Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN 20)
Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration
Brighton, United Kingdom
24-26 June 2020
In order to limit the probable increase in global mean temperature to 2°C, about 80%, 50% and 30% of existing coal, gas and oil reserves, respectively, would need to remain under the soil and more ambitious targets would be necessary to comply with the commitments made under the Paris Agreement. While this awareness has been translated into a number of ambitious local initiatives to ‘leave oil in the soil’, ‘coal in the hole’ and ‘gas in the grass’, hydrocarbon extraction at the global level has not in fact been declining. Decarbonization as a goal remains as utopic as it is unavoidable.
This tension between the seeming impossibility and concrete necessity of designating large shares of hydrocarbons as ‘unburnable’ requires urgent attention from political ecologists in at least two parallel streams of inquiry. The first concerns the process of transition away the contemporary centrality of hydrocarbons. This is necessarily a dual transition: away not only from a global economy that is dependent on fossil fuels but also from a global political system whose rules are dictated by state and capital benefiting from extractivism. The second stream has to focus on the shape of what is to come. The work of building a world where the ‘extractive imperative’ has been defanged, requires novel forms of political strategy, geographical criteria, and radical acts of imagination and solidarity.
To meet these analytical and political challenges, this panel will engage with these and other related questions:
- Where and which resources need to be left untapped? Who should be empowered to make these decisions in a democratic yet urgent manner?
- What are the institutional structures – economically as well as politically – that need to be constructed to compensate the socio-economic losses of right-holders as well as to resolve conflicts that will emerge at multiple scales? Can this transition be managed without creating centralized and hierarchical political structures that gather their legitimacy from the undeniable urgency of their task?
- Who will be the main protagonists of this struggle? What forms of intersectional and global alliances are necessary and/or possible?
- How does a world of unburnable fuels look like? What types of socio-economic, political and cultural changes are likely to emerge in the wake of a successful transition?
- How geographical imagination and geovisualization can support the overcoming of petroleum-scapes, by defining geographical criteria, mapping unburnable fuels, and bridging disciplines for the climate justice debate.