The Uncanniness of Climate Change

Noam Chomsky recently diagnosed major changes in our consciousness due to global warming that challenge the way we think about what it means to live a “good life”. We have the option either to accept the pressure to consume and accumulate as many commodities as possible or to strive for a world of solidarity and mutual support. In a globalized world, however, it has become difficult to demarcate what is emancipatory from what is potentially reactionary in terms of our engagement in daily life. Citizens are constantly confronted with an amorphous discourse on environmental issues that re-creates and transforms boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. Notions of “back-to-the-land” ideology, yearning for the “locally” grown and self-confident anti-consumerism roam in and out of politically pertinent fields between “green” and “brown”.

Climate change does cause us unease. Its uncanniness has many reasons. It can neither be reduced to climate scientists’ devastating diagnoses, nor to the denial of anthropogenic global warming by right-wing and populist actors. While climate change knows no borders, the concurrent rise in nationalistic thinking and autocratic decision-making is no coincidence. These developments urge us to rethink how democracies can cope with climate change. Perhaps there is something to learn from the global “Fridays for Future” movement and other initiatives in this respect. The latest climate disaster, the raging bushfires in Australia that began in June 2019—even if overshadowed now by the Covid-19 crisis—reminds us that the effects of fossil fuel-driven politics and economics have quickly moved beyond the borders of the global South.

The close ties between fossil fuel industries and right-wing forces, seen as a common denominator in, for instance, Poland, Norway, Brazil and the US, have been termed “fossil fascism” by Andreas Malm. Moreover, living in an overheating world has theoretical implications that go beyond the scope of classical historical materialism. Climate change challenges some of our long-standing assumptions about the relationship between society (or culture) and nature. As the coronavirus has once again made apparent, where nature ends and where culture begins is unclear. Human beings are no longer “double beings” who live in both spheres simultaneously: we have become organism-persons living in an environment, as Tim Ingold states, belonging neither to nature nor to culture, but able to focus our attention on the act of drawing boundaries itself.

A look through the rich archives of the IWM reveals that climate change was an issue that was addressed at the Institute well before its recent newsworthiness. We present you a selection of talks and articles on the topic in English and German from our publications as well as our audio-visual archives.

Franz Graf