The World Ecology of Desalination
From Cold War Positioning to Financialization in the Capitalocene
Keywords:Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Desalination, Financialization, World-Systems
World-systems scholars are increasingly engaged in issues at the intersection of ecological and economic concerns since the proliferation of debates on the Anthropocene. Recently, the alternative concept of Capitalocene—age of Capital—has emerged to draw attention to the world-ecological disruption of capitalism founded on cheap nature appropriation at ever-emerging extraction zones. This paper extends these discussions to the oceanic frontier, as the latest trend in the abstraction of value from the environment. Based on original archival research conducted in the context of a larger ethnographic project on the politics of industrial desalination—creating potable water from the sea—the article analyzes how this practice emerged in two phases. First, the Cold War opened the ocean as a commodity frontier during the pax Americana. Then, when this technopolitical agenda stagnated, financialization techniques were deployed to appropriate seawater, utilizing a mode of financial engineering—desalination via financialization reinstates the cultural hegemony of the Capitalocene that privileges infrastructure for water supply management solutions. As such, the article highlights the co-production of nature with financial capitalism.
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