November 8, 2020

Empire, Amitav Ghosh

In his essay Empire for the extensive website Feral Atlas, Ghosh opens with a statement that in Asia

“the themes of Empire and power, rivalry and violence, are, implicitly or explicitly, central to the discussion of climate change.”

This statement, he goes on to describe, is in contrast to the ways climate change principally operates in the West where, under the rubrics of economics first and technology second, the discourse focuses on consumption, logistics, and related emissions. His opening is question is: Does an economistic framing eclipse other ways of considering the state of the world?

Capital “E” Economy has been exported around the globe (some have been its low-level labor; some its monetary beneficiaries, and many have swallowed its dream-state); it’s not as simple as a monolithic capitalocene, but a particular Anglophone variety that is particularly extractive and resource-intensive. Ghosh unpacks the hidden consumption practices beyond the individual footprint, and those heavy usages belong to the assertion of power and of Empire: the Pentagon, military is perhaps the largest consumer of energy worldwide, 24/7, in peace or war.

This military carbon footprint removed from sight, and instead we find ourselves focusing on per capita usages (“expenditures”), as per a neo-liberal lens would have it: emphasize the individual, not the systemic or institutional.

Today, concealment is vital to the effective use of power. In the case of the United States, this masking has been so successful that it is easy to forget that the military is not just the largest employer and investor in the United States but also one of the driving forces behind the American economy. Out of sight, out of mind, as the adage goes—and so it is that all matters related to the national security apparatus are excluded from the carbon footprint of the average American.