Climate crisis and the actuarial imaginary: 'the war on global warming'

Winter 2009

Has there ever been a climate crisis? Or an economic crisis? This paper critically interrogates the proposition that the present is a time of crisis. Focusing on mobilisations against climate change, we ask how this vision calls forth regimes of risk that walk the line between danger and opportunity, protection and profit. To tease out these logics of risk and investigate how they imply particular modes of governance and subjectivation, the paper introduces the concept of the actuarial imaginary. This holds in a single optic the calculative rationalities of risk and the affective atmosphere they generate. From this perspective we interrogate the prevalent claim that action against global warming requires a war footing. The strategies of security and securitisation mobilised to address climate change demand an analysis that refers, on the one hand, to the pre-emptive logic of the war on terror, and, on the other, to the global economic meltdown. Any struggle to reclaim the terrestrial commons must, by contrast, proceed on the recognition that these strategies involve processes of enclosure, whether predicated on the absolute rent of primitive accumulation or the relative rent of finance capital.

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