Browsing through books: Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climate Regime by Bruno Latour (2018, Polity Press)

Someone who knows the degrowth movement recommended me this book. They are concerned that the degrowth movement reproduces the local-global dichotomy used in politics that Latour challenges in this book. After reading this book, I agree that the degrowth movement should reimagine and act for a future beyond local/global and search for, what Latour calls, a terrestrial position for policy making.

Bruno Latour’s book Down to Earth (2018) with a pinecone

Latour starts the book by motivating his call for politics in the new climate regime. He argues that for a robust political analysis, three themes should be brought together.

  1. The victorious and fast spread of globalisation since 1990s
  2. Rise of populism in 2010s
  3. Climate change denialism (since early days)

According to Latour, these together put pressure to abandoning politics based on globalisation or localisation. Globalisation as a trend has proven to provide wellbeing for some, but neglected to address social injustices, let alone environmental issues. The rise of populism links to abandoning globalisation and turning to local solutions. However, Latour’s convincing argumentation, powerful people helping populist leaders are fully aware of the catastrophic consequences of human-made climate change. But they’d rather benefit from continuing for example fossil fuel related businesses than adapt to a new climate regime. Hence, the important question is to ask who benefits from climate denialism.

One sobering answer is that it is not the people populists claim to stand for. In fact, Latour argues that the powerful people (or elites as some call them), such as major fossil fuel company shareholders, have no plans to save the people that vote for populist. Instead, people with power and great personal funds are getting ready to secure their own future in a world of growing temperature and inequalities. There are no life boats in that plans for the poor and the misfortuned.

Moreover, rejecting globalisation and returning to localisation is not an option either, because there is no local to return to. First, in modern societies everything is impacted by globalisation, one way or another. Second, environmental changes predicted by scientists result in changes in local environments. Plants, animals and agriculture are about to change. In addition, worsening conditions in many parts of the world are forced to abandon their local in a search for a habitable place. This has already started but the scale of migration is expected to be greater. While some nations can try to close their borders from other people, environmental destruction does not respect human-made borders.

Even though people could stay put, they become immigrants on this land, because many things around them are about to change. Some try to replicate the perceived success story of globalisation, but in a world with growing suspicion it is becoming more difficult to allow free flow of goods, people and finance. Latour calls these new positions local- and global- to indicate that what was previously there as local+ and global+ is no longer available.

How to proceed in a world like this where people are stuck with local and global? Latour offers an alternative position of terrestrial. This position takes into consideration changed situation and tries to look for politics in the new regime – as the sub-title of the book suggests.

It is a matter of broadening the definition of class by pursuing an exhaustive search for everything that makes subsistence possible. As a terrestrial, what do you care most about? With whom can you live? Who depends on you for subsistence? Against whom are you going to have to fight? How can the importance of all these agents be ranked?” (Latour 2018: 98)

Coming back to degrowth movement, I can fully understand the importance of this book to the movement. There is no local to return to. There is no global to use as a leverage. Turning to terrestrial offers new language and tools for new politics. In th every end of the book Latour asks for the reader to “land somewhere” and articluate their own vision that guides their actions. I take on the challenge and start to draft my vision where I come down to Earth.

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