Eco-Managerialism: Environmental Studies as a Power/Knowledge Formation
Timothy W. Luke is University Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Washington University, St. Louis in 1981. His research interests are political and social theory, international politics, and environmental politics.
Tim Luke is Executive Director of the Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning, the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Political Science, and Co-Director of the Center for Digital Discourse and Culture in the College of Arts and Sciences at Virginia Polytechnic. He also was one of the founding members of the Virginia Tech Cyberschool in the College of Arts and Sciences. He launched the On Line Master of Arts degree in the Department of Political Science, which was the first fully on line MA degree for political science in the U.S.A. He is a member of Virginia Tech's Academy of Teaching Excellence, and a winner of the Wine and Alumni Teaching Awards.
Acknowledgements: Aurora Online would like to thank the Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, Toronto, Ontario for arranging a video recording of Timothy Luke's guest appearance on October 3, 2002 in conjunction with the York University Seminar Series 2002/3 - From Four Corners: Interdisciplinary Directions in 21st Century Environmental Studies.
Aurora gratefully acknowledges Timothy Luke and York University for their permission to make available the transcription as an addition to Aurora Online magazine.
I always enjoy coming up to Canada and speaking here. It gives me additional perspective to talk about environmental studies, environmental science in the United States, which really is what this particular text is oriented toward criticizing. I guess I would begin by saying that even though I come down hard on what I call eco-managerialism, in environmental science and environmental studies, I still believe that it's very important to engage in these intellectual and practical pursuits. But by the same token, I think that with "the unexamined life is not worth living", I think the unexamined profession is not worth doing. So that's where I'm coming from in doing this kind of work. In many ways, this particular piece takes off from an article in a book called Living with Nature, that came out a couple of years ago. But since then I've been pushing these ideas and refining them a little bit. It's, I hope, going to come out in another book I'm working on that I'm calling The Poverty of Practicality, which is a kind of distressing reaction that I've always gotten from people after they've read the eco-critique book and the capitalism and democracy and ecology book, saying, "Gee, that's a really nice critique, but where's the practicality to it?" So I'm trying to come up with what I think are the problems of practicality, while at the same time answering the question that I think people really are asking when they say that. So let me begin by talking about some of these ideas.
Before scientific disciplines and industrial technologies turn its' matter and energy into products, nature must be transformed by discursive processes into natural resources. Once nature is rendered intelligible through such practices, it is used to legitimize many political projects. I think one site for generating, accumulating, and circulating such knowledge about nature, as well as determining which human beings will be to society, is the modern research university, where we sit. As a primary structure for credentialing individual learners and legitimating collective teaching, universities help to construct our understanding of the natural world. Over the past generation, advanced study in environmental sciences on many university campuses, especially in the United States, has become a key source of key representations for the environment, as well as the home base of those scientific disciplines that generate analyses of nature's meanings. These educational operations also produce eco-managerialists, or those professional technical workers with specific knowledge as it has been scientifically or organizationally validated, and the operational power as it is institutionally constructed in governments at various levels, to cope with "environmental problems" on what are believed to be sound scientific and technical grounds. Professional technical experts working on and off campus create disciplinary articulations of various knowledge to generate performative techniques of power over, but also within and through, what is worked up as nature in the managerial structures of modern economies and societies. These institutionalized attempts to capture and contain the forces of nature underpin the strategies of eco-managerialism. Techno-scientific knowledge about the environment, however, is and always has been evolving with changing interpretive fashions, shifting political agendas, developing scientific advances. Such variations, as Foucault asserts designate a will to knowledge that is anonymous, polymorphous, and susceptible to regular transformations, and determined by the play of identifiable dependencies. What are some of these dependencies and perhaps some of these transformations? In this polymorphous combination of anonymous scientific environmental knowledge, with organized market and state power, as Foucault indicates, we find that it traverses and produces things. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than a negative instance, whose function is repression. Schools of environmental studies and colleges of natural resources often provide the networks in which the relations of this productive power set the categories of knowledge and the limits of professional practice through the training of eco-managerialism. In accord with the prevailing regimes of truth within science, academic centres of environmental studies reproduce these bodies of practice and types of discourse, which in turn the executive personnel managing contemporary state and social institutions, what they regard as objective, valid, or useful, to facilitate economic growth. From these discourses, one can define, as Foucault suggests, the way in which individuals or groups represent words to themselves, utilize their forms and meanings, compose real discourse, reveal and conceal it in what they are thinking or saying, perhaps unknown to themselves, more or less than they wish, but in any case leaving massive verbal traces of those thoughts which must be deciphered and restored as far as possible in their representative vivacity. So given these tendencies, might we look at the workings of eco-managerialism? Where life, labour, and language can join in a discourse of environmental studies, one finds another formation of power knowledge which shows how man and his being can be concerned with the things he knows, and know the things that in positivity determine his mode of being in highly vocalized academic constructions of "the environment." Instead, the environment emerges in part as a historical artifact of expert management that is constructed by these kinds of scientific interventions. And in this network of interventions, there is a simulation of spaces and intensification of resources and incitement of discoveries, and a formation of special knowledges that strengthen the control that can be linked to one another as the impericities of nature for academic environmental sciences and studies. And probably in many ways, the key impericity here I would say, is the process of what I call the resourcification of nature. How does nature get turned into resources? The new impericities behind eco-managerialism more or less presumes that the role of nature is one of a rough and ready resourcification for the global economy and national society. That is, the earth must be re-imagined to be little more than a standing reserve, a resource supply centre, a waste reception site. Once presented in this fashion, nature then provides human markets with many different environmental sites for the productive use of resourcified flows of energy, information, and matter, as well as the sinks, dumps, and wastelands for all of the by-products that commercial products leave behind. Nature then is always a political asset. Still, its fungiblization, its liquidification, its capitalization, and eco-managerialism cannot occur without the work of experts whose resourcifying activities prep it, produce it, and then provide it in the global marketplace. The trick in natural resources or environmental affairs education is to appear to be conservationist, while moving in fact, many times, very fast to help fungiblize, liquefy, or capitalize natural resources for a more thorough, rapid, and perhaps intensive utilization.
So the book of nature then remains for the most part a readerly text. Different human beings will observe its patterns differently; they will choose to accentuate some while deciding to ignore others. Consequently, nature's meanings always will be multiple and fixed in the process of articulating eco-managerialist discourses. In the United States, the initial professionalized efforts to resourcify nature began with the second industrial revolution, and the original conservation movements that emerged over a century ago, as progressively minded managers founded schools of agriculture, schools of engineering, schools of forestry, schools of management, and schools of mining, to master nature and transform its materiality into goods and services. By their lights, the entire planet was reduced through resourcifying assumptions into a complex system of inter-related natural resource systems, whose ecological processes in turn are left for certain human beings to operate efficiently or inefficiently as the would-be managers of a vast terrestrial infrastructure. Directed towards generating greater profit and power from the rational insertion of natural and artificial bodies into the machinery of global production, the discourses of resource management work continuously to redefine the earth's physical and social ecologies, as sites where environmental professionals can operate in many different open-ended projects of eco-system management. The scripts of eco-system management imbedded in most approaches to environmental policy, however, are rarely rendered articulate by the existing scientific and technological discourses that train experts to be experts. Still, a logic of resourcification is woven into the technocratic lessons that people must acquire in acquiring their expert credentials. In particular, there are perhaps six practices that orient how work goes here. Because I have a weakness for alliteration, I call them Resource Managerialism, Rehabilitation Managerialism, Restoration Managerialism, Renewables Managerialism, Risk Managerialism, and Recreationist Managerialism.
Resource managerialism can be read as the essence of today's enviro-mentality. While voices in favour of conservation can be found in Europe early in the 19th century, there is a self-reflexive establishment of this stance in the United States in the late 19th century. From the 1880's to the 1920's, one saw the closing of the western frontier. And whether one looks at John Muir's preservationist programs or Gifford Pinchot's conservationist code, there is a spreading awareness of modern industry's power to deplete nature's stock of raw materials, which sparks wide-spread worries about the need to find systems for conserving their supply from such unchecked exploitation. Consequently, nature's stocks of materials are rendered down to resources, and the presumptions of resourcification become conceptually and operationally well entrenched in conservationist philosophies. The fundamental premises of resource managerialism in many ways have not changed over the past century. At best, this code of practice has only become more formalized in many governments' applications and legal interpretations. Working with the managerial vision of the second industrial revolution, which tended to empower technical experts like engineers or scientists, who had gotten their degrees from agricultural schools, mining schools, technology schools like the one I work at, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, which prides itself as they say on producing the worker bees of industry. Or, on the shop floor and professional managers, one found corporate executives and financial officers in the main office, who are of course trained in business schools. Put together, resource managerialism casts corporate administrative frameworks over nature in order to find the supplies needed to feed the economy and provision society through national and international markets. As scientific forestry, range management, and mineral extraction took hold in the U.S. during this era, an ethos of battling scarcity guided professional training, corporate profit making, and government policy. As a result, the operational agendas of what was called sustained yield were what directed the resource managerialism of the 20th century. In reviewing the enabling legislation of key federal agencies, one quickly discovers that the values and practices of resourcification anchor their institutional missions in a sustained yield philosophy. As Cortner and Moote observe, the statutory mandates for both the Forest Service, the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act, and the National Forest Management Act, and the Bureau of Land Management, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, for example, specifically direct these agencies to employ a multiple use sustained yield approach to resource management. More often than not, however, these agencies adjusted their multiple use concept to correspond to their primary production objective -- timber in the case of the Forest Service, grazing in terms of the Bureau of Land Management. Although sustained help is not specifically mentioned in the legislated mandate of agencies such as the National Parks Service or the Bureau of Reclamation, they too have traditionally managed for maximum sustained yield of a single resource - visitor use in the case of the parks, water supply in the case of water resources. So the ethos of resourcification imagined nature as a vast input/output system. The mission statements of sustained yield pushed natural resource management towards realizing the maximum maintainable output up to or past even the point where one reached ecological collapse, which in turn of course caused wide-spread ecological degradation, which leads to the project of rehabilitation managerialism.
The acknowledgement of ecological degradation is not tremendously difficult. Indeed, the will to manage environments arises from this wide-spread recognition back in the 19th century. One obvious outcome of building and then living around the satanic mills of modern industrial capitalism was pollution of the air, water, and land. As it continued and spread, the health of humans, plants, and wildlife obviously suffered, while soils and waters were poisoned. Yet the imperatives of economic growth typically drove these processes of degradation until markets fell, technologies changed, or the ecosystem collapsed. At that juncture, business and government leaders, working at the local, regional, and national level, were faced with hard choices about either relocating people and settlements in industry to start these cycles of degradation anew, or maybe rehabilitating those existing economic and environmental assets to revitalize their resource extractive or commodity producing potential. Rehabilitation management then is about keeping production going in one way or another. Agricultural lands that once produced wheat might be turned to dairy production or low-end fibre outputs. Polluted water courses, poisoned soils, and poverty-stricken workers can all be remobilized in environmental rehabilitation schemes to revive aquatic ecologies, renew soil productivity, and replenish bank accounts. The engagements of rehabilitation management are to find a commodifiable or at least a valuable possibility in the brown fields of agricultural excess and industrial exhaustion. Even after decades of abuse, there are useful possibilities that always lie dormant in slag heaps, derelict factories, overused soil, polluted waterways, and rust belt towns. Management must search for and then implement strategies for their rehabilitation. Such operations can shift agricultural uses, refocus industrial practices, turn lands into eco-preserves, and retrain workers. But the goals here are not return ecosystems to some pristine natural state. On the contrary, its agendas are those of sustaining the yields of production. Of course, what will be yielded and at what levels it is sustained and for which environmental ends all remains to be determined. On the one hand, the motives of rehabilitation management are quite rational, because these moves delay or even cancel the need to sacrifice other lands, air, and soil preserves at other sites. Thus nature is perhaps protected elsewhere or at large by renewing industrial brown fields in agriculturalized domains for some ongoing project of industrial growth. On the other hand, rehabilitation managerialism may only shift the loci and the foci of damage, rehabilitating eco-systemic degradation caused in one commodity chain, while simply redirecting the inhabitants of these sites to suffer new, albeit perhaps more regulated and rational levels, of environmental contamination in other commodity chains. If one doesn't want to rehabilitate what has been ruined, one can then perhaps get into restoring it.
So a restoration managerialism is a recognition that lies at the root of many environmental problems that has sparked a reaction so intense that many called for going beyond rehabilitation and returning to some status quo anti. The call is first stop exploiting nature's endowments, and then move towards restoring those sites in systems that have been most abused. Ecological restoration, however, is a very tricky proposition, because what is to be restored? How will it be reclaimed? Who must revive what has been damaged, and exactly which prior state of existence is to be privileged as the state of restoration? Most appeals for restoration are made on aesthetic grounds. But restoration management has also developed more macrological engagements for maintaining the integrity of the earth's carrying capacity. In this respect, restoration managerialism focuses upon mobilizing all of the biological, physical, and social sciences to address the major economic and political affects of current environmental problems. Their resourcifications allow ecosystem managers to infrastructuralize all of the earth's ecologies in the name of an almost complete restoration for some biomes, bioregions or biosystems. The earth becomes, if only in terms of contemporary technoscience, an immense terrestrial engine. Serving as the human race's ecological support system, it has, with only the occasional localized failures (as restorationists like to say), provided services upon which human society depends consistently and without charge. As the environmental infrastructure of technoscientific production, the earth then can continue to generate these ecosystem services or their derivative products of natural systems, but only if they are restored. So this complex system of systems is what must survive, and its outputs include of course what we know: the generation of soils, the regeneration of plant nutrients, the capture of solar energy, the conversion of that solar energy into biomass, the accumulation, purification and distribution of water, the control of pests, the provision of a genetic library, the maintenance of breathable air, the control of micro and macro climates, pollination of plants, diversification of animal species, development of buffering mechanisms in eco-catastrophes. And, at the end of the day, some aesthetic enrichment to make it all seem worthwhile. Because it is the true capital stock of trans-national enterprise, the planet's ecology requires such highly disciplined treatment in order to restore some of its original capacities, and then guide perhaps its subsequent sustainable use. Restoring as much or as many as possible of these ecosystems is very important, because it might even bring back some almost extinct ecosystems to enlarge our existing carrying capacity. That in turn leads to another engagement, which is renewables managerialism.
Once you've got that "carrying capacity" then maybe you have to realize that environments can be almost entirely destroyed. Which means that special efforts to rehabilitate them for continuing productive use or restoring them to some idealized condition of pre-existing stability are not enough. Older images of nature as a storehouse of goods that can be exhausted, and therefore one must manage their exhaustion for maintaining the greatest good for the greatest number at the maximum duration, begin to drift towards other less static and more dynamic images. For renewables management, nature becomes a more open-ended, self-renewing source of benefits, which comes with the vision of nature as a vast cybernetic system. This brings the engagement with renewability. The sustained yield metaphors of nature as a static depletable storehouse now shift towards a dynamic, self-regulating system. Recognizing these responsibilities and then mastering their macro management for optimal performance, both as the producers of raw material and conservers of systemic services, becomes the engagement of renewables managerialism. These commitments have pushed the thoughts and actions of many people away from sustained yield and more toward sustainability in the overall management of natural resources. Here the root commitment to resourcification has not been abandoned in the renewables project. Instead, it simply has been re-specified to meet other long-range, larger scale requirements. That is, sustained yield focuses on outputs, and views resource conditions as constraints on maximum production. Sustainability, however, makes resource conditions the goal and the pre-condition for meeting human needs over time. Outputs then are interest on resource capital. Three integrated themes begin to emerge: a concern for the health of ecosystems, a preference for a landscape scale and decentralized management, and a new kind of public participation that might integrate some civic discourse into decision making. These changes often are positive. The resourcification - in outline and tone - does not break all of its' links with meeting output goals, but still this is an interesting development. Renewables managerialism moves towards monitoring the level of outputs, the rate of meeting the goals, and the scale of sustainable use. In many ways, it transforms sustainability into another style of sustained yield, so that the evolution from the original vision of sustained yield into today's notion of sustainability is a "win-win situation," both for economic and ecological interests. Renewables management only departs perhaps modestly from the original credo of sustained yield as it was spun up in the early 20th century. Nonetheless, there are some enlightened qualities of eco-managerialism, yet it is not a radical revolutionary reinvention of everything. Instead, what one then often sees is risk managerialism in the eco-managerial project.
As Ulrich Beck suggests, this is now an integral part of the self-critical projection and reproduction of globally thinking but locally acting capitalism. Environmental science trains experts to conceptually contain, actuarially assess, and then cautiously calculate the many dimensions of ecological risk in the disciplines of eco-toxicology, environmental assessment, or eco-remediation. The assumptions of such modeling techniques only constitute a scientized first take for the sweep of such corporate reflexivity, but nonetheless it is done. Combining practical laboratory experiences and field studies, risk managerialism suggests that all areas of ecological oversight must become risk analysis centred concerns: like integrated resource management, conservation biology, and environmental risk analysis. A more quantitative approach to surveillance and evaluation focuses risk analysis on probabilistic models of our most preferred futures, outcomes, or practices. Risk management presumes its calculations are based upon a spatially, temporally, and socially circumscribed accident definition, or that its analyses truly do estimate and legitimate the potential for catastrophe of modern large-scale technologies and industries. Super Fund site after super tanker spill after super stacked bubble, however, indicate that this degree of scientific knowledge is precisely what risk management studies fail to advance so they are often falsifications. They can be criticized and reformed in accordance, however to their own claims or rationality, which makes risk managerialism so exciting for so many. This trend of developing a fully self-conscious risk managerialism grounded in economistic tradeoffs, also surfaces in new kinds of ecological management. Such visions of environmental science recapitulate the logic of technical networks as they work for the world's states and markets. Rather than an environment surrounding humanity, it is now the friction-free global marketplace of trans-national capital that envelops nature. From its metabolism, humanity produces eco-toxins, biohazards, hydro-contaminants, aero-particulates, and enviro-poisons, whose impacts generate inexorably lots of risks. The policy problematic that enfolds here is on a global scale, because trans-national markets have colonized so many more sites on the planet as part and parcel of global business's vision of sustainable development. Well trained environmental professionals must go out there to measure, monitor, or manage these risks, and leave the rational operations of fast capitalism wholly intact as risks accepted for their owners and beneficiaries, while risk analysis performed by environmental practitioners cope with all of the victims of risk denied.
On a happier note, that leaves us with recreationist managerialism. Environmental science also has to prepare society for more tertiary uses of nature, as recreational resources. As the United States Department of Agriculture likes to say about many of its managed public lands, "The natural environment is a land of many uses." Consequently, mass tourism, commercial recreation, and park administration all require special knowledge and powers to be conducted successfully. Instead of appraising nature's resources as reserves for industrial production, recreationist managerialism frames them as resource preserves for recurring consumption as service amenities, positional goods, scenic assets, or leisure sites. The entire idea behind national parks is to park certain unique sites or particular undeveloped domains beyond a continuous turnover of industrial exploitation. The recreational pursuits of getting to, using, and appreciating these assets then get to be mass produced through highly organized sets of commercialized practices. Yet there's an obligation to supervise all of this activity, to make certain that the conduct of their conduct is done within the natural environment in a way that really begins to be almost another mode of police work. Discourses of environmentality in ecosystem management give dedicated professionals the best disciplinary path for leading others to the right kind of information and the best kind of activities in the environment. This power knowledge in turn authorizes and legitimates acts taken by recreationalist professionals whose policing of natural beauty and public parks will bring about the right amenities to the public in the best recreational experience. So at the end of the day, all these different forms of eco-managerialism activate their command over the earth's spaces and places, as well as operationalize a measure of operational discipline over environmental resources, recreationist, rehabilitation and renewables as they reconstruct contemporary notions of environment. Like governmentality, the disciplinary articulation of eco-managerialist enviromentality centre upon establishing and enforcing the right disposition of thing by policing humanity's conduct of conduct, in both nature and society. Nature, on the one hand may lose many of its transcendent qualities, as its material stuff appears to be pre-processed in the adaptive scientific practices, as mere environments full of exploitable but also protectable natural resources, which the right managers can manipulate as they buckle down to the business of administering natural resource systems. So practices like eco-managerialism come into being because virtually everyone desires the goods and services made possible by the global economy's burgeoning productivity. Even though these material outcomes are getting more difficult to realize, simply because of either mass resistance to so many industries' by-products, or actual physical scarcities being caused by resource depletion. At this point, new dangers emerge, and some of the most fascinating and virulently dangerous are those which acknowledge how these self reflexive observations about why science and technology, like the various engagements of eco-managerialism, actually begin to work in pure subjective and mediated ways to degrade, displace, or destroy nature as such. Yet far too many environmentalists refuse to deal with these nagging worries about their strategies. Since there is no pure objective or unmediated nature, some now ask, "Why should human beings not co-evolve with a nature whose impure subjective mediations always will be driven my market forces?" After making this admission, they slip directly into self interested efforts to reconstruct nature such that these now heavily marketized moments of degradation, displacement, and destruction always will benefit them as producers and consumers. New departures are not easy to imagine, but their proponents ultimately seek nothing less than the refabrication of all the material registers by which place is fixed, power is defined, and property accumulated. These artificial synthetic environmentalists need to be resisted, and critical environmentalists not stand by idly as these more dangerous claims are made. Even worse, they must not try to articulate how it allegedly is in everyone's best interests to facilitate truly disruptive transmogrifications of the planet's ecology in the name of terraforming or co-existing with corporately patent organisms in the name of sustainability.
So to conclude, each of these wrinkles in the record of eco-managerialism should give its supporters pause. The more adaptive and collaborative dimensions of eco-managerial practice suggest its advocates truly are seeking to develop some post extractive approach to ecosystem management that might respect the worth and value of the survival of non-human life in its environments, and indeed some are. Nonetheless, it would appear that the commitments of eco-managerialism to sustainability maybe are not that far removed from older programs for sustained yield, espoused under classical industrial regimes. Even rehabilitation and restoration managerialism may not be as much post extractive in their managerial stance, as much as they are instead proving to be a more attractive form of ecological exploitation. Therefore, the newer iterations of eco-managerialism may only kick into a new register, one in which a concern for environmental renewability or ecological restoration just opens new domains for the eco-managerialists to operate within. To even construct the problem in this fashion, however, nature still must be reduced to the encirclement of space and matter in national as well as global economies - to a system of systems, where flows of material and energy can be dismantled, redesigned, and assembled anew to produce resources efficiently, when and where needed, in the modern marketplace. As an essentially self contained system of biophysical systems, nature seen this way is energies, materials, in sites that are repositioned by eco-managerialism as stocks of manageable resources. Human beings, supposedly all human beings, can realize great material goods for sizeable numbers of people if the eco-managerialists succeed. Nonetheless, eco-managerialism fails miserably with regard to the political. Instead, its work ensures that greater material and immaterial bads will also be inflicted upon even larger numbers of other people, who do not reside in or benefit from the advanced national economies that basically have monopolized the use of the world's resources. This continues because eco-managerialism lets those remarkable material benefits accrue at only a handful of highly developed regional municipal and national sites. Those who do not benefit, in turn are left living on one dollar or two dollars a day, not able, of course, at that rate of pay, to pay for eco-managerialism. So I'll stop there.
Question: Management seems to self-perpetuate itself. By focusing on management, we bypass the stage of knowing nature and recognizing we can never know nature or that we need to know nature before we can manage nature. In trying to answer the question "so what", you've got another management problem.
Timothy Luke: Possibly. On the one hand, I think, and I'm probably not standing with a lot of other people in saying this, but in many ways its useful to think about the political in fairly stark Schmidtian terms. The political is who are your friends and who are your enemies. What creates those associations and disassociation, disengagements and engagements? Increasingly it would appear, if you look at carrying capacity calculations - which I think are always rough and largely based upon modeling, but let's say we let them have some quiddity - Some people would say that carrying capacity of the earth has been pretty much exceeded, probably as early as 1978. If you want to look at ecological footprint analysis, it takes about one hectare to support one relatively low consuming person in a developing country. Again, these are models, but it gives you some comparison whereas it takes maybe 10 hectares to support somebody in the United States. Somebody who lives on 10 hectares lives a long time, lives a lot better, and lives. Someone who lives on one hectare lives very shortly, lives worse, and dies. In many ways, the environment is a veil over life chances. If carrying capacity is exceeded, then who is carried first and who is carried best is a highly political question. Reaching a point perhaps of being made a military question by states, because wars are only engaged in by states. Your friends or foes, enemies or allies within states. About one fifth of humanity lives in one state, China. A lot of what China is doing is having tremendous ecological impact. Maybe two or three percent of humanity lives in another state, the United States. That has tremendous ecological impact. Lots of other societies are having to deal with that. We are perhaps beginning to see ecological conflicts going to be militarized in a way we haven't seen before. The political re-emerges in the ecological. Some people would argue the reason why we're so upset about Saddam Hussein is not because of Saddam Hussein, but because it's the oil, stupid. That's what it's always been about. Global oil production has probably peaked in the '90s. We're using more oil than we're finding. The Cornucopians would say, "Don't worry, cool out, it'll be fine. We'll discover more oil somewhere." Perhaps. But right now we're not. In the meantime, transnational enterprise has been much more successful selling cars and trucks to all kinds of people, and that's creating resource scarcity and causing resource problems. So the political, who's friend and who's enemy, re-emerges in the ecological. A lot of what has been going on in environmental affairs has been the tradition liberal confusion of that. How can you overlay the economic, the social, the cultural, and aesthetic over these kinds of conflicts? That's one thing that I think is emerging in the dynamics of the ecological that very few people talk about. If resources are getting scarce, then that leads to conflict. And conflict may lead to military problems, or at least lead to all kinds of quasi neo para crypto imperialist acts. The last great superpower of the world is going around poking his nose in everybody's business, with the purpose of "fight terrorism", or is it doing other things? That's one worry people have. Another worry that gets at the managerial question is to not accept managerialism and, in fact, to popularize or socialize the processes of production. Did things begin to go wrong when we surrendered control over your everyday economic and ecological activities to large corporations and experts? Experts who told you what to do, corporations who provided the goods to do what you'd been told to do by experts. So, relocalizing, repopularizing ecological processes, which would be less energy intensive, less material intensive, less ecologically destructive, but at the same time non-consumerist, more craft oriented, is another way of getting at the environmental problem. The difficulty with that is how many people remember that kind of life? How can one survive not going to the mall? How can one survive not relying upon corporations? About the only example that you've seen lately for doing that sort of thing that's become widely known around the country is Ted Kushinsky. Move up to the woods, build a hut, and then design bombs. That's not an option for a lot of people. It's a craft oriented way of life, but it's not a very attractive one. What is the alternative that one would follow to create and live in a more green fashion? Developing that vision of the environment or ecological action is also critical. In the meantime, most people just sort of satisfy us. The corporations give us the goodies, they can redesign a lot of what they do and make it less destructive. I personally think there's tremendous space here for more corporations to improve what they do. The natural capitalists have a lot to contribute in this regard. There's an incredible amount of waste and still an incredible amount of inefficiency in engineering because engineers are not often enjoined to optimize for environmental impact. They're asked to optimize for economic impact, or they just want to get out of work on Friday so they just throw any slap doodle thing down, and that becomes a product. Improving things in that way, there's also a space of change. But short of that, the managerial problem is very difficult because, as you were alluding, we don't have a real experience with nature. We don't have perhaps a real sense of what its utility is. So in that inability to know it and in that under appreciation of what it is, we accept what the eco-managerialists give us. So there's all kinds of things to do that are not tied to eco-managerialism, that largely haven't been done but remain to be done. In that respect, I think there's room for quite a bit of hope. With the recognition, however, that if the global modelers are right, and carrying capacity has been exceeded. Then things are going to get pretty nasty pretty soon in a lot of dimensions.
Question: What are the implications of your analysis for a Faculty that is planning an environmental studies program? Where you could start from scratch, with new kinds of courses and new kinds of expertise. What would you suggest in order to avoid some of the pitfalls?
Timothy Luke: Everybody has to come to their own conclusions about this. If you agree with me, that these have been problems and they have to be addressed, I think one place to begin is to not accept the antinomies of nature/society and economy/culture, state/society as they've come to us from the 19th century. The environmental sciences and studies usually sort of say, "We're all about green stuff." Green stuff is in turn basically about everything we haven't sullied. We want to protect the not yet built environment or reclaim perhaps some of the built environment to be more like the not yet built environment. But there's always this division between built environment and not yet built environment, or never to be built environment. I think that's a mistake. They have to all be seen together. Why is what is done within society and economy not natural? In some register, if you talk about, well whatever happens on the earth we say is natural, because nature is the earth. But whatever human beings do on the earth is unnatural, because human beings do it. Does that make sense? Is that a lingering presence of the kind of deistically inspired notion that man is the crown of creation, endowed or directed by God to do good things on the earth? If it is, then is it time to either bring God back into it more, or to just forget talking about it in that way at all and see everything as natural. Which allows one then to talk about the green and the gray together. To crawl all the way back up the pipes into the productive process. Why should environmental resistance stop where the factory begins? Why should the fight be fought only out in the woods chaining yourself to trees? Why is resource managerialism seen as a process whereby you try to prevent the over-exploitation of resources by preventing new mining, as opposed to coming forward with highly rationalized ways of redoing engineering that would reduce the need to do that to begin with. There's a need to crawl into the artificial ecologies, the industrial ecologies, in order to protect the natural ecologies. Rather than saying, well that's engineering and that's not what I do. By the same token, there's a need politically to politicize these processes that are often considered sub-political. Our political conception accepts Aristotelian definitions of labour. The citizen is the free property, wharf making man, who has the leisure to do politics. He has the leisure to do that politics because the metic, the mechanic, the slave and the woman stay at home or in the marketplace to produce the wealth that makes all that happen. That's kind of a dumb division of labour that probably didn't exist in classical Hellenic civilization as cleanly as political theorists pretend today. But now it's really kind of stupid. Many important decisions are not taken by people sitting in Ottawa or Washington. They're made in corporations or in design studios in the design construction creation of goods and services. The sub-political decisions are where a lot of things that really affect our lives, are made. Then out of the factory door they pollute, they degrade things. The state comes along and tries to bottle that up with regulation, environmental controls, etc. It's kind of dumb. Getting into that sub-political level of decision making, and politicizing what goes on behind the veil of expertise: "Oh you can't talk about that, because you're not an engineer." Or behind the veil of property: "Oh, you can't talk about that, because you don't have shares in the company or you don't own the business." That probably needs to be changed. The affects of these sub-political decisions affect our public life. Recognizing that ecology is a public enterprise that affects all of us is another thing that conceivably should be done. Then I guess the last thing I'd probably recommend that we think about, "is this nature that we think is so pristine and pure even around much anymore?" How much of it has been degraded to the point where it is not protectable. As a result, many people are coming along and saying, "Well why don't we just have artificial nature? What's wrong with pigs that grow human ears? What's wrong with strawberries that glow in the dark? This is better living through science." So the genetic reengineering of animals and plants in the name of profit is again something I think a lot of environmental programs are dealing with, but a lot of other ones are not dealing with, because it is not natural. Instead it's being consigned off to ethicists, or it's not even being looked at, at all because it's considered to be not all that pervasive. When in fact it's becoming quite pervasive, because these are new ways of making animal production and plant production more profitable. That's where I'd begin, right off the top of my head, thinking about how the environment ought to be expanded, the separation between environment and society maybe ought to be torn down. It should look at the gray and the brown as much as the green. I think it needs to be a lot more political than it's been. And much less focused on science. Because it's the scientific that gets you into a monitoring, measuring, regulating regime, which is right now the best that we've got, but I think there's more to it than that that can be done.
Question: Could you comment on the slow taking up of questions of colonialism, power and race in environmental questions?
Timothy Luke: To me that's a really interesting question. Because I think it's not addressed at all in most environmental programs. There are environmentalisms that are non-western, non-North American, indigenous, that really presume a different (and this is an odd word but it's the only way I know how to express it), a different kind of meta-economy. An economy, which is not tied to the production and consumption of commodities. It's tied to the production and consumption of use values. If one looked at it anthropologically, it would be feudalistic, hunter/gathering, it's just a different engagement materially with the earth that non-western colonized peoples had and have in the confrontation with colonialism. Given the choice, how would you choose to live? Well, when I was younger, I thought, "I'd really like to go follow the buffalo." That would be a great way to live. You just follow around your food source, your shelter source, your clothing source. That would be a great way to live. But there aren't very many buffalo left these days. But those kinds of issues are other economies or ecologies have been crushed by colonialism. There are other ways of engaging with the earth that have been destroyed in the mono-productive qualities of the global economy, which is where we're at now. I think some, whatever you want to call them, environmentalisms in developing countries, underdeveloped states, whatever, raise those kinds of questions. How might we live otherwise with the earth? Yet in turn they would be seen as essentially quaint or anachronistic, because it would be very difficult to live that way at this level of population for most societies. But they present that challenge. I think the other thing that is raised by that is just a different vision of nature or a different vision of divinity, a different vision of humanity together that is not shared by global transnational capitalism. That also rests in the experience of colonized peoples. Finally, of course, there's the environmental racism question, that colonized peoples are poor, powerless, and it's pretty convenient to dump stuff that nobody else wants on them. The environmental justice movements in a lot of places have raised those issues. But the problem with them often is, and while I see what they're doing and one must respect it, it sometimes becomes a "where's my share" sort of thing. It accepts the existing system and it basically says, "I want to be in the existing system and I want to be at the top of the chain instead of the bottom of the chain." That's how the system presents justice. It's who does it to whom and who gets stuck with the cost, which is the power of the existing mode of production. And yes, I think an environmental studies curriculum for the 21st century must bring those kinds of issues into the study of environmental affairs, because they largely have not been in it in many places. I haven't thought about that as much as I could, because it leads you to re-examine everything, colonialism, western expansion, how everything works together. It's very complex, but even when you start getting into it a little bit you see that that's a very unifying thread for a lot of these problems.
Question: How can restoration management be achieved in view of the political roadblocks?
Timothy Luke: I'm sorry if it seems like I was backing some kinds of eco-managerialism. I think there are many varieties of eco-managerialism - restoration, renewables - all that kind of thing. They're a problem, because they don't confront the question you raise, which is the political question. How do you confront the political question? That is what one would want environmental studies to do most directly. Because in many ways the political question, "Who is the enemy of the environment, and who's the friend of the environment?" asks you to say, "Well what would a friend of the environment be and what would an enemy of the environment be?" and what it would quickly lead you to probably conclude is the enemy of the environment is us. The people who live pretty high on the global food chain. People who live in North America who have an automobile, eat beef, go to the Caribbean for vacations, have two houses, etc. That would appear to be more destructive to the environment than people who don't do those things, but who at the same time live a life that is probably more impoverished because they live in a different relationship to that same global mode of production. The political issue again raises this meta-economic question. How should we interrelate with the environment materially? Is this the best mode of production, if you're trying to preserve the environment? If it isn't, then what is? If you know what that is, how do you get from here to there? If global population trends go up as high as everyone says, that they're probably go up to 8, 9, 10 billion people, and then decline mid-21st century, then that's a big problem. Can you feed 8, 9, 10 billion people living in a hunting gathering economy, probably not. So if you want to get to a hunting gathering economy, like say some of the deep ecologists do, back to the Pleistocene sort of notion, and there's not a lot of mega fauna around to get you a fit in going back to the Pleistocene, then how does this become a viable ecological politics? It doesn't. So then what other ways of living with the environment that are more balanced, more sustainable, more rational, how do you get there and what would one begin to do? That is something that we don't ask now and we don't really address now, because we surrender those decisions to the mall, or we surrender those decisions to large transnational corporations. They pretty much tell us how it's going to be structured, and this in turn is presented as an attractive, entertaining, enjoyable, and long lasting form of life that, in the absence of a better alternative, many people want to get to. Indeed, people in lesser developed, poorer countries want to get there. One fifth of humanity, one sixth of humanity, is trying to get there in one state in China, and the other states are trying to get there as well. It's not that this way of life is really bad and people don't want it. It in fact appears to be regarded as very good, and people exploit themselves and others to get there. So that's a very difficult thing to change simply for ecological betterment. But the exceeded carrying capacity is maybe getting us there. As it becomes more obvious to more people, it's probably going to force more choices. If you're living in wherever it was last week, North Osetia, and a big piece of a glacier suddenly broke off and wiped out a whole valley, you start maybe thinking, "Gee, maybe we're not doing something right here. How often does this big a piece of glacier break off and wipe out a whole valley? This seems to be highly unusual." Or the polar ice caps are apparently quite thin, fish stocks are depleted. There are a lot of things that are very obviously not the same. One can say, like the economic Cornucopians, "Well these are just nature's cycles. We just have to get through this, it's going to get better." That may be, but if it is, maybe what we're doing is affecting it on the margin and making it even worse. So again, asking how we want to live in relation to the environment, and then acting politically in a way to get there, is something that needs to be addressed. I think it'll be raised and asked and answered in different ways by different peoples, depending on where they're. To say there's one answer for everybody is probably too easy. But at the end of the day, it is ultimately a political question.
Question: Doesn't the politicization of the environment itself produce its own government and politics? In effect aren't you saying all we can do is minimize the harm we do to ourselves and nature, but that we can't ever get out of a managerial position?
Timothy Luke: I don't know about that. I think we can get out of it. The question is, how do you get out of it? You could have a nuclear war. You could have a big bio-terrorist accident or attack. You could have an asteroid hit things and mess it up. There's a lot of ways to disrupt the global economy globally, which would get you out of it. You'd have to start back at some previous state. But making a conscious choice to get from where we're at now to whatever would seem to be a more "rational, ecological" way of doing things, will basically require, sadly enough, a value change. People have to value doing things differently. I think over time, in the past what, 50 years there has been a radical value change in terms of how we deal with the environment. There's far more environmental awareness now than there was 50 years ago. Are things better environmentally now than they were 50 years ago? In some ways they are. So in some sense, keeping on this general track of self-reflection and change is not an inconsiderable development. But what really needs to be done is, as we probably know, a complete new reconstitution of the way we live. Which gets us back to not thinking about environmental issues solely as environment. In many ways, the problems with how we live are right there in front of you with the urban structure of this city. It's miles across, and to do things in your day you might have to consume a lot of hydrocarbon energy to do things. You buy stuff that comes here from all over the world, much of which could maybe be made or produced pretty much closer to here. But that doesn't happen, because all of us are encouraged not to make or produce things close to where you live, because that's what losers do. You don't want to be a loser, you want to be a winner. The whole script and package of everyday life contains the environmental crisis within it. How do you get people to see that and then decide to live differently, and make it their problem, not somebody else's problem, i.e. "Oh that's good for somebody else to do, but not for me. I've got mine jack and stick it where the sun don't shine for you, because I'm not going to change." Which has been the traditional problem of environmental change. I'm on top and I'm going stay there. Maybe my children or your children can live a life where everybody rides a bicycle, eats granola, and has no TV. But right now, this is pretty good. So that's a big problem. It's a value change and if it's going to start it starts here, it starts in North America.
Question: What does that value change have to do with surplus value? And the larger questions (raised by Marx in 1848) about the nature of capitalism? A capitalist engineer is supposed to optimize for economic impact.
Timothy Luke: What is an economic impact? Ecological management and ecological engineering are exciting in a lot of places. I don't know if you have an engineering school here, do you? Well we have an engineering program in our engineer school, at the Polytechnic Institute. One of the big things in the engineering schools, we have a "Green" engineering program. If you look at the green engineering program, you kind of wonder, what is the green in engineering that you're worried about? Is the green the nature of the environment - grass, trees, leaves and algae, all that kind of stuff? Or is the green money? What is going on? In many ways, green engineering and ecological engineering is about efficiency. It is the recognition that all kinds of things that we do now that are supposedly high science and technology are in fact stuff that's been in place for a long time. They didn't think about efficiency that much. What they instead thought about was getting it done. As it got done, it was done very inefficiently. So finding new efficiencies in production is in fact a good thing. It has both economic benefits and ecological benefits. Here I guess I would say yes, it would be nice if a revolution occurred. And yes, it would be nice if, when the revolution occurred, everything got better. But I'm getting up there in years, and the revolution's not occurring. One wonders if it will. In the meantime, it's quite clearly the case that many things that are irrational in the economy have deleterious ecological impact. Is it better to train people to be green engineers and engineer this ecological damage out of the existing capital structure of this society, and try to reduce those kinds of bad environmental impacts? Is that more desirable than letting it continue? An interesting choice. If it is more desirable to engineer it out, then to educate people to do that would seem to be a good thing. If it is less desirable to do, and that in turn promotes a revolution, well I don't know. Maybe it does. But an orthodox Marxist would say, you're not going to get the real revolution until the final rationalization of the means of production has totally occurred. You have a complete revolutionization of the means of production, where it is no longer necessary for any human being to work simply to reproduce their life energies, because things have become so productive, so rational, that really just represents political exploitation. So maybe you're back to that position of pushing the full rationalization of the capitalist means of production to the point of its completion before you get the revolution. To me, a great Marxist text is Star Trek. When we have a point where, oh I'm hungry so I'm going to go down there and punch in a couple of codes on the replicator panel. No money's involved, and I get whatever I want, the total rationalization of the means of production. You just punch a couple of buttons and get anything you want. You get a steak, you get a guitar, you get a book. Pretty cool. The total rationalization of the means of production. Nobody's exploited that we see. Maybe somebody behind the panel is producing this, but it happens pretty fast. That is the full rationalization of the means of production. We're not there yet. Anything you do to get there, is that good? Does that promote better ecological living? I don't know. That is a political choice. I see a lot of merit in making things less destructive and more efficient, because it's not going to destroy more of the earth. But, you do remain caught within this mode of production. But when you do that, does it invite you to think about why you're doing it and how you're doing it? Do we even need this? That's an interesting problem. Today in the National Post on the Op Ed page there was a thing in there celebrating some local carpet maker who'd read Hawkin's book, Natural Capitalism. He's a good guy. What he did was has rationalized the production of carpet, that he's producing less waste, he's producing less pollution, he's making better carpets, his workers are happier and healthier, and everything is better. Because he recognized, unlike most other capitalists, that what he did was really inefficient, anti-ecological, and destructive of how the workers were doing things. Is that a good place to start, because in the meantime what it does is make perhaps everybody's life slightly better. It takes these deleterious ecological impacts out of the production cycle, and maybe moves us closer to the point where the replicator panel becomes real. And then maybe even to the point where people say, why do I need carpet anyway? We pump out oil to produce something to put on the floor that just gets dirty and does all kinds of weird stuff. I've always thought carpet was a weird thing. But why do we need to live with wall-to-wall carpet? All of those kinds of things are interesting questions. I sympathize with what you're saying. The bigger question here is kind of the reproduction of the global economy. But to ask that question is the meta-economic question. To live in another mode of production, we all know, this is happening in your lifetime, that capitalism has triumphed and that there is no other way to live. This is the best it's going to be. This is the ultimate. This is the end of history. This is numero uno. There's nothing better than this. That's the current discourse. Challenging that kind of thing is in some sense what would have to be done if you're going to get this kind of ecological transformation. Or making this mode of production as ecological as it can be, so that it doesn't destroy the carrying capacity that even sustains this pretty flawed mode of production. Because that seems to be what we're getting, if you believe the global modeller types, that capitalism is so successful at producing goods, that it's destroying the wherewithal that make the goods productive.
Question: Can you briefly talk about the forms of politics that would be attached to such a model? Do we need an apocalypse first? . . . What are the political forms that the resistance has to take? One option is one suggested by Barry Commoner - a social democratic model. What forms of politics do you suggest - the way our forefathers brought ideas from the 1960s into the first era of environmental studies?
Timothy Luke: I don't have a good answer for that. I'm working on it. My approach is, and what I'll talk about a bit tomorrow, is what I call public ecology. Our ecology is essential now seen as, in many ways it's a privatized affair. It is captured within the production and consumption of commodities that we buy that are produced for us to buy and that way of dealing with the environment is not sustainable. It's destroying carrying capacity. I think what we need to do is see that in fact the built environment and the unbuilt environments are public commonly shared projects. We need I think to politicize things that have not been politicized, in probably a Social Democratic fashion, and to maybe kind of ask these difficult questions. We're an automotive society. At the end of the day, the first mass produced car, the Model T, was an ecologically more desirable automobile than the ones we have now. Low compression engine, low polluting production process, very simple. Anybody who paid attention to it could sit down, take it apart, rebuild it in their backyard using commonly available tools, could go almost anywhere, and carried you from point A to point B. It was an appliance. But we've spent 100 years seeing automobiles as more than an appliance. What is it in ourselves that makes us want to have a Boxter, an SUV or whatever, as opposed to this appliance, which was to provide the service of the car, which was to get you from point A to point B, and something that you had command over. You could fix it yourself, and it wasn't terribly polluting. And is there something even better than that? Ironically, the more ecologically desirable car is the car that was available in 1914, not the car that's going to be available in 2014 and is the environmental car that's being offered to us -- you know, the hybrid cars, the electric cars, the fuel cell cars -- is that going to get us involved in even more destructive industrial ecologies? Or is it going to get us into a better kind of industrial ecology? What do we want out of this? I think if there's a politics engaged now in our environmentalism, it's that of a kind of eco-imperialism, which basically says, in the United States we've got ours and we're going to keep it. What's ours is ours and what's yours is ours. That's the way it is. Out of the guise of whatever - terrorism, radical Islamicism, whatever - if the United States needs to go somewhere in order to secure the world's oil or secure the world's anything, that will be done. And the kind of politics that's engaged here is not one of mass democracy in the traditional sense of anybody who's part of the republic should be willing to fight for the republic. It's really based upon technocratic experts who go out and engage in war in multinational coalitions to make this happen. So there is a pretty perverse kind of eco-imperialism building in this kind of global ecology. And it's one that basically says a large number of people in the world are not going to get to live like United States. And instead they're going to live like they do now. The goal that the United States should have is to take those billion people that live on $1 a day and find a way to help them live on $3 a day. That is a radical improvement in their lives. Then as that occurs, some of them will get to live maybe on $10 a day or $20 a day. But then if you look at how people live in the United States, maybe they live on $100 a day or $500 a day. It presumes still radical inequality. That is a pretty disturbing ecological politics. Yet at the same time, one could ask, well is living on $3 a day or $5 a day a more ecological way of doing things that maybe has a model for all of us in terms of how we might or should live? And to recognize, for those of you who are worried about jobs, to rebuild everything that's been built in the past 120 years to be ecological irrational and destructive will require lots of resources and lots of labour to remake everything in a more ecologically sustainable and less destructive fashion, it presumes a new built environment, it presumes a new urbanism. It presumes new land use formations. It presumes a new kind of local, regional, national, international economy. It presumes new kinds of artifacts. It really presumes the interrogation of everything that is around this kind of goal, and then the remaking of it to get it to you to that point. Which is a big project, but essentially that's what it asks. It really asks political questions of what have been seen as technical objects and technical systems, in a way that is very rarely done. Doing that would require a different kind of politics. The one that is most commonly able to get us there is a more Social Democratic one, but one of course that is not very popular in North America, because again, our ecologies hide behind this veil of expertise and this veil of property. That's mine, don't screw around with it, I like my SUV, I like my Corvette, and that's the way I want to live. Why do you want to do that? Well because I'm a unique individual sitting there in the wheel of my SUV and Corvette, which is made in unit runs of 400,000 to 500,000 a year. I'm a unique individual. I'm sitting here playing these unique individual tapes in my head as I drive down the road or sit in traffic, with all the other unique individuals playing these tapes in their head of how cool and groovy we are. But that is the script in terms of how it exists. That is a challenge for whatever environmental studies, environmental science, and environmental ethics to address. But that's a very different one, but one I think needs to be done if you're going to get at the root of a lot of these problems.
Village Journey: The Report of the Alaska Native Review Commission. Hill and Wang, 1985.
Fragile Freedoms: Human Rights and Dissent in Canada. Clarke, Irwin, 1981.
Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland: The Report of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, 1977.
Timothy Luke recently completed a new book about ideology and politics in a number of major museums all across the United States entitled, Museum Politics: Powerplays at the Exhibition, University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
Other books include:
Capitalism, Democracy and Ecology: Departing From Marx, University of Illinois Press, 1999.
The Politics of Cyberspace, (ed.) with Chris Toulouse, Routledge, 1998.
Ecocritique: Contesting the Politics of Nature, Economy, and Culture, University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
Shows of Force: Politics, Power, and Ideology in Art Exhibitions, Duke University Press, 1992.
Screens of Power: Ideology, Domination, and Resistance in Informational Society, University of Illinois Press, 1989.
Ideology and Soviet Industrialization, Greenwood, 1985.
The Arab-African Connection, Co-authored with Victor T. Le Vine, Westview Press, 1979.
Timothy Luke's homepage at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Updates and Activities
Article published Spring 2003Updated May 2018
Timothy Luke, Eco-Managerliasim - Environmental Studies as a Power/Knowledge Formation (York University) Aurora Online