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The High Carbon Politics of Low-Carbon Value

Authors: Jia-Ching Chen*, University of California
Topics: Energy, Cultural and Political Ecology, China
Keywords: Renewables, Resource Geography, Carbon Politics, Low-carbon futures
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The global political ecology of de-carbonization is shaped by the increasingly illiberal and anti-liberal politics of China’s transformation, and their intersections with the structures and limits of “carbon democracy” (Mitchell 2011). At the industrial center of the global green economy are China’s renewables industries, and thus the structural inequalities of its political economy of export manufacturing; namely, the use of party-state authority in extra-market forms of coercion and dispossession. A second form of illiberalism (and anti-liberalism) lies in relation to the party-state’s industrial and economic planning, and its turn to centralized planning of spatial and environmental structure over the past decade. These processes have intersected with the extensive re-centralization of party-state authority ongoing under the leadership of Xi Jinping, and intensive depoliticization of societal relationships with the party-state and its vision for national development. This paper explores the confluence of these streams with the global political economies of low-carbon value, to examine the ideological (and/or hoped for) assumptions of global convergence in political, economic and climatic domains—assumptions belied by the forms of low-carbon politics that an anthropocenic awareness of shared atmosphere engender. Put another way, this paper argues that the global economy for low-carbon value represents ‘convergence’ around the limits of liberalism—a depoliticization of structural inequalities from the ‘liberal’ West and the ‘illiberal’ East—and a cathexis to reified notions of fungible (low) carbon value that are compatible with capitalism along with its planetary socio-ecological contradictions as the primary expression of a shared global atmosphere.

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