Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Paper Proposal - Forests, Frontiers, and Carbon Dioxide

For my final paper, I want to delve deeper into some of the issues surrounding forests and climate change policy that I looked at in my most recent blog post. In particular, I want to address the current excitement over a policy idea called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) that is attracting billions of dollars in investments from major NGOs and national governments. While this is a somewhat specific topic, I am hoping to use it as a vehicle for discussing a more general set of questions about carbon markets, frontiers, conservationism, and neoliberalism. First,  I want to interrogate the carbon market model, by understanding carbon markets on Beck's terms of a "market of risk." I'm also interested in understanding the work of affect and imagination that the creation of carbon markets requires. Only through imagination does carbon dioxide - one of the earth's most common elements - come to have a significant monetary value. Only through fantastic nightmares of sea level rise and global warming disaster do people want to start paying money to keep forests alive. Here, I expect to turn towards Tsing's discussion of capitalism as an exercise in dreams and speculation.

While I could certainly write an entire paper on carbon markets, I think REDD provides a really neat bridge between many of the texts and theories we have tackled this semester. To me, REDD is an amazing example of globalized neoliberalism and calculative logic. While the forest peoples living in these countries may see the forest as a rich and social landscape, REDD policymakers see the forest only for its carbon value, which they measure with satellites and other fancy tools of surveillance. Here I think Thrift's article on calculation might helpful. Likewise, REDD relies on a very particular understanding of the frontier. While the first wave of capital that flooded into countries like Indonesia supported mining and logging, we are now seeing a new wave of capital in support of preserving forests as carbon sinks. While these two scenarios seem quite different, they actually rely upon many of the same assumptions. In the first, the frontier must be exploited in order to preserve the status quo of energy and consumption in industrialized countries. In the second scenario, the frontier must be kept pure and forested in order for the same industrialized countries to continue polluting and adding carbon to the air. Either way, industrialized countries must control the frontier in order to maintain "business as usual." In Sleep Dealer, the American government used drones to restrict Mexican access to the water sources. In a similar way, we may eventually see a day when Western governments and corporations restrict local access to tropical forests so that industrialized countries may exploit those forests' C02-storing capabilities. Tsing, of course, will be enormously helpful here, but I also think Ahmed provides some really useful ways of thinking about the frontier as an affective space that I would like to explore.

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