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Environment and Loss

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Organizer: Chris Malcolm

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Today the thought of the environment is tied to the thought of loss. At times, the economy of loss is synonymous with the environment. Concerns about populations displaced by changing conditions evoke the loss of certain forms of life and labor. The development of new forms of extraction such as fracking, lignite coal mining, and tar sands figure a loss of ecological balance. Climate warming and new weather patterns suggest the breakdown and loss of seasonal cycles, as well as the loss of what was previously thought to be “normal”. In each of these cases, loss is construed as irreversible—desertified land is longer be able to be farmed, inundated coastlines become uninhabitable, relationships between species are unable to be re-established. If the environment is perceived through degradation, then the other side of this perception is to see it as in need of preservation—the retention of enclosures, protected statuses, and the abnegation of extractive practices. What is lost is imagined, on the one hand, to be completely destroyed—a marker of humanity’s destructive capacity, as well as its historical development—or, on the other hand, requiring redress and recovery.

We suggest that what appears as a structuring problem of environmental consciousness—that the environment is imagined through a loss that is paradoxically both irreversible and recoverable—sets a limit on what counts as environmental and what the conceivable relations to the environment might be. We maintain that contemporary climate change discourse remains stuck in two different patterns. One, found in both managerial and post-humanist discourses, involves a form of denial—assuring us that nothing need be lost, or ever truly could be said to be. The other, found in colonial and liberal discourses, appears as a double bind, offering the clarity and conceivable inclusivity of complicity—the acceptance or affirmation of total loss, and therefore the minimization of any discrete factor or behavior, providing the additional sense that a certain amount of destruction has always been the necessary cost of technological and social progress. These models of environmental consciousness foreground a sense that the subject of the experience of loss is one who is least affected by it, and can thereby conceive of it as happening to others. Such a position promotes analysis that begins and ends with the “uneven” or “disproportionate” effects of climate change on racialized and marginalized subjects rather than understanding the relations informed by settler colonialism, racism, and global capitalism as determinant of these effects.

We seek submissions that might speak to:

Forms of partial use, of seasonal, suspended, or maintenance work, and of temporary and provisional naming
Differentiated and undifferentiated environment(s)
Forms of life and labor that have never been registered or because they persist as damaged
Differences between resistance and disavowal
Instances wh

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