Conferences, 4Rs 2008

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Climate as Cosmopolitical Medium of Exchange: from the Yolgnu Weather-man to the Chicago Climate Futures Trader
Jeremy Walker

Last modified: 2008-08-30


The paper will explore the vexed global cosmopolitics of climate change adaptation, drawing on recent field research into the Western Arnhem Land Fire Abatement project (WALFA).

Funded for 17 years in a deal with US energy giant Conoco Philips to 'offset' emissions from their new gas-fired power plant in Darwin, traditional owners are creating employment for Yolgnu as rangers on their own land from Bulman to Maningrida. The WALFA project is re-igniting traditional Yolgnu practices of controlled burning, although adding in helicopters, landrovers and state-of-the-art satellite mapping systems. In abeyance in remote Arnhem land as people have become confined to missions and towns, under WALFA cultural burning practices are being revived. As they reduce the intensity and spread of dry season bushfires, they also reduce the amount of CO2 released to the atmosphere. For rangers, a full time wage enables an escape from dependence on changing welfare regimes - of which the intensive income management of the NT Emergency Intervention Act (2007) is only the most recent and all encompassing. WALFA also enables autonomy and the reconstitution of culture 'on country', supporting the aims of the 'outstation movement' among those Arnhemlanders who wish to return to living on country.

The paper will use this case study to identify tensions, conflicts and opportunities where movements for indigenous sovereignty over land intersect with rising demand for 'alternative' energy (natural gas, nuclear, biofuels), with emerging regimes of carbon accounting, and with discourses of corporate social responsibility. It will also consider how modern ecological science unwittingly acts to mediate connections between (what strict modernism might consider to be) two incommensurable and 'magical' practices: traditional Yolgnu weather knowledge and the speculative trade in carbon futures and other financial derivatives.

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