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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Futurological Appropriations of Environmentalism

Upgraded and adapted from a couple comments in the Moot in which I respond to "Jay":

All the talk here the last couple of days about graphs plotting global rising temperatures occurred in the context of an ongoing discussion of futurology. I have disagreed that an analogy from such graphs aptly applies to futurological trend-spotting. This is a point that seems to me especially important given the connection of futurological tropes and conceits in too much neoliberal (micro) boutique-green consumerism and (macro) "geo-engineering" greenwashing policy discourse, but also given a tendency among many Very Serious Futurologists making a bid to sanewash their faith-based initiatives and think-tank con artistry to press just this sort of connection between climate science and robocalypse/goo runaway existential risk crapola. You appear to be a bit fixated on the question of the usefulness of models in climate science about which I am pretty sure everybody in the conversation is in agreement that they are very useful and very compelling. As I said, all real disciplines produce suggestive models and all real disciplines have a foresight dimension, simply because actual knowledge about actual phenomena changes our expectations and our conduct. In my exchange with "Alex" I am emphasizing what is problematic in "trends" and "trend spotting" as terms of art in futurological discourses purporting to explain (meta-)historical dynamisms and provide purchase on something they think of as "technological development" (about which I have the most fundamental doubts).

Again, as I mentioned before, I am the furthest thing from a climate skeptic, I accept the consensus of climate science that catastrophic climate change is underway and is non-negligibly anthropogenic. The models and the plots on the graph are working for me exactly as you say they do, as are other graphs showing aquifer and topsoil and polar ice depletion and shifting insect vectors and so on. Hell, in my teaching and in my writing I endlessly reiterate the point that failure to address environmental problems is a kind of unspeakable genocidal madness. I think we may mostly agree about how much the rhetoric of such graphs is indeed narrative in form, but what matters to me here, again, is that futurological "trends" and "scenarios" are definitely narrative, indeed so much so that they are best understood in my view as outright literary and marketing genres. What you and my other interlocutors in this conversation are calling "trends" (for better or for worse) in the context of climate science lend little credibility and provide little insight into futurological just-so stories about imminent AI singularities, internet participation rates suggesting a virtualization of the real, inevitable progressive control over matter unto the nano and the femtoscale, lifespan increases chugging momentously toward longevity horizons conferring immortality and so on. These futurological narratives are selling faith while pretending to describe and account for phenomena.

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