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Volatile Worlds, Vulnerable Bodies: Confronting Abrupt Climate Change

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2010
JournalTheory, Culture and Society
Journal number2-3
Volume27
Number of pages23
Pages31-53
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The abrupt climate change thesis suggests that climate passes through threshold transitions, after which change is sudden, runaway and unstoppable. This concurs with recent themes in complexity studies. Data from ice cores indicates that major shifts in global climate regimes have occurred in as little as a decade, and that for most of the span of human existence the climate has oscillated much more violently than it has over the last 10,000 years. This evidence presents enormous challenges for international climate change negotiation and regulation, which has thus far focused on gradual change. It is argued that existing social theoretic engagements with physical agency are insufficiently geared towards dissonant or disastrous physical events. Wagering on the past and future importance of abrupt climate change, the article explores a way of engaging with catastrophic climatic change that stresses the inherent volatility and unpredictability of earth process, and the no-less-inherent vulnerability of the human body. Drawing on Bataille and Derrida, it proposes a way of nestling the issue of environmental justice within a broader sense of immeasurable indebtedness to those humans who endured previous episodes of abrupt climate change, and considers the idea of experimentation and generosity without reserve.