Event report: ‘In Search of Climate Politics’ book launch

On Tuesday, 8 February 2022 the launch event of Mat Paterson's book 'In Search of Climate Politics' took place. Sherilyn MacGregor and Rebecca Willis led an insightful and interesting discussion with Mat, which was followed by a Q&A and a reception.


Watch a video recording of the discussion between Prof Mat Paterson, Dr Sherilyn MacGregor and Prof Rebecca Willis (Lancaster University):

After a brief introduction from Mat a lively discussion ensued about the meaning of ‘climate change is political’ informed by Rebecca Willis’ research on climate and energy governance and Sherilyn MacGregor’s research on gender and climate justice. Mat also presented several vignettes from his book, which zero in on several case studies he conducted as part of this book.

He summarises the main points of the book below:

  • The book aims to think about what we mean by ‘climate change is political’. It develops an account where politics has three key meanings – as sites of collective authoritative decision-making, as the question of power in social life, and as a conflictual process. The inter-relations between these three (as opposed to insisting that politics is ‘really’ only one of them) is crucial to understanding climate politics.
  • It then develops a ‘cultural political economy’ account of the substantive political forces that drive developments in climate politics, i.e. climate politics is driven by how the causes of climate change are rooted in specific processes of capital accumulation and by the cultural attachments to the practices that are central to those processes. These are intertwined but not reducible to each other.
  • It also argues that two recurring tensions and dynamics are recurrent in climate politics. The point is not to decide between either option in these two sorts of tensions and dynamics - but to recognise that both are intrinsic to thinking about and acting in climate politics.
  • One is between depoliticization and repoliticization. Lots of climate policy development is premised on seeking to take climate outside of ‘politics’ (as collective deliberative decision-making), usually as a political strategy (to serve certain powerful interests). But at the same time power relations and conflicts are intrinsic to climate change – we are not ‘all in this together’ in any meaningful sense and a range of actors (both trying to block climate action and push it forward) seek to repoliticize climate change recurrently.
  • The second tension is between purification and complexity. There are powerful reasons to strip climate change down to a specific cause/solution (‘get prices right’, ‘magic technological breakthrough’, ‘smash capitalism’) which are strong motivators for different actors. Purifications stand in tension with the intrinsic complexity of shifting the myriad socio-technical systems that need to be transformed, each of which needs careful attention to its specificities that are not reducibly to this specific cause.
  • The book develops these arguments through an analysis of various specific dynamics in climate politics within the city of Ottawa. It shows the intertwining of these various processes driving forward and blocking climate action.

If you found this event interesting and would like to hear more from Mat you can follow him on Twitter or check out this extensive interview he gave to the Georgian Public Broadcaster 1TV.ge on the dynamics of change in the history of climate change negotiations, the role of small states, and some key political economy concepts of climate change politics.

You can also follow our book launch guests on Twitter: