How connected are the recent Paris attacks with the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP 21 (Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change)?

At first glance, the targeting of Paris for ISIS’s act of war on civilian populations would seem to be motivated by other things: France’s role in the war in Syria, the high proportion of Muslims in France, challenges in integrating both immigrant and refugee populations, the symbolic resonance of the city itself, and so on.

A growing sentiment among climate change activists, led by Britain’s The Ecologist magazine, is the suspicion that the upcoming climate change conference may be more than just coincidentally related to last week’s events. ISIS, or Daesh (as critics are increasingly calling it), may have motivations that coincide with the protection of the oil industry that they, in fact, depend on. And the militaristic and security-obsessed response of France’s Hollande government would seem to play right into the objectives that ISIS may share with others in the fossil fuel industry.

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Sometimes discussions in social media feel like the internal conversations of a person with severe multiple-personality disorder trying hard to give equal voice, or at least free rein, to their many voices. And I find I can agree with all or most of those voices; and at the same time disagree.

In a facebook debate over whether or not it’s okay to grieve more for Paris than for the victims of similar events in Beirut or elsewhere, someone wrote, “How much better off could the world be if we were not wired to respond more viscerally to that which is close and familiar to us, or could reprogram ourselves to feel equally for strangers, and places we’ve never been?”

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The beginning of COP 21, the UN Conference on Climate Change, is three weeks away. So what else is happening, you ask?

1) The Campaign Against Climate Change‘s Time to Act! campaign, 350.org, Reclaim Power, and various other formations are preparing actions around the world on the eve of the summit (November 28-29) and a huge demonstration in Paris on its last day, December 12.

2) The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, which had been responsible for some creative disruptions at the Copenhagen climate summit and whose previous involvements include instigating the Reclaim the Streets movement, have announced the creation of The Climate Games, a video game styled “Disobedient Action Adventure Game” to take place in the streets of Paris and around the world during the final days of the summit.

3) Adbusters, which had initiated the call that led to the Occupy Wall Street protests, have called for a Billion People March to take to the streets of the planet on December 19, a week after the conclusion of the conference.

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McKenzie Wark gets at some very important issues in what we might call “the ontology of the Anthropocene” in this review of Jason Moore’s book Capitalism in the Web of Life.

Moore’s work, as he acknowledges (and as I have argued here before), provides an important contribution to rethinking the relations between humanity, the nonhuman world, and the techno-economic formations (such as capitalism) that have mediated those relations. But for Wark, Moore’s dialectical approach goes too far in the direction of social construction, whilst retaining the basic binary of nature and society that Moore critiques as “Cartesian.”

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The following is something I wrote a while back that I have not had a chance to do anything with. I’m sharing it here simply because it will otherwise languish. It is a reflection on the political left and its failings in a changing global situation, a situation marked by inequality on a global scale, by increasing, if sometimes inchoate, demands for democracy — from the “color revolutions” of the post-Soviet world to the “Arab Spring” and beyond — and by a shift from a unipolar political economy to something more ambiguous and uncertain.

It is in part a reiteration of the argument against “economistic Marxism,” but it goes beyond that to articulate a revised vision of democracy that comes from the Peircian process-relational philosophy I have been developing on this blog (and in print). It is work in progress; comments are welcome.

uncertainty Continue Reading »

I’ve just come across the earliest outline I wrote for the course I’m currently teaching (in its third incarnation), “Environmental Literature, Arts, and Media.” The course has also turned into a book project I’m working on, which will be a thematic primer to the environmental arts and humanities. Both course and book have changed shape so profoundly that this original outline is hardly visible in them. But I like this list of themes, so I thought I’d share it. Let me know if you think there’s anything important that I’ve missed.

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You may take this as more optimistic blathering from within the pessimistic morass, but here goes.

Those of us who teach environmental studies — who teach impressionable young adults about the colossal challenges facing humanity in the coming decades, with the looming climate crisis, resource wars and (human and nonhuman) refugee crises, and mass extinction on a scale unseen for 66 million years — have to come up with ways to keep our students from losing all hope and sinking into a nihilistic abyss. More knowledge can sometimes just be debilitating. “Nothing to be done,” as Gogo and Didi remind each other while waiting for Godot.

Where do we find the hope that can complement our students’ new-found pessimism about the current human situation?

I find it in two places. Continue Reading »


As the world’s refugee crisis builds — reminding us that much worse movements of people loom ahead, and much worse wars, as climate systems destabilize and the capitalist world-ecology unravels in the decades and centuries ahead — I can’t help asking myself what, if anything, philosophy can offer in response.

It depends on which philosophy, of course. But to take one of my favorites: C. S. Peirce’s whole philosophical work was an extended argument for an expanded understanding of reason. Reason, for Peirce, was rooted in human nature and in nature itself; it is a development of the very process of making meaning that is the essence of all living things (and, Peirce would say, all things living or not).

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Tim Morton has penned a nice (if thoroughly Mortonish) introduction to a very nice introduction (by Steven Shaviro) to speculative realism.

With lines like these:

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These days, it takes a course release for an academic to keep up with the avalanche of books being published with titles that feature the word “Anthropocene.”

To read them would take a sabbatical. Doing anything approximating a “slow read” would require, well, retirement.

But that’s no reason not to try. Here’s just a quick sample of recent titles, some by known authors, others by new names (to me, at least). Comments and additions welcome. Continue Reading »

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