China as a geological power

Authors: Mia Bennett*,
Topics: China, Political Geography, Polar Regions
Keywords: China, infrastructure, political geology, Arctic, Belt and Road Initiative
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Responding to the concept of the “Anthropocene,” several scholars have proposed alternative terms like “Capitalocene” or “Plantationocene,” which, rather than designating humankind a homogenous “geological force,” more precisely identify the actors, systems, and power relations responsible for global environmental change. Inspired by this work, this chapter examines how one key actor, China, has become a geological force through the lens of its activities in the Arctic, a distant region it is increasingly developing. Since the early 2000s, China’s economy has become the world’s largest consumer of commodities and largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The Chinese government uses these commodities to build infrastructure within and beyond the country’s borders in places like the Arctic, while its greenhouse gas emissions serve to destabilize the cryosphere. There is thus a need to understand the impacts of China’s rise as an infrastructural state on remote environments and economies. Conceiving of China not only as a political or economic force but also as a geological force may pave the way for more nuanced understandings of how the distinct features and scale of “capitalism with Chinese characteristics” contribute to “environment-making” globally, to adopt geographer Jason Moore’s concept. More hopefully, addressing how China is reorganizing not just the world economy but also the global environment may also allow new mitigation pathways to be found.

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