Work-in-Progress Series/ Reading Group Spring 2024

Just Transitions Reading Group (1:30-2:30PM (GMT+1))

2.2.24 Marie Wuth (Hamburg University): Circular Politics: Potentials, Limits and Boundaries of an Arendtian Nature-Politics

The pressing problems we face in light of the environmental crisis, which poses an imminent threat to the basal conditions of actions and politics, urge us to find a sustainable model of Nature-Politics. Therefore, I shall introduce the concept “Circular Politics” that describes an approach of politics that is oriented towards the circularity of nature. Not only does this seemingly refute the meaning of politics, that is freedom, and hamper action. Circular Politics, moreover, crosses the boundaries Arendt drew between “the World” and Nature as well as between the political, social, and private. Instead of replicating Arendt’s sharp conceptual boundaries, I shall introduce a sustainable ecological concept into her theoretical framework: “Planetary Boundaries.” Circular Politics is a response to these boundaries that are suitable to demarcate what Arendt hoped to protect with her boundaries, which is a safe space for action. Thus, despite its aim for circularity and appeal to Nature’s urgency, Circular Politics pursues to ensure the conditions and meaning of politics. This requires refraining from domination and exploitation of Nature’s resources and instead to focus on our coexistence with and in Nature. Connected to this concept is the promise for more participatory, non-hierarchical and collective practices and a call to relate to our surrounding with care and respect.

1.3.24 Virginia de Biasio (University of York): Not Just “Sinking Islands”: Natural Resources and Climate Adaptation in Kiribati

Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as Kiribati, are among the countries which are hit the most by the effects of climate change. In recent years, the (likely) possibility of entire countries disappearing due to sea-level rise has captured media attention, under the label of “sinking islands”. This topic has been increasingly considered by political theorists who have discussed the unprecedented case of a country’s complete loss of territory due to sea-level rise. Interestingly, the focus has mainly been on the future scenario of “inevitable relocation”. At the same time, scholars have been generally silent on the problem of scarce availability of natural resources, which is affecting the living conditions and the well-being of the local population, and which does not constitute only a future projection.

The main aim of this paper is to prove that adaptation efforts should be prioritised over plans for relocation, and to start casting light on the normative dilemmas raised by a close focus on adaptation in SIDS. In the first part of the paper, I argue that focusing mainly on relocation leads us to endorse a “doomsday” narrative which normalises the inevitability of territory loss, and obscures theoretically distinct and interesting problems related to how to manage resources that are growing scarcer and scarcer in the short- to medium-term, whether or not relocation to a different territory will eventually become necessary. In the second part of the paper, I start to cast light on some of the normative dilemmas raised by a focus on in situ adaptation, and I defend a community-based approach to climate adaptation in SIDS.

5.4.24 Jonathan Kwan (NYU Abu Dhabi): The Eco-Political Wrongs of Colonialism

The main accounts of the wrongs of colonialism in political philosophy and political theory, despite their disagreements, all conceptualize colonialist wrongs in purely political terms: whether as political domination, cultural imposition, exploitation, territory taking, or a mix of these features. This ignores the claims of Indigenous communities and scholars who frequently characterize the ecological violence of colonialism, not just its political dimensions, as fundamental to its wrongness. Building off Indigenous insights, I develop an eco-political principle of self-determination to explain some of the central wrongs of colonialism as at once both political and environmental. I argue that a people’s right to self-determination over a given territory is normatively linked to a duty of ecological sustainability and a right of ecological integrity insofar as territory is partly constituted by ecosystems that are a material pre-requisite for human life and political society. This eco-political principle of self-determination unifies and explains many central wrongs of colonialism—such as forced displacement, the spread of infectious diseases, the building of pipelines, the dumping of toxic waste, climate change, etc.—which include but is not necessarily limited to the taking of territory. I end by responding to the objection that my view, insofar as it links self-determination with a duty of ecological sustainability, could license a kind of green colonialism if Indigenous peoples did not sustain their territories and if new settlers could do so instead.

3.5.24 Kerstin Reibold (UiT – The Arctic University of Norway): Sovereignty, sustainability and the Hobbesian Mistake – why an ecologically appropriate conception of land matters

The article argues that the conception of land as divisible property that underlies traditional conceptions both of land and of sovereignty is problematic in that in not just ignores the actual interdependence of land through the ecosystems it houses but also undermines collective cultural and environmental self-determination. It discusses three examples that show that the concept of land as divisible and independent from other land underlies both dominant concepts of sovereignty and self-determination and some of the central concepts employed in political theory to address land rights in the context of climate change and historic injustice. The article first sketches the development and underlying rationale behind the concept of territorial sovereignty. It argues that climate change has forced us to question the old understanding of sovereignty and moves us more toward a relational understanding of self-determination in its stead. Next, the article critically engages with the idea of spoilage as a limit to land rights. It argues that similar to the notion of sovereignty, there is an exclusive focus on land as a means for human autonomy which disregards other roles of land and its function in ecosystems that cross borders of states and property. Lastly, the article proposes that the idea of land as separate and divisible, to be shaped into whatever humans need for exercising their autonomy also invites conceptions such as downsizing of fair shares and supersession which disregard how the intactness and specificity of certain ecosystems is necessary for collective and individual self-determination and how cutting them up undermines self-determination.

07.06.24 Jeroen Hopster (Utrecht University): Which ‘losers’ of the climate transition deserve compensation? The role of legitimate expectations.

The climate transition thwarts the status quo expectations of stakeholders of various kinds, including individuals, corporations, countries. A just transition presupposes that, under certain conditions, stakeholders whose expectations are frustrated are entitled to transitional relief. For which stakeholders does such an entitlement hold? This paper discusses the scope of legitimate expectations in a just climate transition. It does so in two steps: 1) by clarifying and engineering the concept of ‘legitimate expectations’; 2) by assessing which stakeholders can reasonably make a claim to having expectations of the right kind. This discussion yields a conceptual and a normative insight. Conceptually, the concept of ‘legitimate expectations’ is ambiguous between normative expectations that supervene on anticipations, and normative expectations that are grounded in anticipations. Normatively, legitimate expectations of the former kind can be rightfully claimed by various kinds of stakeholders. The stakeholders which can rightfully claim expectations of the latter kind, on the other hand, are limited.

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