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The fearful symmetry of Arctic climate change: accumulation by degradation


Johnson, Leigh (2010). The fearful symmetry of Arctic climate change: accumulation by degradation. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 28(5):828-847.

Abstract

The rapid decline of Arctic sea ice has triggered new rounds of territorial claims making, investment, and development in northern states. This article argues that the physical processes of climate change require a rethinking of the typical mechanics of environmental degradation to account for the renewed possibilities for accumulation emerging in the Arctic, where the effects of historic, large-scale fossil fuel combustion are being organized into new regional production strategies that sharpen and deflect environmental degradationöa process I call `accumulation by degradation'. The region's hyperamplified thermodynamic response to radiative forcing by anthropogenic greenhouse gases allows for strategic maneuvering by nation-states and firms eager to secure various forms of rent and make climate change literally perform physical work for capital. These opportunities for new Arctic energy extraction and shipping are both heightened and complicated by contemporary geopolitics and commodity prices. Nevertheless, the much-heralded possibilities for capital accumulation in the Arctic may be overestimated. The entire conjuncture depends on a precarious coordination of markets, turnover times of capital, regulatory regimes, and fundamentally uncontrollable physical processes across many operational scales. Because the climate is a nonlinear system, emergent physical properties may materialize rapidly and unpredictably, drastically changing the regional operating environment for capital. Such emergence might well be both a result of and an obstruction to Arctic accumulation by degradation.

Abstract

The rapid decline of Arctic sea ice has triggered new rounds of territorial claims making, investment, and development in northern states. This article argues that the physical processes of climate change require a rethinking of the typical mechanics of environmental degradation to account for the renewed possibilities for accumulation emerging in the Arctic, where the effects of historic, large-scale fossil fuel combustion are being organized into new regional production strategies that sharpen and deflect environmental degradationöa process I call `accumulation by degradation'. The region's hyperamplified thermodynamic response to radiative forcing by anthropogenic greenhouse gases allows for strategic maneuvering by nation-states and firms eager to secure various forms of rent and make climate change literally perform physical work for capital. These opportunities for new Arctic energy extraction and shipping are both heightened and complicated by contemporary geopolitics and commodity prices. Nevertheless, the much-heralded possibilities for capital accumulation in the Arctic may be overestimated. The entire conjuncture depends on a precarious coordination of markets, turnover times of capital, regulatory regimes, and fundamentally uncontrollable physical processes across many operational scales. Because the climate is a nonlinear system, emergent physical properties may materialize rapidly and unpredictably, drastically changing the regional operating environment for capital. Such emergence might well be both a result of and an obstruction to Arctic accumulation by degradation.

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14 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Language:English
Date:2010
Deposited On:25 Mar 2013 10:01
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 16:42
Publisher:Pion
ISSN:0263-7758
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1068/d9308

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