Clark, N. H.
Volatile worlds, vulnerable bodies: Confronting abrupt climate change.
Theory, Culture and Society, 27(2-3),
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The abrupt climate change thesis suggests that climate passes through threshold transitions after which change is sudden, runaway and unstoppable. This concurs with recent themes in complexity studies. Data from ice cores indicates that major shifts in global climate regimes have occurred in as little as a decade, and that for most of the span of human existence climate has oscillated much more violently than it has over the last 10,000 years. This evidence presents enormous challenges for international climate change negotiation and regulation, which has thus far focussed on gradual change. It is argued that existing social theoretic engagements with physical agency are insufficiently geared towards dissonant or disastrous physical events. Wagering on the past and future importance of abrupt climate change, the paper explores a way of engaging with catastrophic climatic change that stresses the inherent volatility and unpredictability of earth process, and the no-less inherent vulnerability of the human body. Drawing on Bataille and Derrida, it proposes a way of nestling the issue of environmental justice within a broader sense of immeasurable indebtedness to those humans who endured previous episodes of abrupt climate, and considers the idea of experimentation and generosity without reserve.
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