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Fossil fuel, capitalism, and the state : a critical approach to the international climate change discourse Sas, Jonathan


This paper offers a structural critique of the international climate change discourse and challenges the coherency of the norms and logic that underpin the Kyoto Protocol. The first section outlines how the dominant climate discourse in the international community presents the economic imperatives of the state as compatible with the objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The second section argues that in operating to facilitate global economic growth and to sustain the conditions for capital accumulation, the dominant climate discourse in fact precludes states from achieving the emission reductions that are necessary to avert pending and dangerous climactic changes. The argument builds off of the critical treatment of three interconnected facets of the global capitalist system that, it is argued, have caused a metabolic rift to form in the global carbon cycle: (1) the historically specific role of carbon-emitting fossil fuel in the development of capitalism’s constitutive production and circulation processes, what Huber (2009) calls capitalism’s ‘fossil fuel mode of production’; (2) capitalism’s inherent expansionary drive; and (3) the compromised relationship of the state with capital. When combined, these insights suggest that meaningfully reducing greenhouse gas emissions requires the development of a radically different climate discourse, one that fundamentally transforms the structure of the current capitalist system, including, importantly, the imperatives of the modern capitalist state. The paper concludes by offering a sketch of what a postcapitalist state would look like emphasizing the necessary role that it could play to promote strategies of ecological modernisation that foster the development of an alternative energy mode of production. This state would regulate and even proscribe certain destructive tendencies of capital accumulation in order to create economies that cease to threaten the integrity of the global carbon cycle.

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