COMMODIFYING THE ATMOSPHERE: ‘PENNIES FROM HEAVEN’*?

Authors


  • *

    ‘Pennies from heaven’ is the title of a song popularized by Bing Crosby in the 1936 film of the same name. It has subsequently been re-interpreted by a number of artists including Frank Si-natra, and is famous for the line ‘Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven’.

John Edward Thornes, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, UK E-mail: j.e.thornes@bham.ac.uk
Samuel Randalls, Department of Geography, University College, London, UK E-mail: samuel.randalls@ouce.ox.ac.uk

ABSTRACT

The atmosphere may be the most valuable resource on Earth and is worth orders of magnitude more to society than it costs as a hazard. However, the atmosphere, and information about the atmosphere, are increasingly being transformed from being considered as part of a global commons to being conceived of as a global commodity to be bought and sold. There are three basic types of atmospheric commodity: firstly, the material atmosphere itself; secondly, the physical properties of the atmosphere; and thirdly, data or information or predictions about the atmosphere. The global expenditure on national meteorological and climatological services and research has now been surpassed by the value of new economic instruments such as weather derivatives and climate emissions trading. Atmospheric scientists, climatologists and physical geographers need to be critically aware of what the consequences, both positive and negative, of these developments for science and society might be. This is particularly the case as climate change is increasingly providing new discourses for companies and governments to exploit as the atmosphere becomes a tradable green resource. This paper attempts to construct an initial critical framework of analysis drawing from broader literatures on the commodification of nature.

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