Detonating ‘Pristine Nature’ in the Atomic Age

Metallica’s ‘Fight Fire with Fire’ (1984) from their album Ride the Lightning discusses the logic of MAD and nuclear warfare. Their song captures a feeling of planetary danger and possibility of broken worlds contained within the atomic age and Cold War politics.


I asked you to review a few chapters from Timothy W. Luke’s book, Anthropocene Alerts: Critical Theory of the Contemporary as Ecocritique (2019) this week as we transition away from the philosophical space created by Mulgan. We will use Luke to add flesh to Mulgan’s imagined scenario and speak back to it to produce an analytic lens for organizing data and performing meta-analyses. Luke’s chapters speak to another crisis – a crisis in political and policy expertise – that could be helping to produce the Broken Futures imagined by Mulgan. I will drop reminders where necessary to tie together the two thinkers and you should see how synthesis of texts is performed through my citations so keep an eye on who I’m citing and when to see how the lens is constructed. 

If you notice, Luke’s book is actually a compendium of essays he has written addressing what is being called ‘The Anthropocene’ and some of them date from 1983 and onward. The chapters I asked you to review have all been written and published in the past 5-10 years and this is important to notice because he is dropping plenty of factual information throughout. Science, especially climate science, changes with a few things remaining constant such as understanding global change through deepening global temperature extremes, polar temperature rises, changing ocean currents, species extinctions, and some of the effects of pollution. The alarm bells Luke is sounding have been going for a while and there’s historical evidence pointing to environmental concerns as early as British industrialization, which, depending on who you ask, could be dated as early as 1760. Importantly, Luke is concerned with global environmental governance and grounds many of his claims historically, but the era that concerns him most in the chapters assigned is known as the Great Acceleration, which is typically dated somewhere around the post-WWII productive boom around the 1950’s and is geographically understood as emanating primarily from the US and its allies but also post-war Soviet industrialization. Don’t worry, Luke is highly critical of the Soviets and the environmental effects of their centralized planning, but his intellectual honesty spares no one and he reflexively turns around to examine his country within the patchwork of global environmental governance. 

Global Environmental ‘Experts’ and Instrumentality:

In many ways, Luke is trying to understand how the notion of ‘the environment’ governs global interaction. ‘The environment’ here is taken as a discursive object with a history seated, at least, in scientific conversation. How that object is constituted is loosely identified with how it is used, understood and enacted to build discourses about that object. In other words, if you want to know ‘the environment’ in this day and age you can ask a few ‘experts’ who might be coming from different schools and disciplines. One could ask an earth systems scientist, an environmental studies professor, an atmospheric chemist, geologist…the list goes on. However, one could also understand ‘the environment’ differently than just ‘the out there’ or ‘the outside’ or anything ‘natural’ indexed to it. If you have seen it on your SPOTs, the built ‘environment’ might also be part of ‘the environment’ and so asking an urban planner, architect, medical doctor or even psychologist might be ways of understanding ‘the environment.’

Luke is not far off from doing these things. He is looking for how ‘the environment’ or ‘the Anthropocene’ as discourses function related to global environmental governance. In this way, he is really more interested in how meso-scale objects, such as governments, NGOs and commercial organizations understand and enact ‘environmentalism.’ The interesting features here are that those meso-scale objects play a deep role in how our worlds are put together, enacted and understood, and this may imply disciplinary political orders hiding under the surface of environmentalist discourse. Understanding Luke’s commentary on global environmentalism requires understanding those meso-scale actors as part of global infrastructure, global organization, global politics, culture, economics, and, as he is at lengths to say, ‘the global environment.’ If you notice, many of the institutions Luke discusses ride on the sense that they contain ‘experts’ and thus are capable of rule through ‘expert knowledge.’ Many of these ‘experts’ are housed within corporate organizations that are based on hierarchy and incentivize subjects acting on behalf of their organizations for a number of reasons including economic gain, subjective meaning-making, and the production of operational legitimacy.

You’ll notice that Luke has a pretty bleak picture of how environmentalism is going and has gone and it’s important to recognize that there are many environmentalisms coming from across the political spectrum. If you look around, you’ll see lots of organizations touting themselves as environmentally friendly or sustainable or conscious even as they’re demonstrating how out of touch they are with mainstream environmental discourse. Cruise ships and their parent companies, for example, have things like environmental programs that are typically run through either in-house units operating like an internal, company-oriented environmental agency, or some third party paid to verify that a company is living up to whatever the environmental standards of that third party happen to be. Leaving aside how any company that runs ships belching out the equivalent carbon output of a million cars in a day, for one ship, 364 day a year, for the pleasures of globally wealthy people getting drunk on a boat, could possibly call itself environmentally conscious, I’ll simply signal that Luke savages organizations participating in greenwashing through a special form of criticism I address below. 

Luke is a master of what’s called immanent critique and he has taken that form of analysis and plugged it into understanding environmental discourse. Immanent critique is a fairly intuitive form of thought that refers to criticizing an object or a discourse on its own terms – or from ‘within’. In other words, the criticism comes from within the very formation you might be analyzing and this can run in a few different ways. Luke typically takes a discourse, such as how ‘experts’ and ‘expertise’ is what guides governing decisions, and shows how that isn’t the case. This typically amounts to using empirical particulars to blow apart unfounded universalisms or abstractions that simply don’t make sense under analysis. These movements typically illuminate details otherwise swept over and can help identify problem areas in thinking and practice. For example, it is out of touch with evidence to suggest that there is still a ‘pristine nature’ somewhere on this planet as the planetary biosphere not only shows evidence of human intervention, but the actions of meso-actors actually leaving indelible evidence of their politics within materiality:

The genesis of this book rises directly for me from two closely connected events that gave contemporary human begins the power to cause extreme environmental change on a planetary scale capable of registering in deep geological time: the atomic bomb tests on July 16, 1945, at the Trinity Test Site near Alamogordo, New Mexico, and August 29, 1949, at the Semipalatinsk Test Site near Kurchatove City, Kazakhstan…During the next fourteen years, the United States exploded another 119 nuclear devices in atmospheric or ground tests at its more isolated Nevada Test Site, while the Soviet Union tested 116 comparable devices at Semipalantinsk until the Partial Test Ban Treaty was signed on August 5, 1963, by the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United kingdom to outlaw all atmospheric, outer space, and underwater nuclear tests after October 10, 1963 (Luke, 2019. vii-viii). 

Due to the totalizing nature of atmospheric circulation of radioactive isotopes, it seems materially ignorant to argue that there is a space on this planet that could be called ‘natural’ and pristine as impacts from atomic testing are and can be understood through its organic bodies. 

Though the global effects of nuclear testing are still being understood by scientists of all stripes, localized effects of nuclear detente can be seen in landscapes and bodies of people, animals, plants and rock: 

“This endangerment is personal for me because my family and I lived two counties away from the Nevada Test Site in Kingman, Arizona…Those showered by bursts of radioactive isotopes or irradiated dust clouds became ‘Downwinders,’ who carried with them forever the ‘known unknowns’ of radiological toxic burdens, particularly if they remained in the region drinking the water, eating plants from the soil, and coexisting with the settled dust…The deleterious effects of these nuclear tests already have devastated the environment of this region, and their long-lived toxic consequences have degraded the health of many friends, family and me for decades. (Luke, 2019. viii-ix). 

Atomic testing is but one example Luke uses to criticize environmentalist discourse that overly romanticizes a ‘nature’ independent of the ‘social’ sphere. If you notice, the above means that ‘the natural’ and the ‘social,’ if they were ever distinct realms of action, are deeply entwined with one another in that they show the history of one within the other. ‘Natural orders’ in the above were altered through the actions of nation-states maintaining ‘global order’ through displays of atomic annihilation such that nuclear global order registers as a distinct ‘time’ within global stratigraphy, and atmospheric science. That is, the discourses used to understand and interpret ‘nature’ – i.e. science,’ now must recognize political activity within its observations if, for example, it were attempting to explain how atmospheric concentrations of Strontium-90 ‘got into’ the Earth’s air, soil and water at levels higher than before the Partial Test Ban Treaty. Conversely, if we were to understand how environmental orders shift, we would have to appeal to politics in our explanations of ‘natural’ phenomena.

Taking the example above, Luke’s style of criticism is called ‘ecocritique’ which he has refined since at least 1997 with the publication of his book Ecocritique: Contesting the Politics of Nature, Economy and Culture and this advances immanent critique in a few dimensions. Typically, Luke is practicing what is known as Negative Dialectics, a style of thinking formalized and popularized by Theodore Adorno of Frankfurt School fame. You’ll notice that while Luke mounts conceptual criticisms in a similar way to Mulgan from last week, he typically includes empirical remarks to animate his criticisms and give them scientific grounding. Sometimes this is from the perspective of history, other times from current scientific works, but the movement is to recognize how the material can function as a negative to a concept. This can take lots of different forms but it, again, is fairly intuitive. In the above example, a ‘pristine nature’ makes no sense because the very air we breathe, the soil from which stuff grows and the water that falls on the earth all contain the material evidence of political interaction with environmental components such that ‘the environment’ changed from a less irradiated world in 1939, to a more irradiated planet, the politics of which were conditioned by harnessing the destructive power of the atom to threaten other political orders. In this sense, the biosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere all changed due to technical activity perpetrated by ‘experts’ housed within massive organizations – meso-scale actors: 

Hence my approaches to ecocritique express life-long trepidations about the uneasy balance between ‘science and survival’ in how I articulate the critical theory of the contemporary…Even though they create the material means for economic abundance, rapid transportation, good housing, more food, and weapons of immense power, the inventors and users of high technologies blunder into perpetuating old dangerous styles of production. Those exploitative patterns developed only ‘by plundering the earth’s natural resources,’ whose destruction and depletion inevitably must ‘be paid by later generations’” (Luke, 2019. ix).   

You’ll notice in the above that Luke, similar to Mulgan, is concerned with future planetary orders but has a specific focus on the empirical details Mulgan may be missing. I suggest that the two are complimentary in that while Mulgan is developing criticisms of liberalism by subjecting its canonical normative frameworks to his Broken World thought experiment, Luke is looking at the empirical dynamics suggesting broken world thinking through his ecocriticisms by smashing the stated aims of meso-scale actors against their actions and the worlds they are helping to create. At bottom, both are interested in the logics constructing broken futures, but they approach critical thinking from different sides with Luke favoring empirical analysis and Mulgan favoring conceptual analysis. 

We will examine more spaces and places that may display broken world logics in the weeks following but getting a handle on how environmental discourse can be instrumentalized and used to rule populations is critical if we’re to pullback any ideological greenwashing and understand the dynamics enervating political-environmental orders. Another feature of Luke’s thought is a focus on what I will call instrumentality but it is important to know that he has used that term only offhandedly in much of his writing. For us, instrumentality will speak to a loose set of dynamics in which an instrument can discipline and govern behavior. This can be understood if you play a musical instrument in that one typically must adjust body position, and so the instrument itself – how it is constituted materially – influences or governs behavior, but one can think of an ‘instrument’ as something used in attempts to accomplish a desired end that can affect whole populations or meso-actors, such as a policy like the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

Luke applies the thinking above to understanding ‘the Anthropocene’ as political-environmental discourse. He conceives of the concept itself, and the discursive fields it helps create and sediment, as a global disciplinary instrument used by certain actors to achieve political-economic ends: 

This Anthropocene’s new narrative frame must be recognized as yet another Western or largely westernized, technoscience project and governance assemblage meant to control the earth and other human beings from afar. And it is striving to maintain, or reassert, technological, political, economic, and cultural dominance by pushing this climatological conception of geopolitical trends. The strategic goals, whether they relate to the opening of the Arctic Ocean to greater ocean-borne commerce with climate change or keeping rapid decarbonization policies running slowly, still keep the command-control-communication of climate change adaptation over the near term and long run in the hands of G-7 (or maybe G-20 economic coalitions of wealthy nation-states) to justify the policy conditions their ruling expert elites set for the earth’s planetary stewardship (Luke, 2019. 10-11).

It is important to note that the quote above is something he must argue for, and you’ll notice that his citations are missing in the remarks above aside from the first sentence quoted. Foreshadowing the chapters to come, it is obvious that Luke too is asking for and working toward new political-environmental understandings and imaginaries as Mulgan is, but he builds his concepts from empirical studies to get a ‘lay of the land’ before recommending changes. 

You’ll notice that much of what Luke does is point to problems within orders that must be addressed and many of those problems emanate from logics Mulgan and his Broken World philosophy class would find impracticable, irrelevant or simply immoral given their material conditions. Though critical, Luke is about clearing away bad answers for better futures: 

Remaining alert and engaged to these trends, therefore, through continuously developing more engaged ecocritique through critical theories of the contemporary is vital. With such insights, collapse need not be complete, resilience might well prevail over the ravages of ecosystemic degradation, and the pragmatics of continuous environmental resourcification for greater growth could be forsaken to embrace a more ethical way of life for human and nonhuman beings’ existence in different political communities, even amid the deep daily disruptions to the earth itself now in a new epoch eagerly being branded as the Anthropocene (Luke, 2019. 15).

Importantly above, one must recognize that political communities are always already environmental communities simply in their duties to delegate resources and create orders. The converse is true, too, environmental communities (ecosystems really) are both part of and affected by politics to the point that their beings are supported by political systems. One can think, for a simple example, about hunting quotas and how those set proscriptive political limits to human behavior through policy that is supposedly grounded in scientific understanding of non-human communities and their needs. In this way, the regulation of ‘the natural’ – say whitetail deer populations – is cashed in ‘the political’ by actually regulating human behavior in relation to those non-human populations with meso-scale actors – state regulatory bodies – ‘speaking for’ the perceived needs of their non-human populations. How things are spoken for, when, by whom and to whose benefit are critical dynamics in understanding the enmeshment of science and politics in the creation of global environmental orders and their governance through instruments and their instrumentality. Below are a few places in Luke’s text where we should look for broken world politics and fill-in some of Mulgan’s criticisms with Luke’s empirics.

Reading Global Environmental Orders and Seeing Broken Worlds:

Without lengthy exegesis like the above, I want to point out specific places within the readings that are helpful for wrapping our heads around Luke’s ecocriticisms and Broken World Politics. I want to cement that we’re really interested in the political-environmental dynamics Luke discusses, and less the political actors attributed to those dynamics. While it is important to recognize the environmental rollbacks of the Trump administration, it isn’t particularly helpful if we cannot apply our thinking to any administration so I’ll focus principally on the logics displayed and less on the who’s who. You’ll recognize that Luke does criticize Democrats and Leftists (they’re some of his main targets) but it is more muted than Trump and the political-economic cadre he installed. Regardless of your partisan politics, I hope you can see the deeper problematic logics at play and recognize that this class is no-holds-barred and would criticize anyone and anything displaying broken world thinking.

Thematically, chapters 12-15 address the death and failure of expertise in environmental governance. This is less so through criticizing ‘the science’ and more an immanent critique of the political institutions supposedly regulating ‘the environment’ at different scales. Chapter 14 is perhaps an exception in that the communities Luke examines are global and primarily digital, but the general logics of their thinking are on full display and fit within the failure of expertise to create a political-environmental imaginary that isn’t recasting the same logics that lead to global environmental crises in the first place. You’ll notice that Luke is really about unearthing how certain environmental circles do little more than recast old thinking that brought the planet to face the possibilities of broken futures while dressing that thinking as if it were something new. This is committed for a number of reasons, and Luke nails many organizations for instrumentalizing ‘the environment’ for their own purposes like expanding operations, holding and privatizing more land, or intellectual property, or just manufacturing operational legitimacy to satisfy the governing logics of all organizations existing within capitalist ecosystems – if you’re not expanding, you’re dying. Taking Luke and Mulgan together, we see that both are mounting imminent critiques of the same old stuff that got the state of planetary affairs to where it is. While Mulgan gives deeper treatment to patterns of logic he finds undesirable from the perspective of his thought experiment, Luke provides examples of broken world logics recast in political institutions and environmental movements.

Tourism frequently invokes the notion of a ‘pristine’ or ‘untouched’ Nature as a property of planetary space. This is typically used to woo potential travelers to come to an area or country as part of economic and national strategy. French Polynesia, with its azure waters, mountainous landscapes and tropical atolls has served as a French protectorate and territory since at least the time of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and has, since his paintings, served as a picture of ‘pristine’ or ‘untouched’ Nature and Wilderness. The considerations below upend that representation and the above serves as evidence of how a false or artificial negative can operate in global discourse.

The production and distribution of artificial negativity is a dynamic Luke notices across our chapters. Artificial negativity, for our purposes, can be thought of as when a position is manufactured and promoted as antithetical to another but in fact does not represent a real resistance to its counterpoint. Plugged into negative dialectics, an artificial negative is something that will masquerade – even if innocently and in ignorance – as a solution to a problem, but actually just complicates and deepens that problem creating degrading conditions. Luke points to the failure of environmentalism since the 1970s in the US as an artificial negative in that they largely failed to understand and criticize the forces and processes they opposed (Luke, 2019. 295). In part, their failures included the commercial production and spread of artificial negativity through the proliferation of environmental non-governmental organizations that have taken a top-down, technocratic, or simply off-base approach to environmental remediation and governance (Luke, 2019. 290) trading integrity and mission for fame, power and money. This is largely due to the spread and popularization of enlightenment thinking, examined by both Luke and Mulgan, as global world-making projects that conceive ‘nature’ as a standing reserve of resources for the domination of ‘Man’ and the betterment of his society while occluding or assimilating differing ways of relating to ‘nature (Luke, 2019. 291).’

We have seen time and again throughout the history of atomic testing that governments either do not know, or do not care about the immediate after effects of radiological poisoning. This is counter to technocratic assurances and points to the insecurity of ‘certainty’ as a concept. Empirically speaking, it is difficult, if not impossible to make any prediction ‘with certainty’ and the notion should be displaced for more probabilistic language. As we will see, how knowledge is produced is often, if not always, seated within a technological context and instruments help mediate scientific and technological understanding thus helping to produce worldviews.

Discussing Adorno, Luke refers to the totalitarian ambitions of projects emanating from ‘Modernization’ or ‘modernity’ recognizing that extractive industrialism has proliferated as a dominant form of life across the planet and thus constitutes, in part, a global-economic environmental order (Luke, 2019. 292). Ultimately, this speaks to the primacy of markets as mediators of and resulting from political-environmental relationships and constitutes a sort of terraformation reliant on expanding technological infrastructures necessary to govern flows of people, materials, energy, water, and other infrastructures vital to functioning social bodies (Luke, 2019. 293). It is these sorts of global orders that are reliant on extractivism and massive technological networks that worry Luke as orders of expanding artifice related to the rule and governance of people through things and their relationships to materiality or ‘the environment (Luke, 2019. .’

Luke is concerned by environmental orders reliant on extractivism and industrialization for a number of reasons. Germane to the above is that those orders have typically been built on a foundation of technocractic rule and anti-democracy (Luke, 2019. 264 and 296). If you notice, many of the environments you inhabit and rely on are not automatically recognizable as ‘natural.’ As we have seen above, the global environment itself cannot be called strictly ‘natural’ if one adopts a minimally empirical view of it by recognizing human activity within ‘the environment.’ This leads both Adorno, and Luke to claim that segments of humanity living in and as the Age of Affluence, as Mulgan puts it, live within and through artifice, and one only needs to consider the globally dominant mode of political-economic organization – the corporation – and recognize them as artificial persons – which they are, legally speaking – to see that many of us live, communicate and operate through ‘artificial’ systems. The spread of enlightenment thought – especially grounded in Hobbes – included the proliferation of corporate lifeforms and the centralize-command-communicate structures they embody as the spread of an increasingly processed world at the command of technocrats. 

Downwinders are looking for redress against their governments all over the world as they live and deal with the effects of radioactive fallout within their environments. This shows a ‘do first and ask for forgiveness later’ kind of thinking that helps produce broken futures in the locales and lives of people sacrificed at the alter of ‘national need.’ Depending on which national government one analyzes, the problems associated with technocratic decision-making regarding atomic testing can be articulated and understood differently with some people having no ability to petition their governments or move from contaminated areas. As the clips above note, some people have had to live with the effects of radiological damage their whole lives, sometimes seeing its affects generations later, without any official recognition of their conditions. Some claimants die before hearing a word of apology from the institutions that are supposed to protect them.

The technocrat is a social formation endemic to machinic organization like industrial production. They were found in the Soviet Union and indeed the New Class as they were called have been found in capitalist modernity too. They are a sort of managerial class tasked with manipulating material and symbolic orders on behalf of large-scale machinery like governments and corporations. Claims to specialized knowledge and expertise ground their claims to operational legitimacy and they are typically tasked with overseeing flows of commodities, resources, people and machinery – including less material items like algorithms, money (a symbolic order) and intellectual property. In some ways, I am a sort of New Class manager as I watch over and evaluate your course performance to assign a letter based on a number that is then fed into machinic networks flowing throughout campus that somehow attaches to you personally. Speaking from my position and Luke’s, technocrats project an illusion of control and their claims to knowledge are often just backed up by structural positions within organizations and not individual fiat (Luke, 2019. 300).

‘Energy Dominance’ was a discursive shift in governmental priorities that helped accelerate US oil and natural gas exports. As you’ll see above in this clip from 2017, then Secretary Ryan Zinke makes predictions and dodges about US energy needs and the possible futures of global oil prices. this five year old clip shows an oil salesman installed into a high governmental position that helps control public lands and waters in the US. You’ll see that his job, as far as he is concerned, is to open more preserved public lands, such as your national parks and federal wilderness areas to more drilling and extraction. They did it, after shrinking Bears Ears National Monument, and others, through an institutional double-speak favoring the status quo over exploring alternative energy sources. Zinke includes useless and ancillary information, such as his military service, which has little to nothing to do with his position as someone caring for public lands and supposedly mediating governmental authority over industrial desire. His emphasis on fracking allows for more extraction to continue on lands previously designated as unattractive for oil and drilling. Nothing is certain and you’ll see below that his predictions are little more than sales bullshit and sophistry.

The above is troubling because technocrats aren’t typically elected and so rule through them is a sort of anti-democracy. There are slippages, of course: I can become a share holder within a company and exercise my right to speak at meetings, but this requires a buy-in and already places democratic redress behind a pay-barrier and this assumes that the company in question is publicly traded. The Neo-reactionary thinkers Luke examines in Chapter 14 are in favor of accelerating the stresses placed upon nation-states by global change to crash democracy and institute a global polyarchic corporatocracy (Luke, 2019. 264, 272). This movement is concerned with the ‘Dark Enlightenment’ and, as we have reviewed Mulgan and seen how liberal normative registers might crash under broken world conditions, the NRx thinkers Luke examines might be imagining a very real possibility as corporate decision-making is typically instrumentalist in nature and speaks closest to utilitarianism. Though I didn’t ask you to read Mulgan’s evaluations of utilitarianism, it bears mention that his survival lotteries and the ‘protection agencies’ he imagines in place of the nation-state, grow out of his application of the Broken World thought experiment to both act and rule utilitarianism. Thus, global corporatocracy imagined and pushed by NRx thinkers might speak to an immanent and virtual feature of Enlightenment thought under crisis and may lead to forms of environmental fascism (Luke, 2019. 289). How this cashes out is explored by Luke to a degree and can include transhumanist desires for editing humans to create a super-race that would presumably lord over the undesigned echoing worries expressed in the film Gattaca (Luke, 2019. 284). Regardless, the Dark Enlightenment is about expanding the rule of technology such that humanity and the planet are both part and product of its rule (Luke, 2019. 282). In other words, they hasten the expansion and rule of artifice through their technocheauvenism and thus work to further process ‘the environment’ in attempts to rule it and the technologically undeserving or unenlightened. As we saw in Mulgan, this sort of thinking won’t avoid broken worlds.

You’ll see above that crude prices are over double the price per barrel that Zinke predicts and uses to ground his appeals for more drilling and US Energy Dominance as a discourse. You’ll see that only a few days ago, Secretary Buttigieg discusses the intricacy of global systems and take a more humble position regarding his ability to predict the behavior of markets. You’ll see that oil prices can be and are influenced in ways that can be unexpected, such as a fall in demand during a pandemic, a decrease in oil distribution, and then a returning demand under conditions such as warfare in a major oil transport corridor – Ukraine.

Seeing government as business, the Dark Enlightenment wishes to accelerate business as government, perhaps forgetting that any business will throw its employees – their serfs – on the street if it is in company interest (Luke, 2019. 268) and it looks as if they’re under the misguided assumption that ‘efficiency’ is a good in and of itself without recognizing it as constitutive of systems and thus indexed to whether those systems are any good as Adolf Eichmann learned at the Nuremberg Trials. The same could be said for states under duress but the governing logic of capitalist organization is centered on profit, while government might be more concerned with operational legitimacy, security, public welfare, ect,. This sort of governance may run into Rawls’ objection to utilitarianism – the index of persons, but at bottom, the NRx thinkers Luke examines wish for an antihumanist dictatorship of machine relations and are accelerating ecological collapse to stress the nation-state and purge it of democracy (Luke, 2019. 264, 269, 272). As you’ll recall, Mulgan is suspicious of democracy but seems to favor it when it can care for future persons, and with hierarchic corporatocracy based on technocratic regimes as possible futures within the logics of Enlightenment thinking, the Dark Enlightenment may follow ‘The Anthropocene’ as industry representative fill positions that are supposed to govern them and their industries as we saw in Luke’s chapter 13.  

Secretary Perry, who went before the European Commission to offer them ‘a new Marshall Plan’ in energy through US natural gas production. This pivot during the Trump administration included deepening US energy exports to Europe ‘should a war break out’ that interrupts European energy supply. We can see how petropolitics combined with technocratic rule can continue status quo thinking without actually addressing problems. Gas is pretty much gas and the carbon emissions from burning a gallon of it change little regardless of engines with ‘better emissions’ and dodging carbon dioxide release as a metric means that one can manipulate larger fields of information based on ’emissions’ rather than what is thought to be the primary culprit of global climate change atmospherically – the accelerated release of carbon dioxide into the planet’s atmosphere.

Luke explores an example of environmental governance producing artificial negativity through corporate rule within the Trump administration and the industry faithful stacked in advisory positions created to police their industries (Luke, 2019. 259). Trump’s attacks on scientific expertise followed a discourse grounded in a false dichotomy catching subjects in a grind between ‘environment’ and ‘jobs’ or ‘growth’ (Luke, 2019. 247). The widespread use of this discourse is coupled with an anti-scientific expert attitude within the previous administration, favoring, instead, installing fossil fuel lobbyists and shareholders in key positions responsible for the execution of scientific policy (Ibid). The movements above were key in understanding Trump’s environmental nationalism which favored US growth at the expense of all others, but this was centered on attaining and maintaining US ‘Energy Independence’ as a national development project incubated under Carter, fulfilled under Obama, and changed under Trump to US ‘Energy Dominance (Luke, 2019. 245).’ Don’t let anyone lie to you, we are the largest energy exporter in the world and have plenty of gas and untapped plays the contents of which aren’t known or widely shared with the public. If you were paying attention to the MVP pipeline discussions, it was initially sold to Virginians as ‘domestic consumption’ only pipeline, but quickly turned to export availability once approved. The use of executive privilege to install technocrats in key positions represents the corruption and failure of scientific policy in the US, and, as we saw with Mulgan, nationalism simply won’t work in the Broken World (Luke, 2019. 253). Thus, while we may live in processed worlds, wildness can emerge through sources of artificial negativity and help to produce broken futures if not addressed by an actual negative like when the Environmental Defense Fund sued the EPA to do its job and helped remove the widespread use of DDT, which ravaged ecosystems, before they folded back in on themselves and started producing artificial negativity on an industrial scale. In the ways above, environment, ‘experts,’ technology, and science can become instruments in battles over our shared lived conditions locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.  

This video is taken from a conference plenary session on the ‘Dark Enlightenment’ in 2019 and discusses the interiority of NRx thought. You’ll see Luke featured around 11 minutes, but the whole session is worth a watch, including the first speaker, Courtney Hodrick of Stanford University. The session ends with audience reactions and you’ll see the panelists deal with questions, additions and hecklers.