By Elisa Greco
The conference revolved around the discussion of world-ecology, elaborated by Jason Moore as a theory which builds on world system theory by problematising the Cartesian dualism (society/nature) and recognising that capitalism depends on appropriations of cheap natures. Remarkably, all the attendees were considerably familiar with the “red and green” intellectual tradition which has re-read Marx as an environmental thinker. In the opening plenary, Christian Parenti addressed environmental activists and radical scholars in the US by arguing that this persistent fear or dismissal of the importance of addressing the state is counterproductive, because the state is the only entity which has sufficient political legitimacy to respond on an appropriate scale. Larry Lohmann responded with a contribution on exactly that kind horizontal actions – “communing and re-commoning” – and stressed the correlation between the rise of fossil fuel based production and alienated labour under capitalist industrial production, going as far as saying that struggles for the commons are “all in a sense labour struggles”.
Two discussions recurred throughout the conference: on the pitfalls of horizontalism in the left; and on catastrophism – the idea that capital will reach its outer physical limits by itself and thus will self-destruct without the need for political mobilisation – on which Sheila Lilley gave an excellent closing lecture on the last day. Plenaries were all remarkable, with speakers from academia, journalism and activism alike, like Tony Weis, Harriet Friedmann, Doug Henwood, Andrew Ross.
Several papers were of interest to ROAPE. Including Mariko Frame’s “Neoliberalism and Foreign Investment in African Resources: the highest stage of ecological imperialism?” which builds on the theory of “ecological unequal exchange” and on the concept of ecological imperialism as a system which incorporates power relations and the policies and ideologies – at the global level.
There was a plenary discussion of whether to organise a world ecology network as a more structured reality, on which there was general enthusiasm; a mailing list will be started and there is a plan to repeat this conference in the UK in 2016. One overall preoccupation of the conference was how to engage social movements and natural scientists together on the issue of climate change, while engaging critically with catastrophist discourses.
The format of the conference was effective. Over three days, we had two short, down-to-earth and thematic plenaries every day. Running twice (from 9:00am to 10:15am in the morning and from 4:00pm to 5:15pm in the afternoon) these were well attended as the topics were interesting and relevant and helped attendants to get together and discuss large themes with a collective spirit. The thematic keynote lectures – two for every plenary – were held by senior academics, journalists and activists and aimed at helping people think through potential developments for world ecology studies in the future. The format contributed to encourage collective discussion rather than narrow debate on one’s area of specialism and it worked well as this community of scholars is clearly doing innovative theoretical work.
Dr Elisa Greco is currently associated to the Leverhulme Centre for the Study of Value, where she works with Professor Phil Woodhouse on the research sub-sector on land and water in Africa. She is a member of the working group of the Review of African Political Economy.