Accepted Paper:

Hopeful extinctions? Tesla, technological solutionism and the Anthropocene  


Sy Taffel (Massey University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores why Tesla's self-declared 'War on fossil fuels' should not be taken seriously as a green future. Telsa relies on market-led technological solutionism based on the extraction of lithium, cobalt and other materials that perpetuate globalised forms of social and ecological harm.

Paper long abstract:

Over thirty years since Jean-Francois Lyotard declared the death of metanarratives, we currently find two apparently incompatible discourses that dominate imagined planetary futures. On the one hand, we encounter a metanarrative of technological progress has been fuelled by decades of advances in computational, networked, mobile and pervasive technologies. On the other, we find the apocalyptic discourse of the Anthropocene, whereby human activity is understood to be responsible for precipitating the sixth mass extinction of life in Earth's geological record. This paper explores how the divergent futures of technological solutionism and ecological catastrophism encounter one another, focussing on Tesla as a case study where technological consumerism is posited as the solution to ecological catastrophe. Critically examining the materiality of digital technoculture challenges the immaterialist rhetoric of technological solutionism that permeates both neoliberal and leftist discourses of automation, whilst questioning the 'we' that is implicit in the problematic universalisation of Anthropocenic catastrophism, instead pointing to the deeply entrenched inequalities that perpetuate networked capitalism.

Ultimately, the paper asks whether it is possible to move beyond bleak claims that we must simply 'work within our disorientation and distress to negotiate life in human-damaged environments' (Tsing 2015:131), to assemble the fragile hope that Goode and Godhe (2017) argue is necessary to move beyond capitalist realism. Hope suggests an optimism that sits uncomfortably with the reality of mass extinctions, however, the scale of the ecological crises means that we cannot afford the fatalism associated with losing hope.

Panel A18
Uncertain futures: green alternatives and STS interventions