Two particular monsters are in my consciousness at the moment, the newly formed Climate Council and #Pinktober. #Pinktober is a constellation of diverse consumerist activities to publicise and raise funds for breast cancer research, signified by selling things that are pink or can be pinkified. The Climate Council is a non-profit organisation established by leading scientists who argue that ‘Australians deserve independent information about climate change, from the experts’. It is the crowd-funded replacement for the recently axed Climate Commission. That Climate Commission link, by the way, goes nowhere, not even to a useful archive of previous Climate Commission documents (which have however been presciently archived by the National Library of Australia).
Latour used the concept of loving – or at least acknowledging and taking responsibility for – your monsters to draw attention to the hybrid entities that are a part of contemporary life. Rather than pine for edenic situations that never existed, we should acknowledge and take responsibility for such entities. Paul Robbins and Sarah Moore develop a rather more politically engaged dimension of the argument in this paper and conference presentation.
In what ways can we understand these two phenomena as monsters?
There is no one untouched by breast cancer in modern Australia, and there are many ways we need to improve its treatment. (Not least for an Aboriginal friend in remote Australia who is undergoing chemotherapy far from home, with a mixture of terror and stoic faith that mixes traditional beliefs with Roman Catholicism.) I am keen to support ongoing research into breast cancer causes and treatment, and am happy to make donations to this cause.
But I find the conflation of donations and research with blatant marketing deeply distasteful. I am not alone. Pinktober is a monster because it is attached to products that surely contribute more to world cancer rates than the money raised could possibly prevent – KFC and water in plastic bottles to name just two. Even as someone who has had breast cancer, and therefore stands to benefit directly from research, I have a feminist wondering about why breasts receive so much more attention than prostates, bowels, pancreases and other invisible but necessary internal organs. Is it that none of us can bear the threat to mammaries, valued by both women and men in all sorts of different ways and for different reasons? If some Pinktober money makes its way to support services for women in remote Australia undergoing chemo- or radiotherapy, that will be all to the good. We should not have to buy stuff we don’t need – or even that we do need – to make this happen.
The Climate Council is a monster in different ways. I would much rather my taxes were being used to fund this. I fear we are complicit in the neoliberal agenda when we pick up the tab rather than fight for strong civic institutions. Have we lost the sense in Australia that contributing in an informed way to informed and civilised public discourse is a legitimate use of taxpayer funds?
Further, the publicity around this case feeds the myth that if people just understand the science better they will make the right political decisions. We now have a body of research that tells us that this is not the case and why. It diverts debate away from how we are going to undertake the necessary societal transformation, towards saving one particular bureaucratic manifestation of change.
Third, focus on that particular bureaucracy diverts attention from the more important Climate Change Authority, also targeted for the axe by the new Coalition Government. The CCA provides independent advice on emissions reduction targets and other things – you can’t crowd-fund an entity that needs the authority of government to access relevant data.
And fourth, the climate council presents itself as being apolitical, a classic case of what Robbins and Moore in the paper above called the ‘ecological anxiety disorder’ experienced by many scientists. Instead, they argued, we need to admit that recognising certain scientific evidence lands us in sites of political struggle. We need to admit and embrace such political struggles.
To axe a functioning Climate Commission before an alternative arrangement is in place, a week before the IPCC report was released, was a blatant political act by the incoming government. Yes there may be a more efficient way to organize and fund it within the public service framework, but not this fortnight. This fortnight, with a swirling international discussion around the important IPCC findings, we need a clear explication of what the science means.
Given the context and immediacy, this is a monster I am prepared to love. So, I’ll be giving money to the Climate Council but I won’t be buying any pink stuff in October.
You can read Professor Lesley Head’s staff profile for more information. Her latest book is Household Sustainability and it’s available through Edward Elgar Publishing.
You can follow @ProfLesleyHead on Twitter. Lesley has also written several posts for this blog, including ‘Words and weeds in Sweden‘, ‘The conversation we need to have about carbon‘ and ‘Living with, living without weeds: bridging theory and practice‘.