Green Governmentality, Technology, and The Economy of Food

Green governmentality is a concept developed following the Cold War. In a consumerist world, countries were scrambling to take as much natural resources and control as many markets as possible. But in order to keep up with the depletion of natural resources and seeing how severe environmental issues could turn a state into a failed one, the international system developed the idea of sustainable development and economic growth going hand in hand. Technology is at the core of nation-building and the construction of new communities, but in Death, TIMOTHY W. LUKE, “Chapter 27: Technology,” we see how it has to adapt to new sustainable development and economic growth concepts in order to make sure technology improves society, instead of creating a system of overconsumption. In Darier, TIMOTHY W. LUKE, “Environmentality as Green Governmentality,” Luke follows Foucault and his ideas in explaining how green governmentality came to be and Luke, Chapter 9: “Hashing It Over: Green Governmentality and the Political Economy of Food” gives examples of how even our diet heavily affects the environment around us.

Manasha: Darier, TIMOTHY W. LUKE, “Environmentality as Green Governmentality”

In Chapter 7 of Discourses of the Environment, Timothy W. Luke follows Michel Foucault to analyze ecology in the modern state and green governmentality. For more information on what governmentality is, this is a great video describing it: 

Luke says in the Post-Cold War era, US politicians say earth is balanced and there is a need to develop the world economy through new technologies, dominating more markets, and exploiting national assets. During this time, more environmental issues and sustainable development are coming to the forefront when it comes to advancing technology and creating new jobs. Seeing the status of “failed state” of Rwanda and other nations and putting the blame partially on the environmental issues associated with their economic growth, American superpowers were quick to put ecological conservation at the top of their policy agenda. The more the environment  was seen as a human security issue, the more it became the state’s job to manage the issues that came with it. Geo-economics and reach for economic growth is a zero sum game and countries need more material wealth in a show of power. But Clinton said people cannot separate common good for the US from common good for the rest of the world and appointed the United States as the world’s leading agency for environmental protection. He said it’s the U.S.’s job to spread democracy and freedom because democracy and freedom is what is best for governments and the people. As a global leader, it then became the job of the United States to promote the new common good of environmentally conscious policies to other countries. There is a greater effort made to connect ecological responsibility with economic growth and Al Gore establishes the Global Marshall Plan (129-131). In a bid to turn Americans away from being biosphere abusers and dysfunctional deviants, this plan calls for environmentally centered growth and brings the state back in to help monitor that initiative. It outlined how there needed to be strategic goals in order to bring forth longlasting economic and ecological progress. Japan was a great example of environmentally centered economic growth. Japan created a sustainable development program in the 1990s that actually allowed them a cost advantage in some of their production over American products (125). So not only would Al Gore’s plan allow for sustainable development, but also it would maintain national competitiveness with other countries like Japan. On an international level, nature and humanity were declared as being one and the same by the Brundtland Commission, and therefore, environment and development could not be separated. New international bodies like the World Commission on Environment and Development were created to intervene on these matters and monitor sustainable development around the world. A government’s main job is to ensure productivity and survive the capitalistic world by becoming environmental protection agencies. Thus, green governmentality comes in. There must be producers, laws, and codes that guide this environmentally conscious development or “enviro-discipline.” So in order to make sure the human population is to survive, the survivalist state must regulate the use of the environment to do so (134). However, over time governmentality moved its focus from governing of the people to governing of the people through  the environment. Luke writes “In practice, Global

Marshall Planners in Washington could use ecological criteria to impose their sustainable development of economic growth at home as they also force an ecological steady state upon others abroad” (147). The practice of green governmentality pushes the governance of people through the “disguise” of sustainable development abroad as well. 

Camryn: Death, TIMOTHY W. LUKE, “Chapter 27: Technology”

Within Chapter 27 of Critical Environmental Politics, Timothy W. Luke, as well as other key thinkers like Michel Foucault and John Law, evaluates the current and future role technology plays in the development of systems and societies and how this will affect environmental politics. This chapter begins by asserting that ‘technology’, whether you define it as a series of actions or a collection of human reasoning, must be a central concern for environmental politics. The natural lifeworld, or nature overall, is controlled by the “objectivity or instrumentally rational systems- or technology” that focus on continuing to develop and evolve their own system instead of the planet (267).  ‘Technology’ has been seen as the enemy to ecology, though cradle-to-cradle designers and social ecologists assert technology does not per se threaten nature, but factors such as how it is used, who it is used by, and on what scale can determine the level of threat a technology is to nature. Foucault (2003) suggests that to gain ‘know-how’, or expertise, about technology is to also gain ‘command, control, and communicate-how’ and can therefore dictate how the technology is used. This creates a connection between technology and governmentality because with each new technology there are rules created to maintain control over its uses and misuses, which later become solidified by the economies and societies it is used within (268).

The issue is not technology, but the excessive human use of technologies and systems that lead to environmental degradation. Systems grow that allow for people to take positions of power that lead to overproduction and profit-seeking actions. Excessive economic growth and a society based around material goods and commodities has led to technology being overused as well as environmental damage, “The growth of technology ꟷ to the extent in which it endangers human populations and natural ecologies for the improvement of world capitalist markets ꟷ is the reason why environmentalists are concerned that when the modernization process is complete, nature is gone for good” (269). Society is not intending to harm the environment with new technologies being created, but there are unintended consequences when those technologies are applied to the large-scale environment of the entire world. In the last two hundred years, the population has grown significantly, and with that society and its processes have had to grow, now to an extent that is even further than what is needed because of the global commodity-based society. The population has grown past the point of what is needed and has used technology to create its own environment that has systems and processes just like any other traditional environment. As new technologies are experimented on that could have groundbreaking effects on current systems and processes, it is done with the knowledge that these technologies could, and often do, have ‘normal accidents’, or consequences that are merely accepted as a risk once they happen. The chapter uses nuclear accidents, like Chernobyl (1986), to represent this issue: it is known that experimenting with nuclear technology could have disastrous effects for humans and the environment, but they continue anyway in the hopes that the benefits outweigh the potential costs or disastrous situations (270). These potential disastrous consequences have been normalized on the basis of growth and ‘modernity,” and its easier to accept them because they have the potential to make lives easier (270). To change this and our society of commodities, both producers and consumers need to work to make more sustainable products and practices. The idea of “built-in obsolescence” of “rapid circulation” should be changed so that products are more durable and of higher quality, and consumers should move away from that same rapid purchasing of products.

 One difficulty with changing the system is that it is controlled by bureaucrats. Bureaucracy controls and manages consumption through systems of “industrial products, manufacturing processes, and transnational production are systems for conducting conduct by administering anxiety, power, and want” (271). The bureaucracy creates the systems that then lead to degradation and destruction and puts people positions of power or lack thereof to keep the system of consumption in place and keep their overall mechanisms of power in place. “Technology is governance, and so, too, does it bring its own security and insecurity, power and vulnerability, risk and benefit” (272). With the issues that come with technology, Luke concludes this chapter by emphasizing that while issues arise from the deep integration and commodification of technology, the future of environmental politics and growth lies in the ‘latest technologies’ (276).

Neebal:Luke, Chapter 9: “Hashing It Over: Green Governmentality and the Political Economy of Food”

Timothy Luke is notorious for his knowledge and research regarding the interaction between states, societies, and their surrounding environments. Luke offers a deep analysis regarding political and economic conflicts starting back over nearly fifty years ago and focuses on the idea of “green governmentality.” By itself, governmentality is how the government controls the conduct of its populace. However, green governmentality is the process of how issues regarding the environment are addressed, discussed, and resolved through government involvement.

Luke states that this chapter serves as a “prelude to more elaborate critiques of today’s growing economic inequalities and their close ties to the industrial food system and its ecology.” Ecological degradation has been important in green governmentality since 1962, when Rachel Carson discovered various traces of DDT contamination in most of North America’s food chains. DDT is a pollutant that is found in soil that can be very toxic to some living organisms. Although it may be okay for some people to consume, it still caused quite the stir. As a result, groups of activists and agriculture enthusiasts decided to focus on economic and social inequalities by using food. By using food as the main objective to show the effect on economic and ecological equalities, it showed how important it was to redirect the production, distribution, and consumption of food. This form of green governmentality was shown as a way to impose the U.S Government’s environmental practices.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension, a program that practices green governmentality while counteracts massive technological systems, such as industrial agriculture, had revealed the idea to reinforce and multiply the actions towards protecting the environment. Henrico County has had issues regarding high infant mortality, poor nutrition, and family stress in one small district of the entire county. As a result, Henrico County had released a statement encouraging people to grow their own fruits and vegetables for the sake of providing nutritious food and physical activity. In 2008, the county had established two acres of land dedicated to fruit and vegetables. Seven families were told to maintain it and grow their own food. This program was called “Gardens Growing Families.” This program that started from two acres had evolved to twenty-seven plots that required twenty families to maintain, just within a few years, “77% of gardeners indicated that they saved money by growing their own fruits and vegetables in 2010. And 94% of the gardeners said their family diet improved as a result of the vegetables or fruit grown in their garden.” (187) The willingness to waste money on less fresh and healthy food had decreased drastically. But it also established a message, “Eating is an ecological act, and a political act too. Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world – and what is to become of it” (188). By creating a striving, eco-friendly system to introduce cheap and healthy fruits and vegetables to the public, the VCE met its object by countering the purpose of industrial agriculture. 

On a more personal note, both Manasha and I are from Henrico County so we’ve seen how different districts can be in our home county. In low-income districts, there’s a fast-food chain nearly a minute walk from one another. Due to low prices, it’s much cheaper to buy food from a chain than there is to buy fresh produce from a grocery store. And the food from these chains are mostly not environmentally friendly. Meals such as burgers use an absurd amount of water, which results in habitat loss and pollution in the environment. So establishing acres for families to grow their own fruit and vegetables is definitely the move in order to save money and offer proper nutrition.

Thanks to Luke’s research we’ve been able to create a more concrete correlation between food and the environment, allowing clearer and more progressive laws to be established. And because of this, every government action, rule, or law that’s been established in the name of green governmentality will be able to be improved.

Manasha Bhetwal is a Senior majoring in International Relations and International Public Policy. She is from Henrico County, VA and the reason she is taking this class is because she is interested in learning more about how our environment affects us in the context of global human security.  

Neebal Aridi is a Junior majoring in International Relations and minoring in Arabic. He is from Henrico County, VA and is taking this class because he has always been environmentally cautious but wanted to understand more about how politics and the environment interact. It’s been a goal of his to get into international politics but recently has decided to double major in Real Estate. So he’ll be around for another year!

Camryn Cappel is a Senior majoring in Environmental Policy and Planning. She is from Ocean City, NJ and plans to go into policy analysis and development in the nonprofit sector after graduation. The reason she is taking this class is because she wants to broaden her understanding of the economic, political, and societal factors that affect how we view and interact with the environment, and what needs to change in order to improve conditions instead of exacerbate them.