Chapter 17: Moving the Earth: Cars and the Dynamics of Environmental Politics
Matthew Paterson1 Material practices and environmental politics When Western academics, especially in the discipline of politics,2 think about environmental politics, they tend to start with the environmental issues through which we come to understand the physical world around us as in some sense or other ‘endangered’ and thus ‘the environment’ becomes something of political interest. So we analyse climate change, toxic waste, species extinction, genetic modiﬁcation, and so on. We look at the processes through which such issues are deﬁned, articulated politically, the different institutions which come to deal with them, and attempt to explain how such institutions respond to such problems, often with a sense of purpose about how they might respond ‘better’. At times we look across issues at similarities in the way they are treated, such as the roles of different actors (business, environmental NGOs, international institutions) in shaping such responses, or at speciﬁc political discourses (environmental security, liberalism, ecological modernization) through which such responses are understood. What happens when we do this of course is that the environmental issues themselves tend to be both reiﬁed and treated uncritically, and at the same time any sense of an overarching ‘environmental crisis’ is lost or at least attenuated, as the world is split up into a host of seemingly discrete ‘issues’. The interconnections between different such issues, such as the knock-on effects of particular ways of dealing with one on another, get missed.3 I do not propose that we should discontinue studying such...
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