Environment in Debt,” Social Text Periscope: Going Into Debt (September 2011) with responses by David Graeber and Richard Dienst.

Selection from David Graeber’s Comments on the Social Text Debt Dossier:

Sigma Colón’s essay on environmental debt poses the most troubling paradox of all. It is perhaps the ultimate example of the moral perils of the need to adopt the enemy’s language. The planet is being destroyed. Does one really have a choice but to use all weapons at one’s disposal? Yet in order to frame the matter in the financial language that those destroying it are capable of understanding, that makes moral sense to them–even if only to begin a process of subtly transforming the very meaning of that language–one has to begin by pretending that they–that human beings in general–are not ourselves part of the planet and its ecosystems. Since how could we enter into commercial relations, calculate debts and credits, with Everything (an Everything that includes ourselves.)

Selection from Richard Dienst’s Comments on the Social Text Debt Dossier:

A second approach can be seen in the essays by Sigma Colón and Monica Muñoz Martinez, where the concept is debt is being asked to do new things. I read these arguments as a kind of thought experiment: what happens when we try to think about environmental destruction and state violence within the narrow framework of debts? In both cases, we want to see what happens when something that is ordinarily thought to stand outside the domain of economic calculation–“nature” and “justice”–is submitted to its logic. Sooner or later, we run up against a limit: there is no way that the real costs of resource extraction or state crime can be reckoned by the system. The point of the experiment is to not to wish that economic calculation could be tweaked to accommodate such considerations, but instead to take the next step and refuse to accept the various forms of remuneration and indemnity on offer as just so many ruses to preserve the authority of money as the ultimate measure of value.

Related Talks:

“Going into Debt,” Yale Working Group on Globalization and Culture, Left Forum, Pace University, New York, March 18-20, 2011.

“Environment in Debt,” International Initiative for Promoting Political Economy, Istanbul, Turkey, May 20-22, 2011.