October 2007 saw the publication of the UK government’s Foresight report ‘Tackling Obesities: Future Choices’ which attempted to draw parallels between obesity and climate change and in particular stated that not only is obesity in the UK is a, “potential crisis on the scale of climate change,” but that for both ‘crises’, “failure to act at an early stage is already having significant and undesirable consequences”. In the following years the intertwining of obesity and climate change has become a regular feature in medical literature, public health policy and media coverage of the so-called obesity ‘epidemic’, as evidenced at one end of the spectrum by the 2009 Sun headline ‘fatties cause global warming’, and at the other in the 2019 Lancet Commission’s declaration that obesity and climate change constitute a “global syndemic”.
This chapter traces the discursive construction of the link between obesity and climate change in order to understand the conditions that have made an analogy between the two possible. The link will be analysed through Judith Butler’s theorization of the resignification of discourse (1990, 1993, 1997). This framework is particularly appropriate given that the hegemonic (re)framing of obesity as a disease and an ‘epidemic’ is already the outcome of a series of successful resignifications of fatness whereby it no longer signifies a mere individual failing, but is constituted as a fundamentally anti-social state. The overall aim of the chapter is not to attempt to disprove any supposed link between obesity and climate change, but to understand how the link is made intelligible and how it has the subsequent ‘undesirable consequence’ of intensifying the cultural production of fat bodies as diseased, contagious and as harbingers of social, moral and environmental collapse.