Appraising Weather: Ecological Limits, Extraction and Empire Building in Asia

What are the historical antecedents to the contemporary financialization of climate threats through carbon markets or greening of asset portfolios? This talk argues for a longer colonial genealogy to the contemporary climate futures market. It argues that the coterminous development of financial instruments of risk management and the British imperial expansion in the Indian ocean critical shaped the very parameters of atmospheric and climate knowledge in the 19th century. Analyzing 18th-century merchants’ papers, Lloyd’s records, navigational journals and insurance cases fought in the marine courts in India and the admiralty courts in London shows that tropical cyclones, instead of becoming limits to be overcome simply through scientific forecasting, were instead financialized and made profitable through a brisk and thriving trade in speculative underwriting. Bridging histories of finance and Anthropocene scholarship the paper documents how the modalities, concepts and frameworks for producing knowledge about climate emanated out of the very webs of speculative finance, insurance and trade that enveloped the globe during this period. I conclude by arguing that turning to the Indian Ocean helps us understand how this space faced with the exigencies of global trade became a laboratory of actuarial experiments and weather knowledge production.