Chapter 31: Neoliberalism, scientism and Earth System Governance
The everyday life context of this chapter is neoliberal globalization leading to a breakdown of earth life-support systems, multiple risks, loss of human livelihood, and an unequal exchange between countries North and South. Earth System Governance (ESG) is a neoliberal policy response to this crisis, proposing a new multi-scalar architecture of public–private actors and transnational networks that disperse political accountability and displace the role of the state. An elective affinity between capitalist management through governance and the ideological scientism of postmodern digitized systems methodologies is found. This paradigm translates thermodynamic flows into ad hoc stochastic units, a methodological forcing that leaves material ecologies behind. The imputation of exchange value to the humanity–nature metabolism demonstrates a weak conceptual fit. A parallel form of idealist abstraction occurs in talk about natural capital and dematerialization, each notion reflecting a deeply cultural post-Enlightenment narrative of dissociation from the sensuous life-world. The chapter interrogates the epistemological adequacy of ESG for conceptualizing and thus managing the complex interactions of human societies with what ecologists call planetary boundaries. In the light of methodological dilemmas such as these, political ecologists might critically review their own transdiscipline as it attempts to bridge natural and human processes. A socially inclusive, ecologically sensitive, embodied materialism is one alternative framework.
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