Toward a Political Economy of Neoliberal Climate Science

by Larry Lohmann

first published 25 July 2016

Mainstream scientific and political work on climate change tends to be organized around a binary division between adaptation and mitigation. Global warming – modelled as a nonhuman “nature” of molecular flows and heat exchanges – is seen to impact on an undifferentiated “society”, which returns the favour by, for example, limiting greenhouse gas emissions or re-engineering “nature” so that it can absorb more of them.

This peculiar dualism, which recapitulates other nature/society divides developed over the multi-century history of capital, nourishes certain kinds of science and politics but blocks others, and encourages certain kinds of scientists-nonscientist relationship over others. Critical political economy of climate science could help make for better science and politics not only by exploring the dualism's contingency, but also by challenging the dichotomy between climatology and politics. This work could benefit from exchanges with commoners, peasants and indigenous peoples whose movements have long been developing tools for contending with such binaries.

This paper is a version of a chapter in David Tyfield, Rebecca Lave, Samuel Randalls and Charles Thorpe (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of the Political Economy of Science (London, Routledge, 2017).