services and there is no doubt that the UK remains some way o from that. But the privatisation of local transport has already had a severe impact on many smaller towns, villages and outlying estates, leading to a situation where people on low incomes and without a car are effectively marooned on estates. In former industrial areas these isolated pockets of deprivation are home to families where three generations of unemployment is not uncommon. But much poverty in Britain is hidden, in part because most relatively affluent opinion formers never have cause to visit these areas. With the cuts to housing benefit accelerating the segregation of cities and creating poverty clusters in peripheral areas, access to essential services in these parts of the country is becoming harder and harder to come by. The majority of people living in these areas are disenfranchised and apolitical rarely bothering to vote for a system in which they have no stake. Research by the Electoral Commission reveals a clear correlation between levels of deprivation and turnout in elections with levels of voting lowest in the most deprived parts of the country in both national and local elections. For example, in the 2011 local elections turnouts were significantly higher in affluent areas than deprived areas, with 46.2 per cent voting in Brighton and Hove, compared to 29.8 per cent in Manchester’s Moss Side ward. Many who do try very hard to become engaged in the political process, in both working class and more affluent communities, recount how local government repeatedly fails to act in the public interest, especially when it comes to contentious regeneration schemes involving the demolition of local communities. ‘Scaring the living daylights out of people: The local lobby and the failure of democracy’, details the relations between local government, developers, lobbyists and local people in regeneration struggles up and down the country, which are today characterised by routine abuses and sham public consultations which reveal the abject failure of democracy at level. 33
That report argues that relations between local government, developers and lobbyists need to be accountable to local voters and subject to scrutiny. But it concludes that to be effective these measures need to take place within the wider context of a redefinition of the public interest in planning which places far greater account on social value. For the last decade at least, the benchmark test for whether new development should go ahead is whether or not it is of economic benefit. That benchmark test needs to be changed to emphasise the social value and social consequences of schemes for communities and these changes need to be reflected in legislation. Social value should be defined by access to public goods, which includes decent mixed housing throughout cities, breaking up the fast growing enclaves of deprivation which are a consequence of a generation of policy which has prioritised privatisation and economic over community benefit, with this segregation now accelerating sharply as a result of recent policies. Public goods also include essential services such as gas, water, electricity, broadband, streets and public places and transport which need to be available throughout cities, in tune with the comprehensive city ideal. In turn social value needs to be supported by a genuinely democratic and participatory planning system. Ironically, this was to some extent already sketched out by the Conservatives Open Source Planning Green Paper, written while the current government was still in opposition. Once in power, however, the participatory nature of ‘localism’ was entirely overridden by the Treasury’s emphasis on deregulating the planning system further in what has so far been the vain hope of a return to growth. This begs the question of how to pay for public goods in a no growth or con- tracting economy, hit by double and triple dip recessions, cuts and austerity. Both sides of the contemporary debate in government, between Conservatives favouring austerity to reduce the deficit and ‘Keynesians’, favouring an increase in borrowing to boost the economy, are predicated on a return to the neo-liberal system of unending growth as the primary purpose of the economy. One of the issues identified in this paper is that the planning system, designed to balance public and private interests by ploughing the profits of speculation into community benefit, has never worked as its wartime architects intended. The enormous advantage of such a system, if it could prove workable, would be to transform the speculative, debt based nature of property development which was the driver of the financial crisis, both in the UK and overseas. Development charges are enormously unpopular with developers and landowners and inconceivable in the current ideological climate prevailing in govern- ment. But it is only radical solutions like this, underpinned by a new definition of the public interest based on social value, rather than economic benefit alone, that o er any way out of the current crisis. The modern public domain emerged at a time of crisis, in the shadow of the French Revolution, the American War of Independence and the financial crisis of 1825. For all its myriad faults, Victorian public life laid the foundations for the comprehensive city ideal of universal access to services which is still taken for granted today. Writing in 1938, at another time of crisis, Tawney sketched out the threat to political civilisation if democracy and capitalism were unable to co-exist. The public domain is the 34
forum where this ever-present tension between civil and political rights, which is the essence of democracy, and what Tawney describes as the inequality of social and economic opportunities, which is the essence of capitalism, is played out. A healthy public domain, which is able to safeguard democracy, must balance private interests with the public interest. Over the last generation this balance has been eroded and since the financial crisis it in danger of being fatally undermined. The consequences of failing to protect the public interest go much further than the individual crises in planning, housing and the media â€“ to mention but a few â€“ and threaten not only universal access to services but democracy itself. On a more positive note, the financial collapse has produced another paradigm moment and this creates fertile ground for the public domain to re-invent itself. Unfortunately, this challenge is not being taken up by the mainstream political establishment. Perhaps publicly funded arts projects, with their public interest mandate, are the right forum for this urgent discussion.
Climate change and deep adaptation Rupert Read
I want to start out by addressing younger readers in particular. And what I have to say to you is stark. It is this: your leaders have failed you; your governments have failed you; your parents and their generation have failed you; your teachers have failed you; and I have failed you. We have all failed to raise the alarm adequately; and so of course we have failed to prevent the dangerous climate change that is now here, and the worse climate change that is coming and that is definitely going to get a lot worse still: definitely, because of timelags built into the system. This crisis already shows our failure. For, if we had been going to tackle this in such a way as to actually get a grip on it, we would have done so a generation ago (at minimum). True leadership
Roughly speaking, we would have elected Green or genuinely green-friendly, non-growth-obsessed governments everywhere in the world a generation ago and they would have done things that were quite unpalatable to a lot of us. That would have been true leadership But of course nothing remotely like this has happened. So now we’re in a real last chance saloon. The globally hegemonic civilisation of which we are all a part is in an end-game. Those who wanted to preserve it have already definitively failed Because of that failure I’m afraid for you, reader, especially if you are younger than me (I’m 52). I have fear for you: I fear that (some of) you are unlikely to grow old. We’ve gambled too much on succeeding in preventing/mitigating anthropogenic dangerous climate change and the anthropogenic extinction crisis. Because we were unwilling to face up to the alternative. But the alternative is not as simple as an instantaneous end of life would be. The alternative is complex, involving many possible variants of ‘unthinkably’ horrendous, bad, and even (in some respects) good.
Most crucially: there is a huge difference between the various versions of complete irrecoverable societal/species collapse, on the one hand, and the rise of a successor civilisation(s) out of the 36
wreckage of this one, on the other. We have to be willing to think this - and face it. Which means that we have to look beyond mitigation alone; we have to get serious about the processes of transformational adaptation and deep adaptation that are now necessary. We cannot continue to avoid the vast effort necessary in attempting to adapt our communities to cope with our changed and changing world. Not least because the time-lags built into the climate system mean that - even in the extraordinarily unlikely event that we manage to stop massively damaging our climate further - it is bound to deteriorate further for a long time to come. The only way that our civilisation might appear to persist is if we manage to transform it beyond recognition. But that transformed civilisation would then in no meaningful sense be the same civilisation as ours. It would be radically relocalised, degrowthist, energy-descended; it would have ended consumerism and foregrounded ecology; it would have learnt indigenous and peasant wisdom and have left behind most of the wrong turn of industrial capitalism; in short, it would probably be as different from our present world as that world is from the pre-industrial-revolution world. Irrevocable changes
It is in the context of the present civilisation being finished that I have just had a paper published which this Ecologist article précis’s and builds upon. My paper asks, given that this civilisation is finished, what exactly, among those willing to face up to this terrifying and liberating reality, is to be done? Let me now turn more directly to that. To the great work of taking the effort of adaptation to our irrevocably changed world seriously, this great task that now lies ahead of us. In my new paper, published as IFLAS Occasional Paper 3, I build on and complement the work already done by Jem Bendell, in his widely-read, extremely-influential IFLAS Occasional Paper 2, on “Deep Adaptation”. Deep Adaptation means adaptation premised upon collapse. And it has to be faced plainly that such collapse is likely. For instance: How many more summers like 2018’s can we take? In my own neck of the woods, in Norfolk, many crop yields were massively down. And this is while we deal with the effects of only 1 degree of global over-heat. What will things be like, when we reach 2 degrees, or even 3, as it is now only realistic to expect we will.
I have also argued there that Bendell’s claim that we face “inevitable”, “near-term” social collapse is nevertheless not valid. I think that the evidence he puts together in ‘’Deep Adaptation’’ does not justify that double-claim. The claim that I have been making for some time now is that our civilisation will inevitably end. This may sound much the same as Jem’s claim. But it is different in two crucial respects: Firstly, I do not put a time-limit down; I think we really don’t know what the time interval is. Secondly, I leave open that the ending still might be by way of a positive transformation, the opposite of collapse. 37
We don’t know that this isn’t possible, because we don’t know what human beings are capable of in novel circumstances. Tragically, I definitely would not bet on it, but to pretend that we can be certain that it won’t happen is to close down the open-endedness of human being and to overstate our own epistemic powers. It is to be unhumble before the future. To repeat, in a way, the kind of mistake that got us into this horrendous situation. It still just might be social transformation, not social collapse, that our future holds. Precautionary logic
It is plain that climate-nemesis is coming our way on a business as usual pathway or any likely pathway -- catastrophic climate change is a white, not a black, swan - but we can’t know for certain when it will arrive by, nor even (for certain) that it will arrive. We do not need certainty about collapse (or whatever) in order to guide our actions; the Precautionary Principle already guides them powerfully, by pointing us somewhat more specifically to what we need to do in order to guard against worst-case scenarios, etc. It directs us to ‘prep’, especially together, even if we do not know when or if collapse will occur. Doing so is simply a sensible precaution. This precautionary logic may be (more) helpful to our cause, unlike the standard scientific ‘evidence-based’ logic that is more-orless hegemonic among g/Greens and policy-wonks alike, a logic that is actually often harmful. I think that my way of characterising our situation is more likely to be energising and motivating than a message of inevitable doom. The Extinction Rebellion now beginning, could be our last chance to begin to do enough to stop full-scale climate catastrophe, or at the least to significantly slow it. But Extinction Rebellion risks being undermined by a ‘doomer’ message that says near-term social collapse is inevitable.
We must bend our wills to deep adaptation, as an insurance policy against the likely eventuality of collapse. And to transformational adaptation, adaptation that seeks simultaneously to mitigate and to transform our society in the direction it desperately needs to change in. The latter points too toward the hope for that transformation, a hope that remains, even in the darkness of this time. Insofar as human beings are willing to wake up and to look the dark reality of climate crisis in the eye, so we rise up to meet it. That is true courage. That is still at the heart of the task now upon us. A task that Extinction Rebellion is leading the way towards.
‘The devastation of human life is in view’: what a burning world tells us about climate change David Wallace Wells I have never been an environmentalist. I don’t even think of myself as a nature person. I’ve lived my whole life in cities, enjoying gadgets built by industrial supply chains I hardly think twice about. I’ve never gone camping, not willingly anyway, and while I always thought it was basically a good idea to keep streams clean and air clear, I also accepted the proposition that there was a trade-off between economic growth and cost to nature – and figured, well, in most cases I’d go for growth. I’m not about to personally slaughter a cow to eat a hamburger, but I’m also not about to go vegan. In these ways – many of them, at least – I am like every other American who has spent their life fatally complacent, and wilfully deluded, about climate change, which is not just the biggest threat human life on the planet has ever faced, but a threat of an entirely different category and scale. That is, the scale of human life itself. A few years ago, I began collecting stories of climate change, many of them terrifying, gripping, uncanny narratives, with even the most small-scale sagas playing like fables: a group of Arctic scientists trapped when melting ice isolated their research centre on an island also populated by a group of polar bears; a Russian boy killed by anthrax released from a thawing reindeer carcass that had been trapped in permafrost for many decades. At first, it seemed the news was inventing a new genre of allegory. But of course climate change is not an allegory. Beginning in 2011, about a million Syrian refugees were unleashed on Europe by a civil war inflamed by climate change and drought; in a very real sense, much of the “populist moment” the west is passing through now is the result of panic produced by the shock of those migrants. The likely flooding of Bangladesh threatens to create 10 times as many, or more, received by a world that will be even further destabilised by climate chaos – and, one suspects, less receptive the browner those in need. And then there will be the refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the rest of south Asia – 140 million by 2050, the World Bank estimates, more than 10 times the Syrian crisis. My file of stories grew daily, but very few of the clips, even those drawn from new research published in the most pedigreed scientific journals, seemed to appear in the coverage about climate change we watched on television and read in newspapers. Climate change was reported, of course, and even with some tinge of alarm. But the discussion of possible effects was misleadingly narrow, limited almost invariably to the matter of sea level rise. Just as worrisome, 39
the coverage was sanguine, all things considered. As recently as the 1997 signing of the landmark Kyoto Protocol, 2C of global warming was considered the threshold of catastrophe: flooded cities, crippling droughts and heatwaves, a planet battered daily by hurricanes and monsoons we used to call “natural disasters” but will soon normalise as simply “bad weather”. More recently, the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific offered another name for that level of warming: “genocide”. There is almost no chance we will avoid that scenario. The Kyoto Protocol achieved, practically, nothing; in the 20 years since, despite all our climate advocacy and legislation and progress on green energy, we have produced more emissions than in the 20 years before. In reading about warming, you will often come across analogies from the planetary record: the last time the planet was this much warmer, the logic runs, sea levels were here. These conditions are not coincidences. The geologic record is the best model we have for understanding the very complicated climate system, and gauging just how much damage will come from turning up the temperature. Which is why it is especially concerning that recent research into the deep history of the planet suggests that our current climate models may be underestimating the amount of warming we are due for in 2100 by as much as half. The authors of one recent paper suggested that slashing our emissions could still bring us to 4 or 5C, a scenario, they said, would pose severe risks to the habitability of the entire planet. “Hothouse Earth”, they called it. Because these numbers are so small, we tend to trivialise the differences between them – one, two, four, five. But, as with world wars or recurrences of cancer, you don’t want to see even one. At 2C, the ice sheets will begin their collapse, bringing, over centuries, 50 metres of sea-level rise. An additional 400 million people will suffer from water scarcity, major cities in the equatorial band of the planet will become unlivable, and even in the northern latitudes heatwaves will kill thousands each summer. There would be 32 times as many extreme heatwaves in India, and each would last five times as long, exposing 93 times more people. This is our best-case scenario. At 3C, southern Europe would be in permanent drought, and the average drought in Central America would last 19 months longer. In northern Africa, the figure is 60 months longer: five years. At 4C, there would be 8m more cases of dengue fever each year in Latin America alone and close to annual global food crises. Damages from river flooding would grow thirtyfold in Bangladesh, twentyfold in India, and as much as sixtyfold in the UK. Globally, damages from climate-driven natural disasters could pass $600tn – more than twice the wealth that exists in the world today. Conflict and warfare could double. Global warming may seem like a distended morality tale playing out over several centuries and inflicting a kind of Old Testament retribution on the great-great-grandchildren of those responsible, since it was carbon burning in 18th-century England that lit the fuse of everything that has followed. But that is a fable about historical villainy that acquits those of us alive today – and unfairly. The majority of the burning has come in the last 25 years – since the premiere of Seinfeld. Since the end of the second world war, the figure is about 85%. The story of the industrial world’s kamikaze mission is the story of a single lifetime – the planet brought from 40
seeming stability to the brink of catastrophe in the years between a baptism or barmitzvah and a funeral. Between that scenario and the world we live in now lies only the question of human response. Some amount of further warming is already baked in, thanks to the protracted processes by which the planet adapts to greenhouse gas. But all of the paths projected from the present will be defined by what we choose to do now. If we do nothing about carbon emissions, if the next 30 years of industrial activity trace the same arc upward as the last 30 years, whole regions will become unlivable as soon as the end of this century. Of course, the assaults of climate change do not end at 2100 just because most modelling, by convention, sunsets at that point. In fact, they could accelerate, not just because there’d be more carbon in the atmosphere then, but because increased temperatures could trigger feedback loops that might send the climate system spiralling out of control. This is why some studying global warming call the hundred years to follow the “century of hell”. It would take a spectacular coincidence of bad choices and bad luck to make a completely uninhabitable Earth possible within our lifetime. But the fact that we have brought that eventuality into play at all is perhaps the overwhelming cultural and historical fact of the modern era. Whatever we do to stop warming, and however aggressively we act to protect ourselves from its ravages, we will have pulled the devastation of human life on Earth into view – close enough that we can see clearly what it would look like, and know, with some degree of precision, how it will punish our children and grandchildren. Close enough, in fact, that we are already beginning to feel its effects ourselves, when we do not turn away. *** In southern California, December is meant to bring the start of rainy season. Not in 2017. The Thomas fire, the worst of those that roiled the region that year, grew 50,000 acres in one day, eventually burning 440 sq miles and forcing the evacuations of more than 100,000 Californians. A week after it was sparked, it remained, in the ominous semi-clinical language of wildfires, merely “15% contained”. For a poetic approximation, it was not a bad estimate of how much of a handle we have on the forces of climate change. That is to say, hardly any. Five of the 20 worst fires in California history hit the state in the autumn of 2017, a year in which more than 9,000 separate ones broke out, burning through almost 1.25m acres – nearly 2,000 sq miles made soot. That October, in northern California, 172 fires broke out in just two days – devastation so cruel and sweeping that two different accounts were published in two different local newspapers of two different ageing couples taking desperate cover in pools as the fires swallowed their homes. One couple survived, emerging after six excruciating hours to find their house transformed into an ash monument; in the other account, it was only the husband who emerged, his wife of 55 years having died in his arms. In the summer of 2018, the fires were fewer in number, totalling only 6,000. But just one, made up of a whole network of fires, together called the Mendocino Complex, burned almost half a million acres alone. In total, nearly 3,000 sq miles in the state 41
turned to flame, and smoke blanketed almost half the country. Things were worse to the north, in British Columbia, where more than 3m acres burned, producing smoke that would travel across the Atlantic to Europe. Then, in November, came the Woolsey Fire, which forced the evacuation of 170,000, and the Camp Fire, which was somehow worse, burning through more than 200 square miles and incinerating an entire town so quickly that the evacuees, 50,000 of them, found themselves sprinting past exploding cars, their sneakers melting to the asphalt as they ran. It was the deadliest fire in Californian history Two big forces conspire to prevent us from normalising fires like these, though neither is exactly a cause for celebration. The first is that extreme weather won’t let us, since it won’t stabilise; even within a decade, it’s a fair bet that these fires, which now occupy the nightmares of every Californian, will be thought of as the “old normal”. The good old days. The second force is also contained in the story of the wildfires: the way that climate change is finally striking close to home. Some quite special homes. The California fires of 2017 burned the state’s wine crop, blowtorched million-dollar vacation properties, and threatened both the Getty Museum and Rupert Murdoch’s Bel-Air estate. There may not be two better symbols of the imperiousness of American money than those two structures. Nearby Disneyland was quickly canopied by an eerily apocalyptic orange sky. On local golf courses, the west coast’s wealthy swung their clubs just yards from blazing fires in photographs that could not have been more perfectly staged to skewer the country’s indifferent plutocracy. Last year, Americans watched the Kardashians evacuate via Instagram stories, then read about the private firefighting forces they employed, the rest of the state reliant on a public force full of conscripted convicts earning as little as a dollar a day. By accidents of geography and by the force of its wealth, the US has, to this point, been mostly protected from the devastation climate change has already visited on parts of the less developed world. The fact that warming is now hitting its wealthiest citizens is not just an opportunity for ugly bursts of liberal schadenfreude; it is also a sign of just how hard, and how indiscriminately, it is hitting. All of a sudden, it’s getting a lot harder to protect against what’s coming. What is coming? Much more fire, much more often, burning much more land. American wildfires now burn twice as much land as they did as recently as 1970. By 2050, destruction from wildfires is expected to double again. For every additional degree of global warming, it could quadruple. At three degrees of warming, our likely benchmark for the end of the century, the US might be dealing with 16 times as much devastation from fire as we are today, when in a single year 10m acres were burned. The California fire captain believes the term is already outdated: “We don’t even call it fire season any more,” he said in 2017. “Take the ‘season’ out – it’s yearround.” But wildfires are not an American affliction; they are a global pandemic. Each year, between 260,000 and 600,000 people worldwide die from the smoke they produce. In icy Greenland, fires in 2017 appeared to burn 10 times more area than in 2014; and in Sweden, in 2018, forests in the Arctic Circle went up in flames. Fires that far north may seem innocuous, relatively speaking, since there 42
are not so many people there. But they are increasing more rapidly than fires in lower latitudes, and they concern climate scientists greatly: the soot and ash they give off can blacken ice sheets, which then absorb more of the sun’s rays and melt more quickly. Another Arctic fire broke out on the Russia-Finland border in 2018, and smoke from Siberian fires that summer reached all the way to the mainland US. That same month, the 21st century’s second-deadliest wildfire swept through the Greek seaside, killing 100. At one resort, dozens of guests tried to escape the flames by descending a narrow stone staircase into the Aegean, only to be engulfed along the way, dying literally in each other’s arms. There were record-breaking fires in the UK, as well, including one on Saddleworth Moor that was thought to be defeated – until it emerged again from the forest’s peat floor, to become the largest British wildfire in living memory. The effects of these fires are not linear or neatly additive. It might be more accurate to say that they initiate a new set of biological cycles. Scientists warn that the probability of unprecedented rainfalls will grow, too – as much as a threefold increase of events like that which produced the state’s Great Flood of 1862. Mudslides are among the clearest illustrations of what new horrors that heralds; in January 2018, Santa Barbara’s low-lying homes were pounded by the mountains’ detritus cascading down the hillside toward the ocean in an endless brown river. One father, in a panic, put his young children up on his kitchen’s marble countertop, thinking it the strongest feature of the house, then watched as a rolling boulder smashed through the bedroom where the children had been just moments before. One child who didn’t make it was found close to two miles from his home, in a gulley traced by train tracks close to the waterfront, having been carried there, presumably, on a continuous wave of mud. Two miles. It gets worse. When trees die – by natural processes, by fire, at the hands of humans – they release into the atmosphere the carbon stored within them, sometimes for as long as centuries. In this way, they are like coal. This is why the effect of wildfires on emissions is among the most feared climate feedback loops – that the world’s forests, which have typically been carbon sinks, would become carbon sources, unleashing all that stored gas. The impact can be especially dramatic when the fires ravage forests arising out of peat. Peatland fires in Indonesia in 1997, for instance, released up to 2.6 gigatons (Gt) of carbon – 40% of the average annual global emissions level. And more burning only means more warming only means more burning. Wildfires make a mockery of the technocratic approach to emissions reduction. In the Amazon, 100,000 fires were found to be burning in 2017. At present, its trees take in a quarter of all the carbon absorbed by the planet’s forests each year. But in 2018, Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil, promising to open the rainforest to development – which is to say, deforestation. How much damage can one person do to the planet? A group of Brazilian scientists has estimated that between 2021 and 2030, Bolsonaro’s deforestation would release the equivalent of 13.12 Gt of carbon. In 2017, the US, with all of its aeroplanes and automobiles and coal plants, emitted about 5 Gt. This is not simply about wildfires; each climate threat promises to trigger similarly brutal cycles. The fires should be terrorising enough, but it is the cascading chaos that reveals the true cruelty 43
of climate change – it can upend and turn violently against us everything we have ever thought to be stable. Homes become weapons, roads become death traps, air becomes poison. And the idyllic mountain vistas around which generations of entrepreneurs and speculators have assembled entire resort communities become, themselves, indiscriminate killers. And yet I am optimistic. Since I first began writing about warming, I’ve often been asked whether I see any reason for optimism. The thing is, I am optimistic. Warming of 3 or 3.5C is, I’d wager, the likeliest range this century, given conventional decarbonisation and the existing – dispiriting – pace of change. It would unleash suffering beyond anything that humans have ever experienced. But it is not a fatalistic scenario; in fact, it’s a whole lot better than where we are headed without action – north of 4C by 2100, and the perhaps six or even more degrees of warming in the centuries to come. We may conjure new soutions, in the form of carbon-capture technology, which would extract CO2 from the air, or geoengineering, which would cool the planet by suspending gas in the atmosphere, or other now-unfathomable innovations. These could bring the planet closer to a state we would today regard as merely grim, rather than apocalyptic. I’ve often been asked whether it’s moral to reproduce in this climate, whether it is fair to the planet or, perhaps more importantly, to the children. As it happens, last year I had a child, Rocca. Part of that choice was delusion, that same wilful blindness: I know there are climate horrors to come, some of which will inevitably be visited on her. But those horrors are not yet scripted. The fight is, definitively, not yet lost – in fact, will never be lost, so long as we avoid extinction. And I have to admit, I am also excited, for everything that Rocca and her sisters and brothers will see, will witness, will do. She will be entering old age at the close of the century, the endstage bookmark on all of our projections for warming. In between, she will watch the world doing battle with a genuinely existential threat, and the people of her generation making a future for themselves, and the generations they bring into being, on this planet. And she won’t just be watching it, she will be living it – quite literally the greatest story ever told. It may well bring a happy ending. Climate change is not an ancient crime we are tasked with solving now; we are destroying our planet every day, often with one hand as we conspire to restore it with the other. Which means we can also stop destroying it, in the same style – collectively, haphazardly, in all the most quotidian ways, in addition to the spectacular-seeming ones. The project of unplugging the entire industrial world from fossil fuels is intimidating, and must be done in fairly short order – by 2040, many scientists say, with others guessing 2050. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we’ll need to halve our carbon emissions by 2030 to avoid catastrophe. In the meantime, many avenues are open – wide open, if we are not too lazy and too blinkered and too selfish to embark upon them. Perhaps as much as half of British emissions, one report recently calculated, come from inefficiencies in construction, discarded and unused food, electronics, and clothing; two-thirds of US energy is wasted; globally, according to one paper, we are subsidising the 44
fossil fuel business to the tune of $5tn each year. None of that has to continue. Americans waste a quarter of their food, which means the carbon footprint of the average meal is a third larger than it has to be. That need not continue. Five years ago, hardly anyone outside the darkest corners of the internet had even heard of bitcoin; today, mining it consumes more electricity than is generated by all the world’s solar panels combined, which means that in just a few years we’ve assembled a programme to wipe out the gains of several long, hard generations of green energy innovation. It did not have to be that way. And a simple change to the algorithm could eliminate that bitcoin footprint entirely. These are just a few of the reasons to believe that climate nihilism is, in fact, another of our delusions. What happens, from here, will be entirely our own doing. The planet’s future will be determined in large part by the arc of growth in the developing world – that’s where most of the people are, in China and India and, increasingly, sub-Saharan Africa. But this is no absolution for the west, which accounts for the lion’s share of historical emissions, and where the average citizen produces many times more than almost anyone in Asia, just out of habit. I toss out tons of wasted food and hardly ever recycle; I leave my air-conditioning on; I bought into bitcoin at the peak of the market. None of that is necessary, either. But it also isn’t necessary for westerners to adopt the lifestyle of the global poor. It’s estimated that 70% of the energy produced by the planet is lost as waste heat. If the world’s richest 10% were limited to the average European footprint, global emissions would fall by a third. And why shouldn’t they be? Almost as a prophylactic against climate guilt, as the news from science has grown bleaker, western liberals have comforted themselves by contorting their own consumption patterns into performances of moral or environmental purity – less beef, more Teslas, fewer transatlantic flights. But the climate calculus is such that individual lifestyle choices do not add up to much, unless they are scaled by politics. That should not be impossible, once we understand the stakes. Annihilation is only the very thin tail of warming’s very long bell curve, and there is nothing stopping us from steering clear of it.
Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating ClimateTragedy Jem Bendell
Can professionals in sustainability management, policy and research – myself included - continue to work with the assumption or hope that we can slow down climate change, or respond to it sufficiently to sustain our civilisation? As disturbing information on climate change passed across my screen, this was the question I could no longer ignore, and therefore decided to take a couple of months to analyse the latest climate science. As I began to conclude that we can no longer work with that assumption or hope, I asked a second question. Have professionals in the sustainability field discussed the possibility that it is too late to avert an environmental catastrophe and the implications for their work? A quick literature review revealed that my fellow professionals have not been publishing work that explores, or starts from, that perspective. That led to a third question, on why sustainability professionals are not exploring this fundamentally important issue to our whole field as well as our personal lives. To explore that, I drew on psychological analyses, conversations with colleagues, reviews of debates amongst environmentalists in social media and selfreflection on my own reticence. Concluding that there is a need to promote discussion about the implications of a social collapse triggered by an environmental catastrophe, I asked my fourth question on what are the ways that people are talking about collapse on social media. I identified a variety of conceptualisations and from that asked myself what could provide a map for people to navigate this extremely difficult issue. For that, I drew on a range of reading and experiences over my 25 years in the sustainability field to outline an agenda for what I have termed “deep adaptation” to climate change. The result of these five questions is an article that does not contribute to one specific set of literature or practice in the broad field of sustainability management and policy. Rather, it questions the basis for all the work in this field. It does not seek to add to the existing research, policy and practice on climate adaptation, as I found that to be framed by the view that we can manage the impacts of a changing climate on our physical, economic, social, political and psychological situations. Instead, this article may contribute to future work on sustainable management and policy as much by subtraction as by addition. By that I mean the implication is for you to take a time to step back, to consider “what if” the analysis in these pages is true, to allow yourself to grieve, and to overcome enough of the typical fears we all have, to find meaning in new ways of being and acting. 46
That may be in the fields of academia or management - or could be in some other field that this realisation leads you to. First, I briefly explain the paucity of research that considers or starts from social collapse due to environmental catastrophe and give acknowledgement to the existing work in this field that many readers may consider relevant. Second, I summarise what I consider to be the most important climate science of the last few years and how it is leading more people to conclude that we face disruptive changes in the near-term. Third, I explain how that perspective is marginalised within the professional environmental sector – and so invite you to consider the value of leaving mainstream views behind. Fourth, I outline the ways that people on relevant social networks are framing our situation as one of facing collapse, catastrophe or extinction and how these views trigger different emotions and ideas. Fifth, I outline a “Deep Adaptation Agenda” to help guide discussions on what we might do once we recognise climate change is an unfolding tragedy. Finally, I make some suggestions for how this agenda could influence our future research and teaching in the sustainability field. As researchers and reflective practitioners, we have an opportunity and obligation to not just do what is expected by our employers and the norms of our profession, but also to reflect on the relevance of our work within wider society. I am aware that some people consider statements from academics that we now face inevitable near-term social collapse to be irresponsible due to the potential impact that may have on the motivation or mental health of people reading such statements. My research and engagement in dialogue on this topic, some of which I will outline in this paper, leads me to conclude the exact opposite. It is a responsible act to communicate this analysis now and invite people to support each other, myself included, in exploring the implications, including the psychological and spiritual implications. Locating this Study within Academia
When discussing negative outlooks on climate change and its implications for human society, the response is often to seek insight through placing this information in context. That context is often assumed to be found in balancing it with other information. As the information on our climate predicament is so negative, the balance is often found in highlighting more positive information about progress on the sustainability agenda. This process of seeking to “balance out” is a habit of the informed and reasoning mind. Yet that does not make it a logical means of deliberation if positive information being shared does not relate to the situation being described by the negative information. For instance, discussing progress in the health and safety policies of the White Star Line with the captain of the Titanic as it sank into the icy waters of the North Atlantic would not be a sensible use of time. Yet given that this balancing is often the way people respond to discussion of the scale and speed of our climate tragedy, let us first recognise the positive news from the broader sustainability agenda. Certainly, there has been some progress on environmental issues in past decades, from reducing pollution, to habitat preservation, to waste management. Much valiant effort has been made to reduce carbon emissions over the last twenty years, one part of climate action officially termed “mitigation” (Aaron-Morrison et. 47
al. 2017). There have been many steps forward on climate and carbon management – from awareness, to policies, to innovations (Flannery, 2015). Larger and quicker steps must be taken. That is helped by the agreement reached in December 2015 at the COP21 intergovernmental climate summit and now that there is significant Chinese engagement on the issue. To support the maintenance and scaling of these efforts is essential. In addition, increasing action is occurring on adaptation to climate change, such as flood defences, planning laws and irrigation systems (Singh et al, 2016). Whereas we can praise these efforts, their existence does not matter to an analysis of our overall predicament with climate change. Rather than building from existing theories on sustainable business, this paper is focusing on a phenomenon. That phenomenon is not climate change per se, but the state of climate change in 2018, which I will argue from a secondary review of research now indicates near term social collapse. The gap in the literature that this paper may begin to address is the lack of discussion within management studies and practice of the end of the idea that we can either solve or cope with climate change. In the Sustainability Accounting Management and Policy Journal (SAMPJ), which this paper was originally submitted to, there has been no discussion of this topic before, apart from my own coauthored paper (Bendell, et al, 2017). Three papers mention climate adaptation in passing, with just one focusing on it by considering how to improve irrigated agriculture (de Sousa Fragoso et al, 2018). Organisation and Environment is a leading journal for discussion of the implications of climate for organisations and vice versa, where since the 1980s both philosophical and theoretical positions on environment are discussed as well as organisational or management implications. However, the journal has not published any research papers exploring theories and implications of social collapse due to environmental catastrophe.3 Three articles mention climate adaptation. Two of those have adaptation as a context, but explore other issues as their main focus, specifically social learning (Orsato, et al 2018) and network learning (Temby et al, 2016). Only one paper in that journal looks at climate adaptation as its main focus and the implications for organisation. While a helpful summary of how difficult the implications are for management, the paper does not explore the implications of a widespread social collapse ( Clément and Rivera, 2016). Away from management studies, the field of climate adaptation is wide (Lesnikowski, et al 2015). To illustrate, a search on Google Scholar returns over 40,000 hits for the term “climate adaptation.” In answering the questions I set for myself in this paper, I will not be reviewing that existing field and scholarship. One might ask “why not”? The answer is that the field of climate adaptation is oriented around ways to maintain our current societies as they face manageable climactic perturbations (ibid). The concept of “deep adaptation” resonates with that agenda where we accept that we will need to change, but breaks with it by taking as its starting point the inevitability of societal collapse (as I will explain below). Our Non-Linear World
This paper is not the venue for a detailed examination of all the latest climate science. However, I reviewed the scientific literature from the past few years and where there was still large uncertainty 48
then sought the latest data from research institutes. In this section I summarise the findings to establish the premise that it is time we consider the implications of it being too late to avert a global environmental catastrophe in the lifetimes of people alive today. The simple evidence of global ambient temperature rise is undisputable. Seventeen of the 18 warmest years in the 136-year record all have occurred since 2001, and global temperatures have increased by 0.9°C since 1880 (NASA/GISS, 2018). The most surprising warming is in the Arctic, where the 2016 land surface temperature was 2.0°C above the 1981-2010 average, breaking the previous records of 2007, 2011, and 2015 by 0.8°C, representing a 3.5°C increase since the record began in 1900 (AaronMorrison et al, 2017). This data is fairly easy to collate and not widely challenged, so swiftly finds its way into academic publications. However, to obtain a sense of the implications of this warming on environment and society, one needs realtime data on the current situation and the trends that it may infer. Climate change and its associated impacts have, as we will see, been significant in the last few years. Therefore, to appreciate the situation we need to look directly to the research institutes, researchers and their websites, for the most recent information. That means using, but not relying solely on, academic journal articles and the slowly produced reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This international institution has done useful work but has a track record of significantly underestimating the pace of change, which has been more accurately predicted over past decades by eminent climate scientists. Therefore, in this review, I will draw upon a range of sources, with a focus on data since 2014. That is because, unfortunately, data collected since then is often consistent with non-linear changes to our environment. Non-linear changes are of central importance to understanding climate change, as they suggest both that impacts will be far more rapid and severe than predictions based on linear projections and that the changes no longer correlate with the rate of anthropogenic carbon emissions. In other words ‘runaway climate change.’ The warming of the Arctic reached wider public awareness as it has begun destabilizing winds in the higher atmosphere, specifically the jet stream and the northern polar vortex, leading to extreme movements of warmer air north in to the Arctic and cold air to the south. At one point in early 2018, temperature recordings from the Arctic were 20 degrees Celsius above the average for that date (Watts, 2018). The warming Arctic has led to dramatic loss in sea ice, the average September extent of which has been decreasing at a rate of 13.2% per decade since 1980, so that over two thirds of the ice cover has gone (NSIDC/NASA, 2018). This data is made more concerning by changes in sea ice volume, which is an indicator of resilience of the ice sheet to future warming and storms. It was at the lowest it has ever been in 2017, continuing a consistent downward trend (Kahn, 2017). Given a reduction in the reflection of the Sun’s rays from the surface of white ice, an ice-free Arctic is predicted to increase warming globally by a substantial degree. Writing in 2014, scientists calculated this change is already equivalent to 25% of the direct forcing of temperature increase from CO2 during the past 30 years (Pistone et al, 2014). That means we could remove a quarter of the 49
cumulative CO2 emissions of the last three decades and it would already be outweighed by the loss of the reflective power of Arctic sea ice. One of the most eminent climate scientists in the world, Peter Wadhams, believes an ice-free Arctic will occur one summer in the next few years and that it will likely increase by 50% the warming caused by the CO2 produced by human activity (Wadhams, 2016).4 In itself, that renders the calculations of the IPCC redundant, along with the targets and proposals of the UNFCCC. Between 2002 and 2016, Greenland shed approximately 280 gigatons of ice per year, and the island’s lower-elevation and coastal areas experienced up to 13.1 feet (4 meters) of ice mass loss (expressed in equivalent-waterheight) over a 14-year period (NASA, 2018). Along with other melting of land ice, and the thermal expansion of water, this has contributed to a global mean sea level rise of about 3.2 mm/year, representing a total increase of over 80 mm, since 1993 (JPL/PO.DAAC, 2018). Stating a figure per year implies a linear increase, which is what has been assumed by IPCC and others in making their predictions. However, recent data shows that the upward trend is non-linear (Malmquist, 2018). That means sea level is rising due to non-linear increases in the melting of landbased ice. The observed phenomena, of actual temperatures and sea levels, are greater than what the climate models over the past decades were predicting for our current time. They are consistent with nonlinear changes in our environment that then trigger uncontrollable impacts on human habitat and agriculture, with subsequent complex impacts on social, economic and political systems. I will return to the implications of these trends after listing some more of the impacts that are already being reported as occurring today. Already we see impacts on storm, drought and flood frequency and strength due to increased volatility from more energy in the atmosphere (Herring et al, 2018). We are witnessing negative impacts on agriculture. Climate change has reduced growth in crop yields by 1–2 percent per decade over the past century (Wiebe et al, 2015). The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that weather abnormalities related to climate change are costing billions of dollars a year, and growing exponentially. For now, the impact is calculated in money, but the nutritional implications are key (FAO, 2018). We are also seeing impacts on marine ecosystems. About half of the world’s coral reefs have died in the last 30 years, due a mixture of reasons though higher water temperatures and acidification due to higher CO2 concentrations in ocean water being key (Phys.org, 2018). In ten years prior to 2016 the Atlantic Ocean soaked up 50 percent more carbon dioxide than it did the previous decade, measurably speeding up the acidification of the ocean (Woosley et al, 2016). This study is indicative of oceans worldwide, and the consequent acidification degrades the base of the marine food web, thereby reducing the ability of fish populations to reproduce themselves across the globe (Britten et al, 2015). Meanwhile, warming oceans are already reducing the population size of some fish species (Aaron-Morrison et al, 2017). Compounding these threats to human nutrition, in some regions we are witnessing an exponential rise in the spread of mosquito and tick-borne viruses as temperatures become more conducive to them (ECJCR, 2018). 50
The impacts I just summarised are already upon us and even without increasing their severity they will nevertheless increase their impacts on our ecosystems, soils, seas and our societies over time. It is difficult to predict future impacts. But it is more difficult not to predict them. Because the reported impacts today are at the very worst end of predictions being made in the early 1990s - back when I first studied climate change and modelbased climate predictions as an undergraduate at Cambridge University. The models today suggest an increase in storm number and strength (Herring et al, 2018). They predict a decline of normal agriculture, including the compromising of mass production of grains in the northern hemisphere and intermittent disruption to rice production in the tropics. That includes predicted declines in the yields of rice, wheat, and corn in China by 36.25%, 18.26%, and 45.10%, respectively, by the end of this century (Zhang et al, 2016). Naresh Kumar et al. (2014) project a 6â€“23 and 15â€“25% reduction in the wheat yield in India during the 2050s and 2080s, respectively, under the mainstream projected climate change scenarios. The loss of coral and the acidification of the seas is predicted to reduce fisheries productivity by over half (Rogers et al, 2017). The rates of sea level rise suggest they may be soon become exponential (Malmquist, 2018), which will pose significant problems for billions of people living in coastal zones (Neumann et al, 2015). Environmental scientists are now describing our current era as the sixth mass extinction event in the history of planet Earth, with this one caused by us. About half of all plants and animal species in the worldâ€™s most biodiverse places are at risk of extinction due to climate change (WWF, 2018). The World Bank reported in 2018 that countries needed to prepare for over 100 million internally displaced people due to the effects of climate change (Rigaud et al, 2018), in addition to millions of international refugees. Despite you, me, and most people we know in this field, already hearing data on this global situation, it is useful to recap simply to invite a sober acceptance of our current predicament. It has led some commentators to describe our time as a new geological era shaped by humans - the Anthropocene (Hamilton, et al, 2015). It has led others to conclude that we should be exploring how to live in an unstable post-Sustainability situation (Benson and Craig, 2014; Foster, 2015). This context is worth being reminded of, as it provides the basis upon which to assess the significance, or otherwise, of all the praiseworthy efforts that have been underway and reported in some detail in this and other journals over the past decade. I will now offer an attempt at a summary of that broader context insofar as it might frame our future work on sustainability. The politically permissible scientific consensus is that we need to stay beneath 2 degrees warming of global ambient temperatures, to avoid dangerous and uncontrollable levels of climate change, with impacts such as mass starvation, disease, flooding, storm destruction, forced migration and war. That figure was agreed by governments that were dealing with many domestic and international pressures from vested interests, particularly corporations. It is therefore not a figure that many scientists would advise, given that many ecosystems will be lost and many risks created if we approach 2 degrees global ambient warming (Wadhams, 2018). The IPCC agreed in 2013 that if the world does not keep further anthropogenic emissions below a total of 51
800 billion tonnes of carbon we are not likely to keep average temperatures below 2 degrees of global averaged warming. That left about 270 billion tonnes of carbon to burn (Pidcock, 2013). Total global emissions remain at around 11 billion tonnes of carbon per year (which is 37 billion tonnes of CO2). Those calculations appear worrying but give the impression we have at least a decade to change. It takes significant time to change economic systems so if we are not already on the path to dramatic reductions it is unlikely we will keep within the carbon limit. With an increase of carbon emissions of 2% in 2017, the decoupling of economic activity from emissions is not yet making a net dent in global emissions (Canadell et al, 2017). So, we are not on the path to prevent going over 2 degrees warming through emissions reductions. In any case the IPCC estimate of a carbon budget was controversial with many scientists who estimated that existing CO2 in the atmosphere should already produce global ambient temperature rises over 5°C and so there is no carbon budget – it has already been overspent (Wasdell, 2015). That situation is why some experts have argued for more work on removing carbon from the atmosphere with machines. Unfortunately, the current technology needs to be scaled by a factor of 2 million within 2 years, all powered by renewables, alongside massive emission cuts, to reduce the amount of heating already locked into the system (Wadhams, 2018). Biological approaches to carbon capture appear far more promising (Hawken and Wilkinson, 2017). These include planting trees, restoring soils used in agriculture, and growing seagrass and kelp, amongst other approaches. They also offer wider beneficial environmental and social side effects. Studies on seagrass (Greiner et al, 2013) and seaweed (Flannery, 2015) indicate we could be taking millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere immediately and continually if we had a massive effort to restore seagrass meadows and to farm seaweed. The net sequestration effect is still being assessed but in certain environments will be significant (Howard et al, 2017). Research into “management-intensive rotational grazing” practices (MIRG), also known as holistic grazing, show how a healthy grassland can store carbon. A 2014 study measured annual perhectare increases in soil carbon at 8 tons per year on farms converted to these practices (Machmuller et al, 2015). The world uses about 3.5 billion hectares of land for pasture and fodder crops. Using the 8 tons figure above, converting a tenth of that land to MIRG practices would sequester a quarter of present emissions. In addition, no-till methods of horticulture can sequester as much as two tons of carbon per hectare per year, so could also make significant contributions. It is clear, therefore, that our assessment of carbon budgets must focus as much on these agricultural systems as we do on emissions reductions. Clearly a massive campaign and policy agenda to transform agriculture and restore ecosystems globally is needed right now. It will be a huge undertaking, undoing 60 years of developments in world agriculture. In addition, it means the conservation of our existing wetlands and forests must suddenly become successful, after decades of failure across lands outside of geographically limited nature reserves. Even if such will emerges immediately, the heating and instability already locked into the climate will cause damage to ecosystems, so it will be difficult for such approaches to 52
curb the global atmospheric carbon level. The reality that we have progressed too far already to avert disruptions to ecosystems is highlighted by the finding that if CO2 removal from the atmosphere could work at scale, it would not prevent massive damage to marine life, which is locked in for many years due to acidification from the dissolving of CO2 in the oceans (Mathesius et al, 2015). Despite the limitations of what humans can do to work with nature to encourage its carbon sequestration processes, the planet has been helping us out anyway. A global “greening” of the planet has significantly slowed the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the start of the century. Plants have been growing faster and larger due to higher CO2 levels in the air and warming temperatures that reduce the CO2 emitted by plants via respiration. The effects led the proportion of annual carbon emissions remaining in the air to fall from about 50% to 40% in the last decade. However, this process only offers a limited effect, as the absolute level of CO2 in the atmosphere is continuing to rise, breaking the milestone of 400 parts per million (ppm) in 2015. Given that changes in seasons, temperatures extremes, flood and drought are beginning to negatively affect ecosystems, the risk exists that this global greening effect may be reduced in time (Keenan et al, 2016). These potential reductions in atmospheric carbon from natural and assisted biological processes is a flickering ray of hope in our dark situation. However, the uncertainty about their impact needs to be contrasted with the uncertain yet significant impact of increasing methane release in the atmosphere. It is a gas that enables far more trapping of heat from the sun’s rays than CO2 but was ignored in most of the climate models over the past decades. The authors of the 2016 Global Methane Budget report found that in the early years of this century, concentrations of methane rose by only about 0.5ppb each year, compared with 10ppb in 2014 and 2015. Various sources were identified, from fossil fuels - to agriculture to melting permafrost (Saunois et al, 2016). Given the contentiousness of this topic in the scientific community, it may even be contentious for me to say that there is no scientific consensus on the sources of current methane emissions or the potential risk and timing of significant methane releases from either surface and subsea permafrost. A recent attempt at consensus on methane risk from melting surface permafrost concluded methane release would happen over centuries or millennia, not this decade (Schuur et al. 2015). Yet within three years that consensus was broken by one of the most detailed experiments which found that if the melting permafrost remains waterlogged, which is likely, then it produces significant amounts of methane within just a few years (Knoblauch et al, 2018). The debate is now likely to be about whether other microorganisms might thrive in that environment to eat up the methane – and whether or not in time to reduce the climate impact. The debate about methane release from clathrate forms, or frozen methane hydrates, on the Arctic sea floor is even more contentious. In 2010 a group of scientists published a study that warned how the warming of the Arctic could lead to a speed and scale of methane release that would be catastrophic to life on earth through atmospheric heating of over 5 degrees within just a few years of such a release (Shakhova et al, 2010). The study triggered a fierce debate, much of which was ill considered, perhaps understandable 53
given the shocking implications of this information (Ahmed, 2013). Since then, key questions at the heart of this scientific debate (about what would amount to the probable extinction of the human race) include the amount of time it will take for ocean warming to destabilise hydrates on the sea floor, and how much methane will be consumed by aerobic and anaerobic microbes before it reaches the surface and escapes to the atmosphere. In a global review of this contentious topic, scientists concluded that there is not the evidence to predict a sudden release of catastrophic levels of methane in the near-term (Ruppel and Kessler, 2017). However, a key reason for their conclusion was the lack of data showing actual increases in atmospheric methane at the surface of the Arctic, which is partly the result of a lack of sensors collecting such information. Most ground-level methane measuring systems are on land. Could that be why the unusual increases in atmospheric methane concentrations cannot be fully explained by existing data sets from around the world (Saunois et al, 2016)? One way of calculating how much methane is probably coming from our oceans is to compare data from ground-level measurements, which are mostly but not entirely on land, with upper atmosphere measurements, which indicate an averaging out of total sources. Data published by scientists from the Arctic News (2018) website indicates that in March 2018 at mid altitudes, methane was around 1865 parts per billion (ppb), which represents a 1.8 percent increase of 35 ppb from the same time in 2017, while surface measurements of methane increased by about 15 ppb in that time. Both figures are consistent with a non-linear increase - potentially exponential - in atmospheric levels since 2007. That is worrying data in itself, but the more significant matter is the difference between the increase measured at ground and mid altitudes. That is consistent with this added methane coming from our oceans, which could in turn be from methane hydrates. This closer look at the latest data on methane is worthwhile given the critical risks to which it relates. It suggests that the recent attempt at a consensus that it is highly unlikely we will see nearterm massive release of methane from the Arctic Ocean is sadly inconclusive. In 2017 scientists working on the Eastern Siberian sea shelf, reported that the permafrost layer has thinned enough to risk destabilising hydrates (The Arctic, 2017). That report of subsea permafrost destabilisation in the East Siberian Arctic sea shelf, the latest unprecedented temperatures in the Arctic, and the data in non-linear rises in high-atmosphere methane levels, combine to make it feel like we are about to play Russian Roulette with the entire human race, with already two bullets loaded. Nothing is certain. But it is sobering that humanity has arrived at a situation of our own making where we now debate the strength of analyses of our near-term extinction. Apocalypse Uncertain
The truly shocking information on the trends in climate change and its impacts on ecology and society are leading some to call for us to experiment with geoengineering the climate, from fertilizing the oceans so they photosynthesize more CO2, to releasing chemicals in the upper atmosphere so the Sunâ€™s rays are reflected. The unpredictability of geoengineering the climate through the latter method, in particular the dangers of disturbances to seasonal rains that billions of people rely on, make it unlikely to be used (Keller 54
et al, 2014). The potential natural geoengineering from increased sulphur releases from volcanoes due to isostatic rebound as weight on the Earth’s crust is redistributed is not likely to make a significant contribution to earth temperatures for decades or centuries. It is a truism that we do not know what the future will be. But we can see trends. We do not know if the power of human ingenuity will help sufficiently to change the environmental trajectory we are on. Unfortunately, the recent years of innovation, investment and patenting indicate how human ingenuity has increasingly been channelled into consumerism and financial engineering. We might pray for time. But the evidence before us suggests that we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war. We do not know for certain how disruptive the impacts of climate change will be or where will be most affected, especially as economic and social systems will respond in complex ways. But the evidence is mounting that the impacts will be catastrophic to our livelihoods and the societies that we live within. Our norms of behaviour, that we call our “civilisation,” may also degrade. When we contemplate this possibility, it can seem abstract. The words I ended the previous paragraph with may seem, subconsciously at least, to be describing a situation to feel sorry about as we witness scenes on TV or online. But when I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life. With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend on your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go. You will fear being violently killed before starving to death. These descriptions may seem overly dramatic. Some readers might consider them an unacademic form of writing. Which would be an interesting comment on why we even write at all. I chose the words above as an attempt to cut through the sense that this topic is purely theoretical. As we are considering here a situation where the publishers of this journal would no longer exist, the electricity to read its outputs won’t exist, and a profession to educate won’t exist, I think it time we break some of the conventions of this format. However, some of us may take pride in upholding the norms of the current society, even amidst collapse. Even though some of us might believe in the importance of maintaining norms of behaviour, as indicators of shared values, others will consider that the probability of collapse means that effort at reforming our current system is no longer the pragmatic choice. My conclusion to this situation has been that we need to expand our work on “sustainability” to consider how communities, countries and humanity can adapt to the coming troubles. I have dubbed this the “Deep Adaptation Agenda,” to contrast it with the limited scope of current climate adaptation activities. My experience is that a lot of people are resistant to the conclusions I have just shared. So before explaining the implications, let us consider some of the emotional and psychological responses to the information I have just summarised. Systems of Denial
It would not be unusual to feel a bit affronted, disturbed, or saddened by the information and arguments I have just shared. In the past few years, many people have said to me that “it can’t be too late to stop climate change, because if it was, how would 55
we find the energy to keep on striving for change?” With such views, a possible reality is denied because people want to continue their striving. What does that tell us? The “striving” is based in a rationale of maintaining self-identities related to espoused values. It is understandable why that happens. If one has always thought of oneself as having self-worth through promoting the public good, then information that initially appears to take away that self-image is difficult to assimilate. That process of strategic denial to maintain striving and identity is easily seen in online debates about the latest climate science. One particular case is illustrative. In 2017 the New York Magazine published an article that drew together the latest data and analysis of what the implications of rapid climatic warming would be on ecosystems and humanity. Unlike the many dry academic articles on these subjects, this popular article sought to describe these processes in visceral ways (Wallace-Wells, 2017). The reaction of some environmentalists to this article did not focus on the accuracy of the descriptions or what might be done to reduce some of the worst effects that were identified in the article. Instead, they focused on whether such ideas should be communicated to the general public. Climate scientist Michael Mann warned against presenting “the problem as unsolvable, and feed[ing] a sense of doom, inevitability and hopelessness” (in Becker, 2017). Environmental journalist Alex Steffen (2017) tweeted that “Dropping the dire truth... on unsupported readers does not produce action, but fear.” In a blog post, Daniel Aldana Cohen (2017) an assistant sociology professor working on climate politics, called the piece “climate disaster porn.” Their reactions reflect what some people have said to me in professional environmental circles. The argument made is that to discuss the likelihood and nature of social collapse due to climate change is irresponsible because it might trigger hopelessness amongst the general public. I always thought it odd to restrict our own exploration of reality and censor our own sensemaking due to our ideas about how our conclusions might come across to others. Given that this attempt at censoring was so widely shared in the environmental field in 2017, it deserves some closer attention. I see four particular insights about what is happening when people argue we should not communicate to the public the likelihood and nature of the catastrophe we face. First, it is not untypical for people to respond to data in terms of what perspectives we wish for ourselves and others to have, rather than what the data may suggest is happening. That reflects an approach to reality and society that may be tolerable in times of plenty but counterproductive when facing major risks. Second, bad news and extreme scenarios impact on human psychology. We sometimes overlook that the question of how they impact is a matter for informed discussion that can draw upon psychology and communications theories. Indeed, there are journals dedicated to environmental psychology. There is some evidence from social psychology to suggest that by focusing on impacts now, it makes climate change more proximate, which increases support for mitigation (McDonald et al, 2015). That is not conclusive, and this field is one for further exploration. That serious scholars or activists would make a claim about impacts of communication without specific theory or evidence suggests that they are not actually motivated to know the effect on the public but are attracted to a 56
certain argument that explains their view. A third insight from the debates about whether to publish information on the probable collapse of our societies is that sometimes people can express a paternalistic relationship between themselves as environmental experts and other people whom they categorise as “the public”. That is related to the non-populist antipolitics technocratic attitude that has pervaded contemporary environmentalism. It is a perspective that frames the challenges as one of encouraging people to try harder to be nicer and better rather than coming together in solidarity to either undermine or overthrow a system that demands we participate in environmental degradation. A fourth insight is that “hopelessness” and its related emotions of dismay and despair are understandably feared but wrongly assumed to be entirely negative and to be avoided whatever the situation. Alex Steffen warned that “Despair is never helpful” (2017). However, the range of ancient wisdom traditions see a significant place for hopelessness and despair. Contemporary reflections on people’s emotional and even spiritual growth as a result of their hopelessness and despair align with these ancient ideas. The loss of a capability, a loved one or a way of life, or the receipt of a terminal diagnosis have all been reported, or personally experienced, as a trigger for a new way of perceiving self and world, with hopelessness and despair being a necessary step in the process (Matousek, 2008). In such contexts “hope” is not a good thing to maintain, as it depends on what one is hoping for. When the debate raged about the value of the New York Magazine article, some commentators picked up on this theme. “In abandoning hope that one way of life will continue, we open up a space for alternative hopes,” wrote Tommy Lynch (2017). This question of valid and useful hope is something that we must explore much further. Leadership theorist Jonathan Gosling has raised the question of whether we need a more “radical hope” in the context of climate change and a growing sense of “things falling apart” (Gosling, 2016). He invites us to explore what we could learn from other cultures that have faced catastrophe. Examining the way Native American Indians coped with being moved on to reservations, Lear (2008) looked at what he calls the “blind spot” of any culture: the inability to conceive of its own destruction and possible extinction. He explored the role of forms of hope that involved neither denial or blind optimism. “What makes this hope radical, is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is” (ibid). He explains how some of the Native American chiefs had a form of “imaginative excellence” by trying to imagine what ethical values would be needed in their new lifestyle on the reservation. He suggests that besides the standard alternatives of freedom or death (in service of one’s culture) there is another way, less grand yet demanding just as much courage: the way of “creative adaptation.” This form of creatively constructed hope may be relevant to our Western civilisation as we confront disruptive climate change (Gosling and Case, 2013). Such deliberations are few and far between in either the fields of environmental studies or management studies. It is to help break this semicensorship of our own community of inquiry on sustainability that motivated me to write this article. Some 57
scholarship has looked at the process of denial more closely. Drawing on sociologist Stanley Cohen, Foster (2015) identifies two subtle forms of denial – interpretative and implicative. If we accept certain facts but interpret them in a way that makes them “safer” to our personal psychology, it is a form of “interpretative denial”. If we recognise the troubling implications of these facts but respond by busying ourselves on activities that do not arise from a full assessment of the situation, then that is “implicative denial”. Foster argues that implicative denial is rife within the environmental movement, from dipping into a local Transition Towns initiative, signing online petitions, or renouncing flying, there are endless ways for people to be “doing something” without seriously confronting the reality of climate change. There are three main factors that could be encouraging professional environmentalists in their denial that our societies will collapse in the nearterm. The first is the way the natural scientific community operates. Eminent climate scientist James Hansen has always been ahead of the conservative consensus in his analyses and predictions. Using the case study of sea level rise, he threw light on processes that lead to “scientific reticence” to conclude and communicate scenarios that would be disturbing to employers, funders, governments and the public (Hansen, 2007). A more detailed study of this process across issues and institutions found that climate-change scientists routinely underestimate impacts “by erring on the side of least drama” - (Brysse et al, 2013). Combined with the norms of scientific analysis and reporting to be cautious and avoid bombast, and the time it takes to fund, research, produce and publish peer-reviewed scientific studies, this means that the information available to environmental professionals about the state of the climate is not as frightening as it could be. In this paper I have had to mix information from peer-reviewed articles with recent data from individual scientists and their research institutions to provide the evidence which suggests we are now in a non-linear situation of climactic changes and effects. A second set of factors influencing denial may be personal. George Marshall summarised the insights from psychology on climate denial, including the interpretive and implicative denial of those of who are aware but have not prioritised it. In particular, we are social beings and our assessment of what to do about information is influenced by our culture. Therefore, people often avoid voicing certain thoughts when they go against the social norm around them and/or their social identity. Especially in situations of shared powerlessness, it can be perceived as safer to hide one’s views and do nothing if it goes against the status quo. Marshall also explains how our typical fear of death means that we do not give our full attention to information that reminds us of that. According to anthropologist Ernest Becker (1973): “A fear of death lies at the centre of all human belief.” Marshall explains: “The denial of death is a ‘vital lie’ that leads us to invest our efforts into our cultures and social groups to obtain a sense of permanence and survival beyond our death. Thus, [Becker] argued, when we receive reminders of our death – what he calls death salience – we respond by defending those values and cultures.” This view was recently expounded as part of the “terror management theory” proposed by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski (2015). Although Marshall does not consider it directly, these processes would apply more so 58
to “collapse denial” than to climate denial, as the death involves not only oneself but all of what one could contribute to. These personal processes are likely made worse for sustainability experts than the general public, given the typical allegiance of professionals to incumbent social structures. Research has revealed that people who have a higher level of formal education are more supportive of the existing social and economic systems that those that have less education (Schmidt, 2000). The argument is that people who have invested time and money in progressing to a higher status within existing social structures are more naturally inclined to imagine reform of those systems than their upending. This situation is accentuated if we assume our livelihood, identity and selfworth is dependent on the perspective that progress on sustainability is possible and that we are part of that progressive process. The third factor influencing denial is institutional. I have worked for over 20 years within or with organisations working on the sustainability agenda, in non-profit, private and governmental sectors. In none of these sectors is there an obvious institutional self-interest in articulating the probability or inevitability of social collapse. Not to members of your charity, not to consumers of your product, not to voters for your party. There are a few niche companies that benefit from a collapse discourse leading some people to seek to prepare by buying their products. This field may expand in future, at various scales of preparedness, which I return to below. But the internal culture of environmental groups remains strongly in favour of appearing effective, even when decades of investment and campaigning have not produced a net positive outcome on climate, ecosystems or many specific species. Let us look at the largest environmental charity, WWF, as an example of this process of organisational drivers of implicative denial. I worked for them when we were striving towards all UK wood product imports being from sustainable forests by 1995. Then it became “well-managed” forests by 2000. Then targets were quietly forgotten while the potensiphonic language5 of solving deforestation through innovative partnerships remained. If the employees of the world’s leading environmental groups were on performance related pay, they would probably owe their members and donors money by now. The fact that some readers may find such a comment to be rude and unhelpful highlights how our interests in civility, praise and belonging within a professional community can censor those of us who seek to communicate uncomfortable truths in memorable ways (like that journalist in the New York Magazine). These personal and institutional factors mean that environmental professionals may be some of the slowest to process the implications of the latest climate information. In 2017, a survey of more than 8,000 people across 8 different countries – Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India, South Africa, the UK, and the US – asked respondents to gauge their perceived level of security as compared to two years ago in regards to global risks. A total of 61% said they felt more insecure, while only 18% said they felt more secure. On climate change, 48% of respondents strongly agreed that it is a global catastrophic risk, with an additional 36% of people tending to agree with that. Only 14% of respondents disagreed to some degree with the idea that climate change presented a catastrophic risk (Hill, 2017). This perspective on climate may help explain other 59
survey data that suggests remarkable changes in how people view technology, progress, their society, and the future prospects for their children. A 2017 global survey found that only 13% of the public think the world is getting better, which is major change from the ten years before (Ipsos MORI, 2017). In the USA, polls indicate that belief in technology as a good force has been fading (Asay, 2013). This information may reflect a wider questioning of the idea that progress is always good and possible. Such as shift in perspective is indicated by opinion polls showing that far fewer people today than the last decade believe their children will have a better future than themselves (Stokes, 2017). Another indicator of whether people believe in their future is if they believe in the basis of their society. Studies have consistently found that more people are losing faith in electoral democracy and in the economic system (Bendell and Lopatin, 2017). The questioning of mainstream life and of progress is also reflected in the shift away from secular-rational values to traditional values that has been occurring worldwide since 2010 (World Values Survey, 2016). How do children feel about their futures? I have not found a large or longitudinal study on children’s views of the future, but one journalist who asked children from 6 to 12 years old to paint what they expect the world in 50 years to be like generated mostly apocalyptic images (Banos Ruiz, 2017). This evidence suggests that the idea we “experts” need to be careful about what to tell “them” the “unsupported public” may be a narcissistic delusion in need of immediate remedy. Emotional difficulties with realising the tragedy that is coming, and that is in many ways upon us already, are understandable. Yet these difficulties need to be overcome so we can explore what the implications may be for our work, lives and communities. Framing After Denial
As a sense of calamity grows within the environmental movement, some argue against a focus on “carbon reductionism” for how it may limit our appreciation of why we face this tragedy and what to do about it (Eisenstein, 2018). I agree that climate change is not just a pollution problem, but an indicator of how our human psyche and culture became divorced from our natural habitat. However, that does not mean we should deprioritise the climate situation for a broader environmental agenda. If we allow ourselves to accept that a climate-induced form of economic and social collapse is now likely, then we can begin to explore the nature and likelihood of that collapse. That is when we discover a range of different views. Some frame the future as involving a collapse of this economic and social system, which does not necessarily mean a complete collapse of law, order, identity and values. Some regard that kind of collapse as offering a potential upside in bringing humanity to a post-consumerist way of life that would be more conscious of relationships between people and nature (Eisenstein, 2013). Some even argue that this reconnection with nature will generate hitherto unimaginable solutions to our predicament. Sometimes that view comes with a belief in the power of spiritual practices to influence the material world according to human intent. The perspective that natural or spiritual reconnection might save us from catastrophe is, however, a psychological response one could analyse as a form of denial. 60
Some analysts emphasise the unpredictable and catastrophic nature of this collapse, so that it will not be possible to plan a way to transition at either collective or small-scale levels to a new way of life that we might imagine as tolerable, let alone beautiful. Then others go further still and argue that the data can be interpreted as indicating climate change is now in a runaway pattern, with inevitable methane release from the seafloor leading to a rapid collapse of societies that will trigger multiple meltdowns of some of the worldâ€™s 400 nuclear power-stations, leading to the extinction of the human race (McPherson, 2016). This assessment that we face near-term human extinction can draw on the conclusions by geologists that the last mass extinction of life on earth, where 95% of species disappeared, was due to methane-induced rapid warming of the atmosphere (Lee, 2014; Brand et al, 2016). With each of these framings â€“ collapse, catastrophe, extinction â€“ people describe different degrees of certainty. Different people speak of a scenario being possible, probable or inevitable. In my conversations with both professionals in sustainability or climate, and others not directly involved, I have found that people choose a scenario and a probability depending not on what the data and its analysis might suggest, but what they are choosing to live with as a story about this topic. That parallels findings in psychology that none of us are purely logic machines but relate information into stories about how things relate and why (Marshall, 2014). None of us are immune to that process. Currently, I have chosen to interpret the information as indicating inevitable collapse, probable catastrophe and possible extinction. There is a growing community of people who conclude we face inevitable human extinction and treat that view as a prerequisite for meaningful discussions about the implications for our lives right now. For instance, there are thousands of people on Facebook groups who believe human extinction is near. In such groups I have witnessed how people who doubt extinction is either inevitable or coming soon are disparaged by some participants for being weak and deluded. This could reflect how some of us may find it easier to believe in a certain than an uncertain story, especially when the uncertain future would be so different to today that it is difficult to comprehend. Reflection on the end of times, or eschatology, is a major dimension of the human experience, and the total sense of loss of everything one could ever contribute to is an extremely powerful experience for many people. How they emerge from that experience depends on many factors, with loving kindness, creativity, transcendence, anger, depression, nihilism and apathy all being potential responses. Given the potential spiritual experience triggered by sensing the imminent extinction of the human race, we can appreciate why a belief in the inevitability of extinction could be a basis for some people to come together. In my work with mature students, I have found that inviting them to consider collapse as inevitable, catastrophe as probable and extinction as possible, has not led to apathy or depression. Instead, in a supportive environment, where we have enjoyed community with each other, celebrating ancestors and enjoying nature before then looking at this information and possible framings for it, something positive happens. I have witnessed a shedding of concern for conforming to the status quo, and a new creativity about what 61
to focus on going forward. Despite that, a certain discombobulation occurs and remains over time as one tries to find a way forward in a society where such perspectives are uncommon. Continued sharing about the implications as we transition our work and lives is valuable. One further factor in the framing of our situation concerns timing. Which also concerns geography. Where and when will the collapse or catastrophe begin? When will it affect my livelihood and society? Has it already begun? Although it is difficult to forecast and impossible to predict with certainty, that does not mean we should not try. The current data on temperature rise at the poles and impacts on weather patterns around the world suggests we are already in the midst of dramatic changes that will impact massively and negatively on agriculture within the next twenty years. Impacts have already begun. That sense of near-term disruption to our ability to feed ourselves and our families, and the implications for crime and conflict, adds another level to the discombobulation I mentioned. Should you drop everything now and move somewhere more suitable for self-sufficiency? Should you be spending time reading the rest of this article? Should I even finish writing it? Some of the people who believe that we face inevitable extinction believe that no one will read this article because we will see a collapse of civilisation in the next twelve months when the harvests fail across the northern hemisphere. They see social collapse leading to immediate meltdowns of nuclear power stations and thus human extinction being a near-term phenomenon. Certainly not more than five years from now. The clarity and drama of their message is why Inevitable Near Term Human Extinction (INTHE) has become a widely used phrase online for discussions about climate-collapse. Writing about that perspective makes me sad. Even four years after I first let myself consider near-term extinction properly, not as something to dismiss, it still makes my jaw drop, eyes moisten, and air escape my lungs. I have seen how the idea of INTHE can lead me to focus on truth, love and joy in the now, which is wonderful, but how it can also make me lose interest in planning for the future. And yet I always come around to the same conclusion – we do not know. Ignoring the future because it is unlikely to matter might backfire. “Running for the hills” – to create our own ecocommunity – might backfire. But we definitely know that continuing to work in the ways we have done until now is not just backfiring – it is holding the gun to our own heads. With this in mind, we can choose to explore how to evolve what we do, without any simple answers. In my post-denial state, shared by increasing numbers of my students and colleagues, I realised that we would benefit from conceptual maps for how to address these questions. I therefore set about synthesising the main things people talked about doing differently in light of a view of inevitable collapse and probable catastrophe. That is what I offer now as the “deep adaptation agenda.” The Deep Adaptation Agenda
For many years, discussions and initiatives on adaptation to climate change were seen by environmental activists and policymakers as unhelpful to the necessary focus on carbon emissions reductions. That view finally changed in 2010 when the IPCC gave more attention to how societies and economies could be helped to adapt 62
to climate change, and the United Nations Global Adaptation Network was founded to promote knowledge sharing and collaboration. Five years later the Paris Accord between member states produced a “Global Goal on Adaptation” (GGA) with the aim of “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptation response in the context of the global temperature goal” (cited in Singh, Harmeling and Rai, 2016). Countries committed to develop National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and report on their creation to the UN. Since then the funding being made available to climate adaptation has grown, with all the international development institutions active on adaptation finance. In 2018 the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), African Development Bank (AfDB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the World Bank each agreed major financing for governments to increase resilience of their communities. Some of their projects include the Green Climate Fund, which was created to provide lower income countries with assistance. Typical projects include improving the ability of small-scale farmers to cope with weather variability through the introduction of irrigation and the ability of urban planners to respond to rising sea levels and extreme rainfall events through reengineering drainage systems (Climate Action Programme, 2018). These initiatives are falling short of the commitments made by governments over the past 8 years, and so more is being done to promote private bonds to finance adaptation (Bernhardt, 2018) as well as stimulate private philanthropy on this agenda (Williams, 2018). These efforts are paralleled by an increased range of activities under the umbrella of “Disaster Risk Reduction” which has its own international agency – the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). The aim of their work is to reduce the damage caused by natural hazards like earthquakes, floods, droughts and cyclones, through reducing sensitivity to these hazards as well as increasing the capacity to respond when disasters hit. That focus means significant engagement with urban planners and local governments. In the business sector, this disaster risk reduction agenda meets the private sector through the well-established fields of risk management and business continuity management. Companies ask themselves what the points of failure might be in their value chains and seek to reduce those vulnerabilities or the significance of something failing. Given the climate science we discussed earlier, some people may think this action is too little too late. Yet, if such action reduces some harm temporarily, that will help people, just like you and me, and therefore such action should not be disregarded. Nevertheless, we can look more critically at how people and organisations are framing the situation and the limitations that such a framing may impose. The initiatives are typically described as promoting “resilience”, rather than sustainability. Some definitions of resilience within the environmental sector are surprisingly upbeat. For instance, the Stockholm Resilience Centre (2015) explains that “resilience 63
is the capacity of a system, be it an individual, a forest, a city or an economy, to deal with change and continue to develop. It is about how humans and nature can use shocks and disturbances like a financial crisis or climate change to spur renewal and innovative thinking.” In offering that definition, they are drawing on concepts in biology, where ecosystems are observed to overcome disturbances and increase their complexity (Brand and Jax, 2007). Two issues require attention at this point. First, the upbeat allegiance to “development” and “progress” in certain discourses about resilience may not be helpful as we enter a period when material “progress” may not be possible and so aiming for it might become counter-productive. Second, apart from some limited soft skills development, the initiatives under the resilience banner are nearly all focused on physical adaptation to climate change, rather than considering a wider perspective on psychological resilience. In psychology, “resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences” (American Psychology Association, 2018). How a person “bounces back” after difficulties or loss, may be through a creative reinterpretation of identity and priorities. The concept of resilience in psychology does not, therefore, assume that people return to how they were before. Given the climate reality we now face, this less progressivist framing of resilience is more useful for a deeper adaptation agenda. In pursuit of a conceptual map of “deep adaptation,” we can conceive of resilience of human societies as the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances so as to survive with valued norms and behaviours. Given that analysts are concluding that a social collapse is inevitable, the question becomes: What are the valued norms and behaviours that human societies will wish to maintain as they seek to survive? That highlights how deep adaptation will involve more than “resilience.” It brings us to a second area of this agenda, which I have named “relinquishment.” It involves people and communities letting go of certain assets, behaviours and beliefs where retaining them could make matters worse. Examples include withdrawing from coastlines, shutting down vulnerable industrial facilities, or giving up expectations for certain types of consumption. The third area can be called “restoration.” It involves people and communities rediscovering attitudes and approaches to life and organisation that our hydrocarbon-fuelled civilisation eroded. Examples include re-wilding landscapes, so they provide more ecological benefits and require less management, changing diets back to match the seasons, rediscovering non-electronically powered forms of play, and increased community-level productivity and support. It is not my intention in this paper to map out more specific implications of a deep adaptation agenda. Indeed, it is impossible to do so, and to attempt it would assume we are in a situation for calculated attempts at management, when what we face is a complex predicament beyond our control. Rather, I hope the deep adaptation agenda of resilience, relinquishment and restoration can be a useful framework for community dialogue in the face of climate change. Resilience asks us “how do we keep what we really want to keep?” Relinquishment asks us “what do we need to let go of in order to not 64
make matters worse?” Restoration asks us “what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?” In 2017, this deep adaptation agenda was used to frame a festival of alternatives organised by Peterborough Environment City Trust. It included a whole day devoted to exploring what relinquishment could involve. As such, it allowed more open conversation and imagination than a narrower focus on resilience. Further events are planned across the UK. Whether it will be useful framing for a broader-level policy agenda is yet to be seen. How does this “deep adaptation agenda” relate to the broad conceptual framework of sustainable development? It is related to other perspectives that despite the attention of international institutions to “sustainable development goals,” the era of “sustainable development” as unifying concept and goal is now ending. It is an explicitly post-sustainability framing, and part of the Restoration Approach to engaging with social and environmental dilemmas, as I outlined elsewhere (Bendell, et al 2017). Research Futures in the Face of Climate Tragedy
I was only partly joking earlier when I questioned why I was even writing this paper. If all the data and analysis turn out to be misleading, and this society continues nicely for the coming decades, then this article will not have helped my career. If the predicted collapse comes within the next decade, then I won’t have a career. It is the perfect lose-lose. I mention this to highlight how it will not be easy to identify ways forward as academic researchers and educators in the field of organisational sustainability. For the academics reading this paper, most of you will have increasing teaching loads, in areas where you are expected to cover certain content. I know you may have little time and space for reinventing your expertise and focus. Those of you who have a mandate to research might discover that the deep adaptation agenda is not an easy topic for finding research partners and funders. This restrictive situation was not always the reality faced by academics. It is the result of changes in higher education, that are one expression of an ideology that has made the human race so poor at addressing a threat to its wellbeing and even existence. It is an ideology that many of us have been complicit in promoting, if we have been working in business schools. It is important to recognise that complicity, before considering how to evolve our research in the face of the climate tragedy. The West’s response to environmental issues has been restricted by the dominance of neoliberal economics since the 1970s. That led to hyperindividualist, market fundamentalist, incremental and atomistic approaches. By hyper-individualist, I mean a focus on individual action as consumers, switching light bulbs or buying sustainable furniture, rather than promoting political action as engaged citizens. By market fundamentalist, I mean a focus on market mechanisms like the complex, costly and largely useless carbon cap and trade systems, rather than exploring what more government intervention could achieve. By incremental, I mean a focus on celebrating small steps forward such as a company publishing a sustainability report, rather than strategies designed for a speed and scale of change suggested by the science. By atomistic, I mean a focus on seeing climate action as a separate issue from the governance of markets, finance and banking, rather than 65
exploring what kind of economic system could permit or enable sustainability. This ideology has now influenced the workloads and priorities of academics in most universities, which restricts how we can respond to the climate tragedy. In my own case, I took an unpaid sabbatical, and writing this paper is one of the outcomes of that decision. We no longer have time for the career games of aiming to publish in top-ranked journals to impress our line managers or improve our CV for if we enter the job market. Nor do we have a need for the narrow specialisms that are required to publish in such journals. So, yes, I am suggesting that in order to let oneself evolve in response to the climate tragedy one may have to quit a job – and even a career. However, if one is prepared to do that, then one can engage with an employer and professional community from a new place of confidence. If staying in academia, I recommend you begin to ask some questions of all that you research and teach. When reading others’ research, I recommend asking: “How might these findings inform efforts for a more massive and urgent pursuit of resilience, relinquishment and restoration in the face of social collapse?” You may find that most of what you read offers little on that question, and, therefore, you no longer wish to engage with it. On one’s own research, I recommend asking: “If I didn’t believe in incremental incorporation of climate concerns into current organisations and systems, what might I want to know more about?” In answering that question, I recommend talking to non-specialists as much as people in your own field, so that you are able to talk more freely and consider all options. In my own work, I stopped researching corporate sustainability. I learned about leadership and communications and began to research, teach and advise on these matters, in the political arena. I began to work on systems to enable re-localisation of economies and support for community development, particular those systems using local currencies. I sought to share that knowledge more widely, and therefore launched a free online course (The Money and Society Mass Open Online Course). I began to spend more time reading and talking about the climate tragedy and what I might do, or stop doing, with that in mind. This rethinking and repositioning is ongoing, but I can no longer work on subjects that do not have some relevance to deep adaptation. Looking ahead, I see the need and opportunity for more work at multiple levels. People will need more support to access information and networks for how to attempt a shift in their livelihoods and lifestyles. Existing approaches to living off-grid in intentional communities are useful to learn from, but this agenda needs to go further in asking questions like how small-scale production of drugs like aspirin is possible. Free online and inperson courses as well as support networks on self-sufficiency need to be scaled. Local governments will need similar support on how to develop the capabilities today that will help their local communities to collaborate, not fracture, during a collapse. For instance, they will need to roll out systems for productive cooperation between neighbours, such as product and service exchange platforms enabled by locally issued currency. At the international level, there is the need to work on how to responsibly address the wider fallout from collapsing societies (Harrington, 2016). These will be many, but 66
obviously include the challenges of refugee support and the securing of dangerous industrial and nuclear sites at the moment of a societal collapse. Other intellectual disciplines and traditions may be of interest going forward. Human extinction and the topic of eschatology, or the end of the world, is something that has been discussed in various academic disciplines, as you might expect. In theology it has been widely discussed, while it also appears in literary theory as an interesting element to creative writing and in psychology during the 1980s as a phenomenon related to the threat of nuclear war. The field of psychology seems to be particularly relevant going forward. Whatever we choose to work on in future will not be a simple calculation. It will be shaped by the emotional or psychological implications of this new awareness of a societal collapse being likely in our own lifetimes. I have explored some of these emotional issues and how they have been affecting my work choices, in a reflective essay on the spiritual implications of climate despair (Bendell, 2018). I recommend giving yourself time for such reflection and evolution, rather than rushing in to a new agenda of research or teaching. If you are a student, then I recommend sending your lecturers this paper and inviting a class discussion about these ideas. It is likely that those who are not embedded within the existing system will be the ones more able to lead this agenda. I think it may be our vanity as academics to think that any one but academics and students read academic papers. Therefore, I have chosen to leave my recommendations for managers, policy makers and lay persons for another outlet. Conclusions
Since records began in 1850, seventeen of the eighteen hottest years have occurred since 2000. Important steps on climate mitigation and adaptation have been taken over the past decade. However, these steps could now be regarded as equivalent to walking up a landslide. If the landslide had not already begun, then quicker and bigger steps would get us to the top of where we want to be. Sadly, the latest climate data, emissions data and data on the spread of carbon-intensive lifestyles show that the landslide has already begun. As the point of no return canâ€™t be fully known until after the event, ambitious work on reducing carbon emissions and extracting more from the air (naturally and synthetically) is more critical than ever. That must involve a new front of action on methane. Disruptive impacts from climate change are now inevitable. Geoengineering is likely to be ineffective or counter-productive. Therefore, the mainstream climate policy community now recognises the need to work much more on adaptation to the effects of climate change. That must now rapidly permeate the broader field of people engaged in sustainable development as practitioners, researchers and educators. In assessing how our approaches could evolve, we need to appreciate what kind of adaptation is possible. Recent research suggests that human societies will experience disruptions to their basic functioning within less than ten years due to climate stress. Such disruptions include increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, disease, civil conflict and war â€“ and will not avoid affluent nations. This situation makes redundant the reformist approach to sustainable development and related fields 67
of corporate sustainability that has underpinned the approach of many professionals (Bendell et al, 2017). Instead, a new approach which explores how to reduce harm and not make matters worse is important to develop. In support of that challenging, and ultimately personal process, understanding a deep adaptation agenda may be useful. References
Out of Practice: Towards new theory at the LSA James Soane
‘The problem is one of adaptation, in which the realities of our life are in question.’ — Le Corbusier, Vers Une Architecture, 1927 This paper is a reflection on the critical approach to theory adopted by the LSA and directly references the written work of the 2017/18 student cohort. The intention is both to validate their status as practitioners and to offer an alternative curriculum. Architecture or Revolution
“As for the manifestos, they make for depressing reading and show a student population bogged down by the troubles of today: fake news, climate change and a capitalist property market. There is a desperate call for architects to turn to activism and heal society’s ills, but there is seemingly not much confidence in this optimistic view, which is served cold au plat du jour.”1 The 2018 Architect’s Journal review of the LSA student written work, presented at the end of year show, was direct in its critique of subject matter suggesting it made for depressing reading. So what should post-graduate students be reflecting upon if not the state of society in relation to the built environment? In considering the role of theory in architecture, the LSA makes a case for the conversation and study to move beyond the formal or philosophical concerns that have pre-occupied the discourse for so long, and instead seek to interrogate the levers of power in order to understand the wider agency of the architect. It seems that when it comes to the big questions, education is out of practice.
Eyes that do not see
In an increasingly connected but hyper-separated global environment the purpose of architecture has morphed into the appreciation of an asset, which in turn has shaped the physical environment. Reinier de Graaf suggests ‘Architecture, or more precisely real estate, is governed by a simple law: maximising return while minimizing cost’2. The price of this approach to those not inside the virtuous circle of investment and return, is an erosion of community, an increase in living costs and the degradation of the environment. Looking at just one current example, the Spring 2019 issue of the Property Chronicle runs an article on 69
‘How to earn double-digit returns from Polish property’, noting that leverage should not be described in moral terms which it argues has become ‘fashionable’. It concludes that, ‘used well it (leverage) can be a financial tool to boost rates of return and acquire properties.’3 There is no mention of how this may affect the local context, the people or the environment; and the permission given to not feel guilty demonstrates either ignorance at best or more likely denial of the consequences. The LSA challenges this position which is representative of the ubiquitous belief within the neoliberal system that growth and development are the only drivers of investment. We cannot discuss the practice of architecture without first untangling the relationships between power, capital and governance. It is necessary to reflect on ethical questions embedded within societal and political theories that inform a wide range of behaviours. From engaging with catastrophic climate change to the failure of government to tackle infrastructure and housing, the school encourages students to interrogate and reimagine different practices. Too often the concerns of the profession are viewed academically as a preoccupation with ‘real world’ problems, unworthy of study, as opposed to the freedom of defiant experiments; though the tide appears to be turning, with critic Jacques Attali labelling this mode of research as a ‘distraction’4. As Ruth Morrow suggests, the role of the architect is not to assist people towards our own understanding of architectural practice, rather, their own.5 Therefore the architect, both as thinker and practitioner, has to recast their relationship with the planet and the public. The ‘styles’ are a lie
All students are required to write a Manifesto in place of the traditional dissertation. A manifesto can be understood as affirmation of intention, seeking to reflect and rethink critical cultural norms or societal behaviours, calling for change. We therefore see the act of producing a progressive written argument, subverted into the form of a personal manifesto, as becoming a space to build a call for arms: to construct an alternative world order; to imagine a kinder society. No longer is the debate about style, rather about transformation and action. There is a growing sense among the next generation that global issues such as climate change, neocon politics, pollution and migration must all inform the position of the architect. In ‘This Changes Everything’, Naomi Klein calls for immediate and radical intervention to stem the unfolding environmental disaster, ‘It is a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful message—spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions—telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet.’6 As a critique of capitalism and the global economic model, the book is perhaps at its most persuasive when it shows how grass roots collective action, through the use of shared media, is able to affect big change. The education of the architect is moving from developing a personal portfolio with a unique signature, to adopting a political position and developing pro-active strategies in opposition to the dominant development model. The ‘project’, as defined by Ezio Manzini, is a sequence of conversations and actions on the world bringing it closer to what it needs to be, necessitating the act of design.7 This provides a more resilient and meaningful definition of purpose. 70
Modern state of mind
“There reigns a great disagreement between the modern state of mind, which is an admonition to us, and the stifling accumulation of age-long detritus.”8 Re-reading Corbusier’s own treatise on architecture, almost 100 years since the first essay was published in 1921, it is striking to encounter the urgency of his writing and the call for extensive societal change. However, it is his very ideology, concerned with the rejection of history and embracing the potential for a manmade utopia, which has fed the crisis we find ourselves in today; a world choked with concrete construction, enmeshed with sprawling infrastructure and a broken eco-system. It is therefore necessary to recognise that the impact of this instrumental thinking, especially though the act of building, has brought about the Anthropocene era (defined as the geological age of significant human influence on the planet’s geology and ecosystem). For William Bellamy, this offers up an opportunity, as never before have we been so aware of the interconnectedness of the systems on earth9. It allows for a renewed understanding of our relationship to the presence of all living and non-living phenomena. The discourse of deep ecology implies the interconnectedness that affects our climate and natural cycles. In developing this theme the reconceptualization of nature is at the heart of Maelys Garreau’s work, where she argues we must abandon and destroy our idea of nature as an endless resource and instead encourage a new ethical vision which encompasses a multiplicity of realities.10 She suggests that the architect is replaced by a ‘gardener of the earth’ who adopts an anarchistic approach propagating a new environmental culture in order to seed new bonds with nature. Implicit is the sense that the man-made world is not immutable and that an alternative form of exchange is drawn up between species and agriculture that changes the transactional value of ownership.
Modern state of mind
“We are waiting for a dissident group to liberate us from the crushing humiliation of neoliberalism – which delivers only poverty, peonage, crisis and austerity”.11 The re-activated architect operates a multidisciplinary practice. Their work is to reveal accountability, to critically read the city and to offer alternative versions that are more equitable; addressing the political and destructive forces at work. New practices emerge as critiques of the existing patriarchal model, employing a high degree of collaboration, networking and sharing experiences. As Josh Fenton points out, ‘There is a need for us to continually reiterate our political position as architects – not in terms of parties or alliances, but with our engagement with issues that affect the public.’12 It is surely significant that it took 16 year old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thurnberg, self-styled climate change warrior, to activate a global awareness campaign that has resulted in hundreds of demonstrations globally. From her first solo protest in the Summer of 2018 she progressed to addressing a meeting at Davos in January 2019 and the UK Government in May 2019. She talks of how people are desperate for hope and is honest about the scale of the problem. In considering the profession of the architect Tom Badger writes in ‘The (Ir)Relevance of Architecture, ‘If we are prepared to get rid of the image of an architect as a ‘visionary’ and focus 71
on more normative forms of design and knowledge generation, we can re-establish the weakened relationship to society and the construction industry’13. He also raises the uncomfortable truth that most buildings are constructed without the hand of an architect, which further reinforces the notion that architecture is a subset of construction. So the protectionism that the profession offers, and so closely guards, is the very thing that prevents open access and best practice. Joe Walker, in the ‘Sceptical Spiritualist’, calls for an open discourse so that the tools of the profession can be shared.14 All the values have been revised
It is no longer possible to discuss the concept of space without considering its value, ownership and status. Yet, as Alice Hardy notes, the commodification of space has led to a lack of collective participation and communal enjoyment.15 She is optimistic that provocations are being made through digital activism, tapping into the ability to process big data in order to empower local citizens as well as designers. Underlying this approach is a belief in a more representative democratic system that values societal integration in order to make cities inclusive and accessible to all. There is a move from the power of the individual to the power of the crowd.16 Our relationship with technology is a further concern; the virtual space many inhabit also has its own architecture, power structures and politics. The internet of things has embedded itself into the fabric of our lives; harvesting our data and controlling our information channels contributing to societal atomisation and creating a disconnect from the physical environment.17 Fraser Morrison concludes that if everything is seamless and streamlined, there is no room to pause; and that a disconnected world is a way of reclaiming territory, time and space. When Jane Jacobs wrote that cities can provide for all citizens only when they are created by everybody18, she opened up a discourse that discredited top down thinking characterised by the master plan and private development. The act of commoning, has come to represent a framework for co-creation and communal action. Pointing to the importance of ‘mingling’ in public space, Maxim Sass argues that core values are shaped by surroundings and encounters.19 The market is not equivalent to a client who represents an inclusive public. Collective decision-making protects the interests of the many and leads to a new public place-making mode of practice.
All the values have been revised
‘The reasons why students decide to study architecture are many and varied, but there is often an underlying desire to contribute to the notion of common good.”20 The impact of these conversations on the education of an architect is to provide a framework that sees architecture as part of a system that is transformative. As activist George Monbiot argues, discredited narratives cannot be discarded, they need to be replaced with a new narrative.21 The students on this programme have begun to exchange ideas, to critically question their trajectories and to tell a new story. They have thoughts about what they believe to be important and have engaged in ethical discussions prompted by the ecological crisis. 72
“I will pursue architecture which encourages well-being and the role of space-as-care-giver.”22 Footnotes
1. Christine Murray, Degree Show Review: London School of Architecture (Architect’s Journal, 26th July 2018) 2. Reinier de Graaf, Four Walls and a Roof (Harvard University Press, 2017), p. 81. 3. Ben Habib, How to earn double-digit returns from Polish property (The Property Chronicle, Spring 2019) 4. Jacques Attali, A Brief History of the Future (Arcade Publishing, New York, 2009) 5. Ruth Morrow, Architecture from the Dogs. Radical Pedagogies, Ed D. Fraud, H. Harriss (RIBA Enterprises, 2015), p. 135. 6. Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything (Penguin, 2017), p. 105. 7. Ezio Manzini, Politics of the Everyday (Bloomsbury, 2019), p. 37. 8. Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture (Dover Publications, 1985) 9. William Bellamy, Solidarity: A call to Nature (LSA Manifesto, 2018) 10. Maelys Garreau, Manifesto to become a Gardener of the Earth (LSA Manifesto, 2018) 11. Jean Baudrillard, In the Shadow of Silent Majorities (Semiotext(e), New York, 1983), p. 44. 12. Josh Fenton, Ruskinian Property (LSA Manifesto, 2018) 13. Tom Badger, The (Ir)Relevance of Architecture (LSA Manifesto, 2018) 14. Joe Walker, The Sceptical Spiritualist, Looking for purpose in Practice (LSA Manifesto, 2018) 15. Alice Hardy, Whose City? (LSA Manifesto, 2018) 16. Indy Johar, (Retrieved from https://provocations. darkmatterlabs.org/financing-civic-futures-a3a6075f31c4) 17. Frazer Morrison, Nowhere to Hide (LSA Manifesto, 2018) 18. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Vintage Books,2016), p. 238. 19. Maxim Sass, Public Sector Service (LSA Manifesto, 2018) 20. Nelli Wahlsten, Blurring Boundaries (LSA Manifesto, 2018) 21. George Monbiot, Out of the Wreckage, A New Politics for an Age of Crisis (Verso, 2017), p. 91. 22. Vojtech Nemec, The Street Level Bureaucrat (LSA Manifesto, 2018)
What You Don’t See Brent Sturlaugson
In the corporate literature of Georgia-Pacific, the slogan “What You Don’t See Matters” refers to the branded building products — DryPly, Ply-Bead, Plytanium, PlyFrame, etc. — that are used in countless light construction projects. In the larger contexts of industrial-capitalist supply chains and environmental sustainability, the phrase takes on new meaning. “What you don’t see” in the production of these plywood components includes four tons of subbituminous coal leaving a single mine in Wyoming every second; 22 tons of coal burning at a single power plant in Georgia every minute; and, 62,000 tons of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere every day as a result of these processes. Needless to say, it “matters.” Here I would like to argue that it matters in particular for the profession of architecture: that any full accounting of environmental, economic, or social sustainability has got to consider not merely individual buildings and sites but also the intricate product and energy supply chains that are crucial to their construction. Equally important are the elusive and often secretive networks of financial power and political influence that are underwritten by the billion-dollar construction industry. Follow the Coal
It is revealing, for instance, to consider the extractive operations, transport networks, and material transformations that must be activated in order to produce a piece of plywood. The place to start is the Powder River Basin, a landscape of rolling grasslands in northeast Wyoming that is home to the North Antelope Rochelle Mine, the largest surface coal mine in the world. In 2014, coal production in the United States topped one billion tons, of which 400 million came from the Powder River Basin, and 120 million from North Antelope Rochelle.1 Resource extraction of this magnitude requires not just sophisticated technology and specialized knowledge; it requires also the historical and cultural conception of resources as valuable. Here is an early assessment by the United States Geological Survey, from 1883, when the country was emerging as a modern industrial power, and coal mining fueled the national economy. ‘It is a somewhat trite but true statement that coal is the most important of all mineral substances in its bearing upon the material prosperity of any country, and it is none the less familiar 74
that coal is the principal mineral product of the United States. … This country is now second on the list of coal producers of the world, and it is a question of no very distant time when it shall have achieved the first place in point of annual output. It possesses within its borders a larger coal-bearing territory than any other (at least with the possible exception of China, whose coal is undetermined), and the production will no doubt continue to grow.’2 Today, mining at North Antelope begins with a fleet of bulldozers scraping the vegetation and topsoil from the gently undulating landscape and exposing the gray loamy soil beneath. Draglines remove millions of tons of overburden, which are then transported by haul trucks to the edges of the deepening pit. When the coal seam is exposed, electric shovels move the coal from its prehistoric bed to the trucks, which take it to the crusher. After being pulverized into two-inch pieces, the coal is put on a conveyer belt and deposited into storage silos. Once the coal is purchased and orders are processed, the coal flows into the hopper cars of freight trains which pass through the belly of the silo. One of the largest orders of subbituminous coal from North Antelope comes from Plant Scherer, more than 1,800 miles away. The Robert W. Scherer Power Plant, located on 3,500 acres in Monroe County, Georgia, is the largest coal-fired power plant in the United States. Each year, Plant Scherer burns nearly twelve million tons of coal, all of which comes from the Powder River Basin, more than two million from North Antelope alone.3 The plant, which opened in 1982, is also the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the nation; Environment America has labeled it America’s “dirtiest power plant.”4 The North Antelope coal that arrives at Plant Scherer is transported from Wyoming to Tennessee via the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line, the largest rail freight network in North America; there it’s transferred to the Norfolk Southern line for the trip to Georgia. As the train approaches the power plant, the tracks gradually rise and the train makes a grand loop in front of the facility. Once elevated, the hopper cars release their cargo from below, much like the silos that loaded them. While on this loop, the train does not stop, depositing a constant stream of fuel into what is known as “the pit.” John McPhee captures this scene in his book Uncommon Carriers, where he describes “a long yard with five parallel tracks, where five coal trains could, if necessary, be parked, or ‘staged,’ waiting to advance and drop their coal at Plant Scherer.” He continues: That should have suggested the dimensions of the scene to follow, but the significance of the yard did not really register with me, and the effect was near total when we bent around a long curve and the dense curtain of pines seemed to open theatrically from left to right, revealing a loop of track at least a mile in circumference around an infield filled with a million tons of coal (earthmovers and bulldozers crawling like insects on the coal), and, on the far side of the loop, a trestle forty feet in the air and eight hundred feet long, and behind the trestle a pair of rectangular buildings a quarter of a mile over the ground and close to three hundred feet high but dwarfed beneath the overbearing immensity of four hyperbolic cooling towers that came into view one at a time, their 75
broad flared rims five hundred feet above the ground, and two smokestacks a thousand feet high, reaching above the scene like minarets. It was an electrical Xanadu in homage to a craven need, its battlements emitting cumuli of steam.5 From this immense “infield,” the million tons of coal are conveyed into pulverizers that crush it to a fine powder. This powder is then blown into a central furnace where it burns at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, converting water into steam that powers four generators. At full capacity, Plant Scherer consumes 8,000 gallons of water per minute to produce 3,600 megawatts of power, or approximately four billion gallons of water and 20 million megawatt hours of electricity annually.6 One of the largest consumers of electricity in the state, and in fact in the whole United States, is Georgia-Pacific.7 Among its many manufacturing facilities is Madison Plywood, about 50 miles north of Plant Scherer. Madison Plywood, located in Morgan County, east of Atlanta, is one of more than a dozen facilities across the country that have made Georgia-Pacific the nation’s leading plywood producer. Opened in 1979, the Madison plant harvests local loblolly pine. Transforming the soft coniferous wood into the familiar building product — thin wood sheets consisting of multiple plies of veneer glued together — requires a series of energy-intensive processes.8 After the trees are cut down with powerful chainsaws or hydraulic shears, the logs are conveyed into debarking machines; the debarked logs are then soaked in hot water — about 200 degrees Fahrenheit — for several hours to soften the wood and make it easier to cut. The logs are then sliced by a lathe into long sheets of veneer at the rate of 300 to 800 feet per minute; from there the veneers are fed into dryers where jets of extremely hot air — about 300 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit — remove excess moisture. In the last stages, the veneers are glued, cross-laminated, compressed, and sawn, before being bundled and stamped. The amount of non-renewable energy required to produce the plywood that’s stacked up in countless lumber yards worldwide is immense but quantifiable.9 What’s harder to measure are the deleterious health effects that can follow from the release of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. According to the Toxics Release Inventory compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Madison plant has, in the past decade, released significant amounts of lead, methanol, diisocyanates, and dioxin, substances which variously can cause cancers, developmental disorders, respiratory failure, and diseases of the heart, liver, and brain.10 Follow the Money
Georgia-Pacific, founded in 1927, has grown from a local lumber company in Augusta to become one of the largest building products manufacturers in the world. Today, the multinational corporation employs more than 35,000 people on three continents; 2,600 of these employees report to work in the administrative headquarters at the Georgia-Pacific Tower in downtown Atlanta. When it opened, in 1982, the 52-story high-rise — designed by SOM and located on the site of the theatre where Gone with the Wind had its world premiere in 1939 — was celebrated as an early step in the modernization of Peachtree Street. In 2012, the granite-clad tower 76
received LEED Silver Certification. A couple of years ago the company announced that the GeorgiaPacific Tower would undergo a major renovation, which the city of Atlanta has incentivized by issuing $150 million in municipal bonds and offering more than $7 million in tax breaks. GeorgiaPacific had already invested $65 million in Madison Plywood, with the goal of ensuring its place in the multibillion-dollar engineered wood industry.11 Capital for the headquarters renovation and facility expansion came from its parent company, Koch Industries. Run by Charles and David Koch, the company now ranks as the second largest privately-held U.S. corporation, with revenues of more than $100 billion. In 2005, Koch acquired Georgia-Pacific for $13 billion; in the process it took the publicly traded company private. Which, as journalist Daniel Schulman points out, is very much in keeping with how the Wichita-based conglomerate has assembled its holdings. “They prefer to operate quietly, to run, as David once put it, ‘the biggest company you’ve never heard of,’” writes Schulman in Sons of Wichita, his revealing biography of the family. Schulman continues: ‘But Koch Industries’ products touch everyone’s lives — from the gas in our tanks to the steak on our forks and the fertilizer that helps our crops grow, and from the drywall, windowpanes, and carpets in our homes and offices to the Brawny paper towels and Dixie cups we keep in the pantry. … A day doesn’t pass when we don’t encounter a Koch product, though we often probably don’t know it. Koch Industries is omnipresent.’12 That the consumption of everyday products, and more broadly the financial power of Koch Industries, intersects with national politics becomes clear if one follows the trail of money from the brothers’ Kansas hometown to numerous election campaigns, libertarian think tanks, and conservative political action committees (not to mention universities and cultural organizations). As Jane Mayer wrote recently, in The New Yorker, “For the past four decades they have tapped their vast fortune … to finance a private political machine whose reach and size have been described as rivalling that of the Republican Party. By lavishly underwriting candidates, policy organizations, and advocacy groups — often through untraceable donations — they have pulled American politics toward their own arch-conservative, pro-business, anti-tax, and anti-regulatory agenda, particularly in the environmental area.”13 Several months ago the Kochs publicized their plans to spend up to $400 million in campaign contributions for this year’s midterm elections, a 60 percent increase over their spending on the 2016 presidential campaign.14 The interconnections of construction industry money and influence become yet more intricate when we consider that the Georgia-Pacific Tower draws some significant portion of its electricity from Plant Scherer, which is jointly owned by several utility companies. The largest of these is Georgia Power, which is the leading subsidiary of Southern Company, the second largest private utilities provider in the U.S. In recent years, Southern Company has drawn attention, indeed notoriety, for sponsoring research that denies the role of humans in causing climate change. In particular the company has funded the work of the Harvardaffiliated aerospace engineer Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon, for which the 77
“deliverable,” as Soon described it, was a series of studies arguing that global warming was caused by the sun. Soon’s research is also supported by the Koch brothers. As reported in The Guardian: ‘A prominent academic and climate change denier’s work was funded almost entirely by the energy industry, receiving more than $1.2m from companies, lobby groups and oil billionaires over more than a decade, newly released documents show. Over the last 14 years Willie Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, received a total of $1.25m from Exxon Mobil, Southern Company, the American Petroleum Institute and a foundation run by the ultra-conservative Koch brothers, the documents obtained by Greenpeace through freedom of information filings show. According to the documents, the biggest single funder was Southern Company, one of the country’s biggest electricity providers that relies heavily on coal.’15 Further up the supply chain, the flow of capital returns to the hole in the ground in the Powder River Basin. The North Antelope Rochelle Mine is operated by Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company. Founded in Chicago in 1883, Peabody, which has its corporate headquarters in St. Louis, operates almost two dozen coal mines in the United States and Australia. Its recent history has been turbulent. In spring 2016 North Antelope laid off 235 employees, or fifteen percent of its workforce; the company president described this as an effort “to match production with customer demand.” Two weeks later, due to what a company spokesperson called “an unprecedented industry downturn,” Peabody filed for bankruptcy protection.16 As it happened, the filing has had an unexpected upside for the energy giant; in what the Los Angeles Times characterized as a “collateral benefit” of the bankruptcy, a federal judge in St. Louis ruled that the company was immune to a California lawsuit that sought damages due to decades of greenhouse gas emissions.17 Since then, following the election of a president who pledged to “end the war on beautiful, clean coal,” Peabody has reorganized and recovered; its chief executive has been rewarded with an ample stock bonus even as the company settled a dispute with retired mineworkers that reduced its pension obligations by almost 90 percent.18 In describing some of the processes by which coal mined in Wyoming comes to supply a coal-fired power plant in Georgia, which in turn provides power to a nearby plywood manufacturer, I have sketched only the most basic components of the supply chains of a single resource and single commodity. And likewise, in tracing how the profits from energy generation and product manufacturing can then be deployed to influence electoral politics, which in turn affect our national policies and personal lives, I’ve offered but a glimpse into what some have called the “legalized bribery” that is endangering American democracy.19 Any full accounting of these processes and networks would of course be infinitely more complicated, and the effects far more consequential. So why does all this matter for the profession of architecture? I would contend that what’s at stake is nothing less than disciplinary relevance. To ignore these matters — these networks of materials, energy, power, money — is to distance oneself from phenomena that 78
are at once directly related to building construction and of universal concern. In recent months the planet experienced a global heat wave as record high temperatures were set from the Arctic Circle to the Sahara Desert. Income inequality is growing so extreme that economists predict that in a dozen years “the wealthiest one percent will own two-thirds of the world’s wealth.”20 Thus it’s vitally important that architects, both as responsible citizens and creative professionals, strive to expand the boundaries of pedagogy and practice. Schools of design could enrich their programs by offering courses and sponsoring research in which sustainability is understood to comprise not only constructed sites but also zones of extraction, manufacture, and assembly. Likewise professional architects could exert collective pressure in order to expose wasteful or nefarious environmental practices and labor abuses associated with the building industry, and they could boycott the offenders. But more important than any particular strategy is the recognition that the status quo — as exemplified by the LEED certification system with its manipulatable criteria, or by the proliferation of green design competitions that produce fantastically skillful renderings of projects that will never be built — is not sufficient. Intensifying environmental and political crises demand that we enlarge the frameworks for action and responsibility. Footnotes
1. In 2014, the United States produced more than one billion tons of coal, twelve percent of which derived from the North Antelope Rochelle Mine. U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Coal Report. 2. United States Geological Survey, Mineral Resources of the United States (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1883), 1. To promote coal production, the USGS published handbooks on existing deposits and produced detailed structural studies of particular mines. The agency also created a publication branch that managed printed media, including texts, maps, illustrations, and photography. By 1903, the agency had distributed nearly four million copies of its publications. See United States Geological Survey, The United States Geological Survey: Its Origin, Development, Organization, and Operations (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1904), 31. 3. Plant Scherer consumed 11,840,152 tons of Powder River Basin coal in 2014; 2,438,864 tons came from North Antelope Rochelle Mine; U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Form EIA-923,” (2014). 4. See Jordan Schneider, Travis Madsen, and Julian Boggs, America’s Dirtiest Power Plants: Their Oversized Contribution to Global Warming and What We Can Do About It (Environment American Research and Policy Center, September 2013). 5. John McPhee, Uncommon Carriers (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), 233. For another account of Plant Scherer operations, see Jeff Goodell, Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006). 6. In 2014, Plant Scherer produced 18,884,492 megawatt hours; U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Form EIA-923,” (2014); that year the United States electric power production was 4,093,606,000 megawatt hours, of which 1,581,710,000 79
megawatt hours came from coal, or 39%; U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Electric Power Annual 2014,” February 2016. 7. In the United States, the consumption of electricity is dominated by the building sector; Department of Energy, “2011 Buildings Energy Data Book,” March 2012. 8. At a conference where I presented an early version of this work, several industrial political ecologists questioned my focus on plywood. They argued that building materials like steel and concrete required more energy than plywood to produce. This a fair critique, but I remain committed to highlighting the energy consumption of systems that are often touted for their “sustainability.” 9. Some plants use biomass energy from the timber harvesting process to replace the nonrenewable energy sources used at other stages of plywood manufacturing. 10. See the Toxics Release Inventory Facility Report for Madison Plywood. 11. J. Scott Trubey, “Georgia-Pacific Plans Renovation, More Jobs for Downtown Tower,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 17, 2016. Dionne Kinch, “Atlanta issues bonds to renovate GeorgiaPacific building,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 21, 2016. “Georgia-Pacific Planned Investments at Madison Plywood Facility to Total $65 Million,” PRNewswire, 18 August 18, 2014. 12. Daniel Schulman, Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2014), 4. 13. Jane Mayer, “One Koch Brother Forces the Other Out of the Family Business,” The New Yorker, June 7, 2018. See also Julia Lurie, Daniel Schulman, Tasneem Raja, “The Koch 130,” Mother Jones, November 3, 2014. 14. See Open Secrets, Center for Response Politics. PBS, “Koch brothers network planning massive spending increase for 2018 midterms,” January 29, 2018. 15. Suzanne Goldenberg, “Work of Prominent Climate Change Denier Was Funded by Energy Industry,” The Guardian, February 21, 2015. Justin Gillis and John Schwartz, “Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher,” New York Times, February 21, 2015. 16. Peabody Newsroom, “Peabody Energy Reduces Approximately 235 Positions at North Antelope Rochelle Flagship to Continue to Match Production With Demand,” March 31, 2016. Peabody Newsroom, “Amid Prolonged Industry Downturn, Peabody Energy Takes Major Step to Strengthen Liquidity and Reduce Debt Through Chapter 11 Protection,” April 13, 2016. 17. Michael Hiltzik, “How a bankruptcy filing shielded a big coal company from California’s climate-change lawsuits,” Los Angeles Times, November 28, 2017. 18. Jim Christie, “Bankrupt Peabody and pension plan reach $75 mln settlement,” Reuters, March 15, 2017. 19. See Fred Wertheimer, “Legalized Bribery,” Politico, January 19, 2014. This is one of countless articles which focus on the intensifying role of money in American politics, especially following the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which rules that that political spending by corporations was a form of free speech and thus protected by the First Amendment. 80
20. Dominic Frisby, “Wealth inequality is soaring — here are the 10 reasons why,” The Guardian, April 12, 2018. See also Facundo Alvaredo, Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, World Inequality Report, 2018.
Out of the Wreckage: A new politics for an age of crisis George Monbiot
Is it reasonable to hope for a better world? Study the cruelty and indifference of governments, the disarray of opposition parties, the apparently inexorable slide towards climate breakdown, the renewed threat of nuclear war, and the answer appears to be no. Our problems look intractable, our leaders dangerous, while voters are cowed and baffled. Despair looks like the only rational response. But over the past two years, I have been struck by four observations. What they reveal is that political failure is, in essence, a failure of imagination. They suggest to me that it is despair, not hope, that is irrational. I believe they light a path towards a better world. The first observation is the least original. It is the realisation that it is not strong leaders or parties that dominate politics as much as powerful political narratives. The political history of the second half of the 20th Century could be summarised as the conflict between its two great narratives: the stories told by Keynesian social democracy and neoliberalism. First one and then the other captured the minds of people across the political spectrum. When the social democracy story dominated, even the Conservatives and Republicans adopted key elements of the programme. When neoliberalism took its place, political parties everywhere, regardless of their colour, fell under its spell. These stories overrode everything: personality, identity and party history. This should not surprise us. Stories are the means by which we navigate the world. They allow us to interpret its complex and contradictory signals. We all possess a narrative instinct: an innate disposition to listen for an account of who we are and where we stand. When we encounter a complex issue and try to understand it, what we look for is not consistent and reliable facts but a consistent and comprehensible story. When we ask ourselves whether something “makes sense”, the “sense” we seek is not rationality, as scientists and philosophers perceive it, but narrative fidelity. Does what we are hearing reflect the way we expect humans and the world to behave? Does it hang together? Does it progress as stories should progress? A string of facts, however well-attested, will not correct or dislodge a powerful story. The only response it is likely to provoke is indignation: people often angrily deny facts that clash with the narrative “truth” established in their minds. The only thing that can 82
displace a story is a story. Those who tell the stories run the world. I came to the second, more interesting, observation with the help of the writer and organiser George Marshall. It is this. Although the stories told by social democracy and neoliberalism are starkly opposed to each other, they have the same narrative structure. We could call it the Restoration Story. It goes like this: Disorder afflicts the land, caused by powerful and nefarious forces working against the interests of humanity. The hero – who might be one person or a group of people – revolts against this disorder, fights the nefarious forces, overcomes them despite great odds and restores order. Stories that follow this pattern can be so powerful that they sweep all before them: even our fundamental values. For example, two of the world’s best-loved and most abiding narratives – Lord of the Rings and the Narnia series – invoke values that were familiar in the Middle Ages but are generally considered repulsive today. Disorder in these stories is characterised by the usurpation of rightful kings or their rightful heirs; justice and order rely on their restoration. We find ourselves cheering the resumption of autocracy, the destruction of industry and even, in the case of Narnia, the triumph of divine right over secular power. If these stories reflected the values most people profess – democracy, independence, industrial “progress” – the rebels would be the heroes and the hereditary rulers the villains. We overlook the conflict with our own priorities because the stories resonate so powerfully with the narrative structure for which our minds are prepared. Facts, evidence, values, beliefs: stories conquer all. The social democratic story explains that the world fell into disorder – characterised by the Great Depression – because of the self-seeking behaviour of an unrestrained elite. The elite’s capture of both the world’s wealth and the political system resulted in the impoverishment and insecurity of working people. By uniting to defend their common interests, the world’s people could throw down the power of this elite, strip it of its ill-gotten gains and pool the resulting wealth for the good of all. Order and security would be restored in the form of a protective, paternalistic state, investing in public projects for the public good, generating the wealth that would guarantee a prosperous future for everyone. The ordinary people of the land – the heroes of the story – would triumph over those who had oppressed them. The neoliberal story explains that the world fell into disorder as a result of the collectivising tendencies of the over-mighty state, exemplified by the monstrosities of Stalinism and Nazism, but evident in all forms of state planning and all attempts to engineer social outcomes. Collectivism crushes freedom, individualism and opportunity. Heroic entrepreneurs, mobilising the redeeming power of the market, would fight this enforced conformity, freeing society from the enslavement of the state. Order would be restored in the form of free markets, delivering wealth and opportunity, guaranteeing a prosperous future for everyone. The ordinary people of the land, released by the heroes of the story (the freedom-seeking entrepreneurs) would triumph over those who had oppressed them. Then – again with Marshall’s help – I stumbled into the third observation: the narrative structure of the Restoration Story is a common element in most successful political transformations, including many religious revolutions. This led inexorably to the 83
fourth insight: the reason why, despite its multiple and manifest failures, we appear to be stuck with neoliberalism is that we have failed to produce a new narrative with which to replace it. You cannot take away someone’s story without giving them a new one. It is not enough to challenge an old narrative, however outdated and discredited it may be. Change happens only when you replace it with another. When we develop the right story, and learn how to tell it, it will infect the minds of people across the political spectrum. But the best on offer from major political parties is a microwaved version of the remnants of Keynesian social democracy. There are several problems with this approach. The first is that this old story has lost most of its content and narrative force. What we now call Keynesianism has been reduced to two thin chapters: lowering interest rates when economies are sluggish and using counter-cyclical public spending (injecting public money into the economy when unemployment is high or recession threatens). Other measures, such as raising taxes when an economy grows quickly, to dampen the boom-bust cycle; the fixed exchange rate system; capital controls and a self-balancing global banking system (an International Clearing Union) – all of which John Maynard Keynes saw as essential complements to these policies – have been discarded and forgotten. This is partly because the troubles that beset the Keynesian model in the 1970s have not disappeared. While the oil embargo in 1973 was the immediate trigger for the lethal combination of high inflation and high unemployment (‘stagflation’) that Keynesian policies were almost powerless to counteract, problems with the system had been mounting for years. Falling productivity and rising cost-push inflation (wages and prices pursuing each other upwards) were already beginning to erode support for Keynesian economics. Most importantly, perhaps, the programme had buckled in response to the political demands of capital. Strong financial regulations and controls on the movement of money began to weaken in the 1950s, as governments started to liberalise financial markets. Richard Nixon’s decision in 1971 to suspend the convertibility of dollars into gold destroyed the system of fixed exchange rates on which much of the success of Keynes’s policies depended. The capital controls used to prevent financiers and speculators from sucking money out of balanced, Keynesian economies collapsed. We cannot hope that the strategies deployed by global finance in the 20th Century will be unlearnt. But perhaps the biggest problem residual Keynesianism confronts is that, when it does work, it collides headfirst with the environmental crisis. A programme that seeks to sustain employment through constant economic growth, driven by consumer demand, seems destined to exacerbate our greatest predicament. Without a new, guiding story of their own, allowing them to look towards a better future rather than a better past, it was inevitable that parties which once sought to resist the power of the wealthy elite would lose their sense of direction. Political renewal depends on a new political story. Without a new story, that is positive and propositional, rather than reactive and oppositional, nothing changes. With such a story, everything changes. The narrative we build has to be simple and intelligible. If it is 84
to transform our politics, it should appeal to as many people as possible, crossing traditional political lines. It should resonate with deep needs and desires. It should explain the mess we are in and means by which we might escape it. And, because there is nothing to be gained from spreading falsehoods, it must be firmly grounded in reality. This might sound like a tall order. But there is, I believe, a clear and compelling Restoration Story to be told that fits this description. *** Over the past few years, there has been a convergence of findings in different sciences: psychology, anthropology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Research in all these fields points to the same conclusion: that human beings are, in the words of an article in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, â€œspectacularly unusual when compared to other animalsâ€?. This refers to our astonishing degree of altruism. We possess an unparalleled sensitivity to the needs of others, a unique level of concern about their welfare, and a peerless ability to create moral norms that generalise and enforce these tendencies. We are also, among mammals, the supreme cooperators. We survived the rigours of the African savannahs, despite being weaker and slower than our predators and most of our prey, through developing a remarkable capacity for mutual aid. This urge to cooperate has been hard-wired into our brains through natural selection. Our tendencies towards altruism and cooperation are the central, crucial facts about humankind. But something has gone horribly wrong. Our good nature has been thwarted by several forces, but perhaps the most powerful is the dominant political narrative of our times. We have been induced by politicians, economists and journalists to accept a vicious ideology of extreme competition and individualism, that pits us against each other, encourages us to fear and mistrust each other, and weakens the social bonds that make our lives worth living. The story of our competitive, self-maximising nature has been told so often and with such persuasive power that we have accepted it as an account of who we really are. It has changed our perception of ourselves. Our perceptions, in turn, change the way we behave. With the help of this ideology, and the neoliberal narrative used to project it, we have lost our common purpose. This leads in turn to a loss of belief in ourselves as a force for change, frustrating our potential to do what humans do best: to find common ground in confronting our predicaments, and to unite to overcome them. Our atomisation has allowed intolerant and violent forces to fill the political vacuum. We are trapped in a vicious circle of alienation and reaction. The hypersocial mammal is falling apart. But by coming together to revive community life we, the heroes of this story, can break the vicious circle. Through invoking our capacity for togetherness and belonging, we can rediscover the central facts of our humanity: our altruism and mutual aid. By reviving community, built around the places in which we live, and by anchoring ourselves, our politics and parts of our economy in the life of this community, we can restore the best aspects of our nature. Where there is atomisation, we will create a thriving civic life. 85
Where there is alienation, we will forge a new sense of belonging: to neighbours, neighbourhood and society. Community projects will proliferate into a vibrant participatory culture. New social enterprises will strengthen our sense of attachment and ownership. Where we find ourselves crushed between market and state, we will develop a new economics, that treats both people and planet with respect. We will build it around a great, neglected economic sphere: the commons. Local resources will be owned and managed by communities, ensuring that wealth is widely shared. Using common riches to fund universal benefits will supplement state provision, granting everyone security and resilience. Where we are ignored and exploited, we will revive democracy and retrieve politics from those who have captured it. New methods and rules for elections will ensure that every vote counts and financial power can never vanquish political power. Representative democracy will be reinforced by participatory democracy, that allows us to refine our political choices. Decision-making will be returned to the smallest political units that can discharge it. The strong, embedded cultures we develop will be robust enough to accommodate social diversity of all kinds: a diversity of people, of origins, of life experiences, of ideas and ways of living. We will no longer need to fear people who differ from ourselves; we will have the strength and confidence to reject attempts to channel hatred towards them. Through restoring community, renewing civic life and claiming our place in the world, we build a society in which our extraordinary nature – our altruism, empathy and deep connection – is released. A kinder world stimulates and normalises our kinder values. I propose a name for this story: the Politics of Belonging. *** Some of this can begin without waiting for a change of government: one of the virtues of a politics rooted in community is that you do not need a national movement in order to begin. But other aspects of this programme depend on wider political change. This too might sound like an improbable hope – until you begin to explore some of the remarkable things that have been happening in the United States. The Big Organising model developed by the campaign to elect Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee is potentially transformative. Rather than relying on big spending, big data and a big staff, it uses proliferating networks of volunteers, who train and supervise more volunteers, to carry out the tasks usually reserved for staff. While Hillary Clinton’s campaign was organising money, the Sanders campaign was organising people. By the end of the nomination process, more than 100,000 people had been recruited. Between them, they ran 100,000 events and spoke to 75 million voters. His bid for the nomination was a giant live experiment, most of whose methods were developed on the job. Those who ran it report that by the time they stumbled across the strategy that almost won, it was too late. Had it been activated a few months earlier, the volunteer network could have abandoned all forms of targeting and contacted almost every adult in the USA. If the techniques they developed were used from the outset, they could radically alter the 86
prospects of any campaign for a better world. When, after reading a book by two of Sandersâ€™s organisers, I argued in a video for the Guardian that this method could be used to transform the prospects of Jeremy Corbynâ€™s Labour party, I was widely mocked. But it turned out to be true. By adopting elements of the Sanders strategy, Labour, supported by Momentum, almost won an election that was widely predicted to be a Conservative landslide. And the method that propelled this shift is still in its infancy. I believe it could become still more powerful when combined with some of the techniques identified by former Congressional staffers in the Indivisible guide to influencing Members of Congress. These people studied the methods developed by the Tea Party movement and extracted the crucial lessons. They discovered that the key is to use local meetings with representatives to press home a single demand, film and share their responses on social media, then steadily escalate the pressure. The Tea Party honed this technique until its requests became almost impossible to resist. The same thing can be done, though without the harassment to which that movement sometimes resorted. Supported by the Big Organising model, using its proliferating phone-bank teams and doorstep canvassing, the Indivisible methods could, I believe, be used to flip political outcomes in any nation that claims to be a democracy. But none of this will generate meaningful and lasting change unless it is used to support a new, coherent political narrative. Those who want a kinder politics know we have, in theory at least, the numbers on our side. Most people are socially-minded, empathetic and altruistic. Most people would prefer to live in a world in which everyone is treated with respect and decency, and in which we do not squander either our own lives or the natural gifts on which we and the rest of the living world depend. But a small handful, using lies and distractions and confusion, stifle this latent desire for change. We know that, if we can mobilise such silent majorities, there is nothing this small minority can do to stop us. But because we have failed to understand what is possible, and above all failed to replace our tired political stories with a new, compelling narrative of transformation and restoration, we have failed to realise this potential. As we rekindle our imagination, we discover our power to act. And that is the point at which we become unstoppable.
This reader has been compiled by James Soane, Director of Critical Practice at the LSA. It serves as a sharing plate; a taster for future co...
Published on Oct 8, 2019
This reader has been compiled by James Soane, Director of Critical Practice at the LSA. It serves as a sharing plate; a taster for future co...