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Glasson 2011 - Text, Fantasy and the Political

Glasson 2011 - Text, Fantasy and the Political

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Text, fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics
Ben Glasson, University of Melbourne glasson@unimelb.edu.au Paper prepared for the 6th ECPR General Conference, University of Iceland. 25-27 August 2011.

Abstract Discourse involves interactions between elements both logico-semantic and fantasmatic, suggesting that climate policy discourses are embedded within the fantasmatic repertoires of their broader discursive contexts. Discourses employed by climate sceptics are underpinned by a range of fantasmatic nodal points that, from a Laclauian perspective, maintain the force and regularity of discourses and identities. Purportedly rational sceptic arguments exploit deeply sedimented myths and social imaginaries, particularly those that gather under the signifiers of ‘progress’ and ‘nation’. The re-articulation of ‘progress’ in the direction of capitalist technoscience, and issues of translation between the global, abstract discourse of climate change and national contexts of expansionary development, play into sceptics’ rhetorical strategies. The environment movement ignores the role of myths and social imaginaries at its peril. Introduction Whatever the merits of the ecological-modernisation discourse that now guides European economic and environmental policy, just across the Atlantic the triumph of climate denialism has reached the point where climate scientists receive death threats and Senator James Inhofe tells Congress that climate change is ‘the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people’. By now, we are well aware of the close links between oil, coal and gas companies, right-wing think tanks and astroturf groups, and their campaigns to promulgate climate scepticism. In popular books such as Clive Hamilton’s Scorcher and George Monbiot’s Heat, and millions of words of academic literature, the flows of capital, ideas and personnel behind climate denialism are well documented.1 Yet the bluff and bluster of the think-tanks and cranks has been uncannily successful in rewriting what it means to be American. Even the denialists themselves are surprised at how easily they have managed to position climate scepticism as a litmus test of conservative credentials. Troublingly, surveys now show Australia joining the U.S. as polities in which the strongest correlate of an individual’s position on anthropogenic global warming is their political affiliation.   At this juncture, the overwhelming task of green political theory remains to identify the structures holding in place popular complicity with environmental destruction. This paper hopes to throw some light onto the nature of the growing resistance to climate change measures in the U.S. and Australia through an analysis of the rhetorical appeal of climate scepticism. In the first section, I attempt to show that it is necessary to move beyond the rational explanations of environmentalpolitical actors’ behaviour, and argue that a fantasmatic logic operates in fields of high degrees of complexity and abstraction such as climate politics. In the second, I examine how the circulation

C. Hamilton, Scorcher: the dirty politics of climate change (Black Inc., 2007); G. Monbiot, M. Prescott, and J. Shaw, Heat: How to stop the planet burning (APS, 2006).


Ben Glasson: Text, fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics


within media discourses of social imaginaries of progress and nation have been harnessed by scepticism to build broad anti-climate action constituencies in the U.S. and Australia. Scepticism in the ascendancy Public opinion for climate change is in a dire situation in the U.S. and Australia, and the politics are often referred to as ‘toxic’. Polling in the United States and Australia shows that acknowledgement of climate change, as well as concern about it, has been on the wane since 2006.2 Asked to agree or disagree with the statement ‘global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs’, only 41% of Australians agreed in 2011 – a steep fall from 68% in 2006. Interestingly, it also reports that 75% of Australians believe the Federal Government has done a poor job addressing climate change, including 39% who rate it ‘very poor’ 3. In the U.S., the latest data shows that 46% of the public say global warming is a problem requiring immediate government action, down from 61% in 2006%. According to Pew Research, the decline is mostly a consequence of the fact that fewer now believe global warming is a problem.4 Indeed, the number of Americans who believe that most scientists think global warming is occurring fell from 47 to 34% between 2008 and 2010. And for the same period, the number who thought there was ‘a lot of disagreement among scientists’ rose from 33 to 40% 5. The most disturbing finding, however, from polling in both countries, is the correlation between political affiliation and belief in global warming. Asked: ‘Do you think it’s been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth is warming because of man-made problems?’ 95% of surveyed congressional Democrats responded yes, and just 13% of Republicans. The same survey reported that 88 percent of Democrats supported mandatory limits on carbon emissions, compared with just 19% of Republicans.6 An earlier Pew survey found only 23% of college educated Republicans said that global warming was due to human activity compared to 75% of their Democratic counterparts.7 Beliefs about climate change among Australians are also beginning to correlate with voting intention, with ‘left-wing political beliefs’ associated with ‘greater belief in human-induced climate change’ and ‘higher levels of concern about the effects of climate change’.8 Accounts of climate scepticism ‘Structural’ and materialist perspectives provide a basis for explaining the enduring appeal of climate scepticism in the U.S. and Australia. For instance, Paterson’s distinctions between ecological modernisation9 and ‘carboniferous capitalism’ as contrasting modes of economic development, with the U.S. and Australian models based on the latter: a legacy of ready access to fossil-fuel energy

Public opinion polling is a problematic way to assess people’s beliefs about politically charged issues: the wording of questionnaires and the contrived setting of interviewing sometimes lead to misleading and contradictory results. The data presented here is simply intended as one indication of recent trends. 3 Fergus Hanson, “The Lowy Institute Poll 2011: Australia and the World: Public Opinion and Foreign Policy” (Lowy Institute, 2011), http://www.lowyinstitute.org/Publication.asp?pid=1617. 4 Pew Research Centre, Increasing Partisan Divide on Energy Policies: Little Change in Opinions about Global Warming, October 27, 2010. 5 (Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., & Roser-Renouf, C. (2010) Climate change in the American Mind: Americans’ global warming beliefs and attitudes in January 2010. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change.) 6 “Congressional Insiders Poll,” National Journal, February 2, 2007. 7 http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2007/01/in_latest_survey_only_23_of_co.php 8 Z. Leviston et al., Australians' views of climate change (CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, 2011). 9 For a brief summary of the emergence of ecological modernisation, see A. P. J. Mol and David Allan Sonnenfeld, Ecological modernisation around the world: perspectives and critical debates (Routledge, 2000), 4-7.


11 But Paterson’s elevation of structural and material factors also ignores the fact that the U. 40. Lázaro. 17 Maarten Hajer. Beyond the reasons already stated. “Ecological modernisation as cultural politics. Antilla. Critiques of this approach are legion. 2009): 148-9. 1996). technology and nature. no. and even scientists themselves. A. no.” British Journal of Politics & International Relations 11.” 13 D. and Australia have made repeated attempts to introduce carbon-trading schemes in the past four years (all of which have failed for domestic political reasons). work has focused on engaging the public in discussions relevant to climate-change policy 14 and the role of media in representing climate change to the public.S. but must be justified to voters. each of which emerge from respective features of scientific and political constructions of climate change: abstraction.18 I concur with Hajer’s view of cultural politics being waged over competing constructions of human/non-human relations. the media. 3 (2009): 305. “Climate of scepticism: US newspaper coverage of the science of climate change. 11 Hanson. and Australia emerge from the deliberative democracy school of thought.” Science Communication 30. 1992). fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics 3 sources. “The Lowy Institute Poll 2011: Australia and the World: Public Opinion and Foreign Policy. neglecting that policies pursued by democratic governments are not only determined by bureaucrats and technocrats.” in Risk. no. Carvalho. The media. Beck. 16 See particularly M. Ockwell. Lash. “Cross‐National Comparisons of Image Associations with “Global Warming” and “Climate Change” Among Laypeople in the United States of America and Great Britain1.15 This ‘public understanding of science’ model reflects the traditional assumptions of the modern environment movement: that environmental political apathy is the result of an information deficit and once people understand the facts of environmental destruction. L. 18 U. R. 10 . or ‘mired in a swirl of contradictory phraseology’. often focusing on the way climate change is always interpretively ‘enframed’ by politicians. and S. “Media uses and social representations of climate change.16 In this mode are prominent accounts that situate contemporary environmental conflicts within broader contests. ed. 2006): 265-281. Environment and Modernity: Towards a New Ecology. but steer away from his technocratic emphasis to focus on the role of the media-political sphere in liberal democracies. complexity and mediatisation. 12 “Congressional Insiders Poll. This is theoretically problematic in that it leapfrogs civil society. Wynne (Sage Publications Ltd. problematising assumptions of the transparency of scientific data and the strict rationality of the public. Risk society: towards a new modernity (Sage Publications Ltd.17 while Beck sees a doctrinal conflict over the proper path for modernity. 260. and A. 14 Irene Lorenzoni et al. shapes the complexly politicised terrain upon which people may be activated. as citizens’ major source of information about politics. 4 (2005): 338–352. Nordhaus.12 But the majority of analyses of climate laggardism of the U. 3 (2005): 19–30.” Social Policy 35. O'Neill. Szerszynski. 0 (2009): 170–189. and employ a psychoanalytically informed poststructuralist framework to analyse in more detail the specific mechanisms through which meanings and identities are contested.” Communicating Climate Change: Discourses. no. Shellenberger and T. and focus on the distortions involved in the flow of information through the science. Cabecinhas. Whitmarsh. no. “The death of environmentalism. they will become politically engaged in large enough numbers to effect change.” 13. liberal economic philosophy. Given the indications that citizen engagement with climate change politics is generally low 13. large-scale land development and an open. media and politics circuit. 3 (4. Recall that there is strong Democratic support for mandatory carbon emissions reductions. “Post-Hegemonic Climate Politics?. Matthew Paterson. and B.S.Ben Glasson: Text. Mediations and Perceptions.” Journal of Risk Research 9. 15 L. 1 (2. I see three key justifications for adopting such an approach. Hajer reads environmental politics as fundamentally definitional struggles over relations between society.” Global Environmental Change Part A 15. ‘resigned to passivity’. no. I explicitly include questions of subjectivation in my analysis.. “Reorienting climate change communication for effective mitigation. S.10 Yet Paterson’s emphasis on hegemonic rivalry and forms of capitalist organisation largely sees an unproblematic link between the mode of production and the decisions of state and corporate elites. B.

myth. 1995). 1 (March 1. fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics 4 Now matter how it is constructed. Yet. H. “Subpolitics. and nor can we unequivocally ascribe to it concrete events (droughts or storms. blogs. Žižek. these vast quantities of information – mostly scientific. its existence depends upon scientists employing such tools such as supercomputers. and the parallel." Political Communication 18: 237-244. based on a holistic. The Development of Cognitive Anthropology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. probabilities and distributions. the values of novelty. accompanying climate change is no scarcity of information – quite the opposite. famously. this reflects the distinction in Lacanian psychoanalytic theory between the unconscious registers of the Symbolic and the Imaginary. runs to almost 3000 pages and involves more than 3000 scientists. but also economic and political – in the hands of a multiplicitous public sphere. kilometre-long ice-core drills and carbon isotope analysers (not to mention the theoretical infrastructure spanning hundreds of years of development of modern physics. Pertaining to vastly dispersed geographical and temporal dynamics. 1997): 52 -65. Paradoxically. And as identities themselves derive from a contingent fixing of discursive structures.19 This at a time in which the formal structures of government are increasingly challenged by the influence of indirect forms of politics and types of political pressure.2 billion cubic kilometres in volume. based on the symbolic logic of rule-driven process. the usually divergent currents of cognitive science. lead precisely to a lack of meaning.Ben Glasson: Text. the saturated field. Lacan’s Symbolic register is structured. social imaginary Agamben observed that while ‘us moderns devalue imagination as dream and fantasy. In this media landscape. 19 . connectionist model in which cognition proceeds by comparison to prototype. Recent cognitive science has come to recognise two distinct modes of cognition: the serial.20 Žižek argues mediatisation amplifies the imaginary. xxiii. fantasmatic register – indeed. Fantasy. 22 Giorgio Agamben. for instance. 20 Ulrich Beck. the interaction of its various elements governed by a grammar of combination and substitution. 1993). 23 Roy G D'Andrade. thermodynamic and fluid dynamic effects.” Organization & Environment 10. S. hermetic fora. of fantasy. interacting with the Earth’s vast and variegated continents and oceans. social psychology and psychoanalytic theory are now exhibiting something of a convergence around a similar notion of a hitherto disavowed ‘underside’ of knowledge. chemistry and biology). (2001). claims and counterclaims. We cannot directly perceive it. and S. 24. 1997). When information reaches bursting point. The plague of fantasies. Infancy and History: The Destruction of Experience (Verso. This abstraction goes hand in hand with complexity: the latest IPCC report. for the ancients. subject to very complex chemical.22 Interestingly. reflecting perhaps the empirical object of climate science: an atmosphere some 4. 21 Žižek. ‘like a language’. while his Imaginary is the realm of identification. knowledge drives out the phantasm. of the signified. "Studying the new communication politics.’21 Understandably. they too are subject to this new dynamic. the mythic and fantasmatic registers come to the fore when there is a paucity of rational knowledge. tailored newsfeeds comprising a deluge of opinion and comment. and intensely affected political debate (which manages to be both polarised and narrow). no.23 While by no means a perfect analogy. for example). The plague of fantasies (Verso Books. 8. it takes the intervention of myth to order. See Chaffee. to structure. a Plague of Fantasies blurring clear reasoning is ‘brought to its extreme in today’s audiovisual media. conflict and scandal mix with the formal qualities of terseness and visual appeal. climate change is an abstract object. imagination was the supreme medium of knowledge’. bobbing about disoriented in a homogeneous field until fixing themselves to an available mythic discourse. ch. Now throw this complex object into the superheated sphere of digital communications – cable TV.

Logics of Critical Explanation in Social and Political Theory (Routledge Innovations in Political Theory. through fixations on social-symbolic signifiers through consumption and political subjectivation. 26 Jason Glynos and David Howarth. Myth is a narrative held by a community about itself. it is the condition of possibility of the subject. 29 G.” Climatic Change 77. “The Phenomenon of Social Representations. in practice they are not so readily separable. 25 Lacanian psychoanalytic theory contends that this splitting is a condition of possibility of subjectivity. it does so at the cost of a certain fragility. for example. Although he stresses the efficiency of the image in fantasy. We might be tempted to assign to the fantasmatic a structuring role in respect of the logicosemantic. 57. no. more ‘compelling’ register. Leiserowitz. it invests much energy in trying to suture its identity. fantasmatic realm that structures desire and the individual’s sense of its place in the universe (ego). . A Hosking and G. or in Lacanian vocabulary. (Routledge. 1997). It is this Imaginary. 2007). While the adaptable structure of the logico-semantic very quickly absorbs new knowledge. 28 Lacan insists the ‘affective is not like a special density which would escape an intellectual accounting’. The seminar of Jacques Lacan. for Lacan. Lacan and J. S Moscovici. only reorganising in the face of an accumulation of contradictory information. fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics 5 Heuristically. Contrast this with the very different structure of the fantasmatic. and the fantasmatic. (S1. Yet the register of the Imaginary is also deeply implicated in the social. 19. the Symbolic to the Imaginary. this is eschewed by psychoanalytic theory. but this is not quite the case. A Miller. And while they are analytically separable. especially to the extent that fantasies are shared.25 Of course. 1 (2006): 45–72.28 While cognitive science and social psychology tend to take the individual as an Archimedean point. 107. 29. Because the psychoanalytic subject is constitutively split. 57). ed. which is comparatively stable. 272). and as language's condition of possibility) and thus such identificatory work is ongoing..29 and it serves to legitimise the social order.Ben Glasson: Text. The most profound difference between the two modes is in terms of their flexibility and durability.27 For Lacan. imagery. and thus is the vital spark that animates the form of the symbolic structure. fantasy has a special relationship with the subject. A human being is split at the moment it enters the Symbolic (ie language). we can think of the two modes as the logico-semantic. 1988). R Farr and S Moscovici (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The way the Imaginary relates to the Symbolic register is not through a latent/manifest depth relation but a topological ‘knot’ relation: the two are intimately entwined and co-dependent. the community need not believe in the myth 24 See A. Freud's papers on technique 1953-1954 (Cambridge Univ. the Imaginary can be seen to inhere within the Symbolic. and values. a nodal point. This investment is the bridge linking the logico-semantic to the fantasmatic. and shapes behaviour more powerfully than logico-semantic knowledge. a harmonious resolution of the social antagonism that stands as the object cause of the subject's imagined lack of pre-antagonistic wholeness. Schöpflin. for it is there that it first intuits the chasm between the ‘I’ of the enunciation and the I of the enunciator (its egoic self-image). Book 1. the fantasy is always ‘an image set to work in a signifying structure’ (E. 27 J. Lacan writes of the self’s ‘radical ex-centricity from itself’.” in Social Representations. this is due not to any intrinsic quality of the image in itself but to the place which it occupies in a symbolic structure. What distinguishes the Laclauian concept of discourse from the social-constructivist term frame. “Climate change risk perception and policy preferences: The role of affect. see Lacan 1977 (171). 1983). In keeping with the metaphorical nature of the fantasmatic or Imaginary. The fantasmatic is a profounder.26 Thus by exploiting the fantasmatic logic of subjectivation – typically by holding out an imaginary promise of recapturing a lost or impossible wholeness – a political project can enlist a particular constituency. Lacan’s concept of the Symbolic as big Other captures the sense that the linguistic pre-exists the subject – indeed. For a fuller exposition. P. 1st ed. Nor should we see the fantasmatic as a mythical beyond of the ‘production of the symbol which would precede the discursive formulation’. Myths and nationhood (Routledge. The particular role of fantasy is the covering of lack.24 Now. is that discourses tend to be structured around an intensely cathected signifier. for the subject such a process of identification is never able to achieve the anticipated fullness (which exists both before language. These shared fantasies we term myths.

34 This digest is compiled from an extensive corpus of sceptic discourse sourced from over 1500 books. Hamilton.S. fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics 6 for it to be true.34 Scepticism portrays climate scientists and environmentalists as a coterie of hysterical doomsayers and alarmists who misrepresent the data in order to secure funding and influence and raise their profiles. even when it opposes their previously uttered positions. In these countries.” Social Problems (2000): 499–522. blogs and other material published 1983-2011 in the U. The power of Alan Jones in Australian politics is legendary. Overing. 61-67. As a ‘smooth surface of inscription’. And they sometimes write fawning letters to the broadcaster. that its literal content is concealed and it becomes an ‘absolute limit’ structuring a ‘field of intelligibility’. 2010). just like the Murdoch press. it instead ‘lives on the feather line between fantasy and reality’. newspaper articles. and Australia’s most popular radio broadcaster Alan Jones. Time and Narrative (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. orient society with respect to its imagined past(s) and future(s). See Paul Ricœur. E Dunlap. the dominant function of the Old Testament is the origin myths of deliverance from Egypt and crossing the Red Sea. or enacting systems of classification relating to practical knowledge. in Laclau’s language. The Nature of human society series (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.W. New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time (Verso (London and New York).S.31 Yet myth should not be reduced to the narrative. and its most popular columnist. sceptic discourses. where the signifying structures previously holding a society together are rendered inadequate by the rupturing effect of dislocation.. I will present here those features that are common to both the Australian and U. scepticism is mainstream.30 We can think of a myth as a point of condensation upon which a community can project its self-identity. The Savage Mind. myth is a dialectic of past and future. Environmental Skepticism (Ashgate. and Clive. we will first broadly outline the sceptic discourse. before zeroing in to those features of most interest. with evidence that political parties routinely consider whether their words or actions would expose them to Beck’s rabid venom. a social imaginary. Andrew Bolt. What emerges from the dislocation depends upon the political (hegemonic) struggle between competing myths to suture the dislocated structure. M McCright and R. It is consistent with. UK and Australia. 32 Claude Lévi-Strauss. and in this aspect it serves a unifying function. Its positive content has not disappeared but has been hypostasised. 31 For Ricœur. Politicians often tailor their message to his own prejudices. a set of coordinates that. For instance.” Myths and Nationhood (1999): 6-7. 17-46. A similar status is accorded to the United States’s Glenn Beck.32 Laclau places myth at the interface of the social and the political. attempting to curry favour in the knowledge that Jones.. been made form. 2009).33 Myth originates in the space of structural dislocation. and Australia: The Wall St Journal. in enshrining society’s values.: Allen & Unwin. N. “Challenging global warming as a social problem: An analysis of the conservative movement's counter-claims. At this point it becomes. Laclau. Sceptic discourses The sceptic discourses I analyse in this paper do not come from the fringes. 1966). 1990). with the qualification that it is an composite of sceptic statements and that not all sceptics adhere to all of these views. 1984). The Australian. or:“The Reality of the Really Made-up”. 30 . Rather. and that it is very difficult to win the public over without winning over these opinion leaders. so sedimented. the summaries of sceptic views presented in Peter J. although more comprehensive than. below the level of objectivity. the myth has become the condition of possibility for the emergence of any object. although constantly emerging and evolving. 33 E. Requiem for a species: why we resist the truth about climate change (Crows Nest.S. There is a point at which a myth becomes so hegemonic. Fox News.. For Ricoeur. Jacques. They either do so wilfully. they are columnists who are represented in the most influential media outlets in the U.S. and serves other important functions.Ben Glasson: Text. holds enormous sway over their publics. In trying to understand the extraordinary success of climate scepticism. “The Role of Myth: An Anthropological Perspective. or through a blind adherence to the dogma of politicised See J. A.

to moral indignation in the face of environmentalist excess to wanton. ‘The jury is still out’.S.” New York Times (New York. cable TV. Sceptics’ overriding imperative is economic growth and development. At the extreme. showing how. characterising as arrogant the idea that human activity can seriously harm the planet. In the public sphere. environmentalists play the role of spoilers at the party of modernity. sceptics often warn ordinary people that environmentalists threaten their lifestyles. free-market thinktanks. pp: 97-123. within publics well-versed in ‘technology critique’. In raising such fears. and warming is either natural or is not occurring at all. then. with terms like ‘world government’ or ‘communism’ occasionally being employed. 9. pagan ideology. livelihoods and freedoms. talkback radio hosts. U. and even ‘daily newspaper reading becomes an exercise in technology critique. being trashed. with emissions-intensive industries going offshore. In their response to specific proposals such as the Australian Labor Government’s proposed emissions trading scheme or the Waxman-Markey bill. 1992a. climate sceptics often portray environmentalists and scientists as radical leftists who see in climate change a convenient justification for the top-down redistributive ideology they have always advocated. suburbia and automobiles with their growing political influence. newspaper columnists. limits. When they are not attacking climate science wholesale. Social Structure and Ecological Enlightenment'. 36 35 . danger. climate change is tantamount to a faith or a soulless. some sceptics even cheekily (but not tongue-in-cheek) celebrate the role of carbon dioxide as the gas of life.Ben Glasson: Text. climate scepticism manages to shape opinion despite its lack of rational coherency or rigour. November 4. sceptics will transcend their nationalistic perspective . ranging from the cold. Combining their pompous aversion to mainstream cultures of consumption. In the following sections I focus on the two major social imaginaries – first ‘progress’. baby. 'From Industrial Society to Risk Society: Questions of Survival. Sceptics tend to be cornucopian. They warn of massive job losses and whole industries. believing that nature’s resources are almost as unlimited as the power of human ingenuity to circumvent natural limits. Theory. they warn of carbon leakage. and (overwhelming conservative) politicians. and are pessimists of the human spirit. Sceptics’ abhorrence at ‘big government’ and regulation intensifies when the prospect of international regimes is raised. they portray it as far from settled. A common refrain is that environmentalists are anti-growth or even anti-modern. Sometimes environmentalists are seen to attempting to derail developing nations’ paths out of poverty. that societies with a healthy degree of scepticism towards technoscience have turned that scepticism towards global climate science and the checking of unfettered industrialism? It is if we remain within a rationalist or social-constructivist frame. damaging the economy without reducing emissions. Senate Minority Report). restraint. for Beck ‘the evening news ultimately exceeds even the fantasies of countercultural dissent’. Beck. Sceptics usually downplay ecological destruction. and ‘mine. is a common refrain. With their negative themes of damage. Depending upon the attackers’ view of religion. mine!’35 In risk society. then ‘nation’ – and associated fantasmatic processes of identification that sceptics have appropriated. indicating that when it is convenient. baby. Culture & Society.yet for the most part the boundaries of their discourse coincides with the political boundaries of their nation. even the economy itself. while many extol the triumph of progress represented by the burning of fossil fuels. fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics 7 science.’36 Is it not a little bit odd. drill!’. a Final Hectic Day on the Campaign Trail. When they do acknowledge despoilation they exhibit distrust of the regulatory measures that might be needed for mitigation. put other species of animals and plants before humans. 2008). the broad front of climate scepticism extends from (a very few) wellregarded scientists through business generally but particularly fossil fuel industries. U. incendiary anti-environmentalism (Sarah Palin’s chant of ‘Drill. The tone and tenor of sceptic discourse is similarly broad. factual scientific and economic debate (‘Solar radiation would appear to be the initial forcing event in which warming oceans waters release dissolved carbon dioxide’. “Minute by Minute.

political. 42 G. ‘progress’ is ‘one of the most powerful notions in the modern world. Key texts in the early development of the progress myth include Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat Condorcet. 8. and AnneRobert-Jacques Turgot. 44 Nisbet. Abbott will also radiate the technological optimism that has characterized the human species since time immemorial. November 11. Turgot on Progress.’ wrote a journalist about the new Australian opposition leader. 1st ed. and its formative influence over the great bulk of modern social. ‘Supply Side: The War Against the Car’. 43 Robert Nisbet.’39 Let us briefly examine the evolution of the progress signifier so as to draw out its structural role in sceptic discourses. 171. Development in Sachs W ed The development dictionary: a guide to knowledge as power (Zed Books.38 It is clear here that antienvironmentalist discourse is playing off the centuries-old notion that ‘man’s dominion over earth. opposing it – usually tacitly – to progress. (Southern Illinois University Press. 39 Keith Schneider. Book by Gore could become a Campagin Issue. 41 M. 1795). inevitable. ‘Mr. 27 July 1992. 132. 1997). 1992).’40 ‘The metanarrative that prevails in American political (and psychological) life is the ideology of progress (which includes aspects of both Enlightenment and human liberation). Palmer.’41 For Esteva. 2005. Wall Street Journal. 1991). London. and the exploitation of resources to develop ever more powerful and efficient technologies. Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind: Being a Posthumous Work of the Late M. Marx was probably more aware of this than any other mind in the nineteenth century.43 Values of quality. 129. a well-known climate sceptic. The relatively small things which can be achieved in one generation toward the fulfilment of the idea or value are greatly heightened in importance when they are perceived as steps in the inexorable march of mankind.. or to achievement and optimism. 1980). 1973). The Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourses (Oxford: Oxford University Press. establishing a field or surface playing less of an extant than a structuring. De Condorcet (London: Printed for J. economic institutions and discourses. 40 John S Dryzek. sceptics invoke the backwardness of environmentalism. fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics 8 The social imaginary of progress Time and again. With its roots in Enlightenment. 38 37 . Johnson. Ecospeak: Rhetoric and Environmental Politics in America. by ‘our ability to substitute technology and energy use’ for ‘human energy’.44 What role is progress playing here if not that of the social imaginary in Laclau’s theoretical schema. conditioning role? Tom Switzer. As he puts it: any value that can be made to seem an integral part of historical necessity has a strategic superiority in the area of political and social action. has been seen as the engine that drives civilisation. but he was very far from being alone. Wall Street Journal. 13 Jan 2010.Ben Glasson: Text.37 An article defending the car against its critics bewails that a ‘perverse logic has taken hold among the intelligentsia that progress can be measured by how much of the earth’s fuels we save. progress ‘occupies the centre of an incredibly powerful semantic constellation’. crucially. Sociology and Economics: A Philosophical Review of the Successive Advances of the Human Mind. social justice were already in the ascendency. For Both Sides’. ‘The Climate is Changing’. popular sovereignty. Stephen Moore. The New York Times. History of the Idea of Progress (New York: Basic Books. ‘dating back to the invention of the wheel’. to development.’ when in fact the yardstick has been defined. but Nisbet demonstrates that progress was pivotal and acted as a pivotal context within which these three ideas became not only desirable but. Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline S. On Universal History [and] Reflections On the Formation and the Distribution of Wealth (Cambridge: University Press. Esteva. History of the Idea of Progress.42 As an idea. progress reached its apogee in Western popular and scholarly circles in the period 1750-1900. ‘The 1992 Campaign: Environmental Politics.

” Van Nostrand's Engineering Magazine.” in Does Technology Drive History?: The Dilemma of Technological Determinism. which included also moral and political improvement. this program can greatly increase the industrial activity in other nations and can raise their standards of living. 249. Reason would bring mankind prosperity through instrumental application – but this was a ‘necessary yet necessarily insufficient’ component of a broader progress. Their economic life is primitive and stagnant.. Leo Marx and Merritt Roe Smith (Cambridge.. private capital. no. the Eiffel Tower. if not the promised. This was a progress that had a distinctly liberal flavour. in the hegemonic diagnosis. Clearly. land of every great political and social economist and philosopher. 1994). in which he calls for a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas. and most efficiently aid. but probably do not need to go beyond the two World Wars and the Great Depression.] Leo Marx. rationality’s boldest expression. We can cite many reasons.] With the cooperation of business. warnings of its dark side were flowing from the pens of English Romantics and New England Transcendentalists like Thoreau. and labor in this country. were to be disappointed. from the days when Cicero thought it his greatest honor to have written "On the Commonwealth" up to the present time.Ben Glasson: Text.46 Even as such marvels as the telephone. NY: Syracuse University Press. More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery.45 And while the potential of reason to deliver social progress was constantly emphasised. electric lighting and the World’s Fairs were earning techno-science increased legitimacy. For the first time in history humanity possesses the knowledge and the skill to relieve the suffering of these people… We should make available to peace-loving peoples the benefits of our store of technical knowledge in order to help them realize their aspirations for a better life [. ultimately.] This should be a cooperative enterprise in which all nations work together through the United Nations and its specialized agencies whenever applicable. but precisely because there had not been progress enough! Thus began a renewed push to export this one-sided progress to the less-developed regions of the world. It is put quite plainly by Harry Truman in his 1949 inauguration address. will science lead. Thurston: Thus. agriculture.. for the growing unease. Blame for the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century. Mass: MIT Press. implying both material development as well as human (moral.. By the 20th century widespread suspicion had taken hold. 19 (1884): 276. the French and American revolutions were propelled by ideals of progress taken to apply universally. Those who had hoped that the aftermath of World War II would give Western political leaders pause to reevaluate the direction in which progress had taken their nations. See also Howard P. “Postmodern Pessimism. Thurston.. ed. Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more prosperous areas. direct. they are victims of disease. or events. fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics 9 The hegemony of the progress imaginary implies a particular idea successfully passing itself off as universal. 2005) 45 . yet approachable. was by the 19th century offering a utopian vision beyond the remit of material technics. lay not at the feet of progress usurped by its technoscientific moment and left to its own logic. “The Mission of Science.. 46 Robert. [. the nation in its progress toward the ideal. political) betterment. Segal. Their food is inadequate. H. (techno)science. [. Technological Utopianism in American Culture (Syracuse. at which point it ceases to be an object of political contestation and is simply put out of reach of rational enquiry. social state which has been the hoped for.

75-76. and not Science. by itself and for itself. Now it was being re-articulated around liberal capitalism. The appeal.html/ [accessed 7 July 2010] 48 47 .S. including 72 Nobel Prize winners. addressed to state leaders. This is enhanced by the naming of the ‘greatest evils H. A stark example of such comes in the form of the ‘Heidelberg Appeal’.Ben Glasson: Text. Esteva. What we envisage is a program of development based on the concepts of democratic fair dealing [. While the exclusionary moment opposes an unnamed ‘irrational ideology’ employing ‘pseudoscientific argumnets or false and non-relevant data’ with a tendency to ‘look towards the past’.47 10 Following the first post-war election in the U. and labor in this country’. If the previous conception of progress marched under the tricolour. technoscience and prosperity through industrialisation. starvation and worldwide diseases. fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics The old imperialism – exploitation for foreign profit . then the challenge presented by climate change casts doubt on all of these signifiers. private capital. increased production through the ‘wider and more vigorous application of scientific and technical knowledge’ is the means... The prior constellation of progress consisted in equality. Technology and Industry whose instruments.S. when adequately managed. The expropriation movement achieves precisely what the Truman speech does. to ‘scientific and industrial progress’ and ‘economic and social development’. agriculture. the Western one) narrative that had justified the first round of colonialism.48 It revivifies the universality of the Enlightenment progress (one path of history.49 Released during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and signed by 46 prominent scientists and other intellectuals. the post-War version wore a stars-and-stripes lapel pin. of re-articulating progress in techno-scientific capitalist terms: ‘Progress and development have always involved increasing control over hostile forces. popular sovereignty and social justice. G. serving to siphon whatever vaguely defined fears the population may hold. Rist. ‘The old imperialism’ is eschewed for a ‘program of development based on the concepts of democratic fair dealing. If this reinscription of progress by the signifiers of technoscience.’ ‘Prosperity and peace’ is the end. Thursday 20 January. the progress myth had to be re-articulated to economic development. Inaugural Address. Thus the narrative turns around a triumphant United States. That the Appeal claims ecology for science is not so important as that the science that is being invoked here is a liberal-capitalist industrial technoscience. whose science and technology should be shared with the ‘primitive and stagnant’ economies of more than ‘half the people of the world’. then the great boon that offers to anti-environmentalists is to paint environmentalists as backward. the real agents of such development will be ‘business. It concludes that ‘the greatest evils which stalk our Earth are ignorance and oppression. explicitly invokes the new social imaginary. And the key to greater production is a wider and more vigorous application of modern scientific and technical knowledge. Truman. and its agencies.org/united-nations/the-heidelberg-appeal.’ It operates a dual movement..’ The key rhetorical work of the Appeal is its painting of an ‘irrational ideology’ that is all the more menacing as it is not directly named. The history of development (Zed Books. 1949.N. Critics have labelled this speech as providing the rational for the post-war neo-colonial exploits of the U. the Appeal has since been endorsed by some 4000 scientists.has no place in our plans. arguing that ‘humanity has always progressed by increasingly harnessing Nature to its needs and not the reverse. Truman’s speech is an exemplary attempt to re-articulate progress to economic development. 6-7. Development in Sachs W ed The development dictionary. and forcefully excluding those who would claim it otherwise. While taking place through the U. economic growth and liberal democracy is accepted. to the benefit of mankind’. are indispensable tools of a future shaped by Humanity.] Greater production is the key to prosperity and peace. both expropriating ‘scientific ecology’ for material forces. To be against untrammelled technoscientific development is to be against progress per se. overcoming major problems like overpopulation. To achieve this universality in the face of the all-too bloody dislocations of the war. 1997). 49 See http://americanpolicy.

N. enabling sceptics to draw clean divisions between. Mühlhäusler and A. and although the effect has been to establish two antagonistic discourses based upon radically opposed myths. race. 2002). 53 As Laclau sees discourses as assemblages of linguistic and non-linguistic moments. and the role of transnational epistemic communities – but at the cost of discounting the enduring force of local and national discourses. gender. however (neither as discourse nor material actuality). the effect of this stock rhetorical move of opposing industrial technoscience to both the backward looking ideology and to the evils of ‘ignorance and oppression’ is to subtly articulate a connection between the latter two. Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States (Princeton. little has taken up the task of analysing their role in Northern environmental political conflicts. Arguably. levels. 51 50 . Anthropol. Processes of subjectivation certainly operate at civilisational (ie Western) and supra-national (ie European). Various myths compete to fill the void. Meaning is reawakened. somewhat homogeneous within nations. the poverty of meaning effected by the deluge of information. 13. national myths powerfully shape discourses. ‘relatively settled’ modes of public deliberation and knowledge-construction. it appeared that eco-political discourse may “transcend the ideological disputes and other sources of division. P.J: Princeton University Press. Rev. Environmental Skepticism. Indeed.” in From science to emancipation: Alienation and the actuality of enlightenment (Sage Publications Pvt. Bhaskar and Ernesto Laclau.’53 I contend with Jasanoff that these practices are primarily institutionalised at the level of the nation-state.51 Certainly. Peace. to detect the ways in which climate sceptic discourse exploits them. suturing. Although these are not directly attributed to the unnamed ideology. interdependence. identities re-established. Cosmopolitans and globalisation theorists have tended to emphasise integration. fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics 11 which stalk our Earth’: ‘ignorance and oppression’. Her term for these practices is ‘civic epistemologies’. and national identity. but in facing the abstraction. humanity and technology are vindicated. 52 Andrew Jamison. for instance.Ben Glasson: Text. 22.50 Climate change dislocates both established discourses and the subjects whose identities derive from affective investment therein. within each adequate closure. but the nation-state remains the Dunn and Kinney. in Jacques. 35 (2006): 460. Moreover. The hopelessly complex field is re-structured around the terms of corrupt scientists. the (lopsided) myth of progress reasserts itself. Yet we should remain wary of reading the progress imaginary directly off of environmental-political discourse. The Making of Green Knowledge: Environmental Politics and Cultural Transformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Climate change does not disappear. the surface of the progress imaginary is only relevant outside the realm of abstruse scholarship in so far as it shapes more localised myths – myths that then simultaneously speak that surface and are conditioned by it. those who wish to propel society ‘full speed ahead’ and environmentalists who prefer it ‘to go full speed backward’. “Critical Realism and Discourse Theory: Debate with Ernesto Laclau. 54 Sheila Jasanoff. Thus we now examine how the social imaginary of progress is displaced into national myths. for him ‘practice’ and ‘discourse’ are synonymous. alarmist environmentalists: the dignity of common sense. but varying across national boundaries 54. like class. 1. This re-articulation of progress has handed scepticism one of the most effective rhetorical weapons in its armoury. the efficiency of the progress imaginary is such that it need not speak its name.” 52 Yet this is to discount the enduring force of local and national discourses. has occurred. 2001). climate change discourse must pass through ‘the treadmill of making itself credible in front of a variety of other practices. identities and practices. and into national symbols that condense these myths. As dominant social imaginaries come into being. To gain legitimacy. Myths of nation: The progress imaginary made ‘concrete’ Although some scholarship has addressed national myths of progress and development in polities of the global South. the indirectness of its operation shields it from resistant readings and discourses. “Environmental discourses.” Annu. Ltd. particularly in the 1970s. See R. 2005).

‘Timely reminder that heat is on’. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. ed. We could.S. and that evidence of warming was ‘unequivocal. this is how the Herald Sun article concluded: But at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre. in accordance with prior commitments to reason. ``I swim outside sometimes but not very often. 2010): 240. The tension is between the forms of evidence the respective groups rely upon: the “distant” evidence of educated rationality and the “direct” evidence of personal experience. boundary-crossing scientific representations’.56 But globalisation upsets the earlier accords between scientific knowledge and political order such that ‘efforts to understand natural and social processes at increasingly complex levels of aggregation are producing new. then. no. but in general both relayed the main findings of the report: the 2000s was the warmest decade on record.57 Climate science – global. scientific data pertaining to the global environment ‘never take root in a neutral interpretive field’.'' she said. Tania. 30 July 2010. “A New Climate for Society. Yet. or Europe. :: Melbourne University Pub. or the Judeo-Christian world. 61 Shattuc in Lewis. Herald Sun. 56 Sheila Jasanoff. expect the journalistic method of the Take the anti-Islamist discourse of certain U.S. affective quality of the national fantasmatic is threatened by the abstract. David Carter (Carlton. symbols that constitute the national subject – take root in the fantasmatic. because I can't stand getting out of the water and being cold.61 We may not. fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics 12 best-resourced governmental (discursive and juridical) apparatus of subjectivation under modernity 55 . expect that if the more durable.” in The ideas market : an alternative take on Australia's intellectual life / edited by David Carter. logico-semantic scientific knowledge of climate change. physical and emotional truth of the ordinary person. or the racist discourses surrounding asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australia: it is clear that identification as Western carries comparativelye little grip. Culture & Society 27. 57 Ibid. commercial television and talkback radio. questionable and opposed to the authentic voice of direct personal experience is characteristic of the tabloid press. than that they are polluting the (white) nation. and contained more detail.''60 Besides that the swimming pool in deepest winter may not be the best time to test local’s views on global warming. White supremacist movements such as Stormfront are less concerned that non-whites are polluting the West. 2005 the warmest year in Australia’s history followed by 2009. imagery. abstract and rarefied. “PIs on TV: Intellectuals. according to the report’s chief author.Ben Glasson: Text. Sydney Morning Herald. neo-conservatives. 123. “I haven't noticed it's getting warmer. Vic. To see this in operation we merely need to open the newspaper and witness what happens when global scientific discourses are translated into national contexts.argues that television talk shows produce a tension between the authoritative. 59 Ben Cubby.” Theory. 30 July 2010. 2004).58 These contexts – the practices. The Sydney Morning Herald article59 was twice as long as the Herald Sun article. 58 Ibid. Historically. 60 ‘Malcolm Holland and Holly Ife. ‘Temperatures soaring to new highs’. lifeguard Luci Russell wasn't feeling any heat. an exemplary boundary-crossing discourse – is firmly on the side of the logicosemantic. but are ‘dropped into contexts’ pre-conditioned to engender ‘distinctive cultural responses’. rational forms of knowledge of the intellectual or expert and the more authentic. 2010. emotion and physical proof (a distinction that neatly maps onto that of the logico-semantic/fantasmatic). the broadsheet Sydney Morning Herald and the tabloid Herald Sun both featured articles about the release of a major new climate report from the U. On July 30. Constructing the expert voice as distant. trust in scientific institutions was ‘constructed in the crucible of national imagined communities. 55 . 2 (5. due process and social justice. that the advantage would fall to the fantasmatic. we may excuse the tabloid’s choice of pitting a leading science institution against common-sense experience. however. Yet while the SMH article closed with a 5-point summary of the report’s key findings. Public Culture and Australian Television.

In the heat of summer this time. who has visited the beach every Sunday for 40 years ‘and was not worried anything would change’. a geologist and environmental scientist with James Cook University in Queensland.6mm per year globally over the past 100 years. ``Nothing too drastic that indicates it is going to be changed in the future. Further. February 19. The Australian reports on a speech by Climate Change Minister Penny Wong at the National Climate Change Forum in Adelaide. could erode away or recede by hundreds of metres over the coming century. and that ‘the number of very high and extreme fire danger days could increase by up to one quarter by 2020 and more than double by 2050. But locals aren’t so sure. 2010). Dr Carter has the last word. Bondi veteran Lee Boman has swum at the beach for more than 30 years and was adamant he had seen ``no change'' to the coastline over that period. “Wong wipeout doesn't wash with locals. The article began like this: Australia’s most iconic beaches. Lee Boman at Bondi Beach who has been ‘swimming at the beach for 30 years’. calling it ‘probably the single most exhaustively reviewed scientific document ever produced. .'' said Mr Boman. “I think it’s just too drastic to say that the beach is going to change… it’s very drastic. may soon forget 62 63 Angus Hohenboken. Choosing to focus on the minister’s claims about the threat rising seas posed to the Australian coastline. Ibid.Ben Glasson: Text. fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics 13 nation’s leading tabloid to be replicated in the nation’s leading national broadsheet. including Bondi. 53. Bob Carter. the Australian placed its report on this speech on page 1 of the following day’s edition. said Senator Wong's comments appeared to be an attempt to panic the public. Patrick Doab. she warned we can expect ‘far more drought in our most important food bowls’. ‘the number of very hot days over 35 degrees will more than double in Adelaide and experience nearly a 30 fold increase in Darwin by 2070’. after her eyes have seen Britain “draped around” a variety of stories.62 After reporting some of Minister Wong’s comments in more detail and citing the waning support for the Government’s proposed emissions trading scheme. it was accompanied by an enormous picture of a hair-bleached. “It’s like the stock market – no one really knows”. Billig describes how the reader. claiming that sinking ‘geological substrata’ may account for some of the rise. During that speech. quite frankly.’ a 3000-page report that ‘has been intensely scrutinised’ with ‘few errors found’.” “I don’t think anyone knows what will happen.’ To its credit. according to Climate Change Minister Penny Wong. In his study of ‘banal nationalism’ in the British press. she hit out against sceptic attacks on the IPCC report.” The Australian (Sydney. using new evidence from the CSIRO and the Bushfire CRC. She also cited new Australian Bureau of Meteorology evidence that without carbon reductions. bronzed.63 Finally. Pointing to historical rates of sea level rise of an average 1. 63. Bells and those on the Sunshine Coast. the article then quotes another Bondi local. Mr Carter said it was reasonable to expect a total rise of 16cm in a century.

vol. 67 See K. 66 Oswald Spengler. Spengler argues that the prime symbol of Western civilisation is that of infinite space. referring to the wool exports that were such an economic mainstay. The Lucky Country. 22 (Brill Academic Pub. Meaning.64 The centrality of the lifeguard and the beach to Australian iconography needs no elaboration. A central element of this myth is expressed in the common knowledge drummed into every schoolchild that ‘Australia rode on the sheep’s back’. the productive elements of society could ‘get on with the business of building Australia. Banal Nationalism (London: SAGE. Yet these myths are not merely expressions of national ‘culture’. the CSIRO. As I hope to demonstrate. no. discourses have in accepting a discourse that is tainted by association with an elitist global institution – the United Nations.’69 Michael Billig. resoundingly endorse the IPCC findings. Society: Making Sense of Modernity. The Decline of the West (London: Allen and Unwin. 2nd ed. Horne turned this common expression in post-war Australia on its head. A common refrain is that if only environmentalists would get back in their boxes.Ben Glasson: Text. growth and infinity has replaced the pre-modern notion of God. but also a certain egalitarianism (although populism may better explain the valorisation of common-sense perspective). While ecological modernisation can be interpreted as a turning in of the application of development towards a refinement of the productive systems themselves. these examples demonstrate how climate discourse is conditioned by deeply sedimented national imaginaries. One aspect of the development mythos was captured well by Donald Horne in the title of his 1964 book. if by that we mean iconography functioning to bind a community.’ Playing off a national-development myth. and Australian settler-colonies were born within a discourse of ‘newness’. the pioneer mythology of the U. That context includes the national mythos of the lifeguard and the beach. its broader effect was to mute the articulation between arguably more trusted national institutions and climate change.S. The social imaginary of development. and the inhabiting within it. 10n. Penguin books AU12 (Melbourne: Penguin. E Smith. Broken free from old-world problems and putatively unopposed by any indigenous society with a historically bedded relationship with the land. thus leaving the UN as the sole – and less trusted – voice on climate change.65 Despite being defined by a modern science that ostensibly pays no heed to national boundaries. Under both the Howard government and Bush administration.S. and Australia still defines progress as an outward expansion.68 As well as the building of towns and roads. 1932).67 Certainly. transforming and ordering’ the empty space by inscribing it with the signifiers of ‘white. the U. these examples play off the mythic social space of Australia as a wide brown land of resources ripe for development. 65 64 . 1964). In line with Jasanoff’s account. developed through the patterned mentioning of the nation. Castoriadis argues that the limitless 'march of knowledge' entails an unlimited expansion of power and wealth. But it may appear curious that the impact of national scientific and meteorological bodies the NAS. 1995). such seemingly banal articulations as the naming of geographical features effected a replanting of the European settler identity upon a terra nullius. as Stuart Hall termed it. Moran. disembodied discourse of climate science into a ‘distinctive cultural context’. While this was presumably an attempt to prevent public outrage over these nations’ inaction on climate change.66 Similarly. the most important way that these imaginaries prejudice environmentalism is through their reproduction of the broader Western progress imaginary but in the ‘concretised’ form of pioneer and development origin myths which construct the ‘land’ in ways that resonate right through to contemporary discourses of ‘nature’ or ‘environment’. fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics 14 individual items but will inhabit a ‘context of awareness’. 114. 69 Donald Horne. “As Australia decolonizes: indigenizing settler nationalism and the challenges of settler/indigenous relations. 68 A. Western identity’. scientific reports from national institutions bodies were muffled or watered down. And no beach is more iconic than Bondi.. the colonial project set about ‘conquering.S. 6 (2002): 1011. 2010). EPA. This perspective demonstrates the difficulty Australian and U. arguing that in fact Australia owed its prosperity to good fortune (abundant natural resources) rather than good management: ‘Australia is a lucky country. this is a journalistic attempt to situate the abstract.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 25. run by second-rate people who share its luck. The Lucky Country: Australia in the Sixties. Subjectivity.

Andrew Dobson. from which it follows that the fullness-to-come promised by nationaldevelopment myths is a significant part of the discursive economy constituting the national subject. its imaginary identifications are guided by a fantasmatic logic of constantly seeking to overturn the obstacle blocking the realisation of its ‘fullness-to-come’73. for the subject such a process of identification is never able to achieve the anticipated fullness – thus such identificatory work is ongoing). 1st ed. 2009. Wilderness and the American mind (Yale Univ Pr.71 From a Laclauian perspective. Emerging in the 19th century context of westward development and classical liberal economic philosophy. American). it is precisely this quest to stabilise identity that the fantasmatic structure of discourse functions to fulfil. where the progress imaginary is most explicitly concretised in the myth of ‘manifest destiny’.Ben Glasson: Text. 147. maintaining the myth at just the right distance to perpetuate the promise of the fullness of meaning.S.75 Of course. October 20. (Milton Park. 2001). 73 Fantasies can also involve themes of repression and victimhood. 24. Banal Nationalism.. a network of common practices and inherited traditions that confers on them the blessing of a settled identity’. by prescribing a logic of individual subjectivation. Nature had no intrinsic value. indeed heroic. practices of consumption.co. such national-development myths work to construct the nation socially. they do not so much identify with the myth itself as with its signifier(s). manifest destiny emblematised the civilising. The notion of Providence constructed a potentially bountiful land allocated specifically to the (Christian) settlers to reap for their own benefit and that of ‘civilisation’ in general. 75 In Leo Hickman. but implicates Australia in the differential system of all nations. this always speaks into being R. for instance. Attempting to regain a primordial fullness. Logics of Critical Explanation in Social and Political Theory (Routledge Innovations in Political Theory. the subject expends much energy in trying to suture its identity.74 This differential logic is at work in deictics – terms such as we. Nash. These signifiers (the flag. 74 Billig.” The Guardian. and was dependent upon the input of human labour to transform it into something of worth. Yet these signifiers are also relationally articulated with other signifiers in discursive networks which work to stabilise and legitimise the myth. Oxon: Routledge.70 ‘Our manifest destiny is to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions’. It is precisely for the function of offering up the promise of this fullness-tocome that we have myth. people’s ‘deepest need is a home.72 Laclau adopts Lacan’s theory of the subject that is constitutively split owing to it having to cede to the conditions of the Law. the Symbolic Order. The pioneer occupied a central. Green Political Thought. enlightening duty of the European settlers over the chaotic. which works upstream to prefigure the modes of subjectivity available to Australians. through fixations on social-symbolic signifiers. (Of course. producing Australia as ‘a nation among others’. envisioning terror and trauma should the blocking antagonist not be overcome: Ibid. wrote Democratic Party activist and writer John Louis O’Sullivan in 1845. iconic flora and fauna) stand in for that myth. For Gray. our. I will briefly explain the operation of both before observing them at work in climate discourses. Such deictics draw lines through and around communities and identities. etc. “Monckton's circus of climate change denial arrives in cloud cuckoo land. not only references the Australian mythos. (Routledge. as for instance when British sceptic Christopher Monckton warns that ‘they want to impose communist world government’. and through discursive articulation that fixes the meaning of national signifiers in relation to other signifiers. 72 Jason Glynos and David Howarth. 71 70 . Abingdon. While the subject is subject to a myriad inscriptions ranging from the familial to the economic to the political (Australian. http://www. deictic positioning talks a them into being. dark wilderness. fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics 15 This expansionary conception of modernity is even more the case in the U. they. 4th ed. At its crudest.uk/environment/blog/2009/oct/20/climate-change-denial-monckton. The flag. acting as condensatory poles. To the extent that the subject is a national subject. position. adherence to political ideologies etc.guardian. Although individuals are brought into the national fold by their affective investment in national myths. 161. all such inscriptions are conditioned (to varying degrees) by the national mythos. 2007). As well as spatially. 2007).

These range from conservation to preservation. through environmental justice. then. Conclusion In this paper. I mean. 2000).77 But manifest destiny occupies a dominant position because it is ‘autochthonic’. As Ernst Renan puts it. etc) that ‘grounds’ the national discourse. at the time when we really have to start producing more[…] And making more products and being globally competitive and exporting. forgetting and historical error are vital to creating a nation: ‘unity is always effected by means of brutality’ (in J. Analysing the form and the force of the discursive structures compressed into such deictic subject-positioning shines additional light on the broad terrain on which – and the discursive weapons with which – climate politics is waged. fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics 16 an us and tends to fill the content of the we relationally (with the opposite of what is contained in the they) rather than positively. Of course. transforming the very material processes of land development. By examining how the abstraction. George W.S. because it’s going to hurt the industry the most. former colonisers. 2000). John S Dryzek. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2nd ed. It follows. Agency. of course. atrocities. emissions as kicking an economy when it’s down[…] but it’s not even just kicking us when we’re down. unmarked us that is further strengthened by its ambiguity. 2005). The Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourses. I have applied a psychoanalytical. etc. this is a giant tax on productivity. deep ecology. stands in for the general relation between society and nature. 77 76 . its narrative structure exhibits a certain elegant simplicity. Democracy. it enjoys theological support.S. 29. especially those involved in natural resource exploitation. and ecofeminism. Bush repeatedly cited damage to the American economy and sovereignty threats when voicing his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol of emissions abatement. June 25. nation-building. The sceptical refrain that climate action will ‘wreck the economy’ is as exaggerated as it is widespread and. and hypostatises into a social imaginary. on production. Taxonomies of environmentalism detail discursive challenges to manifest destiny. it appears the relation between a particular people and its land – in most cases a relation of exploitation and development – anchored in embodiment and ‘concrete’ imagery and iconography. into an abstract surface upon which all other discourses must are presented.Ben Glasson: Text. that the advantage this hands to discourses concordant with the ‘lay of the land’ must be the first obstacle with which an ecological politics must contend. then. Environmental Movement from a Critical Theory Perspective (Cambridge. and Nature: The U. it ceases to operate as a specific myth. One commentator typically described the Waxman-Markey bill to limit U. ecocentrism and political ecology. But the force uniting all of these factors is undoubtedly that manifest destiny was consecrated and enshrined in the material and symbolic violence78 that forged the expanded United States. To the extent that this general relation is hegemonised. and enlightenment values (Duke University Press. Michael. 78 Offical discourses of nation usually involve a forgetting that constructs a constitutive outside (native peoples.S. ‘The economy’ stands in for the nation – or perhaps stands as a moment in the dialectic of nation and progress – and invokes a national imagined just as effectively as do more directly national signifiers. they’re actually kicking us in the groin. Mass: MIT Press. public intellectuals. The Glenn Beck Show.’ 76 Similarly. post-structuralist perspective to climate scepticism in Australia and the U. it is not a reference to the world economy or the local economy. and it has been (and remains) the discourse of choice of powerful economic interests. complexity and Peter Schiff. Anxious intellects: Academic professionals. 2009. thus constituting a privileged. even the most hegemonic national myths are periodically contested. But see Robert J Brulle. There is not the space to rehearse them here. Summarising the argument.

with the climate policy positions of the U. be able to reshape the discursive terrain such that sceptic voices appear to issue from a time and a place that is not ours. images. and stands little chance of hegemonic success. It just may. these narratives then come to emblematise progress itself. reify or concretise the progress imaginary by weaving it into the tapestry of national symbols. interconnected planet (Gaia). yet it meets entrenched resistance in the form of development narratives at the core of both nations’ social imaginaries. . Initially conducted under the sign of Western (British) civilisation. By any account. such as that of the holistic. Republican Party and the Australian Liberal-National Coalition taking political advantage of the dominant articulation of these myths. can be overcome. they are histrorically contingent fixings. “Ecological modernisation as cultural politics. fantasy and the political: A two-track analysis of climate-change politics 17 mediatisation marking climate change discourses weigh its reception in favour of imaginary. they have generally articulated (sometimes ersatz) environmentalism with progress and the nation.S.S.S. the challenge for the environmental movement is to craft a rhetoric that eschews the distant and negative character of scientific discourse. There is nothing necessary or inevitable about their ongoing success. I contended that myths and social imaginaries relating to Australia and the U. some environmentalism employs myths of recent construction. Where discourses of ecological modernisation and sustainable development have made inroads. uncivilised land forge an expansionary. In seeking to defuse the popular appeal of scepticism. where sceptics find their platforms. It needs to speak a we of environmental action that people recognise themselves as part of.S. there is no guarantee that the entrenched interests of the corporate media.79 And this in primarily Western European contexts where the expansionary overtones of progress are weaker than in the U. beginning in the 19th century but reaching an apogee in the post-WWII U. and that constructs strong action on climate change as a continuation of the nation’s progress narrative. ‘opening up’ and bringing order to a wild. and myths. Narratives of exploring. Even if environmentalism succeeds in building a popular front. The re-accenting of progress away from social emancipation to technological development and economic growth. mythic (rather than symbolic or logico-semantic) registers. As hegemonic as myths of progress and nation are. conquering. and social movements facing well-resourced opposition have sometimes been able to creatively rearticulate existing discourses to enlist a range of publics to their cause. though. and seek to promote a global consciousness. such a discourse faces entrenched opposition at the local and national levels. The difficulties involved in translating complex global discourses into national contexts is already recognised by parts of the environment movement. developmentalist relationship to nature. 79 Hajer.. The impact on national political debates over climate change is clear. and Australia. Climate change science must negotiate national contexts. The result of the initial violence and forgetting that forge the nation and the subsequent developmentalist history is that contemporary national identities remain heavily inscribed with expansionary development myths. amplifies this tension.Ben Glasson: Text. Consciously or not.” 262. I argued that sceptic discourse expresses the friction between deterritorialised science and embodied imaginaries of progress.

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