Whose Utopia? Our Utopia! Competing Visions of the Future at the UN Climate Talks

in Nature and Culture
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  • 1 University of California, Santa Barbara richard.widick@orfaleacenter.ucsb.edu
  • 2 University of California, Santa Barbara foran@ soc.ucsb.edu.
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ABSTRACT

Social movements move and grow by autopoesisby calling their prospective ranks to order using public pronouncements replete with consequential assumptions about the world as they see it. In the same way, governing bodies and vested economic interests stake out opposing public positions. In the wake of the crucial international climate negotiations in Paris, December 2015, at which the nations adopted the first truly universal climate treaty, we look back over five years of participatory ethnographic research inside the UN climate talks and the social movements for climate justice, identifying key lifeworld assumptions inscribed in the public position-taking of central economic, public, and political sphere actors. Our findings include grounds for skepticism that UN climate policy can transcend the power of the fossil fuel companies to attenuate both international ambitions and national contributions to the universal effort, but also an exciting possibility that climate justice philosophy and tactics, aided by bold counter-spectacle techniques from the Occupy movement, might return to the stage in the coming years and lead the necessary deep culture shift that decarbonization will require.

Contributor Notes

Richard Widick is a Visiting Scholar at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he writes and lectures on social theory, social history, media, environment, globalization, and climate politics. He is the author of Trouble in the Forest: California’s Redwood Timber Wars (University of Minnesota Press, 2009); the executive director of the International Institute of Climate Action and Theory; and writer, director, and producer of the 2015 film Climate Deadline: Paris, December 2015 (look for it on YouTube). His current film project is being shot inside the struggle over the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. Address: IICAT, 324 Carrillo Street, Cottage D, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA. E-mail: richard.widick@orfaleacenter.ucsb.edu.

John Foran is professor of sociology and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is a co-founder of the Climate Justice Project and of the International Institute of Climate Action and Theory. He is the author of Fragile Resistance: Social Transformation in Iran from 1500 to the Revolution (1993) and Taking Power: On the Origins of Third World Revolutions (2005). He now studies movements for radical social change in the twenty-first century, with special focus on the global climate justice movement. He is a member of System Change Not Climate Change, the Green Party of California, and 350.org. Address: Department of Sociology, University of California Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9430, USA. E-mail: foran@soc.ucsb.edu.

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