An international team led by Oregon State University researchers says in a report published today that the Earth’s vital signs have reached “code red” and that “humanity is unequivocally facing a climate emergency.”
In the special report, “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency 2022,” the authors note that 16 of 35 planetary vital signs they use to track climate change are at record extremes. The report’s authors share new data illustrating the increasing frequency of extreme heat events and heat-related deaths, rising global tree cover loss because of fires, and a greater prevalence of insects and diseases thriving in the warming climate. Food insecurity and malnutrition caused by droughts and other climate-related extreme events in developing countries are increasing the number of climate refugees.
William Ripple, a distinguished professor in the OSU College of Forestry, and postdoctoral researcher Christopher Wolf are the lead authors of the report, and 10 other U.S. and global scientists are co-authors.
“Look at all of these heat waves, fires, floods and massive storms,” Ripple said. “The specter of climate change is at the door and pounding hard.”
“As we can see by the annual surges in climate disasters, we are now in the midst of a major climate crisis, with far worse to come if we keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them,” Wolf said.
“As Earth’s temperatures are creeping up, the frequency or magnitude of some types of climate disasters may actually be leaping up,” said the University of Sydney’s Thomas Newsome, a co-author of the report. “We urge our fellow scientists around the world to speak out on climate change.”
“The Scientist’s Warning” is a documentary by the research team summarizing the report’s results and can be watched online:
As affirmative action prepares to meet its fate before a transformed Supreme Court, after having been deemed constitutional in higher education for more than four decades, the cases to be argued on Monday bring into sharp focus a stunning reality.
After all this time, after the civil rights movement and the many anti-discrimination laws it gave birth to, after the election of the first Black president and the profound racial reckoning of the past few years — perhaps because of all those things — the country is still debating the meaning of Brown v.Board of Education.
A dispute over what the court meant when it declared in 1954 that racial segregation in the public schools violates constitutional equality is not what I expected to find when I picked up the daunting pile of briefs filed in two cases challenging racially conscious admissions practices at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. There are more than 100 briefs, representing the views of hundreds of individual and organizational “friends of the court,” in addition to those filed by the parties themselves.
Both cases were developed by a made-to-order organization called Students for Fair Admissions Inc. The group asks the court in both cases to overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, its 2003 decision upholding affirmative action in student admissions to the University of Michigan’s law school.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, writing for the majority in Grutter, said then that society’s interest in maintaining a diverse educational environment was “compelling” and justified keeping affirmative action going, as needed, for the next 25 years. Since that was 19 years ago, I expected to read an argument for why the timetable should be foreshortened or, more broadly, why diversity should no longer be considered the compelling interest the court said it was in 1978 in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. The court concluded in that case that race could be used as one criterion by universities in their admissions decisions.
Instead, I found this bold assertion on page 47 of the plaintiff’s main brief: “Because Brown is our law, Grutter cannot be.”
Relying on a kind of double bank shot, the argument by Students for Fair Admissions goes like this: The Brown decision interpreted the 14th Amendment’s equal protection guarantee to prohibit racial segregation in public schools. In doing so, it overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine established 58 years earlier in Plessy v. Ferguson. Therefore, the court in Brown necessarily bound itself to Justice John Marshall Harlan’s reference in his dissenting opinion in Plessy to a “colorblind” Constitution.
“Just as Brown overruled Plessy’s deviation from our ‘colorblind’ Constitution, this court should overrule Grutter’s,” the group asserts in its brief. “That decision has no more support in constitutional text or precedent than Plessy.”
Briefs on the universities’ side take vigorous issue with what the University of North Carolina’s brief calls “equal protection revisionism.” Noting that Justice Harlan’s objection to enforced separation of the races was that it imposed a “badge of servitude” on Black citizens, the brief observes that “policies that bring students together bear no such badge.”
Moreover, a brief by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., under the auspices of which Thurgood Marshall argued Brown before the Supreme Court, warns that the plaintiff’s position “would transform Brown from an indictment against racial apartheid into a tool that supports racial exclusion.” The “egregious error” in the court’s majority opinion in Plessy, the legal defense fund’s brief explains, was not its failure to embrace a “colorblind” ideal but its “failure to acknowledge the realities and consequences of persistent anti-Black racism in our society.” For that reason, the brief argues, the Grutter decision honored Brown, not Plessy.
“Some level of race-consciousness to ensure equal access to higher education remains critical to realizing the promise of Brown,” the defense fund argues.
Grutter was a 5-to-4 decision. While the court was plainly not at rest on the question of affirmative action, it evidently did not occur to the justices in 2003 to conduct their debate on the ground of which side was most loyal to Brown. Each of the four dissenters — Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — wrote an opinion. None cited Brown; Justice Thomas quoted Justice Harlan’s “our Constitution is colorblind” language from his Plessy dissent in the last paragraph of his 31-page opinion, which was mainly a passionate expression of his view that affirmative action has hurt rather than helped African Americans.
While the contest at the court over Brown’s meaning is new in the context of higher education, it was at the core of the 2007 decision known as Parents Involved, which concerned a limited use of race in K-12 school assignments to prevent integrated schools from becoming segregated again. In his opinion declaring the practice unconstitutional, Chief Justice John Roberts had this to say: “Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin. The school districts in these cases have not carried the heavy burden of demonstrating that we should allow this once again — even for very different reasons.” In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer called the chief justice’s appropriation of Brown “a cruel distortion of history.”
The invocation of a supposedly race-neutral 14th Amendment — as the former Reagan administration attorney general Edwin Meese III phrased it in his brief against the universities — goes to the very meaning of equal protection. That was clear earlier this month in the argument in the court’s important Voting Rights Act case in the new term.
Alabama is appealing a decision requiring it to draw a second congressional district with a Black majority. Alabama’s solicitor general, Edmund LaCour, denounced the decision as imposing a racial gerrymander that he said placed the Voting Rights Act “at war with itself and with the Constitution.” “The Fourteenth Amendment is a prohibition on discriminatory state action,” he told the justices. “It is not an obligation to engage in affirmative discrimination in favor of some groups vis-à-vis others.”
The newest member of the court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, pushed back strongly with an opposite account of the 14th Amendment’s origins. “I don’t think that the historical record establishes that the founders believed that race neutrality or race blindness was required,” she said. “The entire point of the amendment was to secure the rights of the freed former slaves.”
It is no coincidence that challenges to the constitutionality of both affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act appear on the court’s calendar in a single term. The conjunction reflects the accurate perception that the current court is open to fundamental re-examination of both. Indeed, decisions going back to the 1980s have held that in setting government policy, race cannot be a “predominant” consideration. But whether because the votes haven’t been there or from some institutional humility no longer in evidence, the court always stopped short of proceeding to the next question: whether the Constitution permits the consideration of race at all.
That question, always lurking in the background, is now front and center. Not too long ago, it would have been scarcely thinkable that if and when the court took that step, it would do so in the name of Brown v. Board of Education. But if the last term taught us anything, it’s that the gap between the unthinkable and the real is very short, and shrinking fast.
Ms. Greenhouse, the recipient of a 1998 Pulitzer Prize, reported on the Supreme Court for The Times from 1978 to 2008 and was a contributing Opinion writer from 2009 to 2021.
Many Americans believe that their home is inhabited by ghosts, a conviction that researchers attribute to the rise of paranormal-related media, a decline in religious beliefs and the pandemic.
Oct. 26, 2022
How to Live With a Ghost
On a routine afternoon, Shane Booth, a photography professor living in Benson, N.C., was folding laundry in his bedroom, when he was startled by a loud, crashing noise. He stepped out to find a shattered front window and his dog sitting outside it. He was confused, how could his dog have jumped through the window with enough force to break it?
After cleaning up the glass, Mr. Booth came back to his room, where all of the clothes he had just folded were scattered and strewn about, he said. “That’s when I thought, this is actually really scary now,” said Mr. Booth, 45.
In an interview, Mr. Booth described several other inexplicable, eerie encounters that have led him to believe that his century-old house is haunted. Pictures that he’d hung on the wall he’d later discover placed perfectly on the floor with no broken frames to indicate a fall. He noticed vases moved to different locations, had momentary sightings of a ghost (an old man), and heard bellowing laughter when no one else was in the house. “There’s so many little things that sporadically happen that you just can’t explain,” he said.
Many Americans believe that their home is inhabited by someone or something that isn’t a living being. An October study from the Utah-based home security company Vivint found that nearly half of the thousand surveyed homeowners believed that their house was haunted. Another survey of 1,000 people by Real Estate Witch, an education platform for home buyers and sellers, found similar results, with 44 percent of respondents saying that they’ve lived in a haunted house.
Researchers attribute increasing belief in the supernatural to the rise of paranormal-related media, a decline in religious affiliation and the pandemic. With so many people believing that they live with ghosts, a new question arises: How does one live with ghosts? Are there ways to become comfortable with it, or certain actions to keep away from so as not to disturb it?
Mr. Booth’s house was originally built as a Baptist church in 1891, he learned through some digging online. The religious ties made him think that maybe the unearthly happenings could be because he was gay, and the spirits weren’t welcoming of that. However frightening those experiences may get at times, Mr. Booth has made a sort of peace with it.
“I love this house. I’ve made it my space, and I don’t want to let anything kick me out,” Mr. Booth said. “When things happen, I talk to it and say, ‘Hey, calm it down.’”
While cohabiting with a spirit could be a fearful experience, some people enjoy it or, at the least, have learned how to live with it.
“I’m not opposed to a little bit of weird,” said Brandy Fleischer, 28, who lives in a house that was originally built in the 1800s in Genoa City, Wis. Ms. Fleischer said that she believes the house is haunted, and that one of the ghosts is named Henry. This, she figured out by placing a pendulum above a board with letters on it and asking the spirit to spell its name, she explained. “He likes to play pranks. He’ll move shoes around,” she said.
Ms. Fleischer wasn’t always so comfortable with the phantoms, though. “The very first time I walked in the door, it felt like I was walking into a party that I wasn’t invited to. It felt like everyone was looking at me,” she said, “but I couldn’t see them.”
She compared living with ghosts to having roommates — these just happen to be ones she didn’t ask for. Ms. Fleischer has been able to get a sense of what to avoid in order to coexist harmoniously with Henry. In particular, when people in the house are squabbling, it bothers him, she said. “He’s slammed a drawer to interrupt an argument,” she said.
Some people believe that ghosts can follow them from one house to another.
Lisa Asbury has lived in her home in Dunlap, Ill., for three years now. But the paranormal activity she’s observed began in her old home in 2018, following the death of her husband’s grandfather, and is identical to what she’s been experiencing now, she said. Ms. Asbury, 43, said that she’s seen objects fly off shelves, lights flash in multiple rooms and fan blades start turning suddenly. “I hear my name being called when I’m alone, phantom footsteps, our dogs barking while staring at nothing,” she added.
But nothing has felt aggressive, Ms. Asbury said. Just attention-seeking. “I believe our spirits to be family,” she said. “I get the feeling that we have different family members visit at different times.”
And though it was unsettling for a while, she’s figured out how to live within the ghostly milieu. “Usually if something occurs, we will acknowledge it out loud or just say hi to the spirit,” Ms. Asbury said.
“Embracing a home’s haunted history may be a scary good seller strategy in the race to go viral,” said Amanda Pendleton, Zillow’s home trends expert. “Unique homes captured the imagination of Zillow surfers during the pandemic — the more unusual a listing, the more page views it can generate.”
Sharon Hill, the author of the 2017 book “Scientifical Americans: The Culture of Amateur Paranormal Researchers,” added that “many are no longer fearful of ghosts because we’ve been so habituated to them by the media.”
Haunted houses can also be “a way to connect to the past or a sense of enchantment in the everyday world,” Ms. Hill said. “We have a sense of wanting to find out for ourselves and be able to feel like we can reach beyond death. To know that ghosts exist would be very comforting to some people.”
Still, most sellers and agents are wary of taking that strategy. Of the over 760,000 properties on Zillow in the last two weeks, only two listings had descriptions that implied the home could be haunted, according to data provided by Zillow. One property is a six-bedroom hotel in Wisconsin where the description boasts that it was recently the subject of a Minnesota ghost hunter group’s investigation. The other, a rundown three-bedroom in Texas built in 1910, reads, “If your dream has been to host a Haunted Air BNB look no further. Owner has had ghost hunters to the house twice overnight.”
Most states don’t mention paranormal activity in real estate disclosure laws, but New York and New Jersey have explicit requirements surrounding it. In New Jersey, sellers, if asked, must disclose known information about any potential poltergeists. In New York, a court can rescind a sale if the seller has bolstered the reputation of the home being haunted and takes advantage of a buyer’s ignorance of that notoriety.
‘Searching for Meaning’
There are generational differences in who believes in ghosts. In the Vivint survey, 65 percent of Gen Zers (defined as people born between 1997 and 2012) who participated in the survey thought their home was haunted, while 35 percent of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) surveyed thought the same.
“With so much conversation on TikTok about true crime, podcasts about haunted things and crime documentaries, we thought that could be spreading this trend among younger people,” said Maddie Weirman, one of the researchers of the Vivint survey.
Gen Z “might be searching for meaning in new places,” Ms. Hill said. “If the modern world they live in isn’t providing food for the soul, if capitalism is a system that drains us of personal enlightenment, it’s not hard to figure out that younger people will search elsewhere for that and find the idea of an alternate world — of ghosts, aliens, cryptids, et cetera — to be enticing to explore.”
The pandemic also played a role in society’s relationship with houses and ghosts.
The salience of death in our culture increased, igniting a desire for evidence of an afterlife for some people. “Think of all the sudden, and often not-sufficiently-ritually-mourned deaths during Covid. Many times people lost loved ones with no last contact, no funeral,” said Tok Thompson, a folklorist and professor of anthropology at the University of Southern California.
“People weren’t normally around all the time to notice the normal noises of a house as it heats up from the sun during the day and then cools in the afternoon. With everyone inside, there was even less noise outside to drown out the typical sounds,” Ms. Hill, the author, said.
Many experts also attribute a decline in religious belief to fostering a belief in the paranormal. A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that nearly 30 percent of Americans were religiously unaffiliated, 10 percentage points higher than a decade ago.
After all, the same comfort or understanding that religion can bring people can also be found in paranormal beliefs.
Karla Olivares, a financial consultant living in San Antonio, Texas, said that growing up in a house she believed was haunted has made her more accepting of the unexplainable happenings that have occurred in other places she’s lived or visited.
“When I feel something now, I acknowledge it. It’s also made me become more spiritual myself,” Ms. Olivares, 27, said. “Now, I feel that it’s all around me, and I won’t get surprised if I feel something again.”
Era uma ideia valiosa com potencial de expansão: o carbono, um modo simplificado de se referir à emissão de gases que causam o aquecimento global, vai ao mercado como um certificado, que pode ser vendido para países e, como se decidiu posteriormente, para empresas e pessoas físicas. Cada certificado —o chamado crédito de carbono— garante que 1 tonelada de dióxido de carbono foi impedida de ser lançada na atmosfera.
Esses créditos talvez tivessem se espalhado pelo planeta não fosse o desastre financeiro global de 2008. “Os países da Europa, os grandes compradores de créditos de carbono naquele momento, foram afetados. Esse mercado teve que se reestruturar”, conta Plínio Ribeiro, CEO da Biofílica Ambipar, uma das principais companhias brasileiras que desenvolvem projetos florestais para a geração de créditos de carbono.
Há pouco mais de cinco anos, esse caminho voltou a demonstrar seu potencial vigoroso —no caso do Brasil, muito mais pelas ações da iniciativa privada do que por medidas do governo federal.
A partir daí, iniciativas brasileiras que patinavam começaram a crescer. Foram emitidos 5,2 milhões de créditos de carbono em 2019, de acordo com as certificadoras Verified Carbon Standard e Gold Standard. Em 2020, esse número subiu para 13,5 milhões; no ano passado, chegou a 44,4 milhões.
Nesse período, empresas voltadas ao desenvolvimento de projetos ambientais alcançaram um novo patamar. No ano passado, a Biofílica foi comprada pela Ambipar, o que permitiu que ampliasse seus negócios. Ao receber aporte de R$ 200 milhões da Shell, a Carbonext também se fortaleceu.
David Canassa, da Reservas Votorantim, lembra caso recente para mostrar a ascensão do setor. “Acabo de voltar do Climate Week, em Nova York. Há quatro anos, o Pacto Global Brasil, que integra a programação, encheu uma sala com 30 brasileiros. Desta vez, eram 250.”
O dado mais incisivo sobre o potencial de crescimento desse mercado no Brasil vem de relatório lançado há cerca de um mês pela consultoria McKinsey & Company. “O mercado de créditos no país deve saltar de US$ 1 bilhão atual para US$ 50 bilhões em 2030”, afirma.
O evento reforçou como meta evitar que o aquecimento global ultrapasse um aumento de 1,5°C em relação ao século 19, o que implicaria cortes substanciais nas emissões de CO2. A quase totalidade das iniciativas se concentra na Amazônia, mas, aos poucos, novos projetos se consolidam em outras regiões. No início de outubro, a Biofílica Ambipar conquistou o prêmio Environmental Finance pelo projeto AR Corredores de Vida, no oeste paulista. A iniciativa é feita em parceria com o IPÊ (Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas).
Com a experiência na administração do Legado das Águas, maior reserva privada de mata atlântica do Brasil, a Reserva Votorantim acaba de lançar uma metodologia que permite o pagamento de serviços ambientais nesse bioma.
Mas vale lembrar: só a ampliação do mercado de créditos de carbono não será suficiente para evitar que se alcance o temido 1,5ºC, segundo Ricardo Piquet, diretor do Museu do Amanhã, que se tornou referência na área ambiental. “Gerar créditos a serem pagos por empresas ou países poluidores não resolve o problema. A solução conjugada é a ideal: você reduz emissão de gases e, no caso daquilo que não consegue gerar de imediato, compensa com o crédito de carbono”, diz Piquet.
O objetivo essencial é que, ao cotejar emissão e captura de carbono, sob métodos auditados, a empresa chegue à soma zero ou acumule créditos. A Klabin coleciona prêmios nesse setor sem que comercialize crédito de carbono, o que é possível graças, entre outros motivos, ao fato de manter áreas de floresta nativa.
Com 23 unidades no Brasil, a produtora de papéis captura cerca de 11 milhões de toneladas de carbono/ano. Suas operações emitem por volta de 6,5 toneladas, segundo Francisco Razzolini, diretor de sustentabilidade. No cardápio de medidas tomadas pela Klabin, está a substituição do óleo combustível por materiais renováveis de biomassa.
MERCADO DE CARBONO EM 10 PONTOS
1 – O QUE É CARBONO?
Neste contexto, não se trata, é claro, de um produto físico. Carbono é um modo bem simplificado de chamar a emissão de gases que provocam o aquecimento global. Como o mais comum deles é o CO2 (gás carbônico), o termo carbono passou a ser um sinônimo desses gases nas discussões climáticas.
2 – COMO FUNCIONA ESTE MERCADO?
De modo geral, como a maioria dos outros: quem tem sobrando vende para quem precisa, de preferência a um preço que satisfaça aos dois lados.
3 – COMO O CARBONO É QUANTIFICADO PARA QUE SEJA NEGOCIADO?
Cada tonelada de gás carbônico corresponde a um crédito de carbono, que pode ser comprado ou vendido. Um exemplo: uma empresa precisava reduzir sua emissão em 1.000 toneladas de CO2, mas consegue cortar 1.500 toneladas. Assim, ela fica com 500 créditos de carbono, que pode vender a uma outra companhia que não conseguiu bater sua meta.
4 – OS CRÉDITOS VALEM SÓ PARA EMISSÕES CORTADAS?
Não, valem também para o gás carbônico capturado —por exemplo, por novas árvores plantadas, que absorvem a substância da atmosfera para crescer. Cada tonelada de CO2 adicional absorvida por uma nova mata dá direito a um crédito.
5 – O QUE A COP26 (NOV.2021 EM GLASGLOW) DECIDIU SOBRE O MERCADO DE CARBONO?
O encontro aprovou a taxa de 5% sobre a transação de créditos de carbono comercializados entre projetos do setor privado ou de ONGs. Mas as transações entre os países ficaram livres de taxa e, portanto, sem contribuição para os fundos de adaptação. Pelo mercado de carbono regulamentado na COP26, países podem comprar “autorizações” de emissão de carbono para ajudar a cumprir suas metas climáticas, remunerando aqueles países cujas ações, em compensação, reduzem emissões.
6 – E O BRASIL? COMO ESTÁ?
O país, infelizmente, ainda não tem um mercado de carbono regulado, ao contrário do que acontece em países da Europa, na China, na Nova Zelândia e no Cazaquistão. Em maio deste ano, o governo federal publicou um decreto com as bases para a criação de um mercado, mas ainda existem muitas lacunas sobre sua execução, que impedem que o país entre plenamente no circuito global. Assim, as transações têm se restringido a projetos internos do setor privado.
7 – COMO ESSE MERCADO FUNCIONA PARA AS EMPRESAS?
Com o apoio de especialistas, responsáveis por calcular a emissão de CO2, as companhias chegam à conclusão de qual é a meta a ser alcançada. Caso polua acima dessa cota, a empresa precisará comprar mais créditos de carbono, que são vendidos por organizações que desenvolvem projetos de sustentabilidade, como a Biofílica Ambipar, e/ou pelas organizações que conseguiram cortar suas emissões.
Sim. Empresas como a Carbonext, uma das principais desenvolvedoras de projetos de geração de créditos de carbono no Brasil, oferecem iniciativas para pessoas físicas.
9 – O QUE É ‘GREENWASHING’?
A expressão, que em inglês significa “lavagem verde”, costuma ser usada no sentido de propaganda sustentável enganosa, o que vale tanto para empresas quanto para governos e até mesmo para eventos climáticos. Em outras palavras, o “greenwashing” se dá quando uma organização tenta mostrar que faz mais em prol do meio ambiente do que realmente faz.
10 – COMO EVITAR O ‘GREENWASHING’?
Transparência é fundamental para não embarcar no “greenwashing”. Empresas devem dar visibilidade não só aos compromissos estabelecidos, mas às estratégias e evidências de resultados. Estimular o envolvimento de profissionais de ESG nas discussões das áreas de marketing e comunicação corporativa também pode ajudar a evitar distorções.
Science is a human endeavour that is fuelled by curiosity and a drive to better understand and shape our natural and material world. Science is also a shared experience, subject both to the best of what creativity and imagination have to offer and to humankind’s worst excesses. For centuries, European governments supported the enslavement of African populations and the subjugation of Indigenous people around the world. During that period, a scientific enterprise emerged that reinforced racist beliefs and cultures. Apartheid, colonization, forced labour, imperialism and slavery have left an indelible mark on science.
Although valiant and painful freedom struggles eventually led to decolonization, the impacts of those original racist beliefs continue to reverberate and have been reified in the institutional policies and attitudes that govern the ‘who’ and ‘how’ of individuals’ participation in the modern, global scientific enterprise. In our opinion, racist beliefs have contributed to a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion, and the marginalization of Indigenous and African diasporic communities in science on a national and global scale.
Science and racism share a history because scientists, science’s institutions and influential supporters of science either directly or indirectly supported core racist beliefs: the idea that race is a determinant of human traits and capacities (such as the ability to build civilizations); and the idea that racial differences make white people superior. Although the most egregious forms of racism are unlawful, racism persists in science and affects diverse communities worldwide. Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement into science, Nature was among those institutions that pledged to listen, learn and change. In an Editorial, it said, “The enterprise of science has been — and remains — complicit in systemic racism, and it must strive harder to correct those injustices and amplify marginalized voices.”1
Nature invited us to serve as guest editors — notably, to advise on the production of a series of special issues on racism in science, the first of which is due to be published later this year. We accepted the invitation, although recognized the enormity of the challenge. How to define terms such as race, racism and scientific culture? How to construct a coherent framework of analysis: one that enables us to examine how racist beliefs in European colonial and post-colonial societies affect today’s scientists in countries that were once colonized; and how racism affects scientists of African, Asian, Central and South American and Indigenous heritage who are citizens and residents of former colonial powers?
We are committed to pursuing honest dialogue and giving a voice to those most affected by racism in science. But we also seek to provide readers with hope and optimism. Accordingly, our aim is to showcase some of the many examples of successful scientists who are Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, to highlight best practices and ‘lift-up’ programmes, and to feature initiatives that empower full participation and scientific leadership of African, Indigenous and diasporic communities around the world.
Articles will explore some key events and discoveries, drawn from both the scholarly literature and from lived experiences. Content will seek to understand the systemic nature of racism in science — including the institutions of academia, government, the private sector and the culture of science — that can lead either to an illusion of colour blindness (beneath which unconscious bias occurs) or to deliberate practices that are defiantly in opposition to inclusion. The articles will use the tools of journalism in all relevant media formats, as well as expert comment and analysis, primary research publishing and engagement, and will have a strong visual component.
This opening Editorial — the first Nature has published signed by external authors — is a contribution to what will be a long, sometimes difficult, but essential and ultimately rewarding process for the journal and its readers, and, we hope, for its publisher, too. The journey to recognizing and removing racism will take time, because meaningful change does not happen quickly. It will be difficult, because it will require powerful institutions to accept that they need to be accountable to those with less power. It will be rewarding because it will enrich science. It is essential because it is about truth, justice and reconciliation — tenets on which all societies must be founded. As scientists, we know that where there are problems in the historical record, scientific rigour and scientific integrity demand that they be acknowledged, and, if necessary, corrected.
Look at the record
So how do we know that science has advanced racist ideas? We know because it is detailed in the published scholarly record. Some 350 years ago, François Bernier, a French physician employed in the court of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, attempted to create a hierarchy of people by their skin colour, religion and geography2.
Such ideas came into their own when colonization was at its peak in the 1800s and early 1900s. In 1883, Francis Galton, an English statistician, coined the term eugenics for the study of human improvement through genetics and selective breeding. Galton also constructed a racial hierarchy, in which white people were considered superior. He wrote that “the average intellectual standard of the negro race is some two grades below our own (the Anglo Saxon)”3.
Although Charles Darwin opposed slavery and proposed that humans have a common ancestor, he also advocated a hierarchy of races, with white people higher than others. In The Descent of Man, Darwin describes what he calls the gradations between “the highest men of the highest races and the lowest savages”4. He uses the word ‘savages’ to describe Black and Indigenous people.
In our own times, James Watson, a Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of the DNA double helix, voiced the opinion that Black people are less intelligent than white people. In 1994, the psychologist Richard Herrnstein and the political scientist Charles Murray claimed that genetics was the main determinant of intelligence and social mobility in American society, and that those genetics caused African Americans and European Americans to have different IQ scores5.
By 1950, the consensus among scientific leaders was that race is a social construct and not a biological phenomenon. Scientists affirmed this in a statement published that year by the United Nations science and education agency UNESCO (see go.nature.com/3mqrfcy). This has since been reaffirmed by subsequent findings showing there is no genetic basis for race, because humans share 99.9% similarity and have a single origin, in Africa6,7. There is more genetic variation within ‘races’ than between them.
Researching race and science matters, not only because these ideas influenced science, but because they became attractive to decision-makers, with horrific effects. People in power who advocated or participated in colonization and/or slavery used science, scientists and scientific institutions to rationalize and justify these practices.
Take Thomas Jefferson, the third US president, who drafted the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Jefferson is widely considered to be among the founders of liberalism and the idea of meritocracy. The declaration includes some of the most well-rehearsed words in the English language: that “all men are created equal”. And yet Jefferson, who was both a scientist and a slave owner, also thought that people of African descent were inferior to white people.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the French diplomat and social theorist Arthur de Gobineau wrote an essay justifying white supremacy8. De Gobineau thought that “all civilizations derive from the white race [and] none can exist without its help”. He argued that civilizations eventually collapse when different peoples mix. To advance his theory, he classified people according to their skin colour and social backgrounds. White aristocrats were given the highest category, Black people the lowest. De Gobineau’s ideas subsequently influenced the development of Nazi ideology, as did Galton’s — eugenics gained support among many world leaders, and contributed to slavery, apartheid and colonization, and the related genocide.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, many US states passed eugenic sterilization laws. For example, North Carolina enacted such a law in 1929; by 1973, approximately 7,600 individuals had undergone involuntary sterilization in the state. The laws initially targeted white men who had been incarcerated for mental-health disorders, mental disabilities or crimes, but were later used to target Black women who received welfare benefits. It is estimated that between 1950 and 1966, Black women in North Carolina were sterilized at 3 times the rate of white women, and at 12 times the rate of white men9.
Deconstruct, debate and decolonize
Even today, colonization is sometimes defended on the grounds that it brought science to once-colonized countries. Such arguments have two highly problematic foundations: that Europe’s knowledge was (or is) superior to that of all others, and that non-European cultures contributed little or nothing to the scientific and scholarly record.
These views are evident in the case of Thomas Babington Macaulay, a historian and colonial administrator in India during the British Empire, who famously wrote in 1835 that “a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”10. These were not idle words. Macaulay used these and similar arguments to justify stopping funding for teaching India’s national languages, such as Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian — which, he said, taught “false history”, “false astronomy” and “false medicine” — in favour of teaching English language and science. Some might question what is wrong with more English and science teaching, but the context matters. Macaulay’s intention (in his own words) was not so much to advance scholarship, but to educate a class of person who would help Britain to continue its Imperial rule.
The erasure of Indigenous scholarship in this way has had incalculably damaging effects on formerly colonized countries. It has meant that future generations in Africa, Asia and the Americas would be unfamiliar with an unbroken history of their nations’ contributions to knowledge, even after decolonization. At present, much of the work to uncover non-Western scholarship is taking place in the universities and research centres of high-income countries. That is far from satisfactory, because it exacerbates the power imbalance in research, particularly in collaborative research projects between high-income and low- and middle-income countries. Although there is much talk of ‘local ownership’, the reality is that researchers in high-income countries hold much more sway in setting and implementing research agendas, leading to documented cases of abuses of power.
The effects of historical racism and power imbalances have also found their way into the research funding and publishing systems of high-income countries11. The National Institutes of Health, the United States’ main funder of biomedical science, recognizes that there is structural racism in biomedical research. The funder is implementing solutions that are starting to narrow gaps. But not all funding institutions in high-income countries are studying or acknowledging structural or systemic racism in their funding systems or scholarly communities.
Restore, rebuild and reconcile
A wave of anti-racism statements followed Floyd’s murder in 2020. Research funders and universities, publishers and individual journals such as Nature all published statements in support of eliminating racism from science. Two years on, the journey from words to action has been slow and, in some respects, barely measurable.
Nature’s upcoming special issues, its invitation to work with us as guest editors and its ongoing coverage of racism in science are necessary steps to inform, encourage debate and, ultimately, seek solutions-based approaches that propose ways to restore truth, repair trust and seek justice.
We must have hope that the future will be better than the past, because every alternative is worse. But solutions must also acknowledge the reasons why solutions are necessary. Racism has led to injustices against millions of people, through slavery and colonization, through apartheid and through continuing prejudice today. The point of learning about and analysing racism in science must be to ensure that it is never repeated.
Editor’s note: Melissa Nobles, Chad Womack, Ambroise Wonkam and Elizabeth Wathuti are currently working with Nature as guest editors to guide the creation of several special issues of the journal dedicated to racism in science. To the best of our knowledge, this Editorial is the first in Nature to be signed by guest editors. We are proud of this, and look forward to working with them on these special issues and beyond.
Disclaimer: The opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the authors’ organizations or their governing bodies.
For the late French intellectual in an age of ecological crisis it was crucial to understand ourselves as rooted beings.
17 October 2022
As Bruno Latour confided to Le Monde earlier this year in one of his final interviews, philosophy was his great intellectual love. But across his long and immensely fertile intellectual life, Latour pursued that love by way of practically every other form of knowledge and pursuit – sociology, anthropology, science, history, environmentalism, political theory, the visual arts, theatre and fiction. In this way he was, above all, a philosopher of life in the comprehensive German sense of Lebensphilosophie.
Lebensphilosophie, whose leading exponents included figures such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger, enjoyed its intellectual heyday between the 1870s and the 1930s. It was a project that sought to make sense of the dramatic development of modern science and the way it invaded every facet of life. In the process, it relentlessly questioned distinctions between the subject and knowledge and the foundations of metaphysics. It spilled over into the sociology of a Max Weber or the Marxism of a György Lukács. In France, writer-thinkers such as Charles Péguy or Henri Bergson might be counted as advocates of the new philosophy. Their heirs were the existentialists of the 1940s and 1950s. In the Anglophone world, one might think of the American pragmatists, William James and John Dewey, the Bloomsbury group and John Maynard Keynes.
A century later, the project of a “philosophy of life” acquired new urgency for Latour in an age of ecological crisis when it became crucial to understand ourselves not as free-floating knowing and producing subjects, but as rooted, or “landed”, beings living alongside others with all the limits, entanglements and potentials that entailed.
The heretical positions on the status of scientific knowledge for which Latour became notorious for some, are best understood as attempts to place knowledge and truth claims back in the midst of life. In a 2004 essay entitled “How to Talk About the Body?” he imagined a dialogue between a knowing subject as imagined by a naive epistemology and a Latourian subject:
“‘Ah’, sighs the traditional subject [as imagined by simplistic epistemologies], ‘if only I could extract myself from this narrow-minded body and roam through the cosmos, unfettered by any instrument, I would see the world as it is, without words, without models, without controversies, silent and contemplative’; ‘Really?’ replies the articulated body [the Latourian body which recognises its relationship to the world and knowledge about it as active and relational?] with some benign surprise, ‘why do you wish to be dead? For myself, I want to be alive and thus I want more words, more controversies, more artificial settings, more instruments, so as to become sensitive to even more differences. My kingdom for a more embodied body!’”
The classical subject-object distinction traps the knowing subject in a disembodied, unworldly position that is, in fact, tantamount to death. As Latour wrote in a brilliant passage in the same essay on the training of noses, the expert smell-testers who gauge perfume, or tea or wine: “A direct and unmediated access to the primary qualities of odours could only be detected by a bodiless nose.” But what kind of image of knowledge is this? “[T]he opposite of embodied is dead, not omniscient.”
For a Burgundian – Latour was born in 1947 into a storied family of wine négociant in Beaune – this was an obvious but profound truth. To really know something, the way a good Burgundian knows wine, means not to float above the world, but to be a porous part of it, inhaling, ingesting fermentation and the chemical elements of the terroir, the irreducibly specific terrain.
For Latour, claims to meaningful knowledge, including scientific knowledge, were generated not by simple rules and procedures that could be endlessly repeated with guaranteed results, but through immersion in the world and its particularities. This implied an existential engagement: “Knowing interestingly is always a risky business,” he wrote, “which has to be started from scratch for any new proposition at hand.” What made for generative scientific discovery was not the tautological reproduction of a state of affairs by a “true” statement, but the “fecundity, productivity, richness, originality” of good articulations. Distinctions between true and false were, more often than not, banal. Only anxious epistemologists and methodologists of science worried about those. What mattered to actual scientific practice was whether a claim was “boring”, “repetitive”, “redundant”, “inelegant”, “simply accurate”, “sterile”.
If Latour was a sceptic when it came to naive claims of “detached” scientific knowledge, this also applied doubly to naive sociologies of knowledge. Critical analyses of power, whether anti-capitalist, feminist or postcolonial, were productive and inspiring. But unless it was subject symmetrically to the same critique to which Latour subjected naive claims to scientific knowledge, social theory, even that which proclaimed itself to be critical theory, could all too easily become a snare. If the relationship of life and knowledge was the problem, then, you could not cut through that Gordian knot by invoking sociology to explain physics. What was sociology, after all, but a form of organised social knowledge? For better or for worse, all you were doing in such an exercise was multiplying the articulations from one scientific discipline to another and not necessarily in a helpful or illuminating direction.
In refusing the inherited authority of the 19th and early 20th-century canon of critical social science, Latour sought to create a form of knowledge more adequate to the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Latour thus belongs alongside Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari as one of the French thinkers who sought to escape the long shadow of Marxism, whether in its Hegelian (Sartre) or its anti-Hegelian (Althusser) varieties.
In place of an overly substantive notion of “the economy” or “society”, Latour proposed the looser conception of actor-networks. These are assemblages of tools, resources, researchers, means of registering concepts, and doing things that are not a priori defined in terms of a “mode of production” or a particular social order. Think of the lists of interconnected objects, systems and agents that have held our attention in the past few years: shipping containers, the flow of rainwater in Taiwan, giant freighters stuck sideways in the Suez Canal driven off course by unpredictable currents and side winds. Each of these supply chain crises has exposed actor-networks, of which we were previously oblivious. During such moments we are forced to ask: what is macro and what is micro? What is base and what is superstructure? These are Latourian questions.
One of the productive effects of seeing the world this way is that it becomes irresistibly obvious that all sorts of things have agency. This realisation is disturbing because it seems to downgrade the privilege of actual human existence and the social relations between people. But Latour’s point was never to diminish the human, but instead to emphasise the complex array of forces and agencies that are entailed in our modern lives. Our existence, Latour tried to show, depends not on the simple structures that we imagined modernity to consist of – markets, states and so on – but on the multiplication of what he calls hybrids, “supply chains” in the widest sense of the word.
Latour was not a class militant. But that does not mean that he did not have a cause. His lifelong campaign was for modernity to come to consciousness of itself, to stop taking its own simplifications at face value, to recognise the confusions and hybridity that it creates and endlessly feeds off. His mission was to persuade us, as the title of his most widely read book has it, that We Have Never Been Modern (1991). The confusion of a world in which lipid bubbles, aerosols and face masks have occupied our minds for years is what Latour wanted to prepare us for.
What Latour sought to expose was the pervasive animism that surrounds us in the form of hybrid actor-networks, whose force and significance we consistently deny. “Hybrids are everywhere,” he said, “but the question is how do you tame them, or do you explicitly recognise their strengths, which is part of the animist power of objects?” What Latour diagnosed is that modernity, as part of its productive logic, systematically denies this animation of the material world. “Modernism is the mode of life that finds the soul with which matter would be endowed, the animation, shocking.”
This repression of hybrid, animated material reality, is exposed in the often-racialised embarrassment of those who believe themselves modern when they encounter human civilisations that make no secret of their animist beliefs. It also accounts for the embarrassment triggered among true believers in modern science and its ideology by the revelations of the best histories of science, such as those by Simon Schaffer, to whom Latour owed a great debt. To Latour’s delight Schaffer showed how Isaac Newton, in the first instance, saw in gravity the manifestation of the power of angels.
The modernist impulse is to dismiss such ideas as hangovers of an earlier religious world-view and to relegate African art to the anthropology museum. But at the risk of provocation and scandal, Latour’s response was the opposite. Rather than finishing the purification of modernity and expunging angels and animism from our view of the forces that move the world, he urged that we should open our ontology to encompass the giant dark matter of hybrid concepts and real networks that actually sustain modern life.
From the 1990s onwards this made Latour one of the foremost thinkers in the ecological movement. And once again he reached for the most radical and encompassing animist notion with which to frame that commitment – the Gaia concept, which postulates the existence of a single overarching living being, encompassing global ecology. This is an eerie, supernatural, non-modern idea. But for Latour, if we settle for any more mundane description of the ecological crisis – if we fit the environment into pre-existing cost-benefit models as economists often do – we fail to recognise the radicalism of the forces that we have unleashed. We fail to understand the peril that we are in: that Gaia will lose patience and toss us, snarling, off her back.
Latour’s emphatic embrace of life, plenitude and articulation did not mean that he shrank from finitude or death. Rather the opposite. It is only from a thoroughly immanent view that you truly feel the weight of life lived towards its end, and the mysterious and awesome finality that is death. It is only from an embrace of life as emphatic as Latour’s, that you truly register the encroachment of deadening forces of the mind and the body. For Latour, life and death were intertwined by the effort of those left behind to make sense of death, by every means at their disposal, sometimes at very long distance.
In September 1976 the body of Ramesses II, the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty of Egypt, was flown to Paris. He was welcomed with the full military honours appropriate for a great ruler, and then his body was whisked to the laboratory to be subject to medical-forensic examination. For Latour this fantastic juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern was an irresistible provocation. The naive position was that the scientists discovered that Ramesses died of tuberculosis 3,000 years ago. He was also, a racially minded police forensic scientist claimed, most likely a redhead. For Latour, the question was more basic. How can we debate claims made self-confidently about a death that took place thousands of years ago? We were not there. There was no modern medical science then. When Ramesses ceased to live, TB was not even a “thing”. It was not until 1882 that Robert Koch in Berlin identified the bacillus. And even then, no one could have made any sensible claim about Ramesses. Making the naive, apparently matter-of-fact claim – that Ramesses died of TB in 1213 BC – in fact involves giant leaps of the imagination.
What we do know and can debate are what Latour would call “articulations”. We know that as a result of the intervention of the French president Valéry Giscard D’Estaing the Egyptian authorities were prevailed upon to allow the decaying mummy to be flown to Paris for preservation. We know that in Paris, what was left of the body was enrolled in modern technoscientific systems and testing procedures leading us to venture hypotheses about the cause of death in the distant past. Every single one of those “articulations” can be tested, probed and thereby multiplied. Entire bodies of thought can be built on different hypotheses about the corpse. So, Latour maintained, rather than those who assertively claim to know what actually happened 3,000 years ago, the journalist who declared vertiginously that Ramesses had (finally) died of TB in 1976 came closer to the truth in registering both the gulf that separates us from an event millennia in the past and the radical historical immanence of our current diagnosis. In his effort to shake us out of the complacent framework of certainty that modernity had created around us, counter-intuitive provocations of this kind were part of Latour’s method.
Unlike Ramesses’ cause of death, Bruno Latour’s was well mapped. In the 21st century, a cancer diagnosis has immediate and drastic implications. It enrols you as a patient in the machinery of the medical-industrial complex. Among all the hybrids that modern societies have created, the medical apparatus is one of the most complex. It grows ever larger and imposes its urgency in a relentless and merciless fashion. If you take your critical vantage point from an early 20th-century theorist of alienation, like Lukács or Weber for instance, it is tempting to think of this technoscientific medical apparatus as a steel-hard cage that relentlessly objectifies its patients, as bodies and cases. But for Latour, this again falls into a modernist trap. To start from the premise that objectification is actually achieved is to misunderstand and to grant too much. “Reductionism is not a sin for which scientists should make amends, but a dream precisely as unreachable as being alive and having no body. Even the hospital is not able to reduce the patient to a ‘mere object’.”
Rather than reducing us, modern medicalisation multiplies us. “When you enter into contact with hospitals, your ‘rich subjective personality’ is not reduced to a mere package of objective meat: on the contrary, you are now learning to be affected by masses of agencies hitherto unknown not only to you, but also to doctors, nurses, administration, biologists, researchers who add to your poor inarticulate body complete sets of new instruments.” The body becomes a site of a profuse multiplicity: “How can you contain so much diversity, so many cells, so many microbes, so many organs, all folded in such a way that ‘the many act as one’, as [Alfred North] Whitehead said? No subjectivity, no introspection, no native feeling can be any match for the fabulous proliferation of affects and effects that a body learns when being processed by a hospital… Far from being less, you become more.”
It’s a brave image. Perhaps it was one that sustained Latour as the cancer and the agencies deployed to fight it laid waste to his flesh. Not for nothing people describe the illness as a battle. Like a war, it can go on for years.
Latour liked military images. Perhaps because they better captured his vision of history, as mysterious, opaque, complex and contingent. Military history is one area of the modern world in which even the most high-minded analysts end up talking about tanks, bridges, rivers, Himars, Javelins and the fog of war. In the end, it is often for want of nails that battles are lost. The original French title of Latour’s famous book on the 19th-century French microbiologist Louis Pasteur – Pasteur: guerre et paix des microbes suivi de Irréductions – paid homage to Tolstoy. In the English translation that reference was lost. The Pasteurization of France (1988) replaces the French’s titles nod to War and Peace with ugly sociologese.
Latour’s own life force was strong. In his apartment on Rue Danton, Paris, with the charred remains of Notre Dames in background, he shared wines with visitors from around the world from vineyards planted in response to climate change. Covid lockdowns left him impatient. As soon as global traffic resumed, in 2021 he was assisting in the curation of the Taipei biennial. Latour’s final book, After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis appeared in English in 2021. It carries his voice into the present inviting us to imagine ourselves in an inversion of Kafka’s fable, as happy termites emerging from the lockdown on six hairy legs. “With your antennae, your articulations, your emanations, your waste matter, your mandibles, your prostheses, you may at last be becoming a human being!” No longer ill at ease, “Nothing is alien to you anymore; you’re no longer alone; you quietly digest a few molecules of whatever reaches your intestines, after having passed through the metabolism of hundreds of millions of relatives, allies, compatriots and competitors.”
As he aged, Latour became more, not less radical. Often dismissed on the left for his scepticism about classical critical social theory, the ecological turn made Latour into nothing less than an eco-warrior. His cause was the overturning of the dream world that systematically failed to recognise or grasp the forces unleashed by the modernist apparatus of production and cognition. We needed to come down to Earth, to land. Only then could we begin the hard work, with other actors, of arriving at a sustainable modus vivendi. The urgency was that of war and his mobilisation was total. The range of projects that he spawned in recent decades – artistic, political, intellectual – was dizzying. All of them aimed to find new political forms, new parliaments, new articulations.
Unlike many commentators and politicians, in response to populism, and specifically the gilet jaunes protests of 2018, Latour did not retreat to higher levels of technocracy, but instigated a collective project to compile cahiers de doléance – books of complaint – like those assembled before the French Revolution of 1789. The aim was to enrol people from all walks of life in defining what they need to live and what threatened their livelihood.
Part of the project involved an interactive theatrical exercise enacted by Latour with the architect and performance-art impresario Soheil Hajmirbaba. In a kind of ritual game, the participants arranged themselves and the forces enabling and threatening their lives – ranging from sea level rise to the increased prices for diesel – on a circular stage marked out with a compass. It was, as Latour described it, “like a children’s game, light-hearted and a lot of fun. And yet, when you get near the middle, everyone gets a bit nervous… The centre of the crucible, where I timidly put my feet, is the exact intersection of a trajectory – and I’m not in the habit of thinking of myself as a vector of a trajectory – which goes from the past, all that I’ve benefited from so as to exist, to grow, sometimes without even realising it, on which I unconsciously count and which may well stop with me, through my fault, which won’t go towards the future anymore, because of all that threatens my conditions of existence, of which I was also unaware.”
“The amazing result of this little enactment,” he continued, “is that you’re soon surrounded by a small assembly, which nonetheless represents your most personal situation, in front of the other participants. The more attachments you list, the more clearly you are defined. The more precise the description, the more the stage fills up!… A woman in the group sums it up in one phrase: ‘I’m repopulated!’”
Thus, Latour reinvented the role of the engaged French intellectual for the 21st century. And in doing so he forced the follow-on question. Was he perhaps the last of his kind? Who comes after him? As far as intellectual standing is concerned, Latour would have been impatient with the question. He was too preoccupied with new problems and projects, too enthused by the networks of collaborators, young and old whose work he drew on and that he helped to energise. But in a more general sense the question of succession haunted him. That, after all, is the most basic issue posed by the ecological crisis. What comes after us? What is our responsibility to the continuity of life?
In his effort to enact the motion of coming down to Earth, Latour faced the question head on. “With my feet on the consortium’s compass, I consult myself: in terms of my minuscule actions, do I enhance or do I stifle the lives of those I’ve benefited from till now?” Asking that question, never content with complacent or self-satisfied answers, during the night of 8-9 October 2022, Bruno Latour died aged 75 in Paris, of pancreatic cancer.
Professor reúne textos de 34 autores negros e negras tomando como base o bicentenário da independência do Brasil
18 de outubro de 2022
O professor e consultor em desenvolvimento humano Helio Santos, autor de “A Busca de um Caminho para o Brasil: A Trilha do Círculo Vicioso” (ed. Senac, 2001), prefere usar o termo “sistêmico” a “estrutural” para descrever o racismo no país. À expressão, ele ainda acrescenta a palavra “inercial”.
“Sistêmico não apenas porque é recorrente, mas por perpassar toda a sociedade e suas instituições”, ele escreve. “Inercial porque, como ensina a primeira lei de Newton, trafega numa direção de maneira uniforme ante a inação para contê-lo. Avassala, segue impune e resoluto”.
Trata-se de uma coletânea com 33 textos, entre artigos acadêmicos e textos literários, de 34 autores negros e negras. Ao tomar como ponto de partida o marco do bicentenário da independência do Brasil, os textos discutem aspectos sociais, culturais, históricos e econômicos do país por meio de uma perspectiva racializada.
“É uma coletânea que tem lado e nasce num momento bastante interessante da sociedade brasileira, de grandes carências”, afirma Santos. “O bicentenário não deve ser celebrado sem que o país faça uma autocrítica em relação à maioria da população.”
Ativista da questão racial desde a década de 1970, Santos foi, em 1984, presidente fundador do Conselho da Comunidade Negra do Estado de São Paulo, iniciativa pioneira dedicada a pensar políticas para a comunidade negra da região. Hoje, ele preside o conselho deliberativo do Fundo Baobá, organização voltada para a promoção da equidade racial.
Além dos ensaios, há também poemas escritos pela atriz Elisa Lucinda e pelo escritor Luiz Silva, conhecido como Cuti.
Juntos, os autores condensam reflexões urgentes sobre o enfrentamento do racismo no Brasil, último país das Américas a abolir a escravidão. “Para cada dez anos de Brasil, sete aconteceram sob o signo da escravidão”, afirma Santos.
A questão se agrava quando é analisado o modo como a pessoa negra foi tratada após a lei Áurea, de 1888. Enquanto nenhuma política compensatória foi planejada tendo como foco a população negra (a lei de cotas, por exemplo, que visa mitigar a desigualdade na educação superior brasileira, é de 2012), o Estado brasileiro promoveu apoios, inclusive financeiros, para imigrantes residirem e trabalharem no país.
“Esse apoio era necessário, pois eram colonos que vinham ocupar um país gigante”, diz o professor, lembrando que essas pessoas eram, em sua maioria, empobrecidas e de ocupação rural. “O absurdo é que essas iniciativas não tenham sido também destinadas aos negros, que já estavam no Brasil. O nosso apartheid se desencadeia a partir daí.”
Para Santos, o período que vai de 1911, ano de assinatura do decreto de incentivo à imigração, a 2022 “ampliou a defasagem socioeconômica entre os grupos étnico-raciais que constituem o país”.
No último capítulo do livro, o professor se vale de sua experiência na gestão pública e das reflexões suscitadas pelos demais autores da obra para propor um Novo Acordo para a Equidade Racial, que ele denomina de Naper.
“O racismo sistêmico inercial requer política pública, que é o meu foco”, ele diz, propondo um “New Deal customizado, adequado para um país de maioria negra”. O organizador faz referência à experiência norte-americana de intervenção econômica para consolidar, na década de 1930, um Estado de Bem-Estar Social no país.
“Nós temos que criar o estado do bem-estar sociorracial”, afirma Santos. “Isso leva o país para um patamar civilizatório avançado. Eu insisto nessa ideia: longe de ser um problema, a questão racial é parte da solução.”
Para levar o novo acordo a cabo, o professor lista dez sugestões de ações afirmativas sistêmicas para a promoção da equidade mencionada. Há ideias para diminuir as desigualdades na educação, programas de apoio para garantir autonomia às famílias negras, e propostas para reduzir a violência e manter a juventude negra viva.
Prevê políticas afirmativas financeiras, de modo semelhante ao que, no século 20, foi feito com os imigrantes, e um programa de apoio à economia informal.
Santos também sugere a ampliação das cotas raciais, que deveriam valer até 2042. “A razão é simples: ações tão tardias somente causarão impacto numa sociedade apartada racialmente, como a nossa, se perdurarem por um tempo adequado, para que possam consolidar uma mudança efetiva.”
Como o professor aponta, é estratégico o lançamento da coletânea em meio aos debates do segundo turno da eleição brasileira. “O fortalecimento geral da população negra também vai levar a uma maior participação política”, acredita.
Presidente do conselho de saúde indígena afirma que prática não existe, e antropólogo vê delírio em frase resgatada na campanha
7 de outubro de 2022
A afirmação do presidente Jair Bolsonaro (PL) sobre canibalismo entre indígenas na região de Surucucu, feita em 2016 e resgatada na disputa eleitoral em segundo turno, é mentirosa, repulsiva, ofensiva e causadora de indignação entre os indígenas. É o que afirma Júnior Yanomami, presidente do Condisi (Conselho Distrital de Saúde Indígena) dos Yanomami e Ye’kuana.
“Estou indignado, com raiva. Como um presidente que é candidato fala isso? Ele é uma pessoa que não conhece o Brasil. Meu povo não é canibal, não come humanos. Isso não existe nem nunca existiu, nem entre ancestrais”, diz Júnior à Folha.
O presidente do Condisi é da região de Surucucu, uma das maiores áreas da Terra Indígena Yanomami, na região de Alto Alegre (RR). Ali vivem 3,5 mil yanomamis, em 34 comunidades. O Exército tem um PEF (Pelotão Especial de Fronteira) na região.
O antropólogo Rogério Pateo, professor do Departamento de Antropologia e Arqueologia da UFMG (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais), morou em Surucucu por nove meses para um doutorado sobre os indígenas. O convívio com eles se dá desde 1998. Para Pateo, a referência de Bolsonaro é aos yanomami da região de Surucucu em Roraima.
“O que ele fala é um delírio. É uma coisa absurda num nível. Típica de quem vive nessa bolha de preconceito contra os indígenas. Os yanomamis têm códigos alimentares rigorosos. Eles não comem nem carne de bicho mal passada”, afirma o antropólogo, que disse não saber de nenhuma prática de canibalismo entre outros indígenas brasileiros.
As afirmações de Bolsonaro, feitas quando era deputado federal, ressurgiram nas redes sociais e foram exploradas pela campanha do ex-presidente Lula (PT), que levou as falas à propaganda eleitoral na TV. A campanha de Bolsonaro disse que acionará o TSE (Tribunal Superior Eleitoral) contra o vídeo.
O vídeo está no próprio canal de Bolsonaro no Youtube. Ele identifica o material, que tem mais de uma hora de duração, como uma entrevista dada ao jornal The New York Times. A data da postagem é 24 de março de 2016.
“Quase comi um índio em Surucucu uma vez”, afirma o então deputado no vídeo. Bolsonaro diz ter estado uma vez em Surucucu. “Comecei a ver lá as mulheres índias passando com um carregamento de bananas nas costas. E o índio passa limpando os dentes com capim. ‘O que está acontecendo?’ Eu vi muita gente andando. ‘Morreu um índio e eles estão cozinhando.’ Eles cozinham o índio.”
Bolsonaro prossegue na fala ao jornalista: “É a cultura deles. Bota o corpo. É para comer. Cozinha por dois, três dias, e come com banana. E daí eu queria ver o índio sendo cozinhado. Daí o cara: ‘Se for, tem de comer.’ ‘Eu como.’ Aí da comitiva ninguém quis ir.”
O então deputado ainda reforça: “Eu comeria o índio sem problema nenhum. É cultura deles”.
Não existe essa cultura, nem hábito, nem prática, nem histórico de ações do tipo entre os yanomamis de Surucucu, segundo Junior Yanomami, que nasceu e cresceu na comunidade, onde permanece com a família.
“Não tinha conhecimento dessa fala de Bolsonaro”, diz Júnior.
Ele detalha como funcionam os rituais fúnebres entre os yanomamis. Primeiro, são dois dias de reunião entre os indígenas. Depois, duas pessoas são escolhidas para colocar o corpo na floresta adentro, onde fica entre 30 e 45 dias, guardado e suspenso em estruturas finas de madeira.
Em seguida ocorre a cremação, e as cinzas são guardadas em utensílios. Se o indígena que morreu é uma pessoa considerada importante para a comunidade, como um pajé, uma liderança ou um caçador, a retenção das cinzas pode durar anos. E pode haver repartição do material entre os indígenas.
“O que Bolsonaro disse ofende e chateia muito. Não há nenhum registro de que ele tenha ido a Surucucu”, afirma Júnior. “A sociedade vai pensar que somos canibais. Essa pessoa não está bem da cabeça. Não tem o que oferecer ao Brasil.”
Para o antropólogo Rogerio Pateo, o que Bolsonaro faz é reproduzir uma imagem de desenho animado.
“Os relatos que existem são sobre guerreiros tupinambás, no litoral e no século 16, capturarem e assarem inimigos”, afirma. “Os yanomamis não comem nem carne de onça, porque dizem que onça come gente.”
Segundo Pateo, as afirmações de Bolsonaro são a manifestação de um “preconceito num nível baixíssimo”. “Ele tem na cabeça aquela imagem que assustou a Europa 500 anos atrás. É preconceito e racismo. Atualmente, não há resquício dessa imagem de canibalismo entre indígenas brasileiros.”
Gillian Caldwell, responsável pela nova estratégia da Agência dos EUA para o Desenvolvimento Internacional, diz que plano prioriza apoio a indígenas e mulheres
5 de outubro de 2022
“Esse dinheiro não apenas tornará nosso planeta mais limpo, mais verde e mais seguro, mas também nos poupará dinheiro a longo prazo, tanto por meio dos empregos verdes quanto do que não precisaremos gastar em respostas humanitárias no futuro”, afirmou Samantha Power, chefe da Usaid (Agência dos Estados Unidos para o Desenvolvimento Internacional), no lançamento da nova estratégia climática do órgão.
“Sabemos que cada dólar investido em adaptação às mudanças climáticas pode render de US$ 2 a US$ 10 em benefícios. Portanto, implementar essa estratégia não é apenas a coisa necessária a fazer, é também a decisão mais econômica e inteligente a ser feita”, completou ela, que foi embaixadora dos EUA na ONU de 2013 a 2017, no governo de Barack Obama.
O plano, anunciado em abril, conta com um orçamento de US$ 600 milhões e inaugura a intenção de transformar a Usaid em uma agência climática. À frente desse projeto está Gillian Caldwell, diretora de assuntos climáticos.
A estratégia estabelece metas ambiciosas, como alcançar até 2030 a redução das emissões de carbono em 6 bilhões de toneladas. “Isso equivale a quase todas as emissões dos EUA num ano inteiro”, diz à Folha Caldwell, que já foi CEO da ONG Global Witness e liderou a campanha 1Sky, responsável pela mobilização de mais de 600 entidades para aprovar leis sobre clima nos EUA.
Para isso, além da gestão de projetos em diversos países e da mobilização de múltiplos setores do governo americano, faz parte da estratégia dar assistência técnica também ao setor privado. A ideia é que investidores tenham acesso a projetos confiáveis relacionados às mudanças climáticas. Assim, como um todo, a meta é mobilizar US$ 150 bilhões para financiamento climático até 2030, incluindo aportes públicos e privados.
Apesar da cifra elevada, Caldwell pondera que são necessários “de US$ 3 trilhões a US$ 5 trilhões por ano até 2030 para atender às necessidades globais de mitigação e adaptação”. “Precisamos acelerar substancialmente os investimentos”, alerta.
Outros objetivos são aumentar a resiliência e a capacidade adaptativa de 500 milhões de pessoas no planeta, especialmente de povos indígenas, mulheres e jovens, e promover a conservação, o uso sustentável e a restauração de 100 milhões de hectares de locais que são grandes estoques de carbono, como é o caso da Amazônia.
No Brasil, a Usaid mantém projetos em parceria com o governo federal e gestões estaduais. “No ano passado, nossas ações na área de biodiversidade no Brasil protegeram habitats de espécies ameaçadas de extinção e geraram impactos positivos em 45 milhões de hectares de terras em todo o país. Para fins de comparação, é uma área maior que a Califórnia”, conta Caldwell.
Na entrevista, a gestora também comenta, entre outros pontos, a Lei de Redução da Inflação, pacote ambiental recém-lançado pelo governo Biden.
Quais são os principais objetivos da nova estratégia climática da Usaid? Ela foi lançada nos EUA no Dia da Terra, 22 de abril, e permanecerá em vigor até 2030. Trata-se da estratégia mais ambiciosa que a Usaid já lançou para tentar enfrentar a crise climática. De fato, todos os órgãos do governo Biden estão sendo encorajados a adotar uma postura mais ambiciosa em relação à mitigação e adaptação climáticas.
Portanto, a estratégia estabelece uma série de metas muito ambiciosas e de alto nível a serem alcançadas até 2030, como, a redução das emissões de carbono em 6 bilhões de toneladas. Isso equivale a quase todas as emissões dos EUA num ano inteiro. Além disso, muito será realizado por meio de soluções baseadas na natureza. Queremos proteger e preservar 100 milhões de hectares de paisagens com grande estoque de carbono.
Ademais, por meio da iniciativa Prepare de adaptação e resiliência, promovida pelo presidente [Biden], da qual a Usaid é a implementadora líder, queremos aumentar a resiliência e a capacidade adaptativa de meio bilhão de pessoas em todo o mundo.
Por fim, queremos garantir intervenções capazes de mudar os sistemas em pelo menos 40 países ao redor do mundo, para aumentar a participação de comunidades marginalizadas, tais como povos indígenas e comunidades locais, mulheres e jovens.
Qual é o orçamento que vocês têm para implementar a estratégia? O orçamento total da Usaid é de cerca de US$ 25 bilhões para o exercício financeiro atual. [Samantha] Power, nossa administradora, repetidamente se refere à Usaid como uma agência climática, então, em certo nível, estamos pensando no que podemos fazer com esses US$ 25 bilhões. O orçamento especificamente destinado a questões climáticas está na casa de US$ 600 milhões.
Como a senhora pretende trabalhar com países como o Brasil para a conservação dos 100 milhões de hectares? Já somos muito ativos no Brasil. No ano passado, nossas ações na área de biodiversidade no Brasil protegeram habitats de espécies ameaçadas de extinção e geraram impactos positivos em 45 milhões de hectares de terras em todo o país. Para fins de comparação, é uma área maior que a Califórnia.
Também estamos contribuindo para evitar mais de 300 milhões de toneladas métricas de emissões de gases de efeito estufa. Além disso, fortalecemos a gestão de 189 áreas protegidas no Brasil, 83% das quais são territórios indígenas e quilombolas.
O atual desmantelamento das políticas ambientais brasileiras afeta o que a Usaid vem tentando fazer no país? Bem, nós temos uma cooperação com o governo brasileiro para proteger a biodiversidade. Nosso foco é colaborar não apenas com o governo federal, mas também com os governos subnacionais e regionais no Brasil, que é onde temos uma colaboração mais próxima.
Na sua opinião, como a agenda de adaptação e resiliência deve ser modificada ou atualizada, considerando os últimos eventos climáticos extremos observados no mundo todo? Os impactos da crise climática estão sendo sentidos de forma muito intensa em todo o mundo, ainda mais do que haviam previsto os cientistas. Sabemos que as consequências serão desastrosas. Basta ver o que está acontecendo no Paquistão, onde níveis recorde de monções deixaram mais de um terço do país debaixo d’água.
Portanto, a necessidade é urgente, tanto de reduzir as emissões e evitar as piores consequências da crise climática quanto de ajudar as comunidades a aumentar sua resiliência e capacidade de adaptação. É por isso que a Usaid trabalha em ambas as frentes: mitigação e adaptação.
Na iniciativa Prepare, que é nosso plano emergencial de adaptação e resiliência, temos três focos. O primeiro é apoiar o trabalho de cientistas e meteorologistas, tomadores de decisão e comunidades para fortalecer os sistemas de alerta precoce e outros serviços de informação climática. Isso está de acordo com o apelo do secretário-geral da ONU [o português António Guterres] por alerta antecipado para todos.
Muitas comunidades não são alertadas sobre eventos climáticos e meteorológicos extremos que podem ameaçar suas vidas e meios de subsistência. Mesmo 24 horas de antecedência são capazes de reduzir substancialmente os riscos e as perdas de vidas e meios de subsistência.
Em segundo lugar, estamos apoiando iniciativas locais para integrar boas práticas de adaptação climática às políticas de planejamento e aos orçamentos nacionais e locais. Quando examinamos as políticas de planejamento e os orçamentos de infraestrutura, saúde, segurança hídrica e alimentar, deslocamentos e migração, percebemos que os riscos climáticos nem sempre são abordados de forma sistemática. Por isso, estamos fornecendo conhecimentos técnicos para garantir que as análises climáticas sejam incorporadas ao modelo de todos esses programas.
Em terceiro lugar, queremos realmente tentar eliminar o déficit em investimentos financeiros e adaptação climática. Nossa meta é catalisar US$ 150 bilhões em financiamento público e privado, e uma grande ênfase deve ser dada à adaptação. O setor privado está começando a investir em respostas climáticas, especialmente na mitigação. Contudo, apenas 3% dos recursos privados são destinados a ações de adaptação.
Sabemos que precisamos de US$ 3 trilhões a US$ 5 trilhões por ano até 2030 para atender às necessidades globais de mitigação e adaptação. Precisamos acelerar substancialmente os investimentos.
Como está, até o momento, a implementação do plano internacional de financiamento climático? Estamos nos concentrando em quatro áreas principais. A primeira é fornecer assistência técnica e desenvolvimento de “pipelines”para garantir que o setor privado tenha acesso a projetos confiáveis e capazes de receber investimentos em mitigação e adaptação.
Se observarmos a proliferação global de compromissos relativos a zerar as emissões líquidas —em Glasgow [na Escócia, onde foi realizada a última conferência do clima da ONU, a COP26, em 2021] e além—, veremos que há bilhões de dólares em recursos do setor privado disponíveis, apenas aguardando a oportunidade certa para que sejam investidos em projetos climáticos positivos. Muitos investidores do setor privado dirão que simplesmente não há projetos suficientes com a credibilidade ou a integridade que eles buscam.
A segunda área tem a ver com o que chamamos de ambiente propício. Em outras palavras, ajudar os governos a aumentar o investimento, garantindo que haja políticas e incentivos fiscais adequados em vigor. É pouco provável que alguém consiga estimular investimentos em economias de energias renováveis sem fornecer créditos fiscais, como os que a Lei de Redução da Inflação nos EUA acaba de oferecer.
Os US$ 369 bilhões que a Lei de Redução da Inflação de 2022 direcionou para a transição das energias renováveis já deram resultados. Estamos vendo bilhões de dólares em novos compromissos.
A terceira é usar nosso poder de mobilização para reunir uma diversidade de partes interessadas —governos, investidores do setor privado ou instituições multilaterais como o Banco Mundial— para realmente garantir que estejamos unindo forças para maximizar nosso potencial de investimento.
Por fim, estamos ampliando o uso de ferramentas financeiras inovadoras. Como um órgão público de desenvolvimento internacional, obviamente temos condições de fornecer subsídios capazes de reduzir os riscos de investimentos do setor privado. O que queremos fazer é fornecer capital concessional que reduza a percepção de riscos e aumente o retorno potencial dos investimentos do setor privado.
O presidente Biden estava disposto a mobilizar mais de US$ 11 bilhões em financiamento climático para países em desenvolvimento, o que não foi possível, como sabemos. Na sua opinião, como mobilizar fundos para a crise climática neste momento tão crucial e tão desafiador? O presidente Biden se comprometeu a quadruplicar o financiamento climático dos EUA e chegar a US$ 11,4 bilhões até 2024, e esse compromisso permanece firme. Obviamente, precisamos do apoio do Congresso para conseguirmos fazer isso.
Se houver dotação orçamentária, o que também depende do Congresso, o orçamento da Presidência para o exercício financeiro de 2023 —um ano antes da meta prometida de 2024— seria capaz de cumprir a promessa por meio de uma combinação de financiamento direto e indireto.
Além disso, precisamos trabalhar em conjunto com nossos aliados para cumprir a promessa feita no Acordo de Paris, de US$ 100 bilhões anuais para mitigação e adaptação climáticas em países em desenvolvimento. Isso ainda não é, nem de longe, o suficiente, mas ainda temos que atingir essa meta, que é muito importante.
Qual a sua opinião sobre o mercado voluntário de carbono? Ele é considerado por certas pessoas uma fonte de financiamento importante, enquanto, para outras, é prejudicial para as comunidades locais e ineficaz para a redução de emissões? Bem, creio que os mercados de carbono constituem uma das muitas ferramentas para catalisar todas as mudanças necessárias. É inegável que, em certas situações, os mercados de carbono se mostraram ineficazes na mobilização de financiamento para as comunidades locais ou na geração de benefícios reais de conservação.
Ao mesmo tempo, o mercado voluntário de carbono está crescendo exponencialmente. Em 2021, já era avaliado em US$ 2 bilhões. Então precisamos achar a solução certa: isso já está acontecendo, quer você queira, quer não.
Meu foco é garantir que ele seja o mais íntegro e equitativo possível. Precisamos de dados e monitoramento transparentes para garantir que as reduções de emissões sejam reais e que os fundos gerados por meio das reduções de emissões realmente beneficiem as comunidades locais.
Gillian Caldwell, 56
Com formação nas universidades Harvard e Georgetown, é advogada, ativista e cineasta. Atualmente é diretora para assuntos climáticos da Usaid (Agência dos Estados Unidos para o Desenvolvimento Internacional), além de administradora-adjunta do órgão. Antes, foi CEO da ONG Global Witness. De 2007 a 2010, foi diretora da campanha 1SKy, iniciativa de mais de 600 organizações para aprovar a legislação climática nos EUA. Caldwell já recebeu diversos reconhecimentos no setor de empreendedorismo social, incluindo o Prêmio Skoll.
Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza on the “Maxim of Extravagance”
By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza
September 27, 2022
I noticed it recently when I scheduled my dog for a veterinarian’s appointment. The person who answered the phone was friendly enough and greeted me warmly, and then I made my request.
I’d like to make an appointment for my dog, I said. Wonderful, said the scheduler. June McCrary. Excellent. She needs an anal gland expression. Fantastic!
I was surprised anyone could be so over the moon to empty my chihuahua’s anal glands—if you google the procedure I’m sure you will be as well—but in a way, grateful too.
When I shared this story with a friend, she told me about a conversation she overheard between two parents at the park. What are your children’s names? one of them said as they watched a pair of boys fight each other for one of those cold metal animals that bobs back and forth. The other responded but my friend didn’t catch the answer. The conversation went on and one side sounded something like this: Really? Amazing. That’s so beautiful. Just beautiful.How did you choose names like that?
Their names: Matthew and David. Fine names. But when you ooze words like amazing and beautiful, I imagine we’re dealing with something like Balthazaar and Tiberius.
We reach for over-the-top words for just about anything. These amazings and wonderfuls and incredibles and fantastics, we throw them around as we once did OKs and thank yous and I can help with thats.
Surreal is another favorite word since the spring of 2020. During the first quarantine, driving through the city in the only car on the road really did feel surreal, so did seeing every business closed, like maybe we were living in a Saramago novel. A grocery store full of masked shoppers circling each other at a wary distance of six feet wasn’t exactly surreal, but it was strange enough, so we used it there too.
Eventually we ran out of places to put the word, and by then we were tired, so driving on the road with other cars became surreal, seeing other people standing close to each other in the grocery store was surreal, not having to wear a mask was surreal. It became a way to describe change, or anything out of the ordinary.
What is it that makes us talk this way? That to express a modicum of emotion, we have to reach for words like fantastic, incredible, unbelievable, and unreal, words meant to convey a certain level of magnitude, but that no longer carry their original weight.The less potent our words are, the more we have to reach for particularly emotive ones to say what we want to say.
Martin Hilpert, who teaches linguistics at the Université de Neuchâtel in Switzerland, told me this is nothing new. “Words with evaluative meanings lose potency as speakers apply them to more and more situations. Toilet paper that is especially soft can be ‘fantastic,’ a train delayed by ten minutes can be ‘a disaster.’”
This occurs in a sort of cycle, which Martin Haspelmath, a comparative linguist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, describes in a handful of steps.
It happens like this: To attract attention, we submit to the “maxim of extravagance.” You really want people to see the taxidermied pig you just bought, so you tell your friend, “Man, this thing is incredible. It’s wearing a lederhosen and everything.” Your friend goes to see the pig and he too is surprised by the thing. He starts telling his friends, “that thing is incredible.” This is called “conformity.” Word gets around the neighborhood and then the whole block is talking about the incredible taxidermied pig. This is called “frequency.” You’re out for a walk one day, and you flag down a Door Dasher on a bicycle. “Have you seen the—” “The incredible taxidermied pig? Yeah man, whatever.” This is called “predictability.”
Predictability is useful when we want to fit in with the crowd, but it’s not useful if we want to attract attention, which you need at this point, because you’ve started charging admission to see the pig. Now you need to innovate, and you’re back to the maxim of extravagance again, so the pig becomes unbelievable.
A pop-linguistic term for this is “semantic bleaching,” like staining all the color out of our words, and it happens with overuse. Another way to describe it is supply and demand. When we use a word too much and there are too many excellents and beautifuls floating around, each becomes less valuable.
Bleaching has a circular relationship with hyperbole. The less potent our words are, the more we have to reach for particularly emotive ones to say what we want to say, and we climb a crowded ladder to a place where all words are wispy and white and no one is really saying anything at all. That’s how anal gland expressions become fantastic and ordinary names like David and Matthew become amazing.
Writers and thinkers have many times over made the case that stale language is both a symptom and cause of the deterioration of critical thought. George Orwell, famously, for one. He writes in “Politics and the English Language” that a speaker who uses tired language has “gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself.”
There is a certain point when turns of phrase are so out of fashion they become fresh again. Orwell’s dying metaphors of the 1940s were take up the cudgel for and ring the changes on, which would feel interesting now. Ours are full-throated and deep dive and unpack and dig in and at the end of the day.
I contacted several academics for the writing of this essay and asked them whether the new abundance of communication accelerates the exhaustion of words. They insisted that there isn’t more communication going on now than in the past, it’s just more visible. If we’re talking this much, it might be that we’re desperate to exist. If we’re slinging around words like amazing and incredible and surreal, it might be that we’re looking for these things.
I don’t believe this is true. The overwhelming quantity of means we have for talking to each other, and the fact that we’re using them, tells me there is more communication. There are some friends I talk to daily because we share a text thread. I wouldn’t be calling all five of them every day otherwise. I can watch two people berate each other in the comments section of a Washington Post article about soup, two people that, thirty years ago, would never get the chance to come to blows over curry.
Language is adapted and spread through exposure, so of course change is accelerating. In the same way clothes fall in and out of fashion at shorter intervals now, because of social media and all our instant global connectedness, so do our words.
The fields of linguistics, anthropology, and English are full of hyperbole stans who go to great lengths to make the case for its value and importance. They call it “the master trope,” “the trope of tropes,” “a generator of thought and meaning,” “a tool of philosophical and religious inquiry,” “ an act of becoming,” and “a propelling toward transcendence from an eminent exigency.”
In a paper titled “Recovering Hyperbole: Rethinking the Limits of Rhetoric for an Age of Excess,” the scholar Joshua R. Ritter argues the prescience of hyperbole. For Ritter, hyperbole reflects an innate desire for understanding. He calls it “one of the most effective ways of trying to express the often confounding and inexpressible positions that characterize the litigious discussions of impossibility.”
Ritter also cites Saint Anselm of Canterbury, who believed that the way humans describe God is the archetypal example of hyperbole—it’s everything that cannot be understood, but we do our best to understand anyway.
“It dramatically holds the real and the ideal in irresolvable tension and reveals the impossible distance between the ineptitude and the infinite multiplicity of language to describe what is indescribable,” Ritter writes.
We may be often confounded, but we are hardly ever without something to say. The internet, the great proliferator of communication, incentivizes no one to be speechless. If you’re not talking, you’re not there, so the more frequently you speak, the more real you are. Stop talking and you disappear.
If we’re talking this much, it might be that we’re desperate to exist. If we’re slinging around words like amazing and incredible and surreal, it might be that we’re looking for these things. If we are Generation Hyperbole, it is because we are so desperate to feel something good and tremendous—we’re constantly reaching for something beyond. We want to feel awed, we want to be in touch with something dreamlike, we want to see things that are really beautiful, we’ve only forgotten where to find them. But we’re looking for meaning, you can see it in our language. Even Orwell believed “that the decadence of our language is probably curable.”
Global connectedness means we’re witness to terrible things on a terrible scale, and we share an inadequate language to understand it. We need to feel, even if that feeling is pain, and we need to know that we’re not alone in the feeling. If tragedy is now commonplace, why can’t truly excellent things, amazing things, fantastic things too become commonplace?
Once a perplexing and sometimes disturbing disorienting perception occurs, this vertige de l’hyperbole as Baudelaire refers to it, one is ready for a perspectival reorientation—a paradoxical movement leading toward insight and partial apprehension. By generating confusion through excess, hyperbole alters and creates meaning.