Megamachinic Dependency and Environmentality

Chapter 6: Searching for Alternatives: Postmodern Populism and Ecology, by Timothy W. Luke.

Many may view caring about the environment and capitalism as two separate issues. Timothy Luke describes in his book, Anthropocene Alerts that was not the case in America for the past two centuries. American populism in the 1890s was a national revolt against the new systems of ecology that these “megamachines,” (basically future corporations) were creating. Populists were wary of the dangers of the new rhetoric of what was “good” for the environment that was being pushed upon society by megamachines. They, the megamachines, pretended to embrace science when presenting better living, pushing away the idea that a good life could be achieved by hard work, self-reliance, and individualism. Megamachines wanted to convince everyone that only their products and their hard work as a major corporation could make your life better. This kind of dependency upon major corporations started in the 1890s, and populists were adamantly against it from the beginning.

The issue was that the United States viewed populists as a negative entity, mostly due to labels it received during the Cold War. Seymour Martin Lipset viewed populism as a “rancid strain of working-class authoritarianism,” (Luke 117), and this narrative was widely spread amongst Americans. In order to gain more traction, some populists adopted fascist or authoritarian concepts into their populism, which led to them being ignored and labeled as dangerous mobs for the next couple decades. Populism then split up into different beliefs on the right and left side of politics in the US.

In the 1890s and the 1990s, populism actually had come full circle in what it stood for. Populism, then, stood for local economies over global diseconomy, was against huge corporations having more privilege and power over everyone else, and preferred communities that were more familiar with each other than they were with commercial megamachines being in their business.

Today, we are so used to the corporate capitalist world we live in, that we have forgotten what life used to be like before the Industrial Revolution. Today, if one argued for a four-day work week, many people would think that was radical and not possible. Even today, people have adopted a “American Dream” mentality where they believe if you keep working (an insane amount honestly), then you will eventually make a lot of money. That doesn’t happen for everyone, because it literally cannot work under a world of capitalism. Most people have to fail and stay at the level they are at in order for others to make more.

Before Fordism and Taylorism (1890s), people did have a four-day work week. It was essentially an artisan economy that allowed for producers to have a lot of control over their official work rules, how many breaks could be taken, etc. It was a world before major corporations essentially owned monopolies that dictated how the economy was run. Producers would interact with other local producers and put less focus on a national consumer base.

Overall, the spread of corporate capitalism has been extremely destructive to the world’s environment as well as widening the wealth disparity gap. Luke states that just like communism would never work, corporate consumerism is in the same boat, “…economic equality cannot be achieved under an advanced system of capitalist production…What is not so obvious is that equality now implies a more modest standard of living for all,” (Luke 122). Some macro environmentalists even claim that nature is now dead, long overtaken by commercial products. But what is so frustrating, is that everyone who lives in a capitalist, “money-based” economy is that we have to depend on the products produced by these major corporations as our own form of food and shelter.

Postmodern populism is encouraging “voluntary simplicity” which emphasizes the dependency of local communities on their individual volunteers and not mega corporations. It also encourages “rurbanism” which is a combination of rural and urban living. It combines the art and commerce of an urban society with rural crafts and culture. For example, “…agriculture mixed with habitat centered housing tied into windmill centers, solar ponds, household gardens, or community woodlots could begin to rehumanize nature and renaturalize humanity by resituating people in nature,” (Luke 138). It would decrease the costs of living in an expensive city or an isolated farmhouse, combining the cultures to create a more “nature-based” community. 

Timothy W. LukeThe Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society

The Oxford Handbook reading by Luke explores how theory can be applied to climate change and governmentality. Foucault’s analysis of governance states there is a direct issue with establishing government laws which are just tactics focused on controlling the populations. Pressure has been put on the government as populations raise and resources are becoming more and more strained. As issues surrounding relations between population and territory grow, environmentality has become more and more revelevent. Environmentality is the effort to bring governance of state , society, and self into the realm of “geopowers”. This is becoming more and more prevalent as populations are policed to provide for and protect the environment. While doing this, putting concepts like earth into frames, renders humans as no more than other inhabitants that experts are trying to sustain and develop. 

To be able to form tactics to deal with climate change, it is extremely important to bring climate change and society into the discourse. According to Luke, as climate research modes change with contemporary capitalism the global warming conference is producing a green governmentality, which links with how man is concerned with what he knows and what determines his being. Green globalism tends to motivate beliefs and practices that each state and society should manage to agree with corporate capitalist enterprise. As Lefebvre stated, this usually leads to negative outcomes, such as the ones managing everyday life and far above means of institutions and services. According to Foucault, having a “positivistic pretense and interventionist impulse” in backing scientific knowledge can be problematic. 

Policy makers are not seeing nature as a whole, they see it has fragmented bits in their environmentality agendas through disjointed studies. Luke argues that this is a sign of the “postmodernization of the world economy” due to the capitalization of bioproduction. Bioproduction is how economic, political, and cultural life overlaps within the reproduction of society through adjustments to the living. This can be a tool for the analysis of spaces in environmentality. 

Different versions of environmentalism exist and compete in the same sphere. When talking about climatology it is not closed and certain, as it is challenged from many sides. When it is tested and challenged, orderings can happen in contradicting historical accounts and frameworks. Luke gives caution around the idea of issuing total solutions through environmentality. More than ever there is a need for more diverse experiments to confront climate change. 

 In Ch. 5 “Ecological Modernization and Environmental Risk” of Darier’s Discourse of the Environment it speaks to how the modernization of society has changed the views on environment and environmental issues.  As modernization has happened the effect on the environment has increased and the issues surrounding these effects have been seen to take a back seat. Environmental issues movements have been centered around the effects of technology and modernization, however many of their beliefs revolve around using these technologies to counteract negative impacts on the environment. Yardly says in chapter 5 that, “environmental movements are profoundly anchored in modern science” (101). What this is saying is that environmental movements intend to use modern science to create clean and sustainable technology while fighting against technologies that hurt the environment. These movements focus on the use of sustainable energy consumption such as solar panels and wind turbines. This is a perfect example of the modernization of environmental movements because there is less of an emphasis on limiting the effect on modern society on the environment and more of using these technologies to repair, restore, and enhance the environment. The next part of this chapter talks about environmental risk. With more human involvement and technological advance there is always a risk for environmental effects. On page 105 it says, “hazards appear as the creation of an autonomous process resulting from a strictly instrumental use of technology in commodity production.” The commodity production could be referring to oil and natural gas extraction. Both use modern technologies such as high-pressure drilling and fracking to extract both resources from the earth and both have high environmental risks involved. Technologies and how they are used determine the risks that follow. With responsible use of these technologies’ risks can be limited and there can even be benefits from the use of these technologies. 

Authors:

Anna Cheema

Anna Cheema is a Senior studying Criminology and Political Science at Virginia Tech. She is interested in criminal justice reform with issues like police brutality and mass incarceration. She aims to address these issues in her career in public policy. She enjoys baking, painting, playing guitar, and volunteering in her free time. Anna is the President of Students for Non-Violence at VT and is currently serving an internship at Virginia Organizing.

Brenny Cabezas 

My name is Brenny Cabezas and I am a senior at Virginia Tech. I am studying Political Science and I have a minor in Humanities, Science, and Technologies. I was born and raised in Virginia. My parents are from El Salvador and they immigrated to the United States at a young age. My favorite things to do in my free time is play my guitar and bass. I also love to listen to music, hike, paint, sing and dance. I hope to be able to graduate college and find a job in the government in a place where I can help people who are in need. 

Joy Brookhart

Joy Brookhart is a third year college student studying international relations. She is interested in the humanitarian global conflict side of international politics. She is from Orlando Florida and transferred to Virginia Tech this past year. In her free time she enjoys hiking with her dog and reading. 

Matthew Cultbreath

My name is Matthew Culbreath and I am a senior majoring in smart and sustainable cities. After graduation, my plans are to be a planner within a local government and eventually working my way up to be a city manager or country administrator. I enjoy hunting, fishing, and doing anything outdoors.