Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Contradiction, Intervention, and Urban Low Carbon Transitions

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Contradiction, Intervention, and Urban Low Carbon Transitions

Article excerpt

Abstract. This paper presents an analysis of contradictions in urban low carbon transitions as engines of change. Following Kojeve's reading of contradiction in Hegel's oeuvre, I argue that contradiction is a constitutive feature of low carbon interventions. This is an alternative to conventional readings of contradiction as a provisional encounter of opposites in which one will eventually cancel out the other. I unpack the concept of contradiction in three ways: first, by displaying a Hegelian-inspired understanding of contradiction in relation to change, time, and desire; second, by explaining how inherent contradictions can also be read in relation to the excesses that characterize the deployment of methods of calculation in low carbon interventions; and third, by situating these contradictions within the overall dynamics of carbon governance and purposive attempts to bring about a low carbon transition. The paper explores the practical implications of this analysis in a case of low carbon interventions in social housing in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The case study shows that, if contradictions are at the heart of low carbon interventions, contradiction analysis may provide a direction towards broader reconfigurations of social and technological practices and generate a desire to change.

Keywords: low carbon transitions, carbon governance, carbon calculus, contradiction, excess

Introduction

In January 2014 a leaked climate change report written by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, the IPCC, made news by stating that failing to address climate change in the next fifteen years would make the problem impossible to solve (The Guardian 2014). Indeed, every release of IPCC reports is accompanied by a renovated sense of urgency. The need to 'take action' is a central component of climate change narratives, such as those put forward, for example, by former United Nations secretary Kofi Annan (2014). These calls are directed both towards influencing international climate change negotiations at the United Nations annual Conference of Parties and towards generating practical actions that address climate change in specific local settings. For example, the United Nations' programme Momentum for Change, launched in 2011, recognizes small projects that, in the programme organizers' view, open pathways towards "the transformational societal shift underway to address climate change" (Rigg, 2013, page 5). The implication is that everyone must be involved in such transformation.

Empirically, there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that different actors, from individual citizens to private firms and governments, are taking action to address climate change in the wake of the disenchantment with international negotiations and the perceived lack of action at the national level (Hoffmann, 2011). These are separate interventions that attempt to bring about a global transformation to avoid detrimental climate change through local action, whether this is by demonstrating the functioning of technologies, changing lifestyles, or developing policy and social innovations. Such interventions are often associated with a call for a low carbon transition that emphasizes the need for rapid structural change (Smith et al, 2005). Low carbon interventions include heterogeneous initiatives from individual incentive programmes to the development of new systems of energy and transport provision (see, eg, UN-Habitat, 2011).

These climate change governance trends are most visible in cities, where local authorities alongside other public and private actors find governance arenas that render themselves open to intervention (Bulkeley, 2010). Looking at cities as laboratories to test the practical aspects of climate governance, climate change interventions are deployed in a highly experimental manner, open to uncertain results and with unintended consequences (Bulkeley and Castan Broto, 2013; Evans, 2011). …

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