Devising low-carbon desires in the Australian urban economy



Publication Details

Dowling, R., McGuirk, P., Bulkeley, H. & Brennan, C. (2016). Devising low-carbon desires in the Australian urban economy. In H. Bulkeley, M. Paterson & J. Stripple (Eds.), Towards a Cultural Politics of Climate Change: Devices, Desires and Dissent (pp. 37-50). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.


The dynamics of the carbon economy are now widely canvassed and debated across a range of disciplinary and theoretical traditions. To date, debates on it have tended to focus on the development of markets through which carbon comes to be calculated, commoditized, and exchanged, and/or on how individual firms come to govern themselves in relation to carbon, with analytical attention focused on various techniques, including carbon budgets, energy management, climate champions schemes, carbon footprinting, and the purchase of carbon offsets. This work has proven critical in shifting the debate on the role of the corporate sector in climate politics away from initial concerns in the 1990s with the oppositional politics of resource-based economic interests such as resistance to environmental governance interventions from mining corporations. While largely focused on the workings of carbon markets in global or regional terms and the activities of large corporations, this work has nonetheless produced a picture of the much more complex landscape through which economic interests have come to be expressed in relation to climate change and the ways in which new forms of carbon governance are being forged. In this chapter we build on and depart from this extant work on the carbon economy, using a perspective that has received little attention in the field to date. We approach it through the lens of urban carbon governance. Specifically, we are concerned with the ways in which urban economies - and the firms, sectors, circulations and practices through which they are made - are (and are not) being enrolled into projects of governing carbon. We do so as part of a wider project on urban carbon governance in Australia that has revealed the extent to which governing through and with corporations is occurring. Our analysis of initiatives operating in Australian cities has revealed an ecology of nearly nine hundred initiatives involving state and nonstate actors working alone and in hybrid partnerships; acting across different domains, objects, subjects, and through different mechanisms; and enrolling diverse practices and materialities (McGuirk et al. 2014). Of these nine hundred, corporate involvement in activities with a specific intent to govern carbon beyond their own building or organization has happened in only 7 percent of cases. Corporations are nonetheless the focus of carbon governance initiatives established by others, especially local governments. Ninety initiatives from our sample (10 percent), for instance, focused on energydemand reduction in the buildings of corporations (as tenants or owners). Though proportionately small, governing with and through the corporation or the firm is nonetheless an important means through which municipalities seek to realize their governmental programs in relation to carbon. Hence, in this chapter we seek to understand the governance of carbon in and through the firm, and, in so doing, rethink the carbon economy in broader terms. We begin with an engagement with cultural economic geography to consider the ways in which carbon is being made economic across a range of sites and spaces. We use this engagement to frame the ways in which the desire for carbon government is constituted and the devices through which it is conducted. The second section of the chapter analyzes one scheme - Streamline Your Business - in more detail. This scheme relied not simply on calculating and commodifying carbon for exchange, or on championing individualized responsibilities, but, rather, on establishing the collective value of managing carbon across different sites of the economy in which the boundaries between public and private authority, and individual and collective subjectivity, were continually being reworked and configured. We end with the broader implications for how we might come to understand the governing of the carbon economy.

Please refer to publisher version or contact your library.