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COSMO-CLIMATE Report Summary

Project ID: 323719
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Germany

Final Report Summary - COSMO-CLIMATE (Methodological Cosmopolitanism - In the Laboratory of Climate Change)

‘Methodological nationalism’, the teachings of a world turning around the nation, has to be substituted by ‘methodological cosmopolitanism’, the teachings of the turning of the nation around a ‘world at risk’. If we consider how climate change, arguably the most pressing challenge of humanity, fits into the current perspective in politics and the social sciences, we can see the limitations of ‘methodological nationalism’.
Today, most discussions on climate change are blocked. They are mostly caught by catastrophism: What is climate change bad for? From the point of view of metamorphosis, because climate change is a threat to humankind, we can and should turn the question upside down and ask: What is climate change good for (if we survive)? The surprising momentum of metamorphosis is that, if you firmly believe that climate change is a fundamental threat to all of humankind and nature, it might bring a cosmopolitan turn into our contemporary life and the world might be changed for the better. This is what Ulrich Beck called emancipatory catastrophism.
To avoid misunderstandings, this is not to argue that we need a big-bang catastrophe in order to become reborn optimists, nor to advocate the counter-picture of a hyper-optimism, expecting a technological salvation from all evils of the present world by digital innovations (as some do). The cosmopolitan metamorphosis of climate change (or global risk in general) is about the co-production of risk perceptions and normative horizons. Living in a suicidal modernity (called capitalism), the black box of fundamental political questions is reopening: Who speaks for ‘the cosmos’? Who represents ‘humanity’? Is it the state? The city? Civil society actors? Experts? ‘Gaia’?
The global risk of climate change is a kind of compulsive, collective memory – in the sense that past decisions and mistakes are contained in what we find ourselves exposed to, and that even the highest degree of institutional reification is nothing but a reification that can be revoked, a borrowed mode of action which can, and must, be changed if it leads to self-jeopardization. Climate change is the embodiment of the mistakes of a whole epoch of ongoing industrialization, and climate risks pursue their acknowledgement and correction with all the violence of the possible annihilation of humanity. They are a kind of collective return of the repressed, wherein the self-assurance of industrial capitalism, organized in the form of nation-state politics, is confronted with its own errors in the form of an objectified threat to its own existence.
Addressing climate change at the level of world (and local) politics, we may distinguish two basic framings of the issues involved. The first framing asks a normative and political question: ‘What can we do against climate change?’ This is the mainstream question posed by scientists, politicians, and environmental activists looking for solutions to the problem, even as this proves disillusioning. By contrast, the second framing (informed by metamorphosis) poses the sociological and analytical question ‘What does climate change do to us’, and how does it alter the order of society and politics? Posing this question allows us to think beyond apocalypses or the salvation of the world and focus on its metamorphosis. In this way it allows us to step back and rethink the fundamental concepts into which current discourses of climate politics are trapped.

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