Symposium on Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann's 'Climate Leviathan' – Authors' reply

Last month we launched a symposium on Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann’s forthcoming Antipode paper, ‘Climate Leviathan’. The forum was structured like this: we made their paper open access; solicited four critical responses from fellow radical geographers; and opened the debate up to readers, who offered shorter commentaries. The process, we think, has been productive, with the threads that constitute ‘Climate Leviathan’ being thoroughly pulled and closely examined – not so much to unravel its thesis, as to spin it on or stitch it together in novel ways.

Here, we’re pleased to present Joel and Geoff’s reply to their interlocutors; it’s as constructive and engaged as the critiques which stimulated it.

Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann, Solving for X: A reply to our critics

Thanks again to Joel, Geoff, and everyone who participated in the symposium.

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We’ve often said that we want to become a forum where real dialogue happens as a matter of course, where colleagues/comrades feel comfortable discussing each others’ work, and we repeat that invitation now: If you’ve an idea for a symposium on work that’s innovative, provocative, ambitious, boundary pushing, or just plain radical, then please do get in touch.


  1. Ben Wisner

    Wainwright and Mann’s Reply to Critics: Solving for X or Searching for the square root of minus 1?
    At Hanover, New Hampshire’s Wednesday farmers’ market this old geographer discovered a current collegiate fad: cupcakes. They’re half frosting and rainbow sprinkles. The cake below is moist and quite acceptable.
    The argument that Wainwright and Mann have winnowed down and present again as their reply to critics is quite acceptable: humanity is in a crisis (again); capitalism is to blame (as usual); perhaps THIS is the crisis the left has been waiting for since Marx gave flesh to the Hegelian dialectic; we don’t know how a global response to climate change will transform or even overthrow capitalism, so we’ll call this new world order ‘Climate X’.
    It’s just too bad that the solid and thought provoking argument continues to be sweetened with layers of philosophical confection.
    So with gratitude for the cake, but not the frosting, I want to respond to one point in the reply by W&M. Are those of us who wrote that W&M need to get more deeply into ‘the science’ and to think about ‘adaptation’ and not just reduction of green house gases guilty of ‘fetishising’ science and thus obscuring politics?
    My answer is ‘no’. Note that the examples of ‘adaptation’ W&M give are entirely from the US. What about small farmers, herders, fishers, forest workers and small town artisans who still make half of humanity? What is ‘adaptation’ to them? Where will the politics of their struggle to adapt lead? The point I made in my critique, based on my current work in Tanzania, is that such people are (a) currently struggling to ‘adapt’ their own livelihoods and land use (and some doing quite well, at least for now) and, most importantly, (b) are simultaneously struggling against land grabs, water grabs and many other scams that their government officials use to increase their power and wealth under the smokescreen of ‘climate change’. The implementation of the various National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPAs) has opened new doors for corrupt elites.
    If W&M studied the geographic (hydrological, edaphic, botanical, etc.) and political ecological details of ‘adaptation’ in such situations, they would see why ‘Solving for X’ is more difficult than they think. The devil is in the detail, and since the devil — and his advocate — are mathematicians/ jokesters, this ‘X’ seems more like the Square root of minus one: ‘i’, the ‘imaginary’ number.
    THIS is what I meant by taking time off from reading 19th and early 20th Century philosophical classics and studying the science. Incidentally, my first two degrees were in philosophy. I know the charm and fascination of such language, but have also learned to be wary of hyperbole and metaphor and the many other ‘traps’ about which Wittgenstein cautions the thinker. Yet more caution needs to be exercised by those who would be thinker-activists.
    BEN WISNER — Founding editor of Antipode, curmudgeon, human being, independent scholar