Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Militant climate particularism?

Militant climate particularism: it's a mouthful, but it's an idea to follow-up on recent posts about the tensions between local and global problems and solutions when it comes to restoring ecosystem services in the face of climate change.

Flood mitigation is an ecosystem service that this driver who abandoned their Ferrari during some recent severe flooding in Toronto, ON, Canada sorely could have used. Poor guy.

Don't feel to bad for 'em. In an editorial, the National Post argues for bailing out that driver and all the rich dudes who in the future may face that most dreaded decision to ditch their $200k PCV. Why spend money on climate mitigation - wind turbines, solar panels, and carbon sequestration - the newspaper asks, when what these floods and those recently in Alberta tell us is that we need to adapt to changing weather patterns.

Ignore the gross misunderstanding of climate science here (i.e. their claim that there is no link between extreme weather and climate change and that such extreme weather events and the problems they cause are entirely predictable), and even set aside the fact that this is the worst of "climate resignation" - giving up on the goal of preventing high concentrations of GHGs. Whistle past the part about the limited growth in renewables. Just about the only thing the editorial might have right is that carbon sequestration and offsetting are rabbit holes not worth falling into.

But what the National Post is calling for is not any flavor of "climate protectionism" either. Yea, they'd rather keep money in the province, but they're proposing raising tariffs on goods coming in from countries without carbon markets, because they're arguing against setting up something like a carbon market to being with. They're not suggesting taxing imported turbines and panels - the NP would rather have the province abandon new renewable energy projects all together. The argument here isn't even "climate austerity", in which taking action on climate change is believed to be the fix for shoring up dwindling coffers.

So what's going on here with the newspaper's utter rejection of climate as anything but a very local problem? David Harvey uses the term "militant particularism" to describe social movements that are based on particular struggles in particular times and places. He worries that although such struggles can produce intense solidarities and achieve immediately positive and perhaps necessary results, they often aren't informed by - and in turn contribute to - broader movements and approaches. These particular struggles may tend toward single issues over a short time frame, employing responsive tactics rather than embracing a long term strategy.

That's exactly what's going on with the Post's editorial: let's fix the problems of climate - which amount only to extreme weather - here and now, and call it a day. Let the Pacific Islanders eat carbonated saltwater.

Now, the National Post is a conservative rag, and what their approach would hardly fall within the realm of what would be called socially progressive to begin with. But as the drive towards climate resilience and adaptation grows stronger, we may see a retreat from the left into a militant climate particularism, where all that matters is saving in particular the city (After all, with all the doom and gloom that surrounds impending climate change as an urban phenomenon, it's easy to think: we have to do everything we can, here and now!). The idea that cities - "smart cities" especially - are at the heart of responding to a changing climate - and may be best suited to addressing ecosystem service provision - is perhaps the germ of this. Maybe. But even the influential US Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement is primarily about reducing carbon emissions. The question is, to what extent can climate planning qua city design overcome that most perennial problem of urban planning: the idea that the city is a containerized unit apart from the rest of the world.

At any rate, I can't imagine that a Toronto-only strategy is something the city will ultimately benefit from, at least with this guy in charge.

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