2022 Conference Keynotes

“Green Gradualism and Its Discontents”

Wednesday, June 29 | 6:00-7:45 PM GMT+1 | ISCTE

Daniela Gabor, UWE Bristol

Soft climate denialism is bad for democracy. It comes in many forms. It is sometimes masked as legitimate concern with epistemic uncertainty, or justified by the allegedly regressive distributional effects of greenflation. It often points to the threat of power-grabs by elected politicians or technocratic central banks. The soothing implication is gradualism: we do not need, and perhaps should fear, radical institutional and political change. Such is, rather paradoxically, the message of green ordoliberalism. This new regime, increasingly influential in Europe, insists that governing the climate crisis is not a macroeconomic question, that climate and capitalism can be reconciled at, or close to, Schwarzenull as long as a small green state bribes (financial) capital into solving the climate crisis by derisking green investments. 

The derisking paradigm perpetuates the macrofinancial status-quo where institutional capital is abundant, backstopped by inflation-targeting central banks, and hungry for new asset classes derisked by a fiscally conservative state. But it is bad for democracy in three ways. 

Green gradualism surrenders the pace and nature of structural transformation to oligopolistic (institutional) capital, accommodating its systemic (ESG-based) greenwashing. By reducing the question of state capacity to “How can I get BlackRock/Allianz to finance my decarbonization revolution?” it reinforces a neocolonial extractivism that treats the Global South as generators of financial yield and consumers green technologies. Finally, it legitimizes the privatization of public goods, rendering new areas of social life ripe for financialization. The truly democratic alternative, however paradoxical, is a Big Green State that intervenes and directly organizes the low-carbon transition.  

Daniela Gabor is a Professor of Economics and Macrofinance. She researches central banking, green macrofinancial regimes, and money. She is on the Editorial Board of the Review of International Political Economy, and tweets @Daniela Gabor

“Is Climate Change Good for Democracy?”

Thursday, June 30 | 6:00-7:45 PM GMT+1 | ISCTE

Mike Hulme, University of Cambridge, UK

The ambition to govern the climate is a dangerous one. Even more so when guided by a tenacious faith in the “iron hand” of scientific rationalism. When combined with climate deadline-ism (“10 more years to save the world”),  epistemic certainty and coercive moralism fuels declarations of climate emergency – as we have seen in recent years.  Even if initially benign, emergency politics opens the door to ‘strong men’ and for anti-liberalism. Rather than declaring “states of emergency” in the name of a climate crisis, the approach to taming the worst effects of climate change should be one of pragmatism, incrementalism and experimentation. This talk develops this argument, explaining what Hulme means by “science-first” and “more-than-science” approaches to responding to the various realities of climate change. There are other resources and avenues available to guide political action beyond eco-authoritarianism guided by scientific rationalism. For example, the ambiguity, complexity and partiality of religious myths, Indigenous knowledge-ways or the creative arts undermine the illusion that science will ever yield all that is necessary to know about the future to adequately guide actions in the present. Democratic political systems are better placed than authoritarian ones to navigate the indeterminacies, uncertainties and conflicting goals set in motion by a changing climate.

Mike Hulme is professor of human geography at the University of Cambridge. His work illuminates the numerous ways in which the idea of climate change is deployed in public, political, religious and scientific discourse, exploring both its historical, cultural and scientific origins and its contemporary meanings. He is the author of nine books on climate change, including, most recently, Climate Change: Key Ideas in Geography (Routledge, 2021), Contemporary Climate Change Debates (Routledge, 2020) and Why We Disagree About Climate Change(CUP, 2009). From 2000 to 2007 Hulme was the Founding Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.