Climate Emergency Politics Is Dangerous
A widespread popular movement over the last year or so has been insisting that on-going climate change warrants the formal declaration of a ‘climate emergency’. This movement has been most salient in western Europe and North America, with climate emergencies being voted through in recent months by parliaments in the UK, France, Canada and Ireland.
Declarations of emergencies create ‘states of exception,’ often justified by governments under conditions of war, insurrection, or terrorist threat. Emergencies promise the mass mobilization of a jurisdiction’s full economic, social and technical capacities to ward off an existential threat. Yet at the same time emergencies can threaten constitutional rights and can justify the suspension of normal politics. In the case of climate change, such declarations are driven by a heightened sense of urgency among an array of scientists, activists, journalists, and others about the need to arrest climate change within the next 10 years, advanced by framing the impacts of unmitigated climate change as ‘existential’ threats. According to sociologist Will Davies, declarations of climate emergencies can be understood as manifestations of a democratic ‘green populism.’