hegemony and climate despair

Rebecca Solnit has a new essay in The Guardian about the recent IPCC climate change report. The report itself paints a grim picture, and warns us that the time is running very short to prevent catastrophic levels of global warming. Solnit argues that we must resist the urge to despair, to give up – an urge nicely exemplified by a recent NHTSA report arguing against increasing fuel efficiency standards on the assumption that four degrees Celsius worth of warming was inevitable and that US fuel emissions would only be a small contribution to that catastrophe, so why bother? Solnit, in contrast, counsels hope:

The future hasn’t already been decided. That is, climate change is an inescapable present and future reality, but the point of the IPCC report is that there is still a chance to seize the best-case scenario rather than surrender to the worst. Natan Sharansky, who spent nine years in a gulag for his work with Soviet dissident Andrei Sarkovsky, recalls his mentor saying, “They want us to believe there’s no chance of success. But whether or not there’s hope for change is not the question. If you want to be a free person, you don’t stand up for human rights because it will work, but because it is right. We must continue living as decent people.” Right now living as decent people means every one of us with resources taking serious climate action, or stepping up what we’re already doing.

Solnit’s discussion here reminds me of James Scott’s take on hegemony. For Scott, hegemony is not the belief that you deserve to be exploited, or that somehow you are not being exploited. Hegemony is not consent. Rather, hegemony is the idea that (overt) resistance is futile:

From a much more modest view of what hegemony is all about, it might be said that the main function of a system of domination is to accomplish precisely this: to define what is realistic and what is not realistic and to drive certain goals and aspirations into the realm of the impossible, the realm of idle dreams, of wishful thinking. (Scott 2008: 326)

What is climate despair if not a way for a system of domination to “drive certain goals and aspirations in the realm of the impossible”? Solnit’s essay is a reminder that we can resist, that we don’t have to let despair contribute to the hegemony of fossil fuels and climate change.

Author: Dan Hirschman

I am a sociologist interested in the use of numbers in organizations, markets, and policy. For more info, see here.

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