- Sovereignty, Capital, and Justice in the Warming World:Mann and Wainwright's Climate Leviathan
In April 2018, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau interrupted a continent-hopping tour (on which, among other things, he was to contribute to the effort to salvage the Paris Climate Accords) to convene a leaders' summit with the premiers of Alberta and British Columbia. The two western provinces had been at loggerheads for months over the transit of bitumen from Alberta's Tar Sands to a port in Barnaby, BC. Kinder Morgan—the Texas-based company behind the proposed $7.4 billion Trans Mountain pipeline project—was threatening to pull out. British Columbia insisted the environmental risks of the pipeline far outweighed any benefits, while Alberta and the Trudeau administration insisted the extractive sector remained key to Canada's vital economic and strategic interests. No representatives of First Nations or civil society groups affected by the project were invited to the summit, despite growing mobilizations and widespread opposition to the pipeline. The summit was, perhaps predictably, little more than a photo opportunity. Neither side budged in their position and the likelihood of a constitutional crisis grew. By the end of May, with Kinder Morgan's deadline fast approaching, the Trudeau government announced it would buy the aging pipeline—a bailout amounting to $4.5 billion CAD with the added promise it would privatize the infrastructure once upgrades were completed—while members of Federal Parliament were getting arrested at anti-pipeline blockades in BC.
Along with Emanuel Marcon in France and Angela Merkel in Germany, Trudeau is often held up as liberals' best chance for a planetary response to overlapping and growing economic, ecological, and social crises and the only hope for a green capitalism embedded within the normative framework of modern liberalism. The limits of such hope are on stark display in Trudeau's positioning around the Trans Mountain project. However, bailouts and privatizations locking in a carbon intensive future and (yet more) broken promises to indigenous peoples and the environment are not only typical of the Trudeau government. They are rather symptomatic of what Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright describe as an emerging planetary sovereignty in an era defined by climate change—a Climate Leviathan. As they observe, "the coming crisis is not 'unmanageable'; it is already here, already being managed by liberal capitalism (if rather badly). Indeed, they very 'manageability' of the crisis is part of the problem we face" (11). Mann and Wainwright describe the emergent Leviathan as a de facto and de jure planetary sovereign order endowed with the Hobbesian-Schmittian power to define normalcy and legitimacy, but also and perhaps primarily to distinguish those spaces and peoples that will adapt to an increasingly extreme environment from those that will be left exposed to the shocks to come. Under this regime, those who have contributed least to [End Page 993] climate change, and who have been most systematically excluded from the differentiated fruits of carbon capitalism, are most subject to the insecurities and displacements of the warming planet. Any fight for social justice in the present or future, they argue, will of necessity be a fight for climate justice.
Climate Leviathan arrives as anxieties about the stability of the global political economy and of planetary biosystems continue to rise. Precarity is an increasingly general condition, even in the comparatively affluent North. Extreme weather events displace growing numbers of peoples, especially but not only in the South. A common if murky belief that something radical needs to change—in economy, society, and ecology—is gaining strength and urgency. So too are critical and historical thought struggling to reconfigure the basic coordinates of the political, a task to which Mann and Wainwright contribute with their book. As they observe, "a stable concept of the political can only hold in a relatively stable world environment; when the world is in upheaval, so too are the definition and content of the realm of human life we call 'political.'" (xi).
In undertaking a reconfiguration of this kind, Climate Leviathan is organized...