Arquivo da tag: Antropoceno

Is There a Secularocene? (Political Theology Network)

A Snapshot of Sea Ice by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center CC BY-NC 2.0

By Mohamad Amer Meziane – September 17, 2021

If modernity is the Anthropocene and if secularization is a defining feature of modernity’s birth, then it is natural to ask: did secularization engender climate change?

Why is secularization never connected to climate change? And why is climate change not connected to secularization? If modernity is the Anthropocene and if secularization is a defining feature of modernity’s birth, then it is natural to ask: did secularization engender climate change?

I aim to open a new space in the study of both secularism and the Anthropocene, of religion and climate change. Further, I aim to create a philosophical bridge between influential currents in anthropology and the humanities. I build this bridge through the critique of Orientalism and the anthropology of secularism and Islam, respectively founded by Edward Said and Talal Asad, on one hand, and the literature on the Anthropocene influenced by scholars such as Donna Haraway and Bruno Latour, on the other.

I argue that secularization should be re-conceptualized not only as an imperial and racial but also as an ecological set of processes.

My perspective stems from a philosophical engagement with both the project and the concept of secularization. It therefore presupposes a critical understanding of what has been called ‘the secular’ as a name given to the result of the destruction of nature: the transformation of the earth itself by industrial and colonial powers. I propose an alternative definition of secularization, secularism, and secularity. As I argue fully in my first book, Des empires sous la terre, the Anthropocene is an outcome of secularization understood as a set of processes engendered by the imperial relations of power between Europe and the rest of the world.

Thinking Through the Secularocene

What is secularization? Neither a supposed decline of religion nor a simple continuation of Christianity by other means, secularization should be seen as a transformation of the earth itself by virtue of its connection with fossil empires and capitalism.

This perspective differs from scholars who have been engaged in criticizing the idea of secularization as a mythology of progress and privatization – a mythology to which 9/11 proved false. I argue that the concept of secularization should be redefined instead of being dissolved. It is only if one presupposes that secularization is reducible to the privatization of religion that the existence of political religion can be construed as testifying against the reality of secularization. When one opposes the permanence of religion or of Christianity to the reality of secularization, one is in fact reactivating the secularization thesis in its primitive, Hegelian version (developed by Marcel Gauchet) – that modernity is the secular realization of Christianity on earth – and, therefore, of all religions in the world.

In other words, before it can be seen as a process, secularization should be approached as an order which articulates philosophy and politics, discourse and practices throughout the 19th century in Western Europe. Secularization is the order which claims that the other-worldliness of religion and the divine must be abolished by virtue of its realization in this world. The first instance of this demand is Hegel’s absolute knowledge and his interpretation of the French Revolution as the realization of heaven on earth. The so-called ‘end of history’ is indeed the accomplishment of a secularizing process by which the divine becomes the institution of freedom through the modern state.

The first way in which secularization manifests its reality is discursive. As a discourse, it asserts that the modern West must be and therefore is Christianity itself, Christianity as the secular. Before it can become an analytical concept, the concept of secularization formulates a demand: Christianity and religions realize heaven and all forms of transcendence in this world. 

Is the reality of secularization solely discursive? No. The reality of the secular is the earth itself as it is transformed by industrial capitalism. This redefinition of the secular and of secularization allows us to think alternatively about this ‘global’ event called climate change. I argue that the Anthropocene should be seen as an effect of secularization, and that one might use the word Secularocene to describe this dimension of ‘colonial modernity.’

How did secularization lead to climate change, one might ask? By authorizing the extraction of coal through expropriating lands that belonged to the Church, and dismissing the reality of demons in the underground as superstitious, secularization allowed fossil industrialism to transform the planet. For this reason, secularization should be seen as a crucial aspect of what Marx calls the primitive accumulation of capital: an extra-economic process of expropriation structured by state violence deploying itself through racial, gender, class, and religious hierarchies.

The critique of secularism is more than the critique of a political doctrine demanding the privatization of religion. It is the critique of how the earth itself has been transformed. As such, philosophical secularism refers to an ontology that posits this world as the sole reality. It defines immanence, or earth, as the reality which must be opposed to transcendence, or “heaven”. The critique of heaven is not the condition of all critique, as Marx famously puts it. It is part of how capitalism operates. Hence, the critique of heaven has transformed the earth itself through the secularization of both empire and capital.

While genealogy authorizes us to think about the categories of religion and secularity critically, it should be integrated within a larger perspective if we are to rethink secularization by constructing an alternative narrative of its deployment beyond the tropes of religion’s decline. A post-genealogical philosophy of history is a theory, not of progress, but of how the earth has been transformed through imperial and capitalist processes of globalization. The very existence of climate change invites us to think past Foucault’s legacies in postcolonial thought. Beyond genealogy, the hypothesis of the Anthropocene – or of the Secularocene for that matter – might require that we integrate genealogical inquiries into a radically new form of philosophical history. After the genealogy of religion and the secular, a philosophy of global history might help us understand imperial secularization as the birth of the Anthropocene.

By Mohamad Amer Meziane

Mohamad Amer Meziane holds a PhD from the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. He is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Lecturer at Columbia University. He is affiliated to the Institute of Religion Culture and Public Life, the Institute of African Studies and the Department of Religion.

Study finds humans are directly influencing wind and weather over North Atlantic (EurekaAlert!)

News Release 17-Apr-2021

The findings suggest that winters in Europe and in eastern US may get warmer and wetter

University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

Research News

IMAGE
IMAGE: The Positive NAO index phase shows a stronger than usual subtropical high pressure center and a deeper than normal Icelandic low. The increased pressure difference results in more and stronger… view more  Credit: Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

MIAMI–A new study led by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science provides evidence that humans are influencing wind and weather patterns across the eastern United States and western Europe by releasing CO2 and other pollutants into Earth’s atmosphere.

In the new paper, published in the journal npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, the research team found that changes in the last 50 years to an important weather phenomenon in the North Atlantic–known as the North Atlantic Oscillation–can be traced back to human activities that impact the climate system.

“Scientists have long understood that human actions are warming the planet,” said the study’s lead author Jeremy Klavans, a UM Rosenstiel School alumnus. “However, this human-induced signal on weather patterns is much harder to identify.”

“In this study, we show that humans are influencing patterns of weather and climate over the Atlantic and that we may be able to use this information predict changes in weather and climate up to a decade in advance,” said Klavans.

The North Atlantic Oscillation, the result of fluctuations in air pressure across the Atlantic, affects weather by influencing the intensity and location of the jet stream. This oscillation has a strong effect on winter weather in Europe, Greenland, the northeastern U.S. and North Africa and the quality of crop yields and productivity of fisheries in the North Atlantic.

The researchers used multiple large climate model ensembles, compiled by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, to predict the North Atlantic Oscillation. The analysis consisted of 269 model runs, which is over 14,000 simulated model years.

The study, titled “NAO Predictability from External Forcing in the Late Twentieth Century,” was published on March 25 in the journal npj Climate and Atmospheric Science. The study’s authors include: Klavans, Amy Clement and Lisa Murphy from the UM Rosenstiel School, and Mark Cane from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Climate and Large-Scale Dynamics program (grant # AGS 1735245 and AGS 1650209), NSF Paleo Perspectives on Climate Change program (grant # AGS 1703076) and NOAA’s Climate Variability and Predictability Program.

Humanity Now Lives in The Anthropocene. But What Does That Actually Mean? (Science Alert)

sciencealert.com

Carly Cassella, 24 April 2021


Robert Landau/Getty Images

In the last two decades, the Anthropocene has become an informal buzzword to describe the numerous and unprecedented ways humans have come to modify the planet. 

As the concept has become more widely adopted, however, definitions have begun to blur. Today, the very meaning of the Anthropocene and its timeline differs considerably depending on who is doing the talking.

To geologists and Earth system scientists, the Industrial Revolution is often considered the dawn of the Anthropocene – when human influence on Earth’s systems became predominant worldwide. 

Many anthropologists, historians, and archaeologists, however, consider the 18th century as more of a sunrise, when the era of humans truly began to heat up in some regions. Before that, there were already glimmers of human domination.

Since the Late Pleistocene, right through to the Holocene (our current epoch), humans have been producing “distinct, detectable and unprecedented transformations of Earth’s environments,” states a new paper on the subject.

And while these changes might not be enough to be technically defined as a new geological epoch, we need terms to describe this earlier influence, too. Because right now, people from various disciplines are using the term with subtly different meanings.

“Dissecting the many interpretations of the Anthropocene suggests that a range of quite distinct, but variably overlapping, concepts are in play,” says geologist Colin Waters from the University of Leicester in the UK.

Thousands of years before the boom of industrialization, globalization, nuclear bombs, and modern climate change, humans were already in the first stages of becoming a dominant planetary force.

The rise of crop domestication and hunting, the spread of livestock and mining, and the move to urbanization, for instance, have all caused great changes to Earth’s soil signature and its fossil record, setting us on a course to the modern day. 

As far back as 3400 BCE, for instance, people in China were already smelting copper, and 3,000 years ago, most of the planet was already transformed by hunter-gatherers and farmers. 

While these smaller and slower regional changes did not destabilize Earth’s entire system as more modern actions have, some researchers think we are underestimating the climate effects of these earlier land-use changes.

As such, some have considered using the terms “pre-Anthropocene” or “proto‐Anthropocene” to describe significant human impacts before the mid‐twentieth century.

Others argue a capitalized “Anthropocene” should represent the tightly defined geological concept of an epoch, while the uncapitalized version should be used for broader interpretations.

Even after the Industrial Revolution, when human influence is clear to see, some argue we need to define further advances of the Anthropocene.

The “Great Acceleration” of the mid-twentieth century, for instance, has been proposed as a “second stage” to the Anthropocene, when human enterprise and influence began growing exponentially. 

This second stage not only encompasses rapid geological changes, but it also refers to socioeconomic factors and modern biophysical processes that humans have also begun to alter with our actions.

“This shows an exemplar of ways in which ideas and terms move between disciplines, as is true for the Anthropocene,” researchers write.

It’s unclear what the next stage of the Anthropocene will look like, but many of the changes we have made are currently irreversible and may continue long after our species is gone. 

Still, the authors argue, one thing is clear. The exceptionally rapid transformations humans have made to our planet since the Great Acceleration “vastly outweigh” earlier climactic events of the Holocene.

“Given both the rate and scale of change marking the onset of the chronostratigraphic Anthropocene, it would be difficult to justify a rank lower than series/epoch,” the authors conclude.

The study was published in Earth’s Future.

Climate Change Has Knocked Earth Off Its Axis (Gizmodo)

earther.gizmodo.com

Brian Kahn, 23 April 2021


A 3D portrait of methane concentrations and a slightly wobblier Earth.
A 3D portrait of methane concentrations and a slightly wobblier Earth.

Of all the things attributable to climate change, the rotational poles moving differently is definitely one of the weirder ones. But a new study shows that’s exactly what’s happening. It builds on previous findings to show that disappearing ice is playing a major role, and shows that groundwater depletion is responsible for contributing to wobbles as well.

The findings, published last month in Geophysical Research Letters, uses satellites that track gravity to track what researchers call “polar drift.” While we think of gravity as a constant, it’s actually a moving target based on the shape of the planet. While earthquakes and other geophysical activities can certainly play a role by pushing land around, it’s water that is responsible for the biggest shifts. The satellites used for the study, known as GRACE and GRACE-FO, were calibrated to measure Earth’s shifting mass.

They’ve previously detected gravity changes tied to disappearing ice in Antarctica and the drought that led to groundwater depletion in California in the mid-2010s. The data can also reveal how these changes in gravity, in turn, impact the poles.

Polar drift is something that happens naturally. The Earth’s axis is slowly shifting, but there’s been a marked acceleration in recent decades. The poles are now moving at nearly 17 times the rate they were in 1981, a fairly remarkable speed-up. What’s even more remarkable, though, is that poles actually began moving in a new direction quite suddenly in 2000, at a rapid clip.

Previous research used the same satellite data to observe the speed-up and change of gear and attributed it to ice loss in Greenland and West Antarctica as well as groundwater pumping. The new study extends the record back to the 1990s and explores some of the year-to-year wobbles in more detail. The findings point to changes in groundwater use in specific regions as the source of some of those differences.

“Using the GRACE data (for the period 2002-2015) we showed that such interannual signals (as these authors pointed out: kinks at 2005 and 2012) can be explained by the terrestrial water storage,” Surendra Adhikari, a scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory who led the 2016 research, said in an email. “The new paper reinforces the statement by also showing that another kink in the polar motion data (at 1995) is also explained by total water storage variability, especially by the on-set of accelerated Greenland ice mass loss and depletion of water storage in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

“In general, the paper (along with our previous works) reveals the strong connection between the climate variability and how the Earth wobbles,” he added, noting the new study was a “nicely done paper.”

In the scheme of things, climate change triggering polar movement isn’t too worrisome, given the other clear and present dangers like intense heat waves, ocean acidification, and the sixth mass extinction. Ditto for the role of groundwater depletion, which has the potential to impact billions of lives. But it’s a powerful reminder of just how much humans have reshaped the planet and why we should probably cut it out sooner than later if we don’t want our world to turn upside down.

Correction, 4/23/21, 6:30 p.m.: This post has been updated to reflect that the rotational poles are the ones in question moving and being studied.

Ancient Indigenous forest gardens promote a healthy ecosystem, says study (Native News Post)

nativenewspost.com


An aerial view of a forest garden. Credit: SFU

A new study by Simon Fraser University historical ecologists finds that Indigenous-managed forests—cared for as “forest gardens”—contain more biologically and functionally diverse species than surrounding conifer-dominated forests and create important habitat for animals and pollinators. The findings are published today in Ecology and Society.

According to researchers, ancient forests were once tended by Ts’msyen and Coast Salish peoples living along the north and south Pacific coast. These forest gardens continue to grow at remote archeological villages on Canada’s northwest coast and are composed of native fruit and nut trees and shrubs such as crabapple, hazelnut, cranberry, wild plum, and wild cherries. Important medicinal plants and root foods like wild ginger and wild rice root grow in the understory layers.

“These plants never grow together in the wild,” says Chelsey Geralda Armstrong, an SFU Indigenous Studies assistant professor and the study lead researcher. “It seemed obvious that people put them there to grow all in one spot—like a garden. Elders and knowledge holders talk about perennial management all the time.”

“It’s no surprise these forest gardens continue to grow at archeological village sites that haven’t yet been too severely disrupted by settler-colonial land-use.”

Ts’msyen and Coast Salish peoples’ management practices challenge the assumption that humans tend to overturn or exhaust the ecosystems they inhabit. This research highlights how Indigenous peoples not only improved the inhabited landscape, but were also keystone builders, facilitating the creation of habitat in some cases. The findings provide strong evidence that Indigenous management practices are tied to ecosystem health and resilience.

“Human activities are often considered detrimental to biodiversity, and indeed, industrial land management has had devastating consequences for biodiversity,” says Jesse Miller, study co-author, ecologist and lecturer at Stanford University. “Our research, however, shows that human activities can also have substantial benefits for biodiversity and ecosystem function. Our findings highlight that there continues to be an important role for human activities in restoring and managing ecosystems in the present and future.”

Forest gardens are a common management regime identified in Indigenous communities around the world, especially in tropical regions. Armstrong says the study is the first time forest gardens have been studied in North America—showing how important Indigenous peoples are in the maintenance and defense of some of the most functionally diverse ecosystems on the Northwest Coast.

“The forest gardens of Kitselas Canyon are a testament to the long-standing practice of Kitselas people shaping the landscape through stewardship and management,” says Chris Apps, director, Kitselas Lands & Resources Department. “Studies such as this reconnect the community with historic resources and support integration of traditional approaches with contemporary land-use management while promoting exciting initiatives for food sovereignty and cultural reflection.”



More information:
Chelsey Geralda Armstrong et al, Historical Indigenous Land-Use Explains Plant Functional Trait Diversity, Ecology and Society (2021). DOI: 10.5751/ES-12322-260206

Citation:
Ancient Indigenous forest gardens promote a healthy ecosystem, says study (2021, April 22)
retrieved 22 April 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-04-ancient-indigenous-forest-gardens-healthy.html

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Ancient Indigenous forest gardens promote a healthy ecosystem (Science Daily)

Date: April 22, 2021

Source: Simon Fraser University

Summary: A new study by historical ecologists finds that Indigenous-managed forests — cared for as ‘forest gardens’ — contain more biologically and functionally diverse species than surrounding conifer-dominated forests and create important habitat for animals and pollinators.


A new study by Simon Fraser University historical ecologists finds that Indigenous-managed forests — cared for as “forest gardens” — contain more biologically and functionally diverse species than surrounding conifer-dominated forests and create important habitat for animals and pollinators. The findings are published today in Ecology and Society.

According to researchers, ancient forests were once tended by Ts’msyen and Coast Salish peoples living along the north and south Pacific coast. These forest gardens continue to grow at remote archaeological villages on Canada’s northwest coast and are composed of native fruit and nut trees and shrubs such as crabapple, hazelnut, cranberry, wild plum, and wild cherries. Important medicinal plants and root foods like wild ginger and wild rice root grow in the understory layers.

“These plants never grow together in the wild,” says Chelsey Geralda Armstrong, an SFU Indigenous Studies assistant professor and the study lead researcher. “It seemed obvious that people put them there to grow all in one spot — like a garden. Elders and knowledge holders talk about perennial management all the time.”

“It’s no surprise these forest gardens continue to grow at archaeological village sites that haven’t yet been too severely disrupted by settler-colonial land-use.”

Ts’msyen and Coast Salish peoples’ management practices challenge the assumption that humans tend to overturn or exhaust the ecosystems they inhabit. This research highlights how Indigenous peoples not only improved the inhabited landscape, but were also keystone builders, facilitating the creation of habitat in some cases. The findings provide strong evidence that Indigenous management practices are tied to ecosystem health and resilience.

“Human activities are often considered detrimental to biodiversity, and indeed, industrial land management has had devastating consequences for biodiversity,” says Jesse Miller, study co-author, ecologist and lecturer at Stanford University. “Our research, however, shows that human activities can also have substantial benefits for biodiversity and ecosystem function. Our findings highlight that there continues to be an important role for human activities in restoring and managing ecosystems in the present and future.”

Forest gardens are a common management regime identified in Indigenous communities around the world, especially in tropical regions. Armstrong says the study is the first time forest gardens have been studied in North America — showing how important Indigenous peoples are in the maintenance and defence of some of the most functionally diverse ecosystems on the Northwest Coast.

“The forest gardens of Kitselas Canyon are a testament to the long-standing practice of Kitselas people shaping the landscape through stewardship and management,” says Chris Apps, director, Kitselas Lands & Resources Department. “Studies such as this reconnect the community with historic resources and support integration of traditional approaches with contemporary land-use management while promoting exciting initiatives for food sovereignty and cultural reflection.”



Journal Reference:

  1. Chelsey Geralda Armstrong, Jesse E. D. Miller, Alex C. McAlvay, Patrick Morgan Ritchie, Dana Lepofsky. Historical Indigenous Land-Use Explains Plant Functional Trait Diversity. Ecology and Society, 2021; 26 (2) DOI: 10.5751/ES-12322-260206

Untouched nature was almost as rare 12,000 years ago as it is now (New Scientist)

Layal Liverpool, 19 April 2021


woodland
Woodland in the UK has been influenced by human activity for millenniaSteve Speller/Alamy

As early as 12,000 years ago, nearly three-quarters of land on Earth was inhabited and shaped by human societies, suggesting global biodiversity loss in recent years may have been driven primarily by an intensification of land use rather than by the destruction of previously untouched nature.

“It’s not the process of using land itself [that causes biodiversity loss], it’s the way that land is used,” says Erle Ellis at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “You can have traditional land use and still have biodiversity.”

Ellis and his colleagues analysed the most recent reconstruction of global land use by humans over the past 12,000 years and compared this with contemporary global patterns of biodiversity and conservation. They found that most – 72.5 per cent – of Earth’s land has been shaped by human societies since as far back as 10,000 BC, including more than 95 per cent of temperate and 90 per cent of tropical woodlands.

“Our work confirms that untouched nature was almost as rare 12,000 years ago as it is today,” says Ellis. He and his team found that lands now considered natural, intact or wild generally exhibit long histories of use, as do protected areas and lands inhabited only by relatively small numbers of Indigenous peoples.

The extent of historical human land use may previously have been underestimated because prior analyses didn’t fully account for the influence that hunter-gatherer populations had on landscapes, says Ellis. “Even hunter-gatherer populations that are moving around are still interacting with the land, but maybe in what we would see as a more sustainable way,” he says.

The researchers also found that in regions now characterised as natural, current global patterns of vertebrate species richness and overall biodiversity are more strongly linked to past patterns of land use than they are with present ones. Ellis says this indicates the current biodiversity crisis can’t be explained by the loss of uninhabited wild lands alone. Instead, this points to a more significant role for recent appropriation, colonisation and intensification of land use, he says.

“The concept of wilderness as a place without people is a myth,” says Yadvinder Malhi at the University of Oxford. “Where we do find large biomes without people living in them and using them – as in North American national parks, Amazonian forests or African game parks – it is because of a history of people being removed from these lands through disease or by force.”

“[This study] shows that high biodiversity is compatible with, and in some cases a result of, people living in these landscapes,” says Malhi. “Working with local and traditional communities, and learning from them, is essential if we are to try to protect biodiversity.”

“With ambitious calls to expand global terrestrial protected areas to cover 30 per cent or even half of the Earth, this [study] brings into focus that protection necessarily cannot mean the exclusion of people and anthropogenic land uses,” says Jason Riggio at the University of California, Davis. The “30 by 30” pledge, being championed by a coalition of more than 50 countries, aims to expand protected areas to cover at least 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030.

Joice Ferreira at Embrapa Amazônia Oriental in Brazil says that there are important roles for both protected areas and sustainable land use in preserving biodiversity. “The combination of deforestation, degradation […] and climate change make protected areas paramount,” she says, adding: “if Indigenous custodianship was important in the past, it is much more so nowadays, in the face of new and more intense threats.”

Journal reference: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2023483118

Antonio Nobre: O planeta está enfermo – é preciso ‘rejardiná-lo’ (National Geographic)

nationalgeographicbrasil.com

Em entrevista exclusiva, o cientista pioneiro na aplicação da Teoria de Gaia fala sobre a importância da cosmovisão indígena e oferece uma solução simples para salvar o planeta das mudanças climáticas: replantar as trilhões de árvores que derrubamos.
Floresta amazônica queima no Maranhão. Em entrevista, o cientista Antônio Nobre usa o exemplo da Etiópia, que plantou 353 milhões de árvores em 12 horas, para defender que somos capazes de recuperar o planeta: “Se a humanidade inteira fizer, em dois meses nós plantamos um trilhão de árvores no planeta inteiro.”
Foto de Charlie Hamilton James

Por Paulina Chamorro

Publicado 3 de fev. de 2021 17:00 BRT


Antonio Nobre é um cientista que fala das ciências da terra com amor. Pode parecer estranho ler essas palavras em uma mesma frase, mas, após ouvi-lo, em poucos minutos entendemos que seu ponto de partida é múltiplo e que muito do que a ciência não calcula também entra na equação de Nobre.

Um dos principais precursores da Teoria de Gaia aplicada, Nobre traduziu os rios voadores para a população brasileira e faz da divulgação científica misturada com saberes tradicionais um ato de amor pela natureza.

Em entrevista exclusiva e inédita realizada em outubro de 2020, o agrônomo, mestre em biologia, doutor em ciências da terra, ex-pesquisador do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia e pesquisador sênior do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais conversa por videoconferência sobre como salvar o planeta.

Há seis anos, Nobre publicou o relatório O Futuro Climático da Amazônia, onde discorreu sobre alguns “segredos da floresta” – como os rios voadores e a bomba biótica, um teoria que ele afirma ter captado os mecanismos que provam que a Terra é um grande organismo vivo. Hoje, junto do grupo Biotic Pump Greening Group, formado por uma equipe multidisciplinar de cientistas e ativistas, defende que, para curar as doenças que afligem o organismo Terra, devemos ‘rejardinar’ o planeta, plantando novamente as trilhões de árvores que derrubamos ao longo dos séculos.

Tudo está relacionado, e Antonio Nobre avisou há tempos.

Antonio Nobre dá uma palestra em seminário realizado em 2019. Um dos principais precursores da Teoria de Gaia aplicada, Nobre é agrônomo, mestre em biologia, doutor em ciências da terra, ex-pesquisador do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia e pesquisador sênior do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais.
Foto de Reinaldo Canato/Divulgação FRUTO

Paulina Chamorro, National Geographic: No seu mais recente livro, A vida não é útil, o filósofo, escritor e líder indígena Ailton Krenak fala da Teoria de Gaia e que você é um “continuador dessas especulações sobre diferentes linguagens que o organismo Terra utiliza para se comunicar conosco”. Como as ciências da Terra e a cosmovisão indígena se aproximam para você?

Antonio Nobre: Uma vez eu estava tendo uma conversa com os indígenas, em Manaus, em um evento organizado pelo Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) e outras organizações e a gente estava começando esse diálogo. Eles queriam que a gente falasse sobre a floresta, fotossíntese, carbono porque estava começando essa coisa de vender carbono e de que floresta vale pela massa dela. Quando terminei a apresentação, os indígenas começaram a se manifestar. Tinha alguns bem jovens e um deles pegou o microfone e disse: ‘Cientista acha que sabe muito, cientista não sabe nada. Cientista acha que vê a Terra com satélite lá de fora, mas ele não entende nada do que ele vê. Cientista sabe muito menos do que o sábio indígena’.

Quando ele terminou, eu peguei o microfone e falei: ‘Eu queria dizer o seguinte, 1/16 do sangue que corre na minha veia é de indígena e tem um outro tanto que é de quilombola. Tem uma maior parte que é de branco europeu, como a maior parte dos brasileiros chamados brancos. É uma mistura aqui. Então, eu não gostei de vocês falarem que a gente não sabe nada, porque eu me sinto parente de vocês. Eu estudei ciência, não estudei a ciência indígena, estudei a ciência do branco e eu estou aqui com a disposição da gente conversar, trocar ideias’. E a gente começou a conversar a partir daí, houve um diálogo.

Anos mais tarde, o ISA publicou um livro chamado Manejo do mundo, e eu fiz um capítulo desse livro, contando um pouco dessa história que eu acabei de contar. Nesse capítulo, eu fui estudar um pouquinho do que outro sábio, o Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, tinha falado e, registrado por Bruce Albert, publicado no livro A queda do céu, que é um livro clássico, importante, da sabedoria yanomami, sobre vários assuntos. E eu peguei o que era atinente ao que eu fazia, que era a parte de clima, floresta e fui fazendo uma comparação. Ele falava uma coisa e eu ia buscar o rebatimento daquela coisa fazendo a tradução na ciência. E o que eu vi? Que tudo o que o livro falava era extremamente fundamentada na melhor ciência, sem conhecer nada da ciência do branco. Ele conhecia a ciência que ele chama do saber dos espíritos da floresta. E isso daí foi um exercício que me abriu um campo de progressão. Inclusive, algo que mudou minha carreira de cientista, que era puramente cientista duro, das ciências da natureza, mas que está acostumado a fazer de acordo com a liturgia da ciência.

Eu percebi que a ciência, com todos os seus valores – eu não estou desmerecendo em absoluto a ciência – também tem suas coisas não explicáveis, aquilo que não é alcançado. Tem defeitos também, inclusive em relação à vaidade, ao ego. Tem uma espécie de preconceito contra o saber da natureza, como se o saber tivesse que ser arrancado da natureza usando esmeril, martelo, talhadeira. Então, na minha perspectiva, não era uma postura de recepção, de contemplação ou uma postura filosófica. É uma postura de ir lá, colocar instrumento, medir, olhar imagem de satélite e arrancar da natureza um conhecimento e apresentar para o mundo: ‘Olha o que eu descobri’.

Eu percebi isso. Fiz também uma autocrítica e comecei a ver aquela sabedoria indígena. Uma sabedoria sintética, que é transmitida por fábula, que encanta através da sua poesia porque não é só um saber frio, um saber calculista, é um saber eivado das energias da natureza, eivado da espiritualidade que existe na natureza que eles veem e reverenciam. É uma relação também de filho para mãe, a mãe terra, a mãe natureza. E uma relação de reverência inerente. Ela já é assim, sempre foi. Claro que existem desvios, tem povos indígenas que já não se ligam mais, que foram muito influenciados por essa cultura europeia que veio para cá e que se desenvolveu de forma parcial.

A partir desse momento de reconhecimento da beleza e do poder da simplicidade do conhecimento indígena, eu comecei a reavaliar o meu conhecimento científico pelo viés reducionista, aquele viés cartesiano, racionalista, e perceber também que a sabedoria não é restrita ao intelecto. A sabedoria é uma propriedade do universo. E quando nós – como intelectos ou como seres cognitivos ou conscientes, ou pelo menos que buscam a consciência – começamos a olhar para sabedoria do universo sem colocar o ego na frente, ou seja, como seres contempladores ou contemplativos, a gente percebe a grandiosidade desse saber que já existe na natureza e que, quando nós estudamos e nos inteiramos e absorvemos esse saber, a gente está, na realidade, fazendo um empréstimo. Nós estamos tomando algo pré-existente, já configurado por uma inteligência superior e nos apropriando, nos embebendo daquele saber, daquele conhecimento.

N.G.: Estamos vivendo uma última chance do equilibrio de Gaia?

A.N.: As pessoas não se dão conta de estarem existindo em um mundo de complexidade absurda que está enfermo. E como a gente percebe que ele está enfermo? Febre, calor, frio em alguns lugares. Em 2019, teve dois fenômenos: a Besta do Leste (Beast from the East), uma massa de ar polar do polo Norte deslocada para cima da Rússia que depois chegou na Europa e congelou tudo, até nas pirâmides nevou. E lá no polo norte, que chegou não sei quantos graus Celsius acima do normal. Está ficando tudo confuso, como fica nosso corpo quando está enfermo. A gente tem febre, a gente começa a ter mal-estar, a digestão não funciona direito, dá dor de cabeça. O planeta Terra é vivo, não há mais nenhuma dúvida em relação a isso e nenhuma controvérsia no mundo científico. Finalmente, a teoria de Gaia hoje é uma das teorias mais importantes da história, que descobriu o funcionamento do planeta. O planeta é vivo e hoje nós temos os mecanismos que mostram a fisiologia do planeta, a relação dos ecossistemas – a vida na Terra é responsável pela regulação planetária. Como a vida na Terra está sob ataque intenso e destrutivo, é normal esperar isso. Se você pegar um ser humano e começar a atacar os fígados, os rins, o coração, chega uma hora que o corpo vai, inicialmente, cair enfermo e, depois, morto.

Então, a possibilidade de matarmos Gaia existe, está em curso. Na realidade, nós estamos matando Gaia porque no momento em que todos os ecossistemas da Terra mostram sinais de falência, aumentam as atividades, não só de governos, mas de empresas e indivíduos com motosserra, trator. 

Mas, às vezes, o consumo é fabricado também. Eu queria só fazer uma menção ao fato de que o covid-19 é o primeiro freio de arrumação que Gaia está apresentando para essa humanidade, que ficou perdida na sua própria ilusão de grandeza. A covid-19 bloqueou o planeta. E aí, o que nós vamos fazer com isso? A primeira coisa que a covid fez foi mostrar que era mentira que a gente não pode frear o ‘desenvolvimento’ ou a economia. Mentira. A gente freou este ano [2020]. Morreram pessoas? Muitas morreram, muitas ficaram enfermas, muitas perderam emprego e, não obstante, não acabou a humanidade, nem acabou a civilização. Agora, temos a oportunidade de aprender a lição com a covid sobre o que os povos indígenas, há 500 anos, e os cientistas, há 30 anos, vem berrando e dizendo: ‘Está errado, esta forma de existir na Terra é enferma e ela vai matar a todos, não só os humanos, todos os seres’. Uma grande extinção já está em curso.

Concluindo, a situação do planeta Terra é de um ser enfermo. Não por acaso veio uma enfermidade para, de certa forma, produzir uma certa imunidade para a Terra. Então, a covid é como se fosse um anticorpo contra o agente infeccioso. Quem é o agente infeccioso? A mentalidade humana, não o ser humano. Nós somos surgidos da natureza, mas a nossa mentalidade é que nos colocou nessa posição de antagonismo com a vida que nos dá suporte e é, de certa forma, ou, de forma total, suicida. Se você destrói o que te mantém vivo, você morre. É suicídio se você faz isso por deliberação, que é o que a humanidade tem feito. Por deliberação, está indo lá destruir a floresta Amazônica, destruir o Pantanal. Agora, eu fiquei sabendo, em volta da Ilha de Galápagos, uma frota de barcos chineses arrasta tudo que tem de vida marítima lá.

N.G.: Queria que contasse sobre a regulação biótica do ambiente, que é como a Teoria de Gaia passou a ser reconhecida. Que caminhos são esses? E como chegamos aos rios voadores da Amazônia?

A.N.: Victor Gorshkov e Anastassia Makarieva já tinham publicado – e foi assim que eu os conheci – um livro chamado Regulação Biótica do Ambiente em um período em que [a teoria de] Gaia estava sendo controversa no meio científico, principalmente pelo rechaço que os neodarwinistas faziam a Gaia desde o começo. Fizeram oposição cerrada, ridicularizaram Gaia. E o James Lovelock e a Lynn Margulis – quando lançaram a teoria de Gaia, hipótese de Gaia na época, nos anos 1970 – lançaram como uma ideia, como o Copérnico lançou a ideia de que a Terra girava em volta do Sol e não o Sol em volta da Terra. Mas eles não mostraram muitos mecanismos. Mais tarde, o James Lovelock começou a mostrar alguns mecanismos de como a vida regularia o clima da Terra. Mas, ainda assim, ficou a noção do Copérnico, que eles constataram que a Terra era um sistema autorregulado. James Lovelock trabalhou com a Nasa nas primeiras tentativas de mandar sondas para outros planetas, Marte e Vênus. Ele entendeu que a Terra é um lugar muito especial, que os nossos dois vizinhos são lugares especiais ao seu modo, mas Vênus é superquente e Marte é superfrio. Não tem condição nenhuma de vida nesses lugares e a Terra é este lugar extraordinário. Então, eles perceberam, a Terra é viva, é essa a explicação. A Terra é viva. Mas sem mostrar os mecanismos. Lá nos anos 1990, Victor Gorshkov e outros autores construíram a teoria da regulação biótica do ambiente, que eu chamo de Gaia 2.0. Por quê? Você sabe, os russos não vão ao banheiro sem escrever uma equação, eles são muito quantitativos. No caso, eram dois físicos de partícula teóricos. Tudo é equação. É como se fosse Newton ou Einstein: eles tinham essa visão quantitativa e teórica da ciência, entraram nesse campo do sistema terrestre, ou ciência de Gaia, e lançaram esse livro. Saiu em 2000, eu comprei o livro, li e falei: ‘Mataram a charada!’ Essas pessoas vieram e mostraram o que James Lovelock e Margulis não tinham mostrado: os mecanismos com as equações em baixo. Eles demonstraram Gaia – sem falar o nome Gaia porque eles não usam essa expressão, mas regulação biótica do ambiente.

Naquela época, não podia falar Gaia. ‘Ah esse cara deve ser religioso, muita perseguição mesmo.’ ‘Herege, está do lado de uma teoria que não tem nenhum fundamento.’ Muitos biólogos fizeram esse papel, por incrível que possa parecer, porque biólogo é quem estuda a vida. Como é que pode quem estuda a vida ter sido o pior inimigo da teoria que dizia que a Terra é viva? Foram eles que a descarrilaram por, praticamente, 40 anos. Recentemente, um deles começou a voltar, porque agora já tantos estão informando que Gaia é real. Eles começaram a voltar e falar: ‘Não, não, eu acho que Gaia pode mesmo, pode ser darwinizada e não sei o que’. Mas tardiamente. Bom, melhor tarde do que nunca. 

Eu entrei em contato com [Victor Gorshkov e Anastassia Makarieva] e depois a gente começou a trabalhar juntos.

Essa interação com os russos progrediu quando eu estava trabalhando no Programa de Grande Escala da Biosfera-Atmosfera na Amazônia (LBA), um projeto que juntou gente de três continentes. América Latina – principalmente os brasileiros, mas não só –, América do Norte – com o pessoal via Nasa – e Europa, muitas instituições, universidades, centenas. Na realidade, acho que chegou, em algum momento, a mais de mil cientistas. Eu estava trabalhando na Amazônia, estudando tudo aquilo e, nessa época, montei a primeira torre de fluxo na Amazônia, em 1995. Depois, montei a primeira torre de longo prazo, que está funcionando até hoje, perto de Manaus, em 1998. E depois ajudei a construir esse projeto. A gente estava observando o que a floresta estava fazendo e eu comecei a fazer essas indagações, os mistérios da Amazônia que eu conto lá no meu relatório de 2014. As indagações eram: Como a floresta subsiste? Essa foi uma ponderação que eu fiz. Como a floresta subsiste aos cataclismos planetários, aos cataclismos que atingem Gaia e continua existindo? Ela tem que ter uma capacidade extraordinária. E eu propus isto, que ela teria a capacidade de puxar a umidade do oceano para dentro do continente.

Nessa época eu tinha lido a Regulação biótica do ambiente, do Gorshkov e da Makarieva, e eu entrei em contato com eles e começamos a colaborar. Isso foi em 2004. Aí, eles pegaram as ideias e a gente interagiu muito em cima do que eles já estavam fazendo. Eles já estavam trabalhando com essa noção de que a floresta controla a atmosfera, e eu trouxe a vivência e os dados da Amazônia e essa hipótese. Dois anos depois, eles apresentaram a teoria da bomba biótica. Basicamente, eles botaram as equações e mostraram de que forma as florestas são capazes de gerar sua própria chuva. Isso era o contrário da crença dos meteorologistas da época – eles achavam que tinha floresta na banda equatorial porque chovia na banda equatorial. A teoria da bomba biótica demonstrou que chovia na banda equatorial por conta das florestas. Se você tirar a floresta, acaba a chuva.

Já tem 16 anos que a gente trabalha em colaboração. Publicamos muitos trabalhos mostrando os mecanismos da bomba biótica de umidade até o ponto de perceber que a forma mais efetiva de lidar com as mudanças climáticas é parar de emitir gases poluentes – CO2, metano, óxido nitroso, todos os gases que ajudam a aquecer o planeta. É uma condição básica, mas a gente descobriu isso na nossa pesquisa.

A forma necessária, indispensável, para regular o planeta é restaurar os ecossistemas da Terra, porque foram os ecossistemas da Terra que mantiveram e que geraram este ambiente confortável, este clima amigável que tem o planeta. Não existe nenhum outro corpo celeste conhecido com condições semelhantes e a única explicação que nós temos aqui é a vida. Então, o que tem que se fazer? Restaurar a vida na Terra, restaurar. Tem um outro nome para isso, em inglês se chama rewilding, wild de selvagem, re de reconstruir o selvagem, reconstruir a natureza. Nos últimos 200 anos, a humanidade desmatou e matou três trilhões de árvores grandes. Três trilhões, ou seja, metade do que a Terra tinha. Então, você imagina um pinguço cortando metade do fígado fora, o fígado que processa o álcool. Foi o que a gente fez. A gente cortou metade das florestas do mundo e é por isso que o aquecimento global está acelerando. Também por conta da poluição, mas não é só a poluição, o principal é a destruição dos órgãos que mantém o planeta funcional e amigável.

Concluindo: esse processo na ciência é muito lento. Veja o caso de Gaia. Em 1974 saiu o livro do Lovelock e da Lynn Margulis e depois foi controversa, controversa, controversa e só começou a virar uma unanimidade agora em 2017, em 2018 – 40 anos a gente perdeu no processo. E a gente não tem mais esse tempo. Claro que a teoria da bomba biótica também foi controversa, mas não tanto quanto a hipótese de Gaia. Já tem muita gente aceitando, mas tem uma banda de meteorologistas que odeiam a teoria, acha que está errada porque a gente mostrou algumas inconsistências na ciência deles. Está atrasando, não está chegando. Então o que a gente resolveu fazer? O mesmo que a gente fez com os rios voadores. Os rios voadores eram uma coisa meio borderline, meio lateral, que existia desde 1992. Dois americanos, acho que são irmãos, descreveram um aeroriver para explicar um fenômeno de uma inundação na Califórnia, mas depois ficou meio pegando poeira nos escaninhos da ciência. Em 2004, o José Marengo testou os jatos de baixos níveis, as monções da América do Sul, que explicavam mais ou menos o transporte de umidade da Amazônia para cá [São Paulo]. Antes disso, em 1979, o professor Dr. Enéas Salati já tinha sugerido uma ligação entre a floresta Amazônica e o Sul, Sudeste do Brasil, mas ficou nisso.

Aí eu encontrei o Gérard Moss, que é aviador, e a Margi Moss, esposa dele. Eles eram empreendedores, tinham feito o projeto Brasil das Águas com um hidroavião – eles pousaram com um hidroavião em todos os rios e lagos do Brasil pegando amostra e mandando para limnólogos. Eu dei a ideia para o Gérard: ‘Por que você não segue os rios de vapor na Amazônia?’. Ele pegou a ideia e depois convidamos cientistas – o Carlos Nobre, o José Marengo, o professor Salate. Fizemos um grupo e montamos o projeto Rios Voadores. Esse projeto trabalhou muito a comunicação. Em 2008, saiu uma reportagem no Fantástico. Em 2009, na BBC, um documentário belíssimo. Em 2010, eu dei uma palestra no TED e aí a coisa se tornou extremamente sexy, atraente, capturou a imaginação das pessoas antes de ser uma unanimidade científica. Mas a ciência veio atrás, ocorreu uma retro-fertilização. De 2012 para frente, vários artigos saíram na Science, na Nature sobre os rios aéreos da Amazônia. Hoje já é um termo consolidado. 

N.G.: Sobre o grupo da bomba biótica, como é esse projeto e quanto tempo temos?

A.N.: Esse grupo, o Biotic Pump Greening Group, a gente formou, principalmente, com cientistas, mas não só. É um grupo internacional e a nossa proposta é estudar sistemas de Gaia e entender como é que funciona. E um dos lugares que nós mais nos aprofundamos nesse entendimento é a Amazônia. Como a América do Sul foi aquinhoada com esse berço esplêndido? Por que a Amazônia é o que é, como é? Por que ela tem uma capacidade de lidar por mais de 50 milhões de anos com os cataclismos planetários? Nesse período de 50 milhões de anos, a Terra passou por meteoros, passou por aquecimento e resfriamento, teve as glaciações, os oceanos mudaram as correntezas, as correntezas atmosféricas, e a Amazônia aguentou firme. Estudando isso, nós chegamos a desenvolver – eu fui um dos que ajudou os dois colegas russos a desenvolver – a teoria da bomba biótica.

Demorou 70 anos para ser demonstrada a teoria da migração dos continentes e hoje é matéria básica para qualquer geólogo, não tem um geólogo que não sabe que tem deriva de continente, mas demorou 70 anos. Gaia, 40 anos. Bomba biótica nós não temos nem mais um ano, já está acabando o planeta. Nós estamos em condição terminal de enfermidade para a Gaia, por isso as mudanças climáticas. A reação que nós temos que ter é uma reação exponencial, uma reação de multiplicação, além da geométrica, e a humanidade tem capacidade, eu tenho certeza que sim. Sabe por quê? Porque em agosto do ano passado, isso só para dar um exemplo, o povo de um país na África Oriental chamado Etiópia plantou 353 milhões de árvores em 12 horas. É um país que tem 109 milhões de habitantes, ou seja, seria equivalente a cada habitante plantar três mudas de árvore. E a China, nos últimos 25 anos, plantou uma área de floresta equivalente ao que o Brasil destruiu nos últimos 40, 800 mil km².

Claro, tem problemas, não vingou tudo, a mesma coisa da Etiópia, várias vão morrer. Mas o fato de que a gente, como humanidade, consegue. Se a gente se colocar, são sete bilhões de seres com capacidade cognitiva e capacidade de mudar o mundo a ponto de gerar uma nova era geológica, chamada antropoceno. O ser humano, essa cultura que tomou o planeta, essa tal de civilização tecnológica, tem, hoje, a mesma competência que as eras geológicas de milhões de anos do passado tinham para mudar o planeta, só que no sentido destrutivo. Nós estamos propondo com esse grupo que nós somos capazes de replantar Gaia, usando uma expressão cunhada por uma amiga e ativista, a Suprabha Seshan, da Índia. Ela é do Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, que fica em Kerala, na parte ocidental da Índia e faz o resgate de floresta. E ela chama assim: ‘Nós temos que rejardinar a biosfera’. Esse conceito transmite tudo que é: uma horticultura ecológica.

Nós precisamos fazer um trabalho, e nos é facultado fazer esse trabalho por conta de uma tecnologia absolutamente fantástica da natureza chamada semente. As pessoas falam ‘ah semente’, claro, você come no seu cereal todo dia. Mas a semente é um milagre tecnológico – se você olhar por qualquer ângulo, se você pegar uma semente e estudá-la, entender o que tem dentro de uma semente, como ela funciona. Pegaram um sarcófago do Egito, acharam com 3 mil anos de idade, tinha sementes dentro, plantaram e germinou. Imagina um carro parado 3 mil anos, você chegar lá e tentar dar partida no carro. Nada. Na verdade, não vai ser um carro, vai ser uma ruína. Uma estrutura que tem alguma coisa viva dentro dela, tem um embrião vivo, durar 3 mil anos e você botar na terra com água, sol e germinar. Eles germinaram uma palmeira que está extinta na natureza, que estava nas sementes lá dentro do sarcófago. Essa tecnologia nós não temos, é a tecnologia de Gaia. Gaia já passou por muitos cataclismos e não existe um ser vivo que não tenha um propágulo de reprodução. Os fungos têm os esporos, as bactérias têm os cistos, os animais têm ovos e desenvolvimento como nós, que somos fetos, as árvores. E isso está tudo na nossa mão. Por que a Etiópia foi lá e plantou 353 milhões de árvores?

Eu fiz uma conta usando a mesma taxa de plantio que a Etiópia fez. Se a humanidade inteira fizer – claro que tem gente que não vai poder plantar, que vive em lugares gelados –, mas fazendo as coisas de maneira generosa, em dois meses nós plantamos um trilhão de árvores no planeta inteiro. Dois meses. Então, por que não está ao alcance? Está ao alcance dessa humanidade. E a gente ainda [pode] usar a tecnologia para acelerar, para plantar em lugares que hoje não são apropriados para o plantio de árvores, como os desertos, por exemplo. Com a teoria da bomba biótica, a gente está mostrando que é possível porque a natureza fez isso ao longo de milhões de anos. Nós podemos acelerar o processo, a gente sabe como, porque a gente aprendeu nos ecossistemas que hoje funcionam, ou que funcionavam, e estão sendo destruídos agora. 

Em sumário, esse grupo Biotic Pump Greening Group é a nossa resposta e a nossa proposta para a união. Nós não queremos fazer uma coisa que só nós sabemos. A gente quer compartilhar, a gente quer juntar, a gente quer unir, puxar todas as capacidades e competências, que não são poucas, que tem na Terra, inclusive, e especialmente, as dos indígenas. Porque eles têm uma capacidade de síntese que nos remete a matemática, que é elegância. A demonstração de um teorema em poucas linhas é visto pelos matemáticos como uma demonstração elegante. E não é elegante da moda, nem elegante da frivolidade, é elegância genuína do poder da simplicidade, como E=mc² do Einstein. Uma equação simples e que dá conta de processos grandiosos. Isso eu vejo na sabedoria indígena. Toda essa complexidade que eu estou falando aqui, intelectivamente, dos sistemas vivos, dos mecanismos, das maquinarias, os indígenas têm uma competência em sintetizar em uma frase, em uma sabedoria que é potente, é autoexplicativa e que muitas vezes usa conceitos da fábula e, portanto, captura a imaginação das pessoas, o cérebro direito, a narrativa, a contação de história. Ali, embutido naquela semente de sabedoria, tem toda essa complexidade que eu, aqui do meu lado da ciência reducionista, estou cavando na terra que nem um tatu, como disse Davi Kopenawa. Todo esse conhecimento detalhista, minucioso, com microscópio, é empacotado em uma frase, com sabedoria, com poesia. Não que seja inútil, ao contrário. A gente pode com ela esmiuçar, cavar como um tatu, essa potência da simplicidade e da elegância que os indígenas têm ao descrever como funciona Gaia, ao descrever como funciona a vida, não só Gaia. Como funciona também a cultura, uma cultura que não é divorciada da mãe Terra, da mãe corpo, ela é integrada, ela tem uma relação de amizade, não de oponência, de guerra, de luta, mas, ao contrário, de amizade, de embrace, de abraçar. E essa conexão é urgente e indispensável porque, se eu pegar toda a nossa sabedoria teórica ou prática ou tecnológica ou de engenharia e tentar resolver o problema da Terra, como muitos estão propondo – geoengenharia, de jogar poeira lá na estratosfera para esfriar o planeta, botar um espelho no espaço, jogar ferro no oceano para fertilizar as algas –, tudo isso é loucura, é distopia pura. Vai levar a gente a destruir mais rápido o resto que ainda sobra da parte viva de Gaia por estar entrando em conflagração com a complexidade de funcionamento, de estrutura.

How the History of Brazil’s Oil Industry Can Inform Our Understanding of the Anthropocene (Past & Present Blog)

Original publication

Josh Allen | January 25, 2021

by Dr. Antoine Acker (University of Zurich)

Between August 2019 and July 2020, a forest area roughly the size of Belgium was destroyed in the Brazilian Amazon. According to climatologists, the Amazon’s transformation into a savanna is one of the main tipping point towards hothouse earth, the most extreme global warming scenario. Tropical rainforests are not only endangered carbon sinks, but their burning is also a major source of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, making a place like the Amazon decisive in the current epoch which geologists named the Anthropocene. The latter, marked by the anthropic transformation in the earth system, invites historians to reassess the human past in the light of its impact on the planet’s ecology.

Although GHG particles disregard national borders when they spread in the atmosphere, the rise in their emissions over time is the product of institutions, systems and patterns, which humans have constructed. For example, in my book about the history of the Volkswagen Company in the Amazon, I studied the tight articulation between global capitalism and Brazilian state-led development in setting in motion the first wave of massive tropical deforestation in the region in the early 1970s. But Brazil also matters in the history of the Anthropocene for a different reason: its contribution to the fossil fuel, in particular hydrocarbons, economy.

Graphic presentation of the “Hino do Petróleo”, a march by Sylvio Theodosio de Mello (1949), which Brazilian congressmen proposed to make a national anthem in 1955. Source: Arquivo (digital) da Câmara dos Deputados, Lote 33, Cx 28, PL N 508/1955 74.

In 1953, Brazil became the first country in the world to enter the oil market with a state monopoly, Petrobras, initiating a history of technological breakthroughs whose most spectacular manifestation was the country’s leading role in the global development of offshore platforms. In the past thirty years, Petrobras has been a major award winner and patent holder in the field of oil exploration, making technological leaps that have intensified the world’s energy dependence. With the progressive exhaustion of conventional oil sources, offshore oil is poised to become the leading fossil fuel on a planet marked by climate instability, and Brazil to rise to one of the world´s largest producers, possibly “fuelling” the economic growth of two giant CO2-emitters, China and India.

Cover of the first edition of José Bento Monteiro Lobato´s children best-seller, “O Poço do Visconde” (São Paulo, 1937). While the image clearly conveys Lobato´s racist worldview, in my article I discuss the ambiguous racial message which Brazilian political elites sought to associate with the promotion of petroleum production.

In view of this and other scenarios, the history of Brazil’s oil needs to be explored urgently. In my article “A Different Story in the Anthropocene: Brazil’s Post-Colonial Quest for Oil (1930–1975)”, in the current issue of Past & Present (#249), I argue that this relatively recent development does not result from a simple technology transfer from older industrialized countries but inscribes itself in a national project of economic emancipation that started around 1930. Seen as an opportunity to regain national sovereignty over natural resources and reorient their use towards domestic industrial development, oil became a post-colonial symbol expected to free Brazil from its peripheral position in the global economy. The energy reform entailed in the rise of national petroleum raised hopes of ridding the country of the heritage of colonial exploitation, slavery, and the squandering of soils and forests, which lingered long after national independence was gained in 1822.

Journalist and songwriter Petronilha Pimentel at the Candéias oil gush near Salvador da Bahia (1948). Source: Arquivo CPDOC, EG foto 0068

Through this example, I believe it is possible to recontextualize the Anthropocene, particularly from three angles which previous literature on the topic has underplayed:

– Histories of the Anthropocene so far have relied mainly on a Western progress storyline, strangely reviving Eurocentric and teleological narratives which social sciences had spent the last forty years deconstructing. The history of Brazilian petroleum opens new theoretical perspectives by shedding light on specific causalities that explain the attraction of fossil fuels in formerly colonized societies.

– In terms of methodology, I suggest paying more attention to the political, social and cultural dynamics, which co-shaped energy dependency together with the evolving technological offer and economic feedback loops. Anthropocene historians’ overwhelming focus on sciences and technology (which are surely part, but not all of the story) tend to reproduce the essentialist narrative that we are a homo technologicus’ species whose thirst for energy is unappeasable. A multidimensional analysis of historical processes, in contrast, can help understand how the modern world’s energy was stimulated by public and private discourses, which cultural production mirrored and fed. In the article, I explore pictorial representations, fictional literature and music that conveyed images of national unity and freedom: for example, a march celebrating an oil-fueled society “with no shackles to enslave”, a children’s book telling the utopic story of a grandmother curing Brazil from poverty by redistributing the profits of an oil well found in her backyard, or a samba describing oil towers growing out of the old colonial cane fields. In 1948 this samba’s author, Petronilha Pimentel, posed in front of photographs while smearing her hands with oil, like Brazil’s president Getulio Vargas did in 1952 to symbolize the integration of petroleum as part of the nation’s body.

– Finally, I believe that a fair assessment of past energy transitions is only possible if historians recontextualize the meaning of environmental thought in past societies which did not have cognizance of the atmospheric impact of fossil fuel consumption. In this sense, it should be possible to research the agency of Global South societies in the Anthropocene without shifting the blame for climate change to them. In this article, for example, I show how oil production projects in Brazil, were enmeshed with concerns for forest protection and a more cautious use of resources.

Ironically, the exact opposite happened. Today’s scale of deforestation is deeply related to a fossil model of development which transformed the country into a top global producer (and consumer) of primary products such as soy, beef and steel. Brazil’s heavily mechanized agriculture, farming chemicals, road networks and motor vehicle industry are all intertwined with its trajectory as a petroleum producer. Not least, gasoline is commonly used as a means of combustion to set the forest ablaze.

Petronilha Pimentel’s application picture for the beauty contest Rainha do Petróleo (“Queen of Petroleum”), which she eventually won. The contest was organized in 1949 by an important leftist weekly publication as part of a national campaign in favor of petroleum nationalization. Source: Petronilha Pimentel, Afinal, quem descobriu o petróleo do Brasil? Das tentativas de Allport no século passado às convicções científicas de Ignácio Bastos (Rio de Janeiro, 1984).

Yet, the history of Brazilian oil was driven by discourses of rational use, fair distribution, conservation of and sovereignty over natural resources, at the service of a project of collective emancipation. In view of current ecological crises, it is tempting to dismiss this historical experience as misled. But we could also see it as a history from which we can learn, because it shows how unifying values could be mobilized and shared to efficiently serve a project of rapid energy transition. It remains to be seen whether, in Brazil or elsewhere, similar national mobilizations could take place in favor of renewable energies and forest preservation, but historians can at least contribute with a better understanding of the dynamics which drove energy revolutions in the past.

President Getulio Vargas visiting the oil-producing site of Mataripe near Salvador da Bahia (1952).

The deep Anthropocene (AEON)

aeon-co.cdn.ampproject.org

Lucas Stephens, Erle Ellis & Dorian Fuller – 1 October 2020

A revolution in archaeology has exposed the extraordinary extent of human influence over our planet’s past and its future
Photo by Catalina Martin-Chico/Panos Pictures

Lucas Stephens is a senior research analyst at the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago. He was a specialist researcher at the ArchaeoGLOBE project.

Erle Ellis is a professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is a member of the Anthropocene Working Group, a fellow of the Global Land Programme, a senior fellow of the Breakthrough Institute, and an advisor to the Nature Needs Half movement. He is the author of Anthropocene: A Very Short Introduction (2018).

Dorian Fuller is professor of archaeobotany at University College London.

Edited by Sally Davies


Humanity’s transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture is one of the most important developments in human and Earth history. Human societies, plant and animal populations, the makeup of the atmosphere, even the Earth’s surface – all were irreversibly transformed.

When asked about this transition, some people might be able to name the Neolithic Revolution or point to the Fertile Crescent on a map. This widespread understanding is the product of years of toil by archaeologists, who diligently unearthed the sickles, grinding stones and storage vessels that spoke to the birth of new technologies for growing crops and domesticating animals. The story they constructed went something like this: beginning in the Near East some 11,000 years ago, humans discovered how to control the reproduction of wheat and barley, which precipitated a rapid switch to farming. Within 500 to 1,000 years, a scattering of small farming villages sprang up, each with several hundred inhabitants eating bread, chickpeas and lentils, soon also herding sheep and goats in the hills, some keeping cattle.

This sedentary lifestyle spread, as farmers migrated from the Fertile Crescent through Turkey and, from there, over the Bosporus and across the Mediterranean into Europe. They moved east from Iran into South Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and south from the Levant into eastern Africa. As farmers and herders populated new areas, they cleared forests to make fields and brought their animals with them, forever changing local environments. Over time, agricultural advances allowed ever larger and denser settlements to flourish, eventually giving rise to cities and civilisations, such as those in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus and later others throughout the Mediterranean and elsewhere.

For many decades, the study of early agriculture centred on only a few other regions apart from the Fertile Crescent. In China, millet, rice and pigs gave rise to the first Chinese cities and dynasties. In southern Mexico, it was maize, squash and beans that were first cultivated and supported later civilisations such as the Olmecs or the Puebloans of the American Southwest. In Peru, native potato, quinoa and llamas were among species domesticated by 5,000 years ago that made later civilisations in the Andes possible. In each of these regions, the transition to agriculture set off trends of rising human populations and growing settlements that required increasing amounts of wood, clay and other raw materials from the surrounding environments.

Yet for all its sweep and influence, this picture of the spread of agriculture is incomplete. New technologies have changed how archaeology is practised, from the way we examine ancient food scraps at a molecular level, to the use of satellite photography to trace patterns of irrigation across entire landscapes. Recent discoveries are expanding our awareness of just how early, extensive and transformative humans’ use of land has been. The rise of agriculture was not a ‘point in time’ revolution that occurred only in a few regions, but rather a pervasive, socioecological shifting back and forth across fuzzy thresholds in many locations.

Bringing together the collective knowledge of more than 250 archaeologists, the ArchaeoGLOBE project in which we participated is the first global, crowdsourced database of archaeological expertise on land use over the past 10,000 years. It tells a completely different story of Earth’s transformation than is commonly acknowledged in the natural sciences. ArchaeoGLOBE reveals that human societies modified most of Earth’s biosphere much earlier and more profoundly than we thought – an insight that has serious implications for how we understand humanity’s relationship to nature and the planet as a whole.

Just as recent archaeological research has challenged old definitions of agriculture and blurred the lines between farmers and hunter-gatherers, it’s also leading us to rethink what nature means and where it is. The deep roots of how humanity transformed the globe pose a challenge to the emerging Anthropocene paradigm, in which human-caused environmental change is typically seen as a 20th-century or industrial-era phenomenon. Instead, it’s clearer than ever before that most places we think of as ‘pristine’ or ‘untouched’ have long relied on human societies to fill crucial ecological roles. As a consequence, trying to disentangle ‘natural’ ecosystems from those that people have managed for millennia is becoming less and less realistic, let alone desirable.

Our understanding of early agriculture derives mostly from the material remains of food – seeds, other plant remains and animal bones. Archaeologists traditionally document these finds from excavated sites and use them to track the dates and distribution of different people and practices. Over the past several decades, though, practitioners have become more skilled at spotting the earliest signatures of domestication, relying on cutting-edge advances in chemistry, biology, imaging and computer science.

Archaeologists have greatly improved their capacity to trace the evolution of crops, thanks to advances in our capacity to recover minute plant remains – from silica microfossils to attachment scars of cereals, where the seeds attach to the rest of the plant. Along with early crops, agricultural weeds and storage pests such as mice and weevils also appeared. Increasingly, we can identify a broader biotic community that emerged around the first villages and spread with agriculture. For example, weeds that originated in the Fertile Crescent alongside early wheat and barley crops also show up in the earliest agricultural communities in places such as Germany and Pakistan.

Collections of animal bones provide evidence of how herded creatures changed physically through the process of domestication. Butchering marks on bones can help reconstruct culling strategies. From the ages and sizes of animals, archaeologists can deduce the populations of herds in terms of age and sex ratios, all of which reveals how herding differed from hunting. Herding systems themselves also vary, with some focused only on producing meat, and others on milk and wool too.

The British Isles were transformed by imported crops, weeds and livestock from millennia earlier

Measurements of bones and seeds have made great strides with technologies such as geometric morphometrics – complex mathematical shape analysis that allows for a more nuanced understanding of how varieties evolved and moved between regions. Biomolecular methods have also multiplied. The recovery of amino acid profiles from fragmented animal bones, for example, has allowed us to discern which animals they came from, even when they’re too degraded for visual identification. The increasingly sophisticated use and analysis of ancient DNA now allows researchers to track the development and distribution of domesticated animals and crops in great detail.

Archaeologists have also used mass spectrometry, a technique involving gas ions, to pinpoint which species were cooked together based on the presence of biomolecules such as lipids. Stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen from animal bones and seeds give insight into where and how plants and animals were managed – allowing us to more fully sketch out ancient foodwebs from soil conditions to human consumption. Strontium isotopes in human and animal bones, meanwhile, allow us to identify migrations across a single organism’s lifetime, revealing more and earlier long-distance interconnections than previously imagined. Radiocarbon dating was already possible in the 1950s – but recent improvements that have reduced sample sizes and error margins allow us to build fine-grained chronologies and directly date individual crops.

With all these fresh data, it’s now possible to tell a much richer, more diverse story about the gradual evolutions and dispersals of early agriculture. By 6,000 years ago, the British Isles were being transformed by an imported collection of crops, weeds and livestock that had originated millennia earlier in the Near East. Similarly, millet, rice and pigs from central China had been spread as far as Thailand by 4,000 years ago, and began transforming much of the region’s tropical woodland to agricultural fields. New stories are constantly emerging too – including that sorghum, a grain crop, was domesticated in the savannahs of eastern Sudan more than 5,000 years ago, before the arrival of domesticated sheep or goats in that area. Once combined with Near Eastern sheep, goats and cattle, agropastoralism spread rapidly throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa by 2,000 years ago.

Advances in the study of plant silica micro-fossils (phytoliths) have helped trace banana cultivation from the Island of New Guinea more than 7,000 years ago – from where it spread through Island Southeast Asia, and eventually across the Indian Ocean to Africa, more than a millennium before Vasco da Gama navigated from Africa to India. These techniques have also revealed unforeseen agricultural origins – such as the forgotten cereal, browntop millet. It was the first staple crop of South India, before it was largely replaced by crops such as sorghum that were translocated from Africa. Many people might be surprised to learn that the early farming tradition in the Mississippi basin relied on pitseed goosefoot, erect knotweed and marsh elder some 3,000-4,000 years ago, long before maize agriculture arrived in the American Midwest.

Archaeologists don’t just study materials painstakingly uncovered in excavations. They also examine landscapes, patterns of settlement, and the built infrastructure of past societies to get a sense of the accumulated changes that humans have made to our environments. They have developed a repertoire of techniques that allow them to study the traces of ancient people on scales much larger than an individual site: from simply walking and documenting the density of broken pottery on the ground, to examining satellite imagery, using lidar (light and laser) and drones to build 3D models, even searching for subsurface magnetic anomalies to plot out the walls of buried cities.

There was usually a long continuum of exploitation, translocation and management of ecosystems

As a result, new revelations about our deep past are constantly emerging. Recent discoveries in southwestern Amazonia showed that people were cultivating squash and manioc more than 10,000 years ago, and maize only a few thousand years later. They did so living in an engineered landscape consisting of thousands of artificial forested islands, within a seasonally flooded savannah.

Some of the most stunning discoveries have come from the application of lidar around Maya cities, buried underneath the tropical canopy in Central America. Lasers can penetrate this canopy to define the shapes of mounds, plazas, ceremonial platforms and long causeways that were previously indistinguishable from the topography of the jungle. A recent example in Mexico pushed back the time period for monumental construction to what we used to consider the very beginning of Maya civilisation – 3,000 years ago – and suggests the monuments were more widespread than previously believed.

These transitions were not linear or absolute. It’s now clear that there was usually a long continuum of exploitation, translocation and management of plants, animals, landforms and ecosystems well before (and often after) domestication occurred. This makes it harder to draw solid lines between hunter-gatherer and farmer societies, or between societies who practised different subsistence strategies. Over archaeological timescales spanning hundreds to thousands of years, land use can be thought of instead as a tapestry of ever-evolving anthroecosystems with higher or lower degrees of transformation – more or less human-shaped, or ‘domesticated’ environments.

In 2003, the climatologist William Ruddiman introduced the ‘early anthropogenic hypothesis’: the idea that agricultural land use began warming Earth’s climate thousands of years ago. While some aspects of this early global climate change remain unsettled among scientists, there’s strong consensus that land-use change was the greatest driver of global climate change until the 1950s, and remains a major driver of climate change today. As a result, global maps of historical changes in land use, and their effects on vegetation cover, soils and greenhouse gas emissions, are a critical component of all contemporary models for forecasting Earth’s future climate.

Deforestation, tilling the land and other agricultural practices alter regional and global climate because they release greenhouse gases from vegetation and soils, as well as altering the exchange of heat and moisture across Earth. These effects reverse when land is abandoned and vegetation recovers or is restored. Early changes in agricultural land use therefore have major implications in understanding climate changes of the past, present and future.

The main global map of historical land use deployed in climate models is HYDE (the History Database of the Global Environment), combining contemporary and historical patterns of land use and population across the planet over the past 12,000 years. Despite this huge span of space and time, with notable exceptions, HYDE is based largely on historical census data that go back to 1960, mostly from Europe.

HYDE’s creator, a collaborator in ArchaeoGLOBE, has long requested help from historians, scientists and archaeologists to build a stronger empirical basis for HYDE’s global maps – especially for the deep past, where data are especially lacking. The data needed to improve the HYDE database exist, but reside in a format that’s difficult to access – the expert knowledge of archaeologists working in sites and regions around the world. The problem is that no single archaeologist has the breadth or time-depth of knowledge required.

Archaeologists typically study individual regions and time periods, and have only background knowledge on wider areas. Research methods and terminology also aren’t standardised worldwide, making syntheses difficult, rare and subjective. To construct a comprehensive global database of past land use, you need to gather information from hundreds of regional specialists and collate it, allowing this mosaic of individual studies to emerge as a single picture. This was exactly what we did for ArchaeoGLOBE.

Earth’s terrestrial ecology was already largely transformed by hunter-gatherers, farmers and pastoralists

In 2018, we surveyed more than 1,300 archaeologists around the world, and synthesised their responses into ArchaeoGLOBE. The format of our questionnaire was based on 10 time-slices from history (from 10,000 years ago, roughly the beginning of agriculture, to 1850 CE, the industrial era in Europe); 146 geographic regions; four levels of land-use prevalence; and five land-use categories (foraging/hunting/gathering/fishing; pastoralism; extensive agriculture; intensive agriculture; urbanism).

We ended up receiving 711 regional assessments from 255 individual archaeologists – resulting in a globally complete, if uneven, map of archaeological knowledge. After synthesis and careful analysis, our results (along with 117 other co-authors) were published in 2019 in Science. We also made all our data and analysis available online, at every stage of the research process – even before we had finished collecting it – in an effort to stimulate the culture of open knowledge-sharing in archaeology as a discipline.

The resulting data-trove allows researchers to compare land-use systems over time and in different regions, as well as to aggregate their cumulative, global impacts at different points over the past 10,000 years. When we compared ArchaeoGLOBE results with HYDE, we found that archaeological assessments showed much earlier and more widespread agricultural land use than HYDE suggested – and, therefore, more intensive land use than had been factored into climate change assessments. Indeed, the beginnings of intensive agriculture in ArchaeoGLOBE were earlier than HYDE’s across more than half of Earth’s current agricultural regions, often by 1,000 years or more.

By 3,000 years ago, Earth’s terrestrial ecology was already largely transformed by hunter-gatherers, farmers and pastoralists – with more than half of regions assessed engaged in significant levels of agriculture or pastoralism. For example, the Kopaic Basin in the Greek region of Boeotia was drained and converted from wetland to agricultural land in the 13th century BCE. This plain – roughly 1,500 hectares (15 sq km) in size – surrounded by steep limestone hills, had been a large, shallow lake since the end of the last Ice Age. Late Bronze Age residents of the area, members of what we call the Mycenaean culture, constructed a hydraulic infrastructural system on a massive scale to drain the wetland and claim it for agriculture. They channelised rivers, dug drainage canals, built long dikes and expanded natural sinkholes to direct the water off what would have been nutrient-rich soil. Eventually, when the Mycenaean civilisation collapsed at the end of the Bronze Age, the basin flooded again and returned to its previous wetland state. Legend has it that Heracles filled in the sinkholes as revenge against a local king. The area was not successfully drained again until the 20th century.

These examples highlight a general trend we found that agriculture and pastoralism gradually replaced foraging-hunting-gathering around the world. But the data also show that there were reversals and different subsistence economies, from foraging to farming, operating in parallel in some places. Moreover, agriculture and pastoralism are not the only practices that transform environments. Hunter-gatherer land use was already widespread across the globe (82 per cent of regions) by 10,000 years ago. Through the selective harvest and translocation of favoured species, hunting (sometimes to extinction) and the use of fire to dramatically alter landscapes, most of the terrestrial biosphere was already significantly influenced by human activities, even before the domestication of plants and animals.

ArchaeoGLOBE is both a cause and a consequence of a dramatic change in perspective about how early land use produced long-term global environmental change. Archaeological knowledge is increasingly becoming a crucial instrument for understanding humanity’s cumulative effect on ecology and the Earth system, including global changes in climate and biodiversity. As a discipline, the mindset of archaeology stands in contrast to earlier perspectives grounded in the natural sciences, which have long emphasised a dichotomy between humans and nature.

In the ‘pristine myth’ paradigm from the natural sciences, as the geographer William Denevan called it, human societies are recent destroyers, or at the very least disturbers, of a mostly pristine natural world. Denevan was reacting against the portrayal of pre-1492 America as an untouched paradise, and he used the substantial evidence of indigenous landscape modification to argue that the human presence was perhaps more visible in 1492 than 1750. Recent popular conceptions of the Anthropocene risk making a similar mistake, drawing a thin bright line at 1950 and describing what comes after as a new, modern form of ecological disaster. Human changes to the environment are cumulative and were substantial at different scales throughout our history. The deep trajectory of land use revealed by ArchaeoGLOBE runs counter to the idea of pinpointing a single catalytic moment that fundamentally changed the relationship between humanity and the Earth system.

The pristine myth also accounts for why places without contemporary intensive land use are often dubbed ‘wilderness’ – such as areas of the Americas depopulated by the great post-Columbian die-off. Such interpretations, perpetuated by scientists, have long supported colonial narratives in which indigenous hunter-gatherer and even agricultural lands are portrayed as unused and ripe for productive use by colonial settlers.

The notion of a pristine Earth also pervaded the thinking of early conservationists in the United States such as John Muir. They were intent on preserving what they saw as the nobility of nature from a mob of lesser natural life, and also those eager to manage wilderness areas to maintain the trophy animals they enjoyed hunting. For example, the governor of California violently forced Indigenous peoples out of Yosemite Valley in the 19th century, making way for wilderness conservation. These ideas went hand-in-hand with a white supremacist view of humanity that cast immigrants and the poor as a type of invasive species. It was not a great leap of theorising to move from a notion of pristine nature to seeing much of humanity as the opposite – a contaminated, marring mass. In both realms, the human and the natural, the object was to exclude undesirable people to preserve bastions of the unspoilt world. These extreme expressions of a dichotomous view of nature and society are possible only by ignoring the growing evidence of long-term human changes to Earth’s ecology – humans were, and are still, essential components of most ‘natural’ ecosystems.

A clear-eyed appreciation for the deep entanglement of the human and natural worlds is vital

Humans have continually altered biodiversity on many scales. We have changed the local mix of species, their ranges, habitats and niches for thousands of years. Long before agriculture, selective human predation of many non-domesticated species shaped their evolutionary course. Even the relatively small hunter-gatherer populations of the late Pleistocene were capable of negatively affecting animal populations – driving many megafauna and island species extinct or to the point of extinction. But there have also been widespread social and ecological adaptations to these changes: human management can even increase biodiversity of landscapes and can sustain these increases for thousands of years. For example, pastoralism might have helped defer climate-driven aridification of the Sahara, maintaining mixed forests and grassland ecosystems in the region for centuries.

This recognition should cause us to rethink what ‘nature’ and ‘wilderness’ really are. If by ‘nature’ we mean something divorced from or untouched by humans, there’s almost nowhere on Earth where such conditions exist, or have existed for thousands of years. The same can be said of Earth’s climate. If early agricultural land use began warming our climate thousands of years ago, as the early anthropogenic hypothesis suggests, it implies that no ‘natural’ climate has existed for millennia.

A clear-eyed appreciation for the deep entanglement of the human and natural worlds is vital if we are to grapple with the unprecedented ecological challenges of our times. Naively romanticising a pristine Earth, on the other hand, will hold us back. Grasping that nature is inextricably linked with human societies is fundamental to the worldview of many Indigenous cultures – but it remains a novel and often controversial perspective within the natural sciences. Thankfully, it’s now gaining prominence within conservation circles, where it’s shifting attitudes about how to enable sustainable and resilient stewardship of land and ecosystems.

Viewing humans and nature as entwined doesn’t mean that we should shrug our shoulders at current climatic trends, unchecked deforestation, accelerating extinction rates or widespread industrial waste. Indeed, archaeology supplies numerous examples of societal and ecosystem collapse: a warning of what happens if we ignore the consequences of human-caused environmental change.

But ecological crises are not inevitable. Humans have long maintained sustainable environments by adapting and transforming their societies. As our work demonstrates, humans have shaped the ecology of this planet for thousands of years, and continue to shape it.

We live at a unique time in history, in which our awareness of our role in changing the planet is increasing at the precise moment when we’re causing it to change at an alarming rate. It’s ironic that technological advances are simultaneously accelerating both global environmental change and our ability to understand humans’ role in shaping life on Earth. Ultimately, though, a deeper appreciation of how the Earth’s environments are connected to human cultural values helps us make better decisions – and also places the responsibility for the planet’s future squarely on our shoulders.

2021 vai passar voando: movimento da Terra deixará ano mais curto (UOL)

uol.com.br

Marcella Duarte Colaboração para Tilt – 05/01/2021 17h02 4-5 minutos


Parecia que 2020 nunca ia acabar, mas, tecnicamente, ele passou mais depressa que o normal. E este ano será ainda mais ligeiro. O motivo? A Terra tem “girado” estranhamente depressa ultimamente. Por isso, pode ser que a gente precise adiantar nossos relógios, mas você nem vai perceber.

No ano passado, foi registrado o dia mais curto da história, desde que foram iniciadas as medições, há 50 anos. Em 19 de julho de 2020, o planeta completou sua rotação 1,4602 milésimo de segundo mais rápido que os costumeiros 86.400 segundos (24 horas).

O dia mais curto que até então se tinha registro aconteceu em 2005, e foi superado 28 vezes em 2020. E este ano deve ser o mais rápido da história, porque os dias de 2021 deverão ser, em média, 0,5 milissegundo mais curtos que o normal.

Essas pequenas mudanças na duração dos dias só foram descobertas após o desenvolvimento de relógios atômicos superprecisos, na década de 1960. Inicialmente, percebeu-se que a velocidade de rotação da Terra, quando gira em torno de seu próprio eixo resultando nos dias e noites, estava diminuindo ano após ano.

Desde a década de 1970, foi necessário “adicionar” 27 segundos no tempo atômico internacional, para manter nossa contagem de tempo sincronizada com o planeta mais lento. É o chamado “leap second” ou “inserção de segundo intercalado”.

Essas correções acontecem sempre ao final de um semestre, em 31 de dezembro ou 30 de junho. Assim, garante-se que o Sol sempre esteja exatamente no meio do céu ao meio-dia.

A última vez que ocorreu foi no Ano Novo de 2016, quando relógios no mundo todo pausaram por um segundo para “esperar” a Terra.

Mas recentemente, está acontecendo o oposto: a rotação está acelerando. E pode ser que a gente precise “saltar” o tempo para “alcançar” o movimento do planeta. Seria a primeira vez na história que um segundo seria deletado dos relógios internacionais.

Há um debate internacional sobre a necessidade deste ajuste e o futuro do cálculo do tempo. Cientistas acreditam que, ao longo de 2021, os relógios atômicos acumularão um atraso de 19 milésimos de segundos.

Se os ajustes não forem feitos, levaria centenas de anos para uma pessoa comum notar a diferença. Mas sistemas de navegação e de comunicação por satélite —que usam a posição da Terra, do Sol e das estrelas para funcionar— podem ser impactados mais brevemente.

Nossos “guardiões do tempo” são os oficiais do Serviço Internacional de Sistemas de Referência e Rotação da Terra (Iers), em Paris, França. São eles que monitoram a rotação da Terra e os 260 relógios atômicos espalhados pelo mundo e avisam quando é necessário adicionar —ou eventualmente deletar— algum segundo.

Manipular o tempo pode ter consequências. Quando foi adicionado um “leap second” em 2012, gigantes tecnológicos da época, como Linux, Mozilla, Java, Reddit, Foursquare, Yelp e LinkedIn reportaram falhas.

A velocidade de rotação da Terra varia constantemente, dependendo de diversos fatores, como o complexo movimento de seu núcleo derretido, dos oceanos e da atmosfera, além das interações gravitacionais com outros corpos celestes, como a Lua. O aquecimento global, e consequente derretimento das calotas polares e gelo das montanhas também tem acelerado a movimentação.

Por isso, os dias nunca têm duração exatamente igual. O último domingo (3) teve “apenas” 23 horas, 59 minutos e 59,9998927 segundos. Já a segunda-feira (4) foi mais preguiçosa, com pouco mais de 24 horas.

A necessária indomesticabilidade de termos como “Antropoceno”: desafios epistemológicos e ontologia relacional (Opinião Filosófica)

Opinião Filosófica Special Issuehttps://doi.org/10.36592/opiniaofilosofica.v11.1009


A necessária indomesticabilidade de termos como “Antropoceno”: desafios epistemológicos e ontologia relacional

The necessary untameability of terms as “the Anthropocene”: epistemological challenges and relational ontology


Renzo Taddei[1]
Davide Scarso[2]
Nuno Pereira Castanheira[3]

Resumo
Nesta entrevista, realizada por Davide Scarso e Nuno Pereira Castanheira entre os meses de novembro e dezembro de 2020 via e-mail, o Professor Renzo Taddei (Unifesp) discute o significado do termo Antropoceno e as suas implicações, com base nas contribuições teóricas de Deborah Danowski, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Donna Haraway, Isabelle Stengers e Bruno Latour, entre outros. O entrevistado enfatiza a necessidade de evitarmos a redução do Antropoceno ou termos similares a conceitos científicos, assim preservando a sua capacidade indutora de novas perspectivas e transformações existenciais e resistindo à tentação de objetivação dominadora de um mundo mais complexo e bagunçado do que a epistemologia clássica gostaria de admitir.

Palavras-chave: Ecologia. Sustentabilidade. Ontologia. Epistemologia. Política

Abstract
In this interview, conducted via e-mail by Davide Scarso and Nuno Pereira Castanheira between the months of November and December 2020, Professor Renzo Taddei (Unifesp) discusses the meaning of the term Anthropocene and its implications, based on the theoretical contributions of Deborah Danowski, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Donna Haraway, Isabelle Stengers and Bruno Latour, among others. The interviewee emphasizes the need of avoiding the reduction of the Anthropocene and similar terms to scientific concepts, thus preserving their ability to induce new perspectives and existential transformation, and resisting the temptation of objectifying domination of a world that is more complex and messier than classical epistemology would like to acknowledge.

Keywords: Ecology. Sustainability. Ontology. Epistemology. Politics


1)  O que exatamente é o Antropoceno: um conceito científico, uma proposição política, um alarme soando?

Esta questão é tema de amplos e acalorados debates. Uma coisa que parece estar clara, no entanto, é que não há lugar para o advérbio “exatamente” nas muitas formas como o Antropoceno é conceitualizado. De certa maneira, o contexto em que a questão é colocada define suas respostas potenciais. Sugerir um nome que aponte para os sintomas do problema é distinto de tentar circunscrever as suas causas, e ambas as coisas não são equivalentes ao intento de atribuir responsabilidades. O problema é que o Antropoceno pode ser lido como qualquer uma destas coisas, e isso causa desentendimentos. É neste contexto que surgem argumentos em defesa do uso dos termos Capitaloceno ou Plantationceno[4], dentre outros, como alternativas mais apropriadas. O anthropos do Antropoceno sugere uma humanidade tomada de forma geral, sem atentar para a quantidade de injustiça e racismo ambientais na conformação do contexto presente.

Todos estes nomes têm sua utilidade, mas devem ser usados com cuidado. Como mostraram, cada qual à sua maneira, Timothy Morton[5] e Deborah Danowski e Eduardo Viveiros de Castro[6] em colaboração, não somos capazes de abarcar o problema em sua totalidade. É um marco importante na história do pensamento social e filosófico que efetivamente exista certo consenso de que o problema é maior e mais complexo que nossos sistemas conceituais e nossas categorias de pensamento. O que nos resta é fazer uso produtivo, na forma de bricolagem, das ferramentas conceituais imperfeitas que possuímos. Como Donna Haraway afirmou repetidamente por toda a sua carreira, o mundo real é mais complexo e bagunçado (“messy”) do que tendemos a reconhecer. Todas as teorias científicas são modelos de arame, e isto inclui, obviamente, as das ciências sociais. Não seria diferente no que diz respeito ao Antropoceno.

No fundo, a busca sôfrega pelo termo “correto” é um sintoma do problema de como nossas mentes estão colonizadas por ideias positivistas sobre a realidade. Em geral, tendemos a cair muito rápido na armadilha de sentir que, quando temos um nome para algo, entendemos do que se trata. Via de regra, trata-se do oposto: nomes estão associados a formas de regimentação semiótica do mundo; são parte de nossos esforços em domesticação da realidade, em tentativa de reduzi-la a nossas expectativas sobre ela. Este é especialmente o caso de nomes “taxonômicos”, como o Antropoceno: são molduras totalizantes que direcionam nossa atenção a certas dimensões do mundo, produzidas pelas ideias hegemônicas do lugar e do tempo em que estão em voga. Há muitas maneiras de desarmar esse esquema; uma é apontando para o fato de que pensar um mundo feito de “objetos” ou mesmo “fenômenos” é causa e efeito, ao mesmo tempo, do fato de que as ciências buscam, em geral, causas unitárias para efeitos específicos no mundo. Isso funciona para a física newtoniana mas não funciona para o que chamamos de ecossistemas, por exemplo. A existência mesma do hábito de criar coisas como o termo Antropoceno nos impede de abordar de forma produtiva o problema que o termo tenta descrever.

O termo é, desta forma, uma tentativa de objetificação; o que ele acaba objetificando são alguns de nossos medos e ansiedades. Dado que temos muito a temer, e tememos de formas muito diversas, não é surpresa que inexista consenso a respeito do que é o Antropoceno.   

Se um nome se faz necessário, precisamos de um que faça coisas outras que reduzir nossa ansiedade cognitiva a níveis administráveis. Esta é a forma, lembremos, como Latour definiu a produção da “verdade” no âmbito das ciências[7]. Ou seja, o que estou dizendo é que o Antropoceno, ou qualquer outro termo que usemos em seu lugar, para ser útil de alguma forma, não deve ser um conceito científico. Necessitamos de um termo que desestabilize nossos esquemas conceituais e nos induza a novas perspectivas e à transformação de nossos modos de existência. Um conceito desta natureza deve ser, necessariamente, indomesticável. Deve, portanto, resistir ao próprio ímpeto definidor da cognição. Etimologicamente, definir é delimitar, colocar limites; trata-se, portanto, de uma forma de domesticação. Um conceito indomesticável será, necessariamente, desconfortável; será percebido como “confusão”.

Na minha percepção, essa é uma das dimensões do conceito de Chthuluceno, proposto por Donna Haraway[8]. Ele não nos fala sobre o que supostamente está acontecendo com o mundo, mas propõe, ao mesmo tempo e de forma sobreposta, novas maneiras de entender as relações entre os seres e o poder de constituição de mundos de tais relações, onde o humano e o próprio pensamento são frutos de processos simpoiéticos. Esta perspectiva impossibilita a adoção, mesmo que tácita e por hábito, da ideia de humano herdada do iluminismo e do liberalismo europeus como elemento definidor da condição que vivemos no Antropoceno, e desarticula o especismo embutido em tais perspectivas.

Outra dimensão fundamental associada ao conceito de Chthuluceno é sua rejeição das metafísicas totalizantes, onde ideias abstratas tem a pretensão de ser universais e, portanto, de não ter ancoragem contextual. Haraway sugere que precisamos alterar nossa perspectiva a respeito do que é importante, em direção ao que ela chama de materialismo sensível em contextos simpoiéticos: a capacidade de perceber as relações que constituem a vida, nos contextos locais, e de agir de forma responsável sobre tais relações. Toda forma de conhecimento é parcial, fragmentada, e tem marcas de nascimento. Quando o conhecimento se apresenta sem o reconhecimento explícito dessas coisas, uma de duas alternativas está em curso: os envolvidos reconhecem e aceitam essa incontornável contextualidade do saber e isso não é mais uma questão; ou o conhecimento segue parte das engrenagens do colonialismo.

A ideia de aterramento, apresentada no último livro de Latour[9], converge em grande medida com as posições de Haraway. Em termos de tradições filosóficas, na minha percepção de não-especialista parece-me que ambos se alinham com o pragmatismo norte-americano, ainda que raramente façam referência a isso.

2)  Frequentemente, quando se discutem os problemas ambientais mais críticos do presente, mas também outros temas urgentes da contemporaneidade, a falta de unanimidade e consenso é lamentada. O que seria, à luz de sua pesquisa e reflexão, uma resposta “adequada” às muitas questões difíceis colocadas pelo Antropoceno?

Vivemos em tempos complexos, e o desenvolvimento das ferramentas conceituais disponíveis para dar conta do que temos adiante de nós segue em ritmo acelerado, mas não exatamente na direção do que as ideologias de progresso científico do século 20 supunham natural. Não me parece que estamos chegando “mais perto” de algo que sejamos capazes de chamar de “solução”, ainda que filosófica. Não se trata mais disso. O que os autores inseridos nos debates sobre o Antropoceno estão sugerindo é que este ideário de progresso colapsou filosoficamente, ainda que siga sendo conveniente ao capitalismo. A maior parte da academia segue trabalhando dentro deste paradigma falido, de forma inercial ou porque efetivamente atua para fornecer recursos ao capitalismo.

O que ocorre é que as noções de que a mente tem acesso imediato à realidade e de que as ideias explicativas sobre o mundo buscam uma ordem subjacente universal, da qual as coisas e contextos são apenas reflexos imperfeitos – uma ordem platônica, portanto – vêm sendo atacadas desde pelo menos Nietzsche. Os autores mais importantes do debate do Antropoceno são herdeiros de uma corrente perspectivista do século 20 que tinha Nietzsche em posição central, mas que incluía também Whitehead e James, e que posteriormente esteve ligada principalmente a Deleuze e Foucault. Isso explica o fato de que é parte fundamental do debate sobre o Antropoceno a crítica às filosofias de transcendência e a atenção dada à questão das relações de imanência. É contribuição fundamental de Eduardo Viveiros de Castro mostrar ao mundo que o que Deleuze entendia como imanência tinha relações profundas com o pensamento indígena amazônico[10], e ele estava trabalhando nisso muito antes da questão do Antropoceno se impor na filosofia e nas ciências sociais. Quando o Antropoceno se tornou tema incontornável, a questão dos modos de vida indígenas ganhou saliência não apenas por se apresentar como forma real, empírica de se viver de modos relacionais, mas também pelo fato de que os povos indígenas têm pegada de carbono zero e promovem a biodiversidade. Este último item funciona como ponte entre os debates mais propriamente filosóficos e os ecológicos.

Isso tudo me parece importante para falarmos sobre o que são, e que expectativas existem em torno dos temas de unanimidade e consenso. O desejo da comunicação perfeita é irmão gêmeo do desejo da nomeação perfeita, citado na resposta anterior. Em ambos os casos, trata-se da manifestação de uma concepção de mente que flutua no vácuo, desconectada das bases materiais e processuais que a fazem existir. De certa forma, esta concepção subjaz aos debates sobre o dissenso sempre que este é entendido como problema epistemológico. Quando isso ocorre, a intersubjetividade entendida como necessária ao processo de construção de consenso é vista como ligada a conceitos e ideias, e os diagnósticos sobre a razão do dissenso rapidamente caem nas valas comuns da “falta de educação” ou de “formas míticas de pensamento”.

A despeito das diferenças entre os autores associados ao debate sobre o Antropoceno – Haraway, Latour, Viveiros de Castro, Stengers, dentre muitos outros -, uma das coisas que todos têm em comum é a rejeição de uma abordagem que reduz o problema a uma questão epistemológica, em favor de uma perspectiva que dá centralidade à dimensão mais propriamente ontológica. Em razão disso, intercâmbios muito frutíferos passaram a ocorrer entre a filosofia e a antropologia, como se pode ver na obra não apenas do Viveiros de Castro, mas também de Tim Ingold, Elizabeth Povinelli, Anna Tsing, e muitos outros.

A questão aqui é que, quando as questões ontológicas, dentro de filosofias relacionais e perspectivísticas, passam a ser tomadas em conta, a comunicação passa a ser outra coisa. O exemplo mais bem acabado de teorização sobre isso é a teoria do perspectivismo ameríndio[11], desenvolvida por Viveiros de Castro e por Tania Stolze Lima. Esta teoria postula que o que os seres percebem no mundo é definido pelo tipo de corpos que têm, dentro de relações interespecíficas perigosas (de predação, por exemplo), e frente a um pano de fundo cosmológico em que grande parte dos seres têm consciência e intencionalidade equivalentes às humanas. Para alguns povos, por exemplo, a onça vê o humano como porco do mato e sangue como cerveja de caium, enquanto o porco do mato vê o humano como onça. A questão crucial, aqui, é que nenhuma das visões é ontologicamente superior à outra. Isso quer dizer que percepção humana não é mais “correta” que a da onça; é simplesmente produzida por um corpo humano, enquanto a da onça é produzida por um corpo de onça. Não há perspectiva absoluta, porque não corpo absoluto.    

Como é que onça e humano se comunicam, então? A pergunta é interessante logo de saída, porque entre os ocidentais a onça é tida como irracional e destituída de linguagem, e a comunicação é entendida como impossível. Nos mundos indígenas, geralmente cabe ao xamã, através de tecnologias xamânicas – que na Amazônia costuma implicar o uso de substâncias das plantas da floresta -, sair de seu corpo de humano e entrar em contato com o espírito da onça, ou dos seres de alguma forma associados às onças. Mas essa é apenas parte da questão; a relação entre caçador e presa, mais ordinária do que o contexto xamânico, é frequentemente descrita como relação de sedução, como uma forma de coreografia entre os corpos.

Alguns autores do debate sobre o Antropoceno têm explorado as implicações filosóficas de uma nova fronteira da microbiologia que apresenta os seres e seus corpos através de outras lentes. Em seu último livro, Haraway discute o conceito de holobionte, um emaranhado de seres em relações simbióticas que permitem a ocorrência da vida dos envolvidos. A questão filosófica importante que advém dos holobiontes é que, ao invés de falarmos de seres que estão em simbiose, parece mais apropriado dizer que é a partir das relações que emergem os seres. A simbiose é anterior aos seres, por assim dizer. Isso pode parecer muito técnico, e fica mais claro se mencionarmos que o corpo humano é entendido como um holobionte. O corpo existe em relação de simbiose com um número imenso de bactérias e outros seres, como fungos e vírus, e está bem documentado que as bactérias que habitam o trato intestinal humano têm efeito sobre o funcionamento do sistema nervoso, induzindo a pessoa a certos estados de ânimo e vontades. Esticando o argumento no limite da provocação, seria possível dizer que o que chamamos de consciência não é produzido nas células que têm o “nosso” DNA, mas é um fenômeno emergente da associação simbiótica entre os sistemas do corpo humano e os demais seres que compõe o holobionte.

Se for este o caso, a comunicação não se dá entre mentes e sistemas semióticos imateriais, mas entre seres imbuídos de sua materialidade e da materialidade dos contextos em que vivem. Mais do que pensar de forma alinhada, a questão passa a ser encontrar formas de relação que, como diz Haraway, nos permita viver e morrer bem em simpoiese com os demais seres. Como coloquei em outro lugar[12], precisamos ser capazes de fazer alianças com quem não pensa como pensamos, com quem não pensa como humanos, e com que não pensa.

O problema é imensamente maior que o do consenso, e ao mesmo tempo mais realista, em termos das possibilidades de materialização de soluções. Duas formas de abordagem da questão foram desenvolvidas entre antropólogos que trabalham na Amazônia: Viveiros de Castro propôs a teoria do equívoco controlado[13], e Mauro Almeida a dos encontros pragmáticos[14]. Ambos os casos se referem à comunicação de seres que existem em mundos distintos, ou seja, suas existências são compostas de acordo com pressupostos distintos sobre o que existe e o que significa existir. É imediato pensar no contexto do contato entre povos indígenas e não indígenas, mas o esquema pode ser usado para pensar qualquer relação de diferença. A ideia de que a comunicação pressupõe necessariamente o alinhamento epistemológico, nesta perspectiva, implica processos de violência contra corpos, culturas e mundos.

Basta olharmos a nosso redor para perceber que a vida comum não pressupõe alinhamento epistemológico. Há alguns dias vi um grupo de formigas cooperando para carregar uma migalha de pão muito maior do que o corpo de cada uma delas, e estavam subindo uma parede vertical. Fiquei espantado com a capacidade de cooperação entre seres entre os quais não existe atividade epistemológica. Entre os seres que pensam, boa parte do que existe no mundo é fruto de desentendimentos produtivos – uma pessoa diz uma coisa, a outra entende algo diferente, e juntas transformam a sua realidade, sem serem capazes sequer de avaliar de forma idêntica o resultado de suas ações, mas ainda assim podendo ambas sentirem-se satisfeitas com o processo. É como se estivessem dançando: nunca se dança da mesma forma, ainda que os corpos estejam conectados, e tampouco se entende o que se está fazendo da mesma forma durante a performance da dança, e com tudo isso é perfeitamente possível que o efeito seja o sentimento de satisfação e a fruição estético-afetiva da situação.

Haraway tem uma forma ainda mais provocadora de colocar a questão: devemos construir relações de parentesco com outros seres, animados e inanimados, se quisermos efetivamente caminhar no tratamento dos problemas ambientais.

No contexto dos conflitos associados ao Antropoceno, dois exemplos equivalentes de acordos pragmáticos são as manifestações conta a exploração de xisto betuminoso no Canadá, em 2013, e os protestos contra o oleoduto que cruzaria o território Sioux nos estados de Dakota do Sul e Dakota do Norte, nos Estados Unidos, em 2016. Em ambos os casos, viam-se pessoas indígenas marchando ao lado de estudantes universitários não-indígenas, ativistas e celebridades televisivas. Enquanto os manifestantes indígenas referiam-se à poluição do seu solo sagrado como motivação para o protesto, ativistas e celebridades gritavam o slogan de que não devemos continuar emitindo carbono. O fato de que um astro de Hollywood seja incapaz de entender o que é o solo sagrado Sioux não o impediu de marchar ao lado de anciãos Sioux que não têm nada parecido com a “molécula do carbono” em suas ontologias. Este é um exemplo pedagógico do tipo de acordo pragmático que precisamos no futuro.

Precisamos encontrar formas de “marchar” ao lado de processos do sistema terrestre que não entendemos, bem como de rochas, rios, plantas, animais, e outros seres humanos. É claro que isso não significa abdicar do uso da capacidade do uso da linguagem, mas apenas que devemos parar de atribuir poderes metafísicos transcendentes a ela – inclusive o de resolver todos os conflitos humanos -, e entender que a linguagem é tão material e relacional quantos as demais dimensões da existência.

3) Nas conversas sobre o Antropoceno e a crise ambiental planetária, as palavras e ações de resistência de comunidades indígenas de distintos lugares é frequentemente evocada. Qual é, na sua visão, a contribuição que estas experiências e intervenções, aparentemente tão distanciadas da face mais tecnológica, para não dizer tecnocrática, dos discursos oficiais sobre o Antropoceno, oferecem ao debate?

São inúmeras, e possivelmente as transformações em curso relacionadas ao papel e lugar dos intelectuais e líderes indígenas nas sociedades ocidentais ou ocidentalizadas fará com que sejamos capazes de perceber nuances dos modos de existência indígenas que hoje não são valorizadas. Refiro-me, no caso do Brasil, ao fato de que, no período de dois anos, Sonia Guajajara foi candidata à vice-presidência da república, Raoni foi indicado ao prêmio Nobel da Paz, Ailton Krenak foi agraciado com o prêmio Juca Pato de intelectual do ano e Davi Kopenawa ganhou o Right Livelihood Award e foi eleito para a Academia Brasileira de Ciência. E isso tudo nos dois anos mais obscuros e retrógrados da história política recente do país.

Uma parte da resposta já foi elaborada nas questões anteriores. O que se poderia agregar é o fato de que, como Latour desenvolve em seu último livro, não se pode ficar assistindo o desenrolar dos fatos na esperança de que, no fim, tudo dê certo em razão de alguma ordem transcendente misteriosa. O momento atual é de embate entre quem se alinha e vive de acordo com as agendas de exploração colonial do planeta, mesmo que não se perceba desta forma, e quem luta pela recomposição dos modos de existência em aliança com os ecossistemas e demais seres. O discurso oficial sobre o Antropoceno está em transformação, justamente em razão do ativismo das lideranças indígenas, como Davi Kopenawa[15] e Ailton Krenak[16], e dos pensadores que venho mencionando em minhas respostas, junto aos meios mais conservadores da ciência e da sociedade. E uso o termo ativismo de forma consciente aqui: não se trata de escrever livros e esperar que o mundo se transforme (ou não) como resultado. A disputa se dá palmo a palmo, reunião a reunião, e o final da história não está definido. Esta atitude se alinha mais com o modo como os indígenas entendem a realidade do que com o pensamento ocidental moderno.

Uma última coisa que vale a pena adicionar, aqui, diz respeito à questão da relação entre os modos de vida indígena e a sustentabilidade. É possível que toda a argumentação que eu apresentei aqui até agora tenha pouca aceitação e repercussão entre os cientistas que definem isso que a pergunta chama de “discursos oficiais”. Ocorre, no entanto, que pesquisas nas áreas de biodiversidade e ecologia têm mostrado que nos territórios indígenas em que as populações vivem de modos tradicionais, a eficácia na conservação da biodiversidade é igual, e algumas vezes maior, do que as medidas preservacionistas mais misantrópicas, como as chamadas áreas de proteção integral. Isto tem chamado a atenção dos biólogos e ecologistas, graças ao trabalho de antropólogos como a Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, o Mauro Almeida, o Eduardo Brondízio e outros[17]. Os povos indígenas, deste modo, são bons em conservação da natureza, mesmo que não tenham, em seus vocabulários, uma palavra para natureza. É de importância central, para os esforços ocidentais em conservação da biodiversidade, entender como isso se passa entre os povos indígenas e demais populações tradicionais. Escrevi sobre isso recentemente[18]: a chave para a compreensão deste fenômeno reside na relação entre o conceito de cuidado e a ontologia relacional habitadas pelos povos indígenas. Colocando isso de forma direta, em um contexto em que as coisas importantes do mundo são pessoas, isto é, possuem intenção e agência, independente do formato e da natureza dos seus corpos, as relações entre os seres passam a ser sociais e políticas e, portanto, perigosas e complicadas. A liberdade de ação é bem menor em um mundo em que árvores, rios e animais são gente com força de ação política. O resultado líquido disso é o que chamamos de proteção da biodiversidade.

Ou seja, índio não protege a natureza porque gosta ou vive dentro dela; índio protege a floresta justamente porque a natureza, da forma como o Iluminismo europeu plasmou o conceito, simplesmente não existe[19]. Disso tudo decorre que o cuidado para com a vida é um precipitado da arquitetura ontológica dos mundos indígenas, sem demandar voluntarismo nem culpa. Nos modos de vida ocidentais, cuidado é entendido como vontade, como obrigação moral[20], em um contexto em que as infraestruturas e o jogo político são capazes muito facilmente de desarticularem tal voluntarismo. Isso explica a desconexão entre o conhecimento e o cuidado nos modos de vida ocidentais modernos. Se tomarmos a Amazônia como exemplo, é muito fácil perceber que nunca se estudou tanto o bioma amazônico como nos últimos 20 anos; ao mesmo tempo, isso não deteve em nada a devastação da floresta. A mensagem relevante, aqui, e que é bastante contundente, é que ao invés de ficarmos culpando o mundo da política por impedir que o conhecimento científico se transforme em cuidado efetivo para com o meio ambiente, precisamos transformar as bases ontológicas sobre as quais conhecimento sobre o mundo e ação no mundo ocorrem, de modo que, à maneira dos mundos indígenas, conhecer seja, ao mesmo tempo e de forma imediata, cuidar.

4)  O seu trabalho toca frequentemente em questões associadas à interdisciplinaridade, um tema recorrente em muitas das iniciativas relacionadas ao Antropoceno e às mudanças climáticas. Como você resumiria sua experiência e posição a respeito disso?

Com minha colega Sophie Haines[21] desenvolvi uma análise das relações interdisciplinares na academia, com base nas coisas que mencionei em meu comentário acima sobre o consenso, a linguagem e a comunicação. O universo da cooperação interdisciplinar é permeado por conflitos de todas as naturezas, mas o mais proeminente é o resultado da ideia de que a colaboração só é possível com o alinhamento dos conceitos. A quantidade de tempo, fundos e amizades que se desperdiçam na tentativa vã de colonizar as mentes uns dos outros é imensa. Por essa razão as paredes simbólicas dos departamentos universitários são tão grossas.

Uma forma de pensar o problema, usando ainda o arcabouço conceitual da filosofia da ciência, é considerar que em termos epistemológicos, o mundo ao qual a atividade intelectual se refere pode ser dividido em três campos: o das variáveis, foco da atenção e do investimento da atividade científica, e que define os próprios contornos disciplinares; o dos axiomas, que são suposições a respeito da realidade que não estão ali para serem testadas, mas para instrumentalizar o trabalho com as variáveis; e o que Pierre Bourdieu[22] chamou de doxa, o fundo fenomênico da realidade que é tomado como não problemático (e portanto não tem o privilégio de se transformar em variável de pesquisa), e que algumas vezes sequer é reconhecido como existente. O problema nas relações interdisciplinares é que o que é variável para uma disciplina é parte da doxa para a outra, o que induz os acadêmicos a pensar que o que os colegas de disciplinas muito distintas fazem é inútil e perda de tempo. Vivi isso na pele, no início de minha pesquisa de campo de doutorado, quando disse a colegas meteorologistas que iria pesquisar a dimensão cultural do clima. Um deles me falou que parecia óbvio que as culturas reagissem aos climas, e isso portanto não justificaria uma pesquisa que pudesse ser chamada de científica.

Hoje, mais de duas décadas depois, as grandes agências financiadoras internacionais, como a National Science Foundation e o Belmont Forum, exigem a participação de cientistas sociais em pesquisas sobre questões ambientais. As coisas caminharam. Mas falta muito a ser feito ainda.

5)  Em algo que pode ser visto como um gesto “revisionista”, Bruno Latour recentemente afirmou que o declínio acentuado na confiança pública das ciências “duras” e nos cientistas pode estar de alguma forma relacionado com décadas de trabalhos críticos produzidos pelas ciências sociais. Devemos nós, pesquisadores das ciências sociais (e, de forma mais geral, intelectuais) recuarmos para uma forma de “essencialismo estratégico”? Ou, colocando de outra maneira, o que significa hoje um posicionamento crítico no debate sobre o Antropoceno?

Na minha percepção, a ideia de essencialismo estratégico é produto de formas essencialistas de pensar. Como se tivéssemos uma resposta rígida e correta que precisasse ser escondida. Em termos pragmáticos as coisas podem parecer assim, mas conceitualmente a questão é outra. A ideia de que estamos escondendo a resposta “correta” vai contra a compreensão da realidade como constituída de forma relacional. É como se na arena de embates a realidade não estivesse sendo plasmada ali mesmo, mas o conhecimento sobre a realidade fosse algo rígido que é apresentado na arena como arma para acabar com a conversa. Este é um argumento antigo de Latour; já estava em Jamais Fomos Modernos[23].

Há uma outra questão importante a ser mencionada: Latour é nada mais do que vítima do seu próprio sucesso em ganhar um grau de atenção que se estende de forma inédita para fora da academia. Ele não foi o primeiro a revelar que os mecanismos de produção da ciência ocidental não condizem com a imagem que os discursos hegemônicos da ciência apresentam de si. Isso já estava em Wittgenstein. Paul Feyerabend desenvolveu toda a sua carreira sobre essa questão. O trabalho sobre os paradigmas e revoluções científicas de Thomas Kuhn[24] teve grande repercussão no mundo acadêmico, e é um dos golpes mais devastadores no positivismo. Lyotard[25] inaugura o que ficou conhecido como momento pós-moderno com um livro que ataca os ideais positivos da modernidade. Mais recentemente, a ideia de que se pode associar os problemas políticos com os científicos, de modo que ao resolver os últimos se resolvem os primeiros, foi novamente atacada pela teoria da sociedade do risco de Beck[26] e da ciência pós-normal de Funtowicz e Ravetz[27].

A diferença da atuação de Latour é que ele efetivamente buscou interlocução fora da academia. Ele escreveu obras teatrais, organizou diversas exposições, interagiu de forma criativa com artistas, fez experimentos sobre sua ideia de parlamento das coisas misturando intelectuais, ativistas e artistas, e recorrentemente faz uso de um estilo de escrita que busca ser inteligível entre audiências não acadêmicas. Ele começou sua carreira docente na França em uma escola de engenharia, e tem interagido de forma intensa com o meio da arquitetura e do design, especialmente no campo da computação. Ainda que para muita gente as ideias dele não são exatamente fáceis, não há dúvida de que todo o seu esforço deu frutos. E colocou ele na mira dos conservadores, naturalmente.

Ocorre que, ao se adotar uma abordagem ontológica relacional, composicionista, como ele mesmo chamou-a, não faz muito sentido pensar que os debates são vencidos em função do valor de verdade absoluta dos enunciados. Faz muito mais sentido colocar atenção nas estratégias e efeitos pragmáticos de cada debate do que defender uma ideia a ferro e fogo, independentemente de quem sejam os interlocutores. Se tudo é político, como nos mostram o feminismo, os estudos sociais da ciência e da tecnologia, a filosofia da ciência e tantos outros campos de pensamento, é politicamente irresponsável assumir uma atitude positivista sobre o mundo, ainda mais em um momento de transformação tão difícil.

Mas não é só isso. Existem arenas de debate em que o contexto e a lógica de organização semiótica da interação podem desfigurar, de antemão, uma ideia. Lyotard falou sobre essa questão em seu livro Le différend[28]; o grupo de antropólogos da linguagem e da semiótica vinculados aos trabalhos sobre metapragmática de Michael Silverstein[29] também trabalhou extensamente sobre o assunto. Em cada momento da luta política, os avanços se dão através de alianças e movimentos cuidadosamente construídos, em função do caminho que se está seguindo, e não de alguma lógica metafísica transcendente. É assim que se caminha, honrando as alianças e caminhando devagar, com a certeza de que o próprio caminhar transforma as perspectivas.

Vou dar um exemplo mais concreto: um bocado do que vai ocorrer no que diz respeito ao meio ambiente daqui a vinte anos está sendo definido nos assentos de cursos universitários no presente. Ocorre que as pessoas ocupando os assentos dos cursos de ecologia, biologia e afins têm menos poder neste processo de plasmar o futuro do que as que ocupam os assentos dos cursos de engenharia, direito, economia e agronomia. Se quisermos que o sistema de agricultura extensiva baseada em monocultura e agrotóxico deixe de existir, não basta este debate ocorrer nos cursos ligados à ecologia e às humanidades. Ele tem que ocorrer nos cursos de agronomia. O mesmo se dá com relação à mineração ou a questões energéticas e os cursos de engenharia, a questões ligadas aos direitos ambientais e das populações tradicionais e os cursos de direito, e a ideia de crescimento econômico e os cursos de economia. Dito isso, se eu chegar em um curso de engenharia com as ideias da Haraway sobre simpoiése e materialismo sensível, no mínimo não serei tomado a sério. É nisso que as alianças e movimentos têm que ser estratégicos. Não há nada mais importante, hoje, do que fazer este debate sobre o Antropoceno, da forma como os autores que eu mencionei aqui o entendem, nas faculdades de engenharia, economia, direito, agronomia e outras; mas para que eu possa fazer isso, preciso construir alianças dentro destas comunidades. E estas alianças, vistas de longe e sem a compreensão da dimensão estratégica do movimento, podem parecer retrocesso ou essencialismo estratégico. Uma diferença importante aqui é que, no caso de essencialismo estratégico, não existe a abertura para efetivamente escutar quem está do outro lado da interlocução. Em uma abordagem relacional de cunho composicionista, as alianças implicam, no mínimo, a escuta mútua, e isso tem o poder de transformar os membros da aliança. É essa abertura à vida e à transformação, característica das ontologias relacionais, que está ausente na ideia de essencialismo estratégico.

Voltando então ao Latour, o que me parece que ele está tentando fazer, em seus últimos dois livros, é reordenar a dimensão metapragmática dos debates internacionais, ou seja, reordenar os marcos de referência usados pelas pessoas para dar sentido aos problemas correntes. Um bocado de gente existe em uma situação de inércia com relação aos sistemas e infraestruturas dominantes – em como consomem ou votam, por exemplo – mas que estão potencialmente (cosmo)politicamente alinhados com o que ele chama de “terranos”. Seu objetivo é tirar estas pessoas de sua inércia perceptiva e afetiva, através do reordenamento simbólico dos elementos que organizam o debate. Ao mesmo tempo, Latour reconhece que não se trata apenas de ideias e regras de interação: instituições e infraestruturas são elementos fundamentais da composição dos mundos, e que precisam ser transformados. Daí a quantidade imensa de atividades extra-acadêmicas às quais Latour se dedica.

Talvez mais controvertido até do que esta questão do essencialismo estratégico é o movimento recente de insistir na necessidade de composição de um mundo comum. Essa defesa da composição do mundo comum é entendida por muitos como um retrocesso com relação às ideias de multiverso e multinaturalismo, de Viveiros de Castro. Talvez seja, uma vez mais, uma desaceleração e um desvio de percurso, no intuito de construir alianças importantes que demandam essas ações. Veremos. O debate está em curso.

6) Como você vê o futuro próximo dos estudos sobre o Antropoceno e, de maneira geral, das questões ecológicas no mundo lusoparlante e, em particular, no Brasil? Há novos projetos no horizonte que gostaria de mencionar? Que formas de intervenção são possíveis nos debates, não apenas dentro da academia mas também em níveis políticos mais amplos?

Há muita coisa acontecendo; não há dúvida que estamos em um momento de grandes transformações. Por essa razão, é muito difícil fazer previsões.

A condição do meio ambiente no Brasil, no governo Bolsonaro, é calamitosa, e não há qualquer sinal de que as coisas irão melhorar nos dois anos que ainda faltam para as próximas eleições. O país está à deriva. É impressionante, no entanto, que o país seja capaz de permanecer à deriva sem que tudo termine em anomia. Isso significa que existe alguma coisa além das estruturas de governo e do estado. É preciso seguir lutando, com todas as forças, para tirar o Bolsonaro do poder, e ao mesmo tempo é preciso abandonar o culto à figura do presidente que existe no Brasil. A situação atual do Brasil é paradoxal porque, ao mesmo tempo que aos sofrimentos trazidos pela pandemia se somam os sofrimentos trazidos por este governo, a vitalidade da sociedade civil, dos movimentos sociais e do ativismo ambiental é imensa.

Aqui acho que podemos fazer aqui um paralelo com uma das dimensões da questão do Antropoceno: ele pegou o mundo ocidental de surpresa, o que significa que há coisas bem à nossa frente que não somos capazes de perceber por muito tempo. Se assumirmos o início do Antropoceno com as detonações nucleares da década de 1940, vão-se aí mais de 70 anos e ainda não há reconhecimento científico institucionalizado sobre o fato. Não faz sentido dizer que já “se sabia” de sua existência porque Arrhenius tinha falado sobre isso em 1896. Uma voz perdida nos salões acadêmicos não pode ser tomada como percepção coletiva da realidade. E nem se pode reduzir o tempo que demorou para o reconhecimento do problema ao negacionismo, de forma anacrônica. O fato é que as ciências do sistema terrestre nos mostram que há inúmeros padrões de variação no funcionamento do planeta que não conhecemos, e que nos afetam diretamente. Até a década de 1920, a ciência não conhecia o fenômeno El Niño, que afeta o clima do planeta inteiro. Certamente há muitos El Niños que ainda não conhecemos, e alguns que nunca seremos capazes de conhecer com o aparato cognitivo que possuímos. O mesmo ocorre com fenômenos sociais. Há transformações e padrões no funcionamento das coletividades que não conhecemos, mas a que estamos sujeitos. Coisas imprevistas ocorrem o tempo todo no mundo social. No Brasil, por exemplo, ninguém anteviu as manifestações de 2013, e tampouco previu tamanho reconhecimento público e projeção das lideranças indígenas no país neste ano de 2020. Nem que este seria o ano em que, pela primeira vez na história brasileira, haveria mais candidatos pretos e pardos do que brancos nas eleições municipais. Eu sinceramente pensei que não veria isso acontecer nesta vida.  

Por isso acho improdutivo reduzir o contexto brasileiro atual ao Bolsonaro. Isso é seguir cultuando o estado, de certa forma, e reproduzir uma visão de mundo antropocêntrica. Há coisas importantes, inclusive nas dimensões tradicionalmente chamadas de sociais, que não acontecem na escala dos indivíduos nem na escala dos estados. Esta é exatamente uma das dimensões do Antropoceno. Reconhecer isso talvez diminua a amargura e a negatividade com que a intelectualidade progressista brasileira tem observado a realidade.

Em termos do que se vê no horizonte, o quadro é confuso, mas gosto de manter a minha atenção voltada aos fatos que sugerem que mudanças positivas estão ocorrendo. Vejamos: a ONU tem um secretário geral efetivamente comprometido com a agenda ambiental, e está sinalizando em direção à inclusão de indicadores ambientais nos índices usados para avaliar a situação dos países, como o IDH. O Papa Francisco é um ambientalista de esquerda. Trump perdeu as eleições nos EUA, e isso pode ter efeito cascata sobre a política no resto do mundo. A pandemia, a despeito da dimensão impensável de sofrimento que trouxe, forçou os mecanismos de governança planetários a se redesenharem e melhorarem seus processos. Mostrou ainda que a colaboração científica pode ocorrer sem ser induzida, e deformada, pela competição capitalista. A pandemia também deixou bastante evidente a necessidade da luta pelos comuns, inclusive entre grupos mais conservadores. As elites conservadoras abandonaram, por exemplo, a ideia de privatizar o sistema público de saúde brasileiro, o maior do mundo.

No Brasil, enquanto a ciência e a universidade são estranguladas pelo governo atual e resistem bravamente, os movimentos sociais, as periferias, a arte de rua e as iniciativas de solidariedade associadas à pandemia demonstram uma energia impressionante. O movimento da agroecologia tem ganhado muita força no país, também. Acho que, no curto prazo, haverá mais avanço vindo dessas áreas do que da academia. Mas coisas importantes estão ocorrendo no campo acadêmico, também. O que me está mais próximo é a experiência dos bacharelados interdisciplinares, nos quais efetivamente há um esforço de superação das barreiras disciplinares no tratamento de questões importantes. Sou professor em um bacharelado interdisciplinar em ciência e tecnologia do mar, onde os estudantes são preparados para lidar com as questões ambientais a partir de suas dimensões físicas, ecológicas, mas também filosóficas e sociológicas. Esta tem sido uma experiência muito positiva, e que me ajuda a ter esperança sobre o futuro.

Recebido em: 24/12/2020.
Aprovado em: 26/12/2020.
Publicado em: 26/12/2020.


[1] Professor de Antropologia da Universidade Federal de São Paulo (Unifesp). Orcid ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9935-6183. E-mail: renzo.taddei@unifesp.br

[2] Professor no Departamento de Ciências Sociais Aplicadas da Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia da Universidade Nova de Lisboa (FCT-UNL). Orcid ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1111-1286. E-mail: d.scarso@fct.unl.pt

[3] Pesquisador PNPD/CAPES e Professor-Colaborador no Programa de Pós-Graduação em Filosofia da Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul – PUCRS. Orcid ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3295-9454. E-mail: npcastanheira@gmail.com

[4] Haraway, Donna. “Anthropocene, capitalocene, plantationocene, chthulucene: Making kin.” Environmental humanities 6.1 (2015): 159-165.

[5] Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. U of Minnesota Press, 2013.

[6] Danowski, Déborah, and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. Há mundo por vir? Ensaio sobre os medos e os fins. Cultura e Barbárie Editora, 2014.

[7] Latour, Bruno, and Steve Woolgar. A vida de laboratório: a produção dos fatos científicos. Rio de Janeiro: Relume Dumará, 1997

[8] Haraway, D. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press.

[9] Latour, Bruno. Onde aterrar? Rio de Janeiro: Bazar do Tempo, 2020.

[10] Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. Metafísicas canibais. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2015.

[11] Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. “Perspectivismo e multi-naturalismo na América indígena.” In: A inconstância da alma selvagem e outros ensaios de antropologia. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2002: 345-399.

[12] Taddei, Renzo. “No que está por vir, seremos todos filósofos-engenheiros-dançarinos ou não seremos nada.” Moringa 10.2 (2019): 65-90.

[13] Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2004. “Perspectival Anthropology and the Method of Controlled Equivocation.” Tipití: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America 2 (1): 1.

[14] Almeida, Mauro William Barbosa. Caipora e outros conflitos ontológicos. Revista de Antropologia da UFSCar, v. 5, n. 1, p.7-28, 2013

[15] Kopenawa, Davi e Bruce Albert, A Queda do Céu: Palavras de um Xamã Yanomami. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2015.

[16] Krenak, Ailton. Ideias para adiar o fim do mundo. Editora Companhia das Letras, 2019; Krenak, Ailton. O amanhã não está à venda. Companhia das Letras, 2020.

[17] IPBES. 2019. Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Edited by S. Díaz, J. Settele, E. S. Brondízio E.S., et al. Bonn, Germany: IPBES secretariat.

[18] Taddei, Renzo. “Kopenawa and the Environmental Sciences in the Amazon.” In Philosophy on Fieldwork: Critical Introductions to Theory and Analysis in Anthropological Practice, edited by Nils Ole Bubandt and Thomas Schwarz Wentzer. London: Routledge, no prelo.

[19] Para uma análise surpreendente da importância filosófica do pensamento ameríndio, especialmente o de Davi Kopenawa, ver Valentin, M.A. Extramundanidade e Sobrenatureza. Florianópolis: Cultura e Barbárie, 2018.

[20] Puig de la Bellacasa, M. 2017. Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

[21] Taddei, Renzo, and Sophie Haines. “Quando climatologistas encontram cientistas sociais: especulações etnográficas sobre equívocos interdisciplinares.” Sociologias 21.51 (2019).

[22] Bourdieu, Pierre. Esquisse d’une théorie de la pratique. Précédé de trois études d’ethnologie kabyle. Le Seuil, 2018.

[23] Latour, Bruno. Jamais fomos modernos. Editora 34, 1994.

[24] Kuhn, Thomas S. A estrutura das revoluções científicas. Editora Perspectiva, 2020.

[25] Lyotard, Jean-François. A condição pós-moderna. J. Olympio, 1998.

[26] Beck, Ulrich. Sociedade de risco: rumo a uma outra modernidade. Editora 34, 2011.

[27] Funtowicz, Silvio, and Jerry Ravetz. “Ciência pós-normal e comunidades ampliadas de pares face aos desafios ambientais.” História, ciências, saúde-Manguinhos 4.2 (1997): 219-230.

[28] Lyotard, Jean-François, Le différend, Paris, Éd. de Minuit, 1983.

[29] Silverstein, Michael. “Metapragmatic discourse and metapragmatic function” In Lucy, John ed. Reflexive language: Reported speech and metapragmatics. Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Human-Made Stuff Doubles in Mass Every 20 Years. It Just Crossed a Disturbing Line (Science Alert)

sciencealert.com

Mike McRae, 10 December 2020


All of the Amazon’s splendid greenery. Every fish in the Pacific. Every microbe underfoot. Every elephant on the plains, every flower, fungus, and fruit-fly in the fields, no longer outweighs the sheer amount of stuff humans have made.

Estimates on the total mass of human-made material suggest 2020 is the year we overtake the combined dry weight of every living thing on Earth.

Go back to a time before humans first took to ploughing fields and tending livestock, and you’d find our planet was coated in a biosphere that weighed around 2 x 10^12 tonnes.

Thanks in no small part to our habit of farming, mining, and building highways where forests once grew, this figure has now halved.

According to a small team of environmental researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, the mass of items constructed by humans – everything from skyscrapers to buttons – has grown so much, this year could be the point when biomass and mass production match up.

The exact timing of this landmark event depends on how we define the exact point a chunk of rock or drop of crude oil changes from natural resource to manufactured item.

But given we’re currently rearranging roughly 30 gigatonnes of nature into anything from IKEA bookcases to luxury apartments each year (a rate that’s been doubling every 20 years since the early 1900s), such fuzziness will be arbitrary soon enough.

biomass of plants and animals compared with plastic and construction massKey components of dry biomass and anthropogenic mass in the year 2020. (Elhacham et al., Nature, 2020)

The researchers draw our attention to this depressing moment in history as a symbol of our growing dominance over the planet.

“Beyond biomass, as the global effect of humanity accelerates, it is becoming ever more imperative to quantitatively assess and monitor the material flows of our socioeconomic system, also known as the socio-economic metabolism,” the researchers write in their report.

Concern over society’s metaphorical expanding waistline isn’t new. Researchers have been crunching the numbers on humanity’s gluttony for energy and raw materials for years.

When it comes to calculating the mass of resources being gobbled up by our industrial complexes, past studies have generally focussed their estimates on primary productivity.

This isn’t really all that surprising. From mowing down forests for agriculture to plundering the oceans for their fish stocks, we’re increasingly aware that our hunger for T-bone steaks and convenient tins of tuna in spring water comes at a great ecological cost.

While it’s important to keep the greener parts of our environment in mind, this study shows why our insatiable hunger for sand, concrete, and asphalt shouldn’t be ignored, given the contribution infrastructure makes to our overall consumption.

“The anthropogenic mass, whose accumulation is documented in this study, does not arise out of the biomass stock but from the transformation of the orders-of-magnitude higher stock of mostly rocks and minerals,” the team notes.

The numbers can be hard to visualise. If the total mass of all humans exceeds 300 million tonnes, we could say there’s another 3.8 tonnes of cookware, jumbo jets, microwaves and backyard swimming pools on Earth each year for every single one of us.

Yet not all of us have an equal share in the benefits of this growth, nor do we all have the same influence over it.

Given our obsession with economic growth plays a major factor in our increasing rate of consumption, slowing it down will require rethinking the very foundations of how we function as a global society.

The prognosis of a future that’s more concrete than forest is far from novel. But with 2020 serving as a symbolic crossroads into a new epoch of human consumption, there’s no better time to act.

This research was published in Nature.

Total de objetos construídos pela humanidade supera, pela 1ª vez, a massa dos seres vivos na Terra (Folha de S.Paulo)

www1.folha.uol.com.br

Reinaldo José Lopes, 9 de dezembro de 2020


O total dos objetos construídos pela humanidade acaba de superar pela primeira vez a massa somada das formas de vida na Terra, mostra um levantamento liderado por pesquisadores israelenses.

A chamada massa antropogênica, como decidiram designá-la, ultrapassou a marca de 1,1 teratonelada (ou 1,1 trilhão de toneladas) em 2020 e tem dobrado de tamanho a cada 20 anos ao longo do último século, segundo os autores do estudo.

A transformação de matérias-primas naturais em artefatos humanos cresceu de forma tão vertiginosa que, a cada semana, os novos objetos feitos pela nossa espécie superam o peso corporal de cada pessoa viva hoje, afirma a pesquisa, que acaba de ser publicada na revista científica Nature por uma equipe do Instituto Weizmann de Ciência.

“Precisaríamos de décadas para reunir todos esses dados. Para nossa sorte, é algo que já está sendo explorado há anos por cientistas que trabalham na área de análise de fluxo de materiais”, explicou à Folha o coordenador do estudo, Ron Milo, do Departamento de Ciências Botânicas e Ambientais do Weizmann.

“Eles compilaram uma base de dados global, abrangendo todos os países e campos da indústria, e isso nos permitiu ter dados confiáveis sobre o tema”, diz Milo, cuja mãe nasceu no Brasil.

Para chegar à conclusão (que tem margem de erro de seis anos para mais ou para menos), Milo e seus colegas precisaram fazer uma série de delimitações metodológicas. De um lado, eles colocaram a soma de toda a biomassa viva —ou seja, a totalidade do que é produzido pelos seres vivos que ainda não morreram, incluindo árvores e demais vegetais, animais, fungos de tamanho macroscópico e todos os micro-organismos no solo e nas águas. A conta inclui também o peso de todos os seres humanos vivos hoje, e o de seus animais e plantas domesticados.

Do outro lado, a massa antropogênica é composta pela matéria não viva modificada diretamente pela ação do Homo sapiens: metal, concreto, tijolos, asfalto, plástico, vidro etc. (veja infográfico abaixo). Os pesquisadores optaram por usar o peso seco (desprezando a presença de água) de ambos os conjuntos.

No caso da massa antropogênica, eles só levaram em conta objetos que ainda não viraram lixo —se eles fossem incluídos, a produção humana teria “virado o jogo” em relação à biomassa já em 2013 (margem de erro de cinco anos a mais ou a menos), calcula o grupo. Também não colocaram na soma os materiais apenas deslocados pela ação do ser humano, mas ainda não usados diretamente para nada (como a terra removida para a construção de um reservatório, digamos).

Se a taxa atual de crescimento se mantiver, espera-se que a massa antropogênica alcance 3 teratoneladas em 2040, ou seja, o triplo da biomassa terrestre. As comparações caso a caso, porém, já são suficientemente assustadoras. A atual massa de plásticos, por exemplo, já equivale ao dobro da de todos os animais do planeta, enquanto o peso dos prédios e da infraestrutura (estradas etc.) superou o da totalidade das árvores e arbustos. A massa da Torre Eiffel, cartão-postal parisiense, equivale à de todos os 10 mil rinocerontes-brancos ainda existentes no mundo, enquanto a de Nova York empata com a de todos os peixes nos mares e rios da Terra.

A magnitude e a clareza dos dados podem se tornar um argumento em favor da definição oficial do chamado Antropoceno —a ideia de que a ação humana inaugurou uma nova fase geológica da história do planeta. No momento, o conceito está sendo debatido pela Comissão Internacional de Estratigrafia.

“Não somos parte da discussão oficial, mas estamos em contato com as pessoas envolvidas nela. Acho que, de fato, é questão de tempo até que o Antropoceno seja oficializado”, diz o cientista israelense.

Onde está o poder? E quando o tivermos encontrado, o que fazer com ele?, por Bruno Latour (Labemus)

Artigo original

agosto 27, 2020

 Por Bruno Latour
Tradução: Igor Rolemberg

Clique aqui para pdf

Para a versão original do francês clique aqui

Vou tentar responder à questão “Onde está o poder?”. Como sempre, quando somos filósofos, temos a tendência de mudar um pouco o objeto. Não basta encontrar esse poder; é preciso ainda fazer alguma coisa a partir dele. É por isso que eu vou colocar três questões: Como investigar para encontrar o poder? Como desconfiar do poder em todos os sentidos do termo “desconfiar”? Por fim, como exercê-lo depois de encontrá-lo?

Permitam-me antes de mais nada colocar uma primeira regra de deontologia de pesquisa: Como dispor dos meios de provar a presença legítima ou ilegítima do poder para evitar qualquer suspeita? Coisa esquisita a crítica; outrora difícil, hoje se tornou um automatismo, quase um reflexo: assim que uma autoridade qualquer enuncia uma certeza, imediatamente a opinião pública, as redes sociais, o bom senso, concluem que é necessariamente falso – ou pelo menos que há por trás uma manipulação. Nós nos encontramos aí diante de um problema de pesquisa como na história em quadrinhos Lucky Luke. A crítica obedece agora à regra “a gente atira primeiro, e discute depois”. Para poder pesquisar, é preciso aprender a desacelerar e suspender a acusação de manipulação.

Segunda regra: se falamos de poder, se o traçamos, designamos, mostramos, só isso não basta. A denúncia, como bem mostrou Luc Boltanski, seria vazia de sentido, nesse caso. A regra então é a seguinte: se podemos detectar uma fonte legítima de poder, é necessário também oferecer os meios de exercê-lo para aqueles a quem ele se destina; se a fonte de poder é ilegítima, então precisamos nos esforçar e oferecer os meios de contra-atacar, de se estabelecer um contrapoder. Em resumo, só se deve denunciar o poder, se a denúncia der poder a nossos interlocutores. É inútil denunciá-lo se for para oferecer uma lição sobre a impotência.

Que seja preciso em todos os casos desconfiar do poder, que a gente busque descobrir suas fontes e reprimir seus efeitos, irei demonstrá-lo em cinco etapas.

SEM PODER, AS COISAS SEGUIRIAM DE MANEIRA RETA

A primeira etapa vai nos permitir aprender a identificar o exercício do poder ao mesmo tempo em que ele se torna mais difícil de ser detectado. Comecemos por um caso simples. Se vocês lerem no Le Monde uma manchete “Laboratório Servier suspeito de ter influenciado um relatório do Senado”, não terão dificuldade para notar que alguma coisa de anormal acontece. O jornalista fez o trabalho por vocês. De fato, não é normal que um professor de medicina tenha aparentemente modificado um relatório do Senado num inquérito sobre o sofrível caso Mediator, esse medicamento do laboratório Servier que hoje é objeto de uma série de processos com muitas repercussões. Nós nos encontramos aí diante de um inquérito interrompido ou alterado por conta de uma intervenção indevida. Vocês terão razão de suspeitar, sem problema algum, que se trata aí de um exercício ilegítimo de poder.

O caso seguinte é um pouco mais delicado: “Aumenta a contestação contra as antenas de transmissão, tanto no campo quanto na cidade”. Dessa vez, a matéria não facilitou o trabalho. Trata-se de empresas de telefonia que impõem as antenas sem discutir antes? É o Estado que faz vista grossa sobre essa implantação? Aqueles que se acreditam doentes são exagerados nas suas reivindicações, ou, ao contrário, é injusto não reconhecer que se trata de uma doença real que deveria dar direito a uma indenização? Encontramo-nos aí em plena controvérsia. Há uma incerteza quanto ao escândalo que deve ser denunciado. Vocês entendem muito bem que, nesse caso, a denúncia automática não levaria a lugar algum. Precisamos continuar a investigar cuidadosamente a fim de designar quem exerce o poder ilegitimamente e quem luta para fazer oposição a ele.

Terceiro exemplo, ainda mais incerto. Vocês leem no Le Monde um artigo com a manchete “A política de cortes orçamentários repousa sobre um diagnóstico errado”. A matéria afirma que todos os Estados da Europa padecem nesse momento dessa ideia que muitos economistas consideram absurda, segundo a qual é preciso reduzir o orçamento em vez de investir massivamente no momento em que a moeda custa pouco. É o argumento que Paul Krugman, prêmio Nobel de economia, repete quase todos os dias ao mundo inteiro no New York Times, sem ser ouvido. Eis assim um caso em que parece que o poder seja exercido pelos experts, através de redes opacas, pois influenciam o que chamamos de “esferas de poder”, aqui no sentido clássico do termo: a classe política. As ideias econômicas, diz a matéria, têm assim uma influência indevida sobre a vida pública e nos obrigam a apertar os cintos em nome de uma doutrina cuja origem não parece segura. Quem tem o poder nesse caso? É a doutrina econômica? São os economistas? Aqueles que ouvem demais os economistas? Vemos que a detecção do poder começa a se tornar mais difícil.

Desses três exemplos, o princípio de análise é o mesmo: existe uma via reta que foi desviada. Deveríamos ter um relatório honesto do Senado. Não temos. Deveríamos ter uma informação clara quanto ao perigo das antenas transmissoras. Não temos. Deveríamos ter uma política econômica credível. Não temos. Assim, nesses três casos o poder é identificado pela alteração entre o caminho reto e o desvio, pelo distanciamento que foi operado. É essa distância que justifica a denúncia. Mas vocês já devem ter entendido que isso supõe evidentemente que exista uma via reta, um estado normal, direito, digamos racional, que o poder veio deformar. Nessa visão das coisas, o poder é sempre irracional. Ele não deveria ser exercido. O denunciante, no fundo, sonha com um mundo livre de poder.

EM BUSCA DO PODER INVISÍVEL

Figura 1

A segunda etapa é mais difícil: de onde vem, com efeito, a via retilínea? Podemos falar de poder nesse caso? Se sim, como proceder à investigação? Para seguir reto é preciso que um poder se exerça. Mas ele estaria então de alguma forma latente, e não teria o mesmo sentido [que abordamos] no tópico anterior. Aí se encontra o tema batido da “naturalização” das condutas. Não vemos mais o poder, porém ele foi exercido antes; simplesmente, perdemos seu rastro. É claro que aqui convém recorrer a Michel Foucault.

Tomemos por exemplo a arquitetura da prisão, uma arquitetura completamente particular, pois, a partir da cabine central, o vigia pode observar diretamente o interior de todas as celas à sua volta. Vocês talvez não tivessem a ideia de considerar esse dispositivo como a prova de um exercício ilegítimo do poder. Isso lhes aparece ao contrário como uma forma normal de organização da prisão. E vocês estão certos. Antes dos trabalhos dos historiadores, isso era de fato um exercício legítimo: os arquitetos foram pagos ordinariamente, e o Estado interveio regularmente. E, no entanto, como mostra tão bem Michel Foucault num livro célebre, “Vigiar e Punir”, isso é para o Estado um modo de governo, de exercer sobre os prisioneiros um poder total. Desde o século XIX – não retomarei todo o argumento de Foucault – a arquitetura penal se tornou um modo normal, através do qual um poder extremamente violento se exerce calma e tranquilamente, de maneira regular e cotidiana. O que Foucault chama de “governamentalidade” é uma forma de poder que não podemos mais denunciar porque ela se tornou a norma, a razão, o saber, em resumo, a via reta. O poder foi naturalizado. Ele se exerce de maneira tão indiscutível quanto as leis da natureza. E por essa razão, mantém-se indenunciável.

Figura 2

O segundo exemplo irá talvez lhes surpreender mais: é o metro. Fotografei em frente ao Senado, em Paris, um dos dois exemplos do metro-padrão ainda expostos in situ. Nesse espaço simbólico, em frente ao Senado carregado de leis, antes que os metros fossem difundidos em todo lugar, os parisienses de antigamente podiam ir verificar se o seu metro estava de acordo com o metro correto. Donde o nome de metro-padrão. Nada mais objetivo que o metro. Nenhum de vocês iria pensar que ele exerce o poder ao tomar as medidas em centímetros e não em polegadas, como fazem os ingleses. E, no entanto, o sistema métrico possui uma longa história, foi preciso oitenta anos para que se impusesse em grande parte do mundo ao longo de uma batalha política mundial cujos traços evidentemente esquecemos. O metro é assim um belo caso de naturalização. Mas é preciso se esforçar muito para se lembrar das polêmicas suscitadas no começo por essa tomada de poder revolucionária sobre os hábitos de tantos artesãos e comerciantes. Temos aí um caso muito interessante, pois não vemos mais a origem do poder. Em tais casos, para conseguir detectar o poder é preciso recorrer ao que Foucault chama de arqueologia, ou seja, uma imersão, graças aos arquivos, numa história controvertida, violenta, de aplicação de hábitos pouco suspeitos.

O PODER PERMITE ASSIM COMO PROÍBE

Mas então, vocês diriam, se medir com um metro ou construir uma prisão é exercer o poder, o poder está em toda parte. Eu concordo, e por isso é preciso talvez estender a noção de poder ou dispensá-la. Com efeito, e esta será a terceira etapa de nosso breve excurso, o verbo “poder”, vocês bem sabem, não é sinônimo de “proibir”. Poder é também permitir.

Tomemos o exemplo aparentemente muito simples do controle remoto. É esse aparelho que lhes autoriza a não se mexerem, lhes dá o poder de continuarem sentados mudando os canais da televisão. Sem ele, os mais velhos como eu se recordarão, vocês seriam obrigados a se levantarem toda hora para zapear à vontade. É graça ao controle remoto que vocês podem se tornar o que os americanos chamam de “batata de sofá” (a couch potato).

Figura 3

Vocês têm aí uma ocasião de fato interessante para se colocar a questão “Onde está o poder?”. Porque, afinal de contas, esse jovem que não precisa mais se levantar de seu sofá é o ser mais autônomo, livre e contente do mundo. Em outras palavras, ele tem na sua mão esquerda o controle remoto e na mão direita chips ultra salgados e refrigerantes ultra açucarados. Nada o impede de ganhar tanto peso quanto queira… A questão “onde está o poder?” pode ser posta aqui muito concretamente. Esse jovem é ao mesmo tempo o ser mais livre da história, aquele que possui menos restrições, e aquele mais atrelado, envolto, vinculado a um conjunto de bens, cada um dos quais lhe permite fazer alguma coisa. Vocês veem que, num caso como esse, é difícil denunciar um exercício ilegítimo do poder (seus pais irão jogar o controle remoto pela janela para forçá-lo a se mexer finalmente?), como também é difícil notar a origem de todos esses hábitos consistentemente postos em prática (Os pais vão processar quem? A Coca-Cola? Ou o canal de televisão? A menos que seja o fabricante das batatas chips?)

Se refinamos a análise, a noção de poder se dilui completamente, ou se torna simplesmente sinônimo de descrição concreta de uma situação. Considerem esse belo exemplo: um caminhão tombado em Nova York porque o motorista não viu que a altura da passarela era inferior à altura de seu veículo. Isso é um exercício de poder? Claro que não. O condutor seguiu seu GPS e a base de dados não havia ainda integrado a altura das pontes dentro dos itinerários pré programados. Sem querer, o motorista se lançou numa armadilha. Ora, acontece que a altura das pontes de Nova York foi objeto, no século passado, de uma feroz disputa: Robert Moses, o Haussmann americano, limitou-a deliberadamente para as avenidas utilizadas por carros de passeio, a fim de que não fossem utilizadas por caminhões, que deveriam circular em vias mais largas reservadas aos serviços de logística (acusaram-no até de ter feito isso por razões raciais[1]). Não há dúvida de que a massa de aço da ponte muito baixa exerce um poder de extrema violência sobre o caminhão azarado. Mas não há dúvida também que Robert Moses, há um século de distância, exerce também um poder sobre o conjunto da situação: modificar o tamanho de todas as pontes de Nova York para que carros e caminhões circulem igualmente significaria despender somas astronômicas. Permeando-se através de uma regulamentação, depois dentro do concreto e do aço, e de uma definição de mobilidade urbana, Moses tornou irreversíveis suas decisões e fez com que suas Tábuas da Lei sejam obedecidas até hoje – e aqueles que as infringem, como esse caminhoneiro distraído, são severamente punidos.

Figura 4

APRENDER A DISPENSAR A NOÇÃO DE PODER

O exemplo do controle-remoto, assim como o das pontes de Nova York me levam à quarta etapa: ao opor a noção de poder a outra coisa (o exercício normal e retilíneo da razão), nós nos privamos da capacidade de, no fim das contas, identificar as fontes daquilo que molda nosso ambiente. Se eu sempre desconfiei da noção de poder, é que passei muitos anos a favorecer sua extensão ali onde ninguém o via: nas ciências e nas técnicas.  Frequentemente comparei a busca pelas fontes de poder àquela dos físicos para identificar a “matéria escura do universo”[2]. Para os coletivos humanos, essa matéria escura encontra-se, é claro, nos laboratórios, no sentido amplo do termo.

Veja este belo retrato de Louis Pasteur nos apresentando seus balões de ensaio com pescoço de cisne. É uma experiência célebre que eu estudei bastante[3]. Essa invenção lhe permitiu, pela primeira vez, conservar, ao abrigo de toda contaminação, líquidos bastante putrescíveis, uma vez aquecidos. Eles permaneceram intactos durante anos. E no entanto, o orifício dos balões permanecia aberto, e, dessa forma, acessível ao ar ambiente. Basta agitar o líquido para que ele entre em contato com os micróbios transportados pelo ar e que ficaram bloqueados na curva do pescoço para que, alguns dias depois, os balões tenham se tornado completamente opacos por causa da proliferação dos micro-organismos. Onde está o poder? Em todo lugar! Eis aí Pasteur que inventa uma série de gestos que permitem manter o ambiente esterilizado – aquilo que chamaremos em breve de assepsia – ou, contrariamente, de tornar esse ambiente ideal para a cultura de inúmeros micróbios suspensos no ar – o que se tornará o início dos meios de cultura.

Figura  5

Se há um caso onde todas as relações que nós costumamos manter foram modificadas por práticas inventadas em laboratório, esse é, sem dúvidas, um deles. A indústria, a higiene, a medicina foram totalmente impactadas pela introdução progressiva de inovações como essa daqui. Não precisa olhar muito longe para entender essa lição. Pensem apenas na epidemia do Ebola ano passado, ou, este ano, nos efeitos terríveis do vírus da Zika[4].

De modo mais geral, se vocês olharem à sua volta, perceberão que toda vez que as relações de força foram modificadas, é que ali foram inseridas ciências, técnicas ou ideias novas. E,toda vez, nós dependemos de saberes especializados que dependem, a seu turno, de uma infraestrutura cara, complexa, etc., e de instituições sólidas. Ora, vemos bem que nesse caso seria absurdo tentar distinguir o que pertence a um poder ilegítimo que seria necessário denunciar e o que está relacionado a um poder de controle sobre as condições de existência. Será necessário confiar nos saberes especializados, na maior parte das vezes extraordinariamente complexos, que pontuam, através de longas séries que chamei “caixas pretas”, o curso de nossas ações mais ordinárias.

Se eu desconfio da noção de “poder a denunciar”, é que ela não permite ponderar o valor justo da produção desses saberes. Por isso que muitos preferem recorrer frequentemente à teoria do complô. Ela se caracteriza por uma repartição estranha entre o que aceitamos sem nenhuma crítica – geralmente o exercício indevido de um poder ilegítimo e escondido que manipula docilmente a sociedade sem que consigamos prová-lo – e aquilo que criticamos meticulosamente exigindo um nível de prova tão elevado que nenhuma outra fonte de informação – imprensa, revistas especializadas, relatórios de especialistas –  jamais poderá  atingir[5]. Essa estranha patologia tem por origem a noção mesma de um poder que dissimula bem tanto a escassez de provas quanto a sua robustez. Transporta-se uma demanda de absoluto para aquilo que é necessariamente da ordem do relativo. Por causa dessa repartição, os complotistas deixam passar uma manada pela porteira enquanto caçam pelo em ovo. E a situação é ainda mais complicada porque, como mostra Luc Boltanski num livro astucioso, o que não falta é complô![6] De modo que os complotistas chegam a esse resultado estranho de duvidar de todas as provas oficiais (o que reforça esse exercício reflexo [automático] da crítica pelo qual comecei) sem conseguir no entanto identificar os verdadeiros complôs…

Assim, a suspeição pode nascer e se desenvolver independentemente das provas, e nesse caso a pessoa se torna paranoica – as teorias do complô não estão longe disso. Mas, inversamente, a ausência de provas pode diminuir a desconfiança: começa-se a acreditar que não há nada de anormal – “é necessário, as coisas são assim”. Vem então a complacência e com ela a inércia. A consequência é uma corrupção definitiva do espaço público.

UM EXCESSO DE PODER COM O QUAL NÃO SABEMOS O QUE FAZER

Estou consciente de ter ficado até aqui dando voltas em torno do mesmo ponto. “Onde está o poder?”, a questão de partida visava evidentemente a esfera pública, a da classe política. Não se tratava provavelmente de falar de controle-remoto, de antenas transmissoras, de pontes, de micróbios e de teoria econômica… Eu gostaria então nessa última etapa de tomar um caso que me é caro, que se refere muito bem à esfera pública e que exemplifica, novamente, a impotência de noções usuais de poder para interpretar situações concretas. O exemplo é o da Conferência do Clima, chamada “COP 21”, que se encerrou em 12 de dezembro de 2015, com entusiasmo. Ora, desde o dia 13 de dezembro, pela manhã, mais ninguém falava desse “acontecimento mundial”! Eis aí um caso de fato extraordinário: um poder, ou melhor, uma capacidade de agir, completamente original, com a qual ninguém sabe o que fazer.

Figura 6

Para se ter uma ideia da situação, fazendo um jogo de palavras, seria necessário falar em um enorme excesso de poder. Avaliem vocês mesmos: o termo que é utilizado pelos geólogos para descrever essa potência nova é o de Antropoceno, que eu prefiro chamar de Novo Regime Climático[7]. Os geólogos dão à humanidade (esse é o sentido do termo anthropos), tomada em bloco, uma capacidade, um poder, de modificar o estado do planeta mais rapidamente, de forma mais sustentada no tempo e irreversível do que em qualquer outra época de sua história. Temos então claramente um excesso de poder dado aos humanos, isto é, a cada um de nós, sem que evidentemente saibamos como seremos capazes de nos reunir politicamente para assumir uma tal capacidade de estrago e ação, uma tal responsabilidade[8].

Nesse caso, o que nos é dado é um poder que não sentimos capazes de assumir, este de se tornar coletivamente uma força geológica. Ora, estou certo que isso não lhes interessa em absoluto, que é precisamente algo que vocês gostariam de evitar. Quem desejaria se tornar uma força capaz de influenciar o clima? Aliás, essa é a razão pela qual tanta gente prefere ignorar ou mesmo negar as descobertas científicas. O clima é [como a obra] Amédée ou comment s’en débarasser de Ionesco.

Eis aí um caso que se refere perfeitamente ao que o grande filósofo americano, aliás muito pouco lido na França, John Dewey, chama de “o público e seus problemas”[9]. Dewey define o público não como o objeto de ocupação da classe política, mas como aquilo que é preciso constituir toda vez que um novo problema surge: “O público consiste no conjunto de todos aqueles que são tão afetados por consequências indiretas de transações que ele julga necessário vigiar sistematicamente suas consequências”. O público deve então ser criado toda vez que nós observamos consequências inesperadas de nossas ações. A mutação ecológica que nós vivemos é um problema do tipo. Exceto que, nesse caso, nós temos o problema, mas não o público que lhe corresponde!

O ponto fundamental de Dewey é que os homens ou mulheres políticas não são aqueles que sabem, mas simplesmente aqueles a quem é delegada a tarefa de explorar, tateando, numa certa obscuridade, com as ferramentas de pesquisa, as consequências de nossas ações. Como por definição essas consequências são imprevistas, o público está sempre se reformando e o Estado sempre atrasado com um problema. Aqueles da época t-1 são talvez mais ou menos levados em conta, mas aqueles da época atual, não. É evidentemente o caso do clima. Ninguém, há vinte anos, teria imaginado que fazer política para o Sr. Hollande [ex-presidente da França] teria consistido em encerrar solenemente uma operação diplomática sobre a questão do clima, bradando como ele fez no dia 12 de dezembro de 2015, “Viva o planeta!”.

Vocês veem bem que não sabemos como exercer esse novo poder geológico. Há algo de esmagador, de impressionante nesse poder planetário dado a cada um de nós, ao mesmo tempo que contamos quase nada para o balanço de carbono da humanidade em geral. É aí que é preciso lembrar a regra posta no início. A simples denúncia de um poder ilegítimo, identificado por nós mesmos ou com ajuda dos outros não basta: ela deve vir junto com a aquisição dos meios de lutar, sob pena de cairmos no desespero. É preciso que vocês possam contra-atacar, resistir, modificar, arrumar, acomodar, aceitar talvez, em todo caso reagir (o que designa o termo em inglês de empowerment). Sem isso vocês irão se sentir com os pés e as mãos atados. Nem pesquisa, nem suspeição bastam. Cabe à política assumir o controle.

É preciso ainda entrar em acordo sobre o que a política pode fazer: se ela denuncia sem indicar como podemos combater, a política se resume a uma lição de frustração e impotência. Nada mais desencorajador do que clamar contra um escândalo tendo o sentimento de não poder fazer nada. De ator passamos a espectador, a princípio indignado, depois passivo, e logo cúmplice. À investigação sobre o que é injusto deve se somar a pesquisa de novos meios de reagir.

Figura 7

Daí todo o interesse dessa última imagem que eu tirei em setembro de 2014 durante uma grande manifestação pelo (ou melhor contra o) clima nas ruas de Manhattan. O slogan orgulhoso da faixa proclama: “Nós sabemos quem é o responsável”. Aqui não estamos mais na simples denunciação: através um importante trabalho de acumulação de provas, os ativistas conseguiram transformar o esmagador fardo “nós somos todos responsáveis e não sabemos como reagir” em uma outra forma política: os emissores de CO2 não são quaisquer pessoas, mas um punhado de atores industriais privados e públicos cujos nomes, ações e capitais são conhecidos[10]. Se o poder se exerce, um contrapoder novo e original se constituiu. Uma resposta precisa, e evidentemente passível de revisão e modulável, foi encontrada para a questão inicial: “Onde está o poder?”

Notas:

[1]      JOERGES, Bernward. “Do Politics Have Artifacts”. Social Studies of Science, n.29, v.3, 1999, pp. 411-31. GARUTTI, Francesco. Can design be devious ? 2015. Filme.

[2]     LATOUR, Bruno. Cogitamus. Six lettres sur les humanités scientifiques. Paris: La Découverte, 2010.

[3]     LATOUR, Bruno. Pasteur: guerre et paix des microbes. Paris: La Découverte, 2001.

[4]     Nota do tradutor:  é preciso lembrar que o texto original foi publicado em 2016.

[5]     PADIS, Marc Olivier. “La passion du complot”. Esprit, n. 419, 2015.

[6]     BOLTANSKI, Luc. Enigmes et complots. Une enquête à propos d’enquêtes. Paris: Gallimard, 2012.

[7]     LATOUR, Bruno. Face à Gaïa. Huit conférences sur le Nouveau Régime Climatique. Paris: La découverte, 2015.

[8]     BONNEUIL, Christophe; FRESSOZ Jean-Baptiste. L’évènement anthropocène. La Terre, l’histoire et nous. Paris: Le Seuil, 2013.

[9]     DEWEY, John. Le public et ses problèmes (Traduit de l’anglais et préfacé par Joelle Zask). Pau: Gallimard- Folio, 2010.

[10]   HEEDE, Richard. “Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010.” Climate Accountability Institute (2013); CHANCEL, Lucas; PIKETTY, Thomas. Carbon and inequality: from Kyoto to Paris, 2015.

Para citar este texto:

LATOUR, Bruno. Onde está o poder? E quando o tivermos encontrado, o que fazer com ele? (Tradução por Igor Rolemberg) Blog do Labemus, 2020. [publicado em 27 de agosto de 2020]. Disponível em: https://blogdolabemus.com/2020/08/27/onde-esta-o-poder-e-quando-o-tivermos-encontrado-o-que-fazer-com-ele/(abrir em uma nova aba)

Referências bibliográficas:

BOLTANSKI, Luc. Enigmes et complots. Une enquête à propos d’enquêtes. Paris: Gallimard, 2012.

BONNEUIL, Christophe; FRESSOZ Jean-Baptiste. L’évènement anthropocène. La Terre, l’histoire et nous. Paris: Le Seuil, 2013.

CHANCEL, Lucas; PIKETTI Thomas. Carbon and inequality: from Kyoto to Paris, 2015.

DEWEY, John. Le public et ses problèmes (Traduit de l’anglais et préfacé par Joelle Zask). Pau: Gallimard- Folio, 2010.

GARUTTI, Francesco. Can design be devious ? 2015. Filme.

HEEDE, Richard. “Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010”. Climate Accountability Institute. 2013

JOERGES, Bernward. “Do Politics Have Artifacts”. Social Studies of Science, n.29, v.3, 1999, pp. 411-31.

LATOUR, Bruno. Pasteur: guerre et paix des microbes. Paris: La Découverte, 2001.

LATOUR, Bruno. Cogitamus. Six lettres sur les humanités scientifiques. Paris: La Découverte, 2010.

LATOUR, Bruno. Face à Gaïa. Huit conférences sur le Nouveau Régime Climatique. Paris: La découverte, 2015.

PADIS, Marc Olivier. “La passion du complot. Esprit, n. 419, 2015.

Conventional wisdom holds that rising living standards are fueled by oil. What if that’s wrong? (Anthropocene Magazine)

Researchers found that recent improvements in life expectancy are only weakly coupled to increases in carbon emissions

By Sarah DeWeerdt

March 31, 2020

In recent decades, life has gotten better, more comfortable, and longer for many people around the world. Conventional wisdom holds that these gains in human well-being are underpinned by fossil fuel energy. After all, a country’s energy use tends to be correlated with its inhabitants’ life expectancy at any given point in time.

But this assumption doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, a new analysis indicates. And that, in turn, suggests the hopeful conclusion that decarbonization need not put future gains in well-being at risk.

Researchers in the UK and Germany analyzed data on energy extraction, carbon emissions, economic activity, food supply, residential electricity availability, and life expectancy in 70 countries around the world between 1971 and 2014.

They used a relatively new method called functional dynamic decomposition: a series of mathematical equations to analyze the changing relationships between two variables – such as carbon emissions and life expectancy – and assess whether changes in one drive changes in the other.

The method cannot demonstrate causality, but a lack of association between two variables over time is evidence of lack of causation.

In fact, while some variables are correlated at particular points, one does not drive the other over time, the researchers report in the journal Environmental Research Letters. They call this a “carbon-development paradox.”

The new results “demonstrate that fossil fuels are not, as often imagined or stated, significant contributors to improvements in human development,” the researchers write.

Carbon emissions, primary energy use, and economic activity as measured by market exchange rate income (MER, which depends on international trade) are all “dynamically coupled” over time.

So are economic activity as measured by purchasing power parity (PPP, which indicates how far people’s incomes go within their home country), food supply, residential electricity, and life expectancy.

“Recent improvements in life expectancy are only weakly coupled to increases in primary energy or carbon emissions,” the researchers write. Instead, life expectancy gains are more closely linked growth in real incomes, access to food, and availability of electricity at home.

And although increases in carbon emissions account for much of the increase in primary energy over time, they account for a relatively small amount of the increase in residential electricity.

Increases in primary energy account for the vast majority of increases in MER income, but only about half of increases in PPP. “Economic growth is thus not enough on its own: the question is what type of economic growth,” the researchers write.

So stoking the furnace of the economy with fossil fuels won’t necessarily result in human flourishing. And reducing energy use and carbon emissions won’t necessarily result in human suffering.

“Our results directly counter the claims by fossil fuel companies that their products are necessary for well-being,” lead author Julia Steinberger of the University of Leeds said in a statement. “Reducing emissions and primary energy use, while maintaining or enhancing the health of populations, should be possible.”

To do that, governments will need to prioritize people’s access to food, renewable energy, and other goods that are more directly related to well-being—rather than economic growth for its own sake.

Source: Steinberger J.K. et al.Your money or your life? The carbon-development paradox.” Environmental Research Letters 2020. 

Image: Shutterstock

A Giant Bumptious Litter: Donna Haraway on Truth, Technology, and Resisting Extinction (Logic)

Issue 9 / Nature December 07, 2019

Donna Haraway at her desk, smiling.
Donna Haraway in her home in Santa Cruz. A still from Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival, a film by Fabrizio Terranova.

The history of philosophy is also a story about real estate.

Driving into Santa Cruz to visit Donna Haraway, we can’t help feeling that we were born too late. The metal sculpture of a donkey standing on Haraway’s front porch, the dogs that scramble to her front door barking when we ring the bell, and the big black rooster strutting in the coop out back — the entire setting evokes an era of freedom and creativity that postwar wealth made possible in Northern California.

Here was a counterculture whose language and sensibility the tech industry sometimes adopts, but whose practitioners it has mostly priced out. Haraway, who came to the University of Santa Cruz in 1980 to take up the first tenured professorship in feminist theory in the US, still conveys the sense of a wide‑open world.

Haraway was part of an influential cohort of feminist scholars who trained as scientists before turning to the philosophy of science in order to investigate how beliefs about gender shaped the production of knowledge about nature. Her most famous text remains “A Cyborg Manifesto,” published in 1985. It began with an assignment on feminist strategy for the Socialist Review after the election of Ronald Reagan and grew into an oracular meditation on how cybernetics and digitization had changed what it meant to be male or female — or, really, any kind of person. It gained such a cult following that Hari Kunzru, profiling her for Wired years later, wrote: “To boho twentysomethings, her name has the kind of cachet usually reserved for techno acts or new phenethylamines.”

The cyborg vision of gender as changing and changeable was radically new. Her map of how information technology linked people around the world into new chains of affiliation, exploitation, and solidarity feels prescient at a time when an Instagram influencer in Berlin can line the pockets of Silicon Valley executives by using a phone assembled in China that contains cobalt mined in Congo to access a platform moderated by Filipinas.

Haraway’s other most influential text may be an essay that appeared a few years later, on what she called “situated knowledges.” The idea, developed in conversation with feminist philosophers and activists such as Nancy Hartsock, concerns how truth is made. Concrete practices of particular people make truth, Haraway argued. The scientists in a laboratory don’t simply observe or conduct experiments on a cell, for instance, but co-create what a cell is by seeing, measuring, naming, and manipulating it. Ideas like these have a long history in American pragmatism. But they became politically explosive during the so-called Science Wars of the 1990s — a series of public debates among “scientific realists” and “postmodernists” with echoes in controversies about bias and objectivity in academia today.

Haraway’s more recent work has turned to human-animal relations and the climate crisis. She is a capacious yes, and thinker, the kind of leftist feminist who believes that the best thinking is done collectively. She is constantly citing other people, including graduate students, and giving credit to them. A recent documentary about her life and work by the Italian filmmaker Fabrizio Terranova, Story Telling for Earthly Survival, captures this sense of commitment, as well as her extraordinary intellectual agility and inventiveness.

At her home in Santa Cruz, we talked about her memories of the Science Wars and how they speak to our current “post-truth” moment, her views on contemporary climate activism and the Green New Deal, and why play is essential for politics.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood? 

I grew up in Denver, in the kind of white, middle-class neighborhood where people had gotten mortgages to build housing after the war. My father was a sportswriter. When I was eleven or twelve years old, I probably saw seventy baseball games a year. I learned to score as I learned to read.

My father never really wanted to do the editorials or the critical pieces exposing the industry’s financial corruption or what have you. He wanted to write game stories and he had a wonderful way with language. He was in no way a scholar — in fact he was in no way an intellectual — but he loved to tell stories and write them. I think I was interested in that as well — in words and the sensuality of words.

The other giant area of childhood storytelling was Catholicism. I was way too pious a little girl, completely inside of the colors and the rituals and the stories of saints and the rest of it. I ate and drank a sensual Catholicism that I think was rare in my generation. Very not Protestant. It was quirky then; it’s quirky now. And it shaped me. 

How so? 

One of the ways that it shaped me was through my love of biology as a materialist, sensual, fleshly being in the world as well as a knowledge-seeking apparatus. It shaped me in my sense that I saw biology simultaneously as a discourse and profoundly of the world. The Word and the flesh. 

Many of my colleagues in the History of Consciousness department, which comes much later in the story, were deeply engaged with Roland Barthes and with that kind of semiotics. I was very unconvinced and alienated from those thinkers because they were so profoundly Protestant in their secularized versions. They were so profoundly committed to the disjunction between the signifier and signified — so committed to a doctrine of the sign that is anti-Catholic, not just non-Catholic. The secularized sacramentalism that just drips from my work is against the doctrine of the sign that I felt was the orthodoxy in History of Consciousness. So Catholicism offered an alternative structure of affect. It was both profoundly theoretical and really intimate.

Did you start studying biology as an undergraduate? 

I got a scholarship that allowed me to go to Colorado College. It was a really good liberal arts school. I was there from 1962 to 1966 and I triple majored in philosophy and literature and zoology, which I regarded as branches of the same subject. They never cleanly separated. Then I got a Fulbright to go to Paris. Then I went to Yale to study cell, molecular, and developmental biology.

Did you get into politics at Yale? Or were you already political when you arrived? 

The politics came before that — probably from my Colorado College days, which were influenced by the civil rights movement. But it was at Yale that several things converged. I arrived in the fall of 1967, and a lot was happening.

New Haven in those years was full of very active politics. There was the antiwar movement. There was anti-chemical and anti-biological warfare activism among both the faculty and the graduate students in the science departments. There was Science for the People [a left-wing science organization] and the arrival of that wave of the women’s movement. My lover, Jaye Miller, who became my first husband, was gay, and gay liberation was just then emerging. There were ongoing anti-racist struggles: the Black Panther Party was very active in New Haven. 

Jaye and I were part of a commune where one of the members and her lover were Black Panthers. Gayle was a welfare rights activist and the mother of a young child, and her lover was named Sylvester. We had gotten the house for the commune from the university at a very low rent because we were officially an “experiment in Christian living.” It was a very interesting group of people! There was a five-year-old kid who lived in the commune, and he idolized Sylvester. He would clomp up the back stairs wearing these little combat boots yelling, “Power to the people! Power! Power!” It made our white downstairs neighbors nervous. They didn’t much like us anyway. It was very funny. 

Did this political climate influence your doctoral research at Yale?

I ended up writing on the ways that metaphors shape experimental practice in the laboratory. I was writing about the experience of the coming-into-being of organisms in the situated interactions of the laboratory. In a profound sense, such organisms are made but not made up. It’s not a relativist position at all; it’s a materialist position. It’s about what I later learned to call “situated knowledges.” It was in the doing of biology that this became more and more evident. 

How did these ideas go over with your labmates and colleagues?

It was never a friendly way of talking for my biology colleagues, who always felt that this verged way too far in the direction of relativism. 

It’s not that the words I was using were hard. It’s that the ideas were received with great suspicion. And I think that goes back to our discussion a few minutes ago about semiotics: I was trying to insist that the gapping of the signifier and the signified does not really determine what’s going on. 

But let’s face it: I was never very good in the lab! My lab work was appalling. Everything I ever touched died or got infected. I did not have good hands, and I didn’t have good passion. I was always more interested in the discourse, if you will. 

But you found a supervisor who was open to that? 

Yes, Evelyn Hutchinson. He was an ecologist and a man of letters and a man who had had a long history of making space for heterodox women. And I was only a tiny bit heterodox. Other women he had given space to were way more out there than me. Evelyn was also the one who got us our house for our “experiment in Christian living.” 

God bless. What happened after Yale?

Jaye got a job at the University of Hawaii teaching world history and I went as this funny thing called a “faculty wife.” I had an odd ontological status. I got a job there in the general science department. Jaye and I were also faculty advisers for something called New College, which was an experimental liberal-arts part of the university that lasted for several years. 

It was a good experience. Jaye and I got a divorce in that period but never really quite separated because we couldn’t figure out who got the camera and who got the sewing machine. That was the full extent of our property in those days. We were both part of a commune in Honolulu. 

Then one night, Jaye’s boss in the history department insisted that we go out drinking with him, at which point he attacked us both sexually and personally in a drunken, homophobic, and misogynist rant. And very shortly after that, Jaye was denied tenure. Both of us felt stunned and hurt. So I applied for a job in the History of Science department at Johns Hopkins, and Jaye applied for a job at the University of Texas in Houston. 

Baltimore and the Thickness of Worlding

How was Hopkins? 

History of Science was not a field I knew anything about, and the people who hired me knew that perfectly well. Therefore they assigned me to teach the incoming graduate seminar: Introduction to the History of Science. It was a good way to learn it! 

Hopkins was also where I met my current partner, Rusten. He was a graduate student in the History of Science department, where I was a baby assistant professor. (Today I would be fired and sued for sexual harassment — but that’s a whole other conversation.) 

Who were some of the other people who became important to you at Hopkins?

[The feminist philosopher] Nancy Hartsock and I shaped each other quite a bit in those years. We were part of the Marxist feminist scene in Baltimore. We played squash a lot — squash was a really intense part of our friendship. Her lover was a Marxist lover of Lenin; he gave lectures in town. 

In the mid-to-late 1970s, Nancy and I started the women’s studies program at Hopkins together. At the time, she was doing her article that became her book on feminist materialism, [Money, Sex, and Power: Toward a Feminist Historical Materialism]. It was very formative for me.

Those were also the years that Nancy and Sandra Harding and Patricia Hill Collins and Dorothy Smith were inventing feminist standpoint theory. I think all of us were already reaching toward those ideas, which we then consolidated as theoretical proposals to a larger community. The process was both individual and collective. We were putting these ideas together out of our struggles with our own work. You write in a closed room while tearing your hair out of your head — it was individual in that sense. But then it clicks, and the words come, and you consolidate theoretical proposals that you bring to your community. In that sense, it was a profoundly collective way of thinking with each other, and within the intensities of the social movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

The ideas that you and other feminist philosophers were developing challenged many dominant assumptions about what truth is, where it comes from, and how it functions. More recently, in the era of Trump, we are often told we are living in a time of “post-truth” — and some critics have blamed philosophers like yourselves for creating the environment of “relativism” in which “post-truth” flourishes. How do you respond to that?

Our view was never that truth is just a question of which perspective you see it from. “Truth is perspectival” was never our position. We were against that. Feminist standpoint theory was always anti-perspectival. So was the Cyborg Manifesto, situated knowledges, [the philosopher] Bruno Latour’s notions of actor-network theory, and so on.

“Post-truth” gives up on materialism. It gives up on what I’ve called semiotic materialism: the idea that materialism is always situated meaning-making and never simply representation. These are not questions of perspective. They are questions of worlding and all of the thickness of that. Discourse is not just ideas and language. Discourse is bodily. It’s not embodied, as if it were stuck in a body. It’s bodily and it’s bodying, it’s worlding. This is the opposite of post-truth. This is about getting a grip on how strong knowledge claims are not just possible but necessary — worth living and dying for. 

When you, Latour, and others were criticized for “relativism,” particularly during the so-called Science Wars of the 1990s, was that how you responded? And could your critics understand your response?

Bruno and I were at a conference together in Brazil once. Which reminds me: If people want to criticize us, it ought to be for the amount of jet fuel involved in making and spreading these ideas! Not for leading the way to post-truth. We’re guilty on the carbon footprint issue, and Skyping doesn’t help, because I know what the carbon footprint of the cloud is. 

Anyhow. We were at this conference in Brazil. It was a bunch of primate field biologists, plus me and Bruno. And Stephen Glickman, a really cool biologist, a man we both love, who taught at UC Berkeley for years and studied hyenas, took us aside privately. He said, “Now, I don’t want to embarrass you. But do you believe in reality?” 

We were both kind of shocked by the question. First, we were shocked that it was a question of belief, which is a Protestant question. A confessional question. The idea that reality is a question of belief is a barely secularized legacy of the religious wars. In fact, reality is a matter of worlding and inhabiting. It is a matter of testing the holding-ness of things. Do things hold or not? 

Take evolution. The notion that you would or would not “believe” in evolution already gives away the game. If you say, “Of course I believe in evolution,” you have lost, because you have entered the semiotics of representationalism — and post-truth, frankly. You have entered an arena where these are all just matters of internal conviction and have nothing to do with the world. You have left the domain of worlding. 

The Science Warriors who attacked us during the Science Wars were determined to paint us as social constructionists — that all truth is purely socially constructed. And I think we walked into that. We invited those misreadings in a range of ways. We could have been more careful about listening and engaging more slowly. It was all too easy to read us in the way the Science Warriors did. Then the right wing took the Science Wars and ran with it, which eventually helped nourish the whole fake-news discourse.

Your opponents in the Science Wars championed “objectivity” over what they considered your “relativism.” Were you trying to stake out a position between those two terms? Or did you reject the idea that either of those terms even had a stable meaning?

Both terms inhabit the same ontological and epistemological frame — a frame that my colleagues and I have tried to make hard to inhabit. Sandra Harding insisted on “strong objectivity,” and my idiom was “situated knowledges.” We have tried to deauthorize the kind of possessive individualism that sees the world as units plus relations. You take the units, you mix them up with relations, you come up with results. Units plus relations equal the world. 

People like me say, “No thank you: it’s relationality all the way down.” You don’t have units plus relations. You just have relations. You have worlding. The whole story is about gerunds — worlding, bodying, everything-ing. The layers are inherited from other layers, temporalities, scales of time and space, which don’t nest neatly but have oddly configured geometries. Nothing starts from scratch. But the play — I think the concept of play is incredibly important in all of this — proposes something new, whether it’s the play of a couple of dogs or the play of scientists in the field. 

This is not about the opposition between objectivity and relativism. It’s about the thickness of worlding. It’s also about being of and for some worlds and not others; it’s about materialist commitment in many senses.

To this day I know only one or two scientists who like talking this way. And there are good reasons why scientists remain very wary of this kind of language. I belong to the Defend Science movement and in most public circumstances I will speak softly about my own ontological and epistemological commitments. I will use representational language. I will defend less-than-strong objectivity because I think we have to, situationally. 

Is that bad faith? Not exactly. It’s related to [what the postcolonial theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has called] “strategic essentialism.” There is a strategic use to speaking the same idiom as the people that you are sharing the room with. You craft a good-enough idiom so you can work on something together. I won’t always insist on what I think might be a stronger apparatus. I go with what we can make happen in the room together. And then we go further tomorrow.

In the struggles around climate change, for example, you have to join with your allies to block the cynical, well-funded, exterminationist machine that is rampant on the earth. I think my colleagues and I are doing that. We have not shut up, or given up on the apparatus that we developed. But one can foreground and background what is most salient depending on the historical conjuncture.

Santa Cruz and Cyborgs

To return to your own biography, tell us a bit about how and why you left Hopkins for Santa Cruz. 

Nancy Hartsock and I applied for a feminist theory job in the History of Consciousness department at UC Santa Cruz together. We wanted to share it. Everybody assumed we were lovers, which we weren’t, ever. We were told by the search committee that they couldn’t consider a joint application because they had just gotten this job okayed and it was the first tenured position in feminist theory in the country. They didn’t want to do anything further to jeopardize it. Nancy ended up deciding that she wanted to stay in Baltimore anyway, so I applied solo and got the job. And I was fired from Hopkins and hired by Santa Cruz in the same week — and for exactly the same papers.

What were the papers?

The long one was called “Signs of Dominance.” It was from a Marxist feminist perspective, and it was regarded as too political. Even though it appeared in a major journal, the person in charge of my personnel case at Hopkins told me to white it out from my CV. 

The other one was a short piece on [the poet and novelist] Marge Piercy and [feminist theorist] Shulamith Firestone in Women: a Journal of Liberation. And I was told to white that out, too. Those two papers embarrassed my colleagues and they were quite explicit about it, which was kind of amazing. Fortunately, the people at History of Consciousness loved those same papers, and the set of commitments that went with them. 

You arrived in Santa Cruz in 1980, and it was there that you wrote the Cyborg Manifesto. Tell us a bit about its origins.

It had a very particular birth. There was a journal called the Socialist Review, which had formerly been called Socialist Revolution. Jeff Escoffier, one of the editors, asked five of us to write no more than five pages each on Marxist feminism, and what future we anticipated for it. 

This was just after the election of Ronald Reagan. The future we anticipated was a hard right turn. It was the definitive end of the 1960s. Around the same time, Jeff asked me if I would represent Socialist Review at a conference of New and Old Lefts in Cavtat in Yugoslavia [now Croatia]. I said yes, and I wrote a little paper on reproductive biotechnology. A bunch of us descended on Cavtat, and there were relatively few women. So we rather quickly found one another and formed alliances with the women staff who were doing all of the reproductive labor, taking care of us. We ended up setting aside our papers and pronouncing on various feminist topics. It was really fun and quite exciting. 

Out of that experience, I came back to Santa Cruz and wrote the Cyborg Manifesto. It turned out not to be five pages, but a whole coming to terms with what had happened to me in those years from 1980 to the time it came out in 1985.

The manifesto ended up focusing a lot on cybernetics and networking technologies. Did this reflect the influence of nearby Silicon Valley? Were you close with people working in those fields?

It’s part of the air you breathe here. But the real tech alliances in my life come from my partner Rusten and his friends and colleagues, because he worked as a freelance software designer. He did contract work for Hewlett Packard for years. He had a long history in that world: when he was only fourteen, he got a job programming on punch cards for companies in Seattle. 

The Cyborg Manifesto was the first paper I ever wrote on a computer screen. We had an old HP-86. And I printed it on one of those daisy-wheel printers. One I could never get rid of, and nobody ever wanted. It ended up in some dump, God help us all.

The Cyborg Manifesto had such a tremendous impact, and continues to. What did you make of its reception?

People read it as they do. Sometimes I find it interesting. But sometimes I just want to jump into a foxhole and pull the cover over me. 

In the manifesto, you distinguish yourself from two other socialist feminist positions. The first is the techno-optimist position that embraces aggressive technological interventions in order to modify human biology. This is often associated with Shulamith Firestone’s book The Dialectic of Sex (1970), and in particular her proposal for “artificial wombs” that could reproduce humans outside of a woman’s body.

Yes, although Firestone gets slotted into a quite narrow, blissed-out techno-bunny role, as if all her work was about reproduction without wombs. She is remembered for one technological proposal, but her critique of the historical materialist conditions of mothering and reproduction was very deep and broad.

You also make some criticisms of the ideas associated with Italian autonomist feminists and the Wages for Housework campaign. You suggest that they overextend the category of “labor.”

Wages for Housework was very important. And I’m always in favor of working by addition not subtraction. I’m always in favor of enlarging the litter. Let’s watch the attachments and detachments, the compositions and decompositions, as the litter proliferates. Labor is an important category with a strong history, and Wages for Housework enlarged it.

But in thinkers with Marxist roots, there’s also a tendency to make the category of labor do too much work. A great deal of what goes on needs to be thickly described with categories other than labor — or in interesting kinds of entanglement with labor. 

What other categories would you want to add?

Play is one. Labor is so tied to functionality, whereas play is a category of non-functionality. 

Play captures a lot of what goes on in the world. There is a kind of raw opportunism in biology and chemistry, where things work stochastically to form emergent systematicities. It’s not a matter of direct functionality. We need to develop practices for thinking about those forms of activity that are not caught by functionality, those which propose the possible-but-not-yet, or that which is not-yet but still open. 

It seems to me that our politics these days require us to give each other the heart to do just that. To figure out how, with each other, we can open up possibilities for what can still be. And we can’t do that in in a negative mood. We can’t do that if we do nothing but critique. We need critique; we absolutely need it. But it’s not going to open up the sense of what might yet be. It’s not going to open up the sense of that which is not yet possible but profoundly needed.

The established disorder of our present era is not necessary. It exists. But it’s not necessary. 

Playing Against Double Death

What might some of those practices for opening up new possibilities look like?

Through playful engagement with each other, we get a hint about what can still be and learn how to make it stronger. We see that in all occupations. Historically, the Greenham Common women were fabulous at this. [Eds.: The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp was a series of protests against nuclear weapons at a Royal Air Force base in England, beginning in 1981.] More recently, you saw it with the Dakota Access Pipeline occupation. 

The degree to which people in these occupations play is a crucial part of how they generate a new political imagination, which in turn points to the kind of work that needs to be done. They open up the imagination of something that is not what [the ethnographer] Deborah Bird Rose calls “double death” — extermination, extraction, genocide. 

Now, we are facing a world with all three of those things. We are facing the production of systemic homelessness. The way that flowers aren’t blooming at the right time, and so insects can’t feed their babies and can’t travel because the timing is all screwed up, is a kind of forced homelessness. It’s a kind of forced migration, in time and space. 

This is also happening in the human world in spades. In regions like the Middle East and Central America, we are seeing forced displacement, some of which is climate migration. The drought in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America — Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador — is driving people off their land. 

So it’s not a humanist question. It’s a multi-kind and multi-species question.

In the Cyborg Manifesto, you use the ideas of “the homework economy” and the “integrated circuit” to explore the various ways that information technology was restructuring labor in the early 1980s to be more precarious, more global, and more feminized. Do climate change and the ecological catastrophes you’re describing change how you think about those forces? 

Yes and no. The theories that I developed in that period emerged from a particular historical conjuncture. If I were mapping the integrated circuit today, it would have different parameters than the map that I made in the early 1980s. And surely the questions of immigration, exterminism, and extractivism would have to be deeply engaged. The problem of rebuilding place-based lives would have to get more attention.

The Cyborg Manifesto was written within the context of the hard-right turn of the 1980s. But the hard-right turn was one thing; the hard-fascist turn of the late 2010s is another. It’s not the same as Reagan. The presidents of Colombia, Hungary, Brazil, Egypt, India, the United States — we are looking at a new fascist capitalism, which requires reworking the ideas of the early 1980s for them to make sense.

So there are continuities between now and the map I made then, a lot of continuities. But there are also some pretty serious inflection points, particularly when it comes to developments in digital technologies that are playing into the new fascism.

Could you say more about those developments?

If the public-private dichotomy was old-fashioned in 1980, by 2019 I don’t even know what to call it. We have to try to rebuild some sense of a public. But how can you rebuild a public in the face of nearly total surveillance? And this surveillance doesn’t even have a single center. There is no eye in the sky.

Then we have the ongoing enclosure of the commons. Capitalism produces new forms of value and then encloses those forms of value — the digital is an especially good example of that. This involves the monetization of practically everything we do. And it’s not like we are ignorant of this dynamic. We know what’s going on. We just don’t have a clue how to get a grip on it. 

One attempt to update the ideas of the Cyborg Manifesto has come from the “xenofeminists” of the international collective Laboria Cuboniks. I believe some of them have described themselves as your “disobedient daughters.”

Overstating things, that’s not my feminism.

Why not?

I’m not very interested in those discussions, frankly. It’s not what I’m doing. It’s not what makes me vital now. In a moment of ecological urgency, I’m more engaged in questions of multispecies environmental and reproductive justice. Those questions certainly involve issues of digital and robotic and machine cultures, but they aren’t at the center of my attention.

What is at the center of my attention are land and water sovereignty struggles, such as those over the Dakota Access Pipeline, over coal mining on the Black Mesa plateau, over extractionism everywhere. My attention is centered on the extermination and extinction crises happening at a worldwide level, on human and nonhuman displacement and homelessness. That’s where my energies are. My feminism is in these other places and corridors.

Do you still think the cyborg is still a useful figure?

I think so. The cyborg has turned out to be rather deathless. Cyborgs keep reappearing in my life as well as other people’s lives. 

The cyborg remains a wily trickster figure. And, you know, they’re also kind of old-fashioned. They’re hardly up-to-the‑minute. They’re rather klutzy, a bit like R2-D2 or a pacemaker. Maybe the embodied digitality of us now is not especially well captured by the cyborg. So I’m not sure. But, yeah, I think cyborgs are still in the litter. I just think we need a giant bumptious litter whelped by a whole lot of really badass bitches — some of whom are men!

Mourning Without Despair

You mentioned that your current work is more focused on environmental issues. How are you thinking about the role of technology in mitigating or adapting to climate change — or fighting extractivism and extermination?

There is no homogeneous socialist position on this question. I’m very pro-technology, but I belong to a crowd that is quite skeptical of the projects of what we might call the “techno-fix,” in part because of their profound immersion in technocapitalism and their disengagement from communities of practice. 

Those communities may need other kinds of technologies than those promised by the techno-fix: different kinds of mortgage instruments, say, or re-engineered water systems. I’m against the kind of techno-fixes that are abstracted from place and tied up with huge amounts of technocapital. This seems to include most geoengineering projects and imaginations. 

So when I see massive solar fields and wind farms I feel conflicted, because on the one hand they may be better than fracking in Monterey County — but only maybe. Because I also know where the rare earth minerals required for renewable energy technologies come from and under what conditions. We still aren’t doing the whole supply-chain analysis of our technologies. So I think we have a long way to go in socialist understanding of these matters. 

One tendency within socialist thought believes that socialists can simply seize capitalist technology and put it to different purposes — that you take the forces of production, build new relations around them, and you’re done. This approach is also associated with a Promethean, even utopian approach to technology. Socialist techno-utopianism has been around forever, but it has its own adherents today, such as those who advocate for “Fully Automated Luxury Communism.” I wonder how you see that particular lineage of socialist thinking about technology.

I think very few people are that simplistic, actually. In various moments we might make proclamations that come down that way. But for most people, our socialisms, and the approaches with which socialists can ally, are richer and more varied. 

When you talk to the Indigenous activists of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, for example, they have a complex sense around solar arrays and coal plants and water engineering and art practices and community movements. They have very rich articulated alliances and separations around all of this. 

Socialists aren’t the only ones who have been techno-utopian, of course. A far more prominent and more influential strand of techno-utopianism has come from the figures around the Bay Area counterculture associated with the Whole Earth Catalog, in particular Stewart Brand, who went on to play important intellectual and cultural roles in Silicon Valley.

They are not friends. They are not allies. I’m avoiding calling them enemies because I’m leaving open the possibility of their being able to learn or change, though I’m not optimistic. I think they occupy the position of the “god trick.” [Eds.: The “god trick” is an idea introduced by Haraway that refers to the traditional view of objectivity as a transcendent “gaze from nowhere.”] I think they are blissed out by their own privileged positions and have no idea what their own positionality in the world really is. And I think they cause a lot of harm, both ideologically and technically. 

How so?

They get a lot of publicity. They take up a lot of the air in the room. 

It’s not that I think they’re horrible people. There should be space for people pushing new technologies. But I don’t see nearly enough attention given to what kinds of technological innovation are really needed to produce viable local and regional energy systems that don’t depend on species-destroying solar farms and wind farms that require giant land grabs in the desert.

The kinds of conversations around technology that I think we need are those among folks who know how to write law and policy, folks who know how to do material science, folks who are interested in architecture and park design, and folks who are involved in land struggles and solidarity movements. I want to see us do much savvier scientific, technological, and political thinking with each other, and I want to see it get press. The Stewart Brand types are never going there. 

Do you see clear limitations in their worldviews and their politics?

They remain remarkably humanist in their orientation, in their cognitive apparatus, and in their vision of the world. They also have an almost Peter Pan quality. They never quite grew up. They say, “If it’s broken, fix it.” 

This comes from an incapacity to mourn and an incapacity to be finite. I mean that psychoanalytically: an incapacity to understand that there is no status quo ante, to understand that death and loss are real. Only within that understanding is it possible to open up to a kind of vitality that isn’t double death, that isn’t extermination, and which doesn’t yearn for transcendence, yearn for the fix.

There’s not much mourning with the Stewart Brand types. There’s not much felt loss of the already disappeared, the already dead — the disappeared of Argentina, the disappeared of the caravans, the disappeared of the species that will not come back. You can try to do as much resurrection biology as you want to. But any of the biologists who are actually involved in the work are very clear that there is no resurrection. 

You have also been critical of the Anthropocene, as a proposed new geological epoch defined by human influence on the earth. Do you see the idea of the Anthropocene as having similar limitations?

I think the Anthropocene framework has been a fertile container for quite a lot, actually. The Anthropocene has turned out to be a rather capacious territory for incorporating people in struggle. There are a lot of interesting collaborations with artists and scientists and activists going on.

The main thing that’s too bad about the term is that it perpetuates the misunderstanding that what has happened is a human species act, as if human beings as a species necessarily exterminate every planet we dare to live on. As if we can’t stop our productive and reproductive excesses. 

Extractivism and exterminationism are not human species acts. They come from a situated historical conjuncture of about five hundred years in duration that begins with the invention of the plantation and the subsequent modeling of industrial capitalism. It is a situated historical conjuncture that has had devastating effects even while it has created astonishing wealth. 

To define this as a human species act affects the way a lot of scientists think about the Anthropocene. My scientist colleagues and friends really do continue to think of it as something human beings can’t stop doing, even while they understand my historical critique and agree with a lot of it. 

It’s a little bit like the relativism versus objectivity problem. The old languages have a deep grip. The situated historical way of thinking is not instinctual for Western science, whose offspring are numerous. 

Are there alternatives that you think could work better than the Anthropocene?

There are plenty of other ways of thinking. Take climate change. Now, climate change is a necessary and essential category. But if you go to the circumpolar North as a Southern scientist wanting to collaborate with Indigenous people on climate change — on questions of changes in the sea ice, for example, or changes in the hunting and subsistence base — the limitations of that category will be profound. That’s because it fails to engage with the Indigenous categories that are actually active on the ground. 

There is an Inuktitut word, “sila.” In an Anglophone lexicon, “sila” will be translated as “weather.” But in fact, it’s much more complicated. In the circumpolar North, climate change is a concept that collects a lot of stuff that the Southern scientist won’t understand. So the Southern scientist who wants to collaborate on climate change finds it almost impossible to build a contact zone. 

Anyway, there are plenty of other ways of thinking about shared contemporary problems. But they require building contact zones between cognitive apparatuses, out of which neither will leave the same as they were before. These are the kinds of encounters that need to be happening more.

A final question. Have you been following the revival of socialism, and socialist feminism, over the past few years? 

Yes.

What do you make of it? I mean, socialist feminism is becoming so mainstream that even Harper’s Bazaar is running essays on “emotional labor.”

I’m really pleased! The old lady is happy. I like the resurgence of socialism. For all the horror of Trump, it has released us. A whole lot of things are now being seriously considered, including mass nonviolent social resistance. So I am not in a state of cynicism or despair.

An excerpted version of this interview originally appeared in The Guardian.

https://logicmag.io/nature/a-giant-bumptious-litter/

Human impact on nature ‘dates back millions of years’ (BBC)

Early human ancestors could have stolen food from other animals. Mauricio Antón

By Helen Briggs BBC News

20 January 2020

The impact of humans on nature has been far greater and longer-lasting than we could ever imagine, according to scientists.

Early human ancestors living millions of years ago may have triggered extinctions, even before our species evolved, a study suggests.

A decline in large mammals seen in Eastern Africa may have been due to early humans, researchers propose.

Extinction rates started to increase from around four million years ago.

This coincides with the period when ancient human populations were living in the area, as judged by fossil evidence.

“We are now negatively impacting the world and the species that live in it more than ever before. But this does not mean that we used to live in true harmony with nature in the past,” said study researcher, Dr Søren Faurby of the University of Gothenburg.

“We are extremely successful in monopolising resources today, and our results show that this may have also been the case with our ancestors.”

Getty Images. A lion feasts on the carcass of a rhinoceros in Kenya

The researchers looked at extinction rates of large and small carnivores and how this correlated with environmental changes such as rainfall and temperature.

They also looked at changes in the brain size of human ancestors such as Australopithecus and Ardipithecus.

They found that extinction rates in large carnivores correlated with increased brain size of human ancestors and with vegetation changes, but not with precipitation or temperature changes.

They found the best explanation for carnivore extinction in East Africa was that these animals were in direct competition for food with our ancestors.

They think human ancestors may have stolen freshly-killed prey from the likes of sabre-toothed cats, depriving them of food.

“Our results suggest that substantial anthropogenic influence on biodiversity started millions of years earlier than currently assumed,” the researchers reported in the journal Ecology Letters.

Co-researcher Alexandre Antonelli of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said the view that our ancestors had little impact on the animals around them is incorrect, as “the impact of our lineage on nature has been far greater and longer-lasting than we ever could ever imagine”.

A landmark report last year warned that as many as one million species of animals and plants are threatened with extinction in the coming decades.

A more recent study found that the growth of cities, the clearing of forests for farming and the soaring demand for fish had significantly altered nearly three-quarters of the land and more than two-thirds of the oceans.

Why E O Wilson is wrong about how to save the Earth (AEON)

01 March, 2016

Robert Fletcher is an associate professor at the Sociology of Development and Change Group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. His most recent book is Romancing the Wild: Cultural Dimensions of Ecotourism (2014).

Bram Büscher is a professor and Chair at the Sociology of Development and Change Group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. His most recent book is Transforming the Frontier: Peace Parks and the Politics of Neoliberal Conservation in Southern Africa (2013).

Edited by Brigid Hains

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A member of the military-style Special Ranger Patrol talks to a suspected rhino poacher on 7 November 2014 at the Kruger National Park, South Africa. Photo by James Oatway/Sunday Times/Getty

Edward O Wilson is one of the world’s most revered, reviled and referenced conservation biologists. In his new book (and Aeon essayHalf-Earth, he comes out with all guns blazing, proclaiming the terrible fate of biodiversity, the need for radical conservation, and humanity’s centrality in both. His basic message is simple: desperate times call for desperate measures, ‘only by setting aside half the planet in reserve, or more, can we save the living part of the environment and achieve the stabilisation required for our own survival’. Asserting that ‘humanity’ behaves like a destructive juggernaut, Wilson is deeply concerned that the current ‘sixth extinction’ is destroying many species before scientists have even been able to identify them.

Turning half of the Earth into a series of nature parks is a grand utopian vision for conservation, perhaps even a hyperbolic one, yet Wilson seems deadly serious about it. Some environmental thinkers have been arguing the exact opposite, namely that conservation should give up its infatuation with parks and focus on ‘mixing’ people and nature in mutually conducive ways. Wilson defends a traditional view that nature needs more protection, and attacks them for being ‘unconcerned with what the consequences will be if their beliefs are played out’. As social scientists who study the impact of international conservation on peoples around the world, we would argue that it is Wilson himself who has fallen into this trap: the world he imagines in Half-Earth would be a profoundly inhumane one if ever his beliefs were ‘played out’.

The ‘nature needs half’ idea is not entirely new – it is an extreme version of a more widespread ‘land sparing’ conservation strategy. This is not about setting aside half the Earth as a whole but expanding the world’s current network of protected areas to create a patchwork grid encompassing at least half the world’s surface (and the ocean) and hence ‘about 85 per cent’ of remaining biodiversity. The plan is staggering in scale: protected areas, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, currently incorporate around 10-15 per cent of the Earth’s terrain, so would need to more than triple in extent.

Wilson identifies a number of causes of the current ecological crisis, but is particularly concerned by overpopulation. ‘Our population,’ he argues, ‘is too large for safety and comfort… Earth’s more than 7 billion people are collectively ravenous consumers of all the planet’s inadequate bounty.’ But can we talk about the whole of humanity in such generalised terms? In reality, the world is riven by dramatic inequality, and different segments of humanity have vastly different impacts on the world’s environments. The blame for our ecological problems therefore cannot be spread across some notion of a generalised ‘humanity’.

Although Wilson is careful to qualify that it is the combination ofpopulation growth and ‘per-capita consumption’ that causes environmental degradation, he is particularly concerned about places he identifies as the remaining high-fertility problem spots – ‘Patagonia, the Middle East, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, plus all of sub-Saharan Africa exclusive of South Africa’. These are countries with some of the world’s lowest incomes. Paradoxically, then, it is those consuming the least that are considered the greatest problem. ‘Overpopulation’, it seems, is the same racialised bogeyman as ever, and the poor the greatest threat to an environmentally-sound future.

Wilson’s Half-Earth vision is offered as an explicit counterpoint to so-called ‘new’ or ‘Anthropocene’ conservationists, who are loosely organised around the controversial Breakthrough Institute. For Wilson, these ‘Anthropocene ideologists’ have given up on nature altogether. In her book, Rambunctious Garden (2011), Emma Marris characteristically argues that there is no wilderness left on the Earth, which is everywhere completely transformed by the human presence. According to Anthropocene thinking, we are in charge of the Earth and must manage it closely whether we like it or not. Wilson disagrees, insisting that ‘areas of wilderness… are real entities’. He contends that an area need not be ‘pristine’ or uninhabited to be wilderness, and ‘[w]ildernesses have often contained sparse populations of people, especially those indigenous for centuries or millennia, without losing their essential character’.

Research across the globe has shown that many protected areas once contained not merely ‘sparse’ inhabitants but often quite dense populations – clearly incompatible with the US Wilderness Act’s classic definition of wilderness as an area ‘where man himself is a visitor who does not remain’. Most existing ‘wilderness’ parks have required the removal or severe restriction of human beings within their bounds. Indeed, one of Wilson’s models for conservation success – Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique – sidelined local people despite their unified opposition. In his book Conservation Refugees (2009), Mark Dowie estimates that 20-50 million people have been displaced by previous waves of protected-area creation. To extend protected areas to half of the Earth’s surface would require a relocation of human populations on a scale that could dwarf all previous conservation refugee crises.

Would these people include Montana cattle ranchers? Or Australian wheat growers? Or Florida retirees? The answer, most likely, is no, for the burden of conservation has never been shared equitably across the world. Those who both take the blame and pay the greatest cost of environmental degradation are, almost always, those who do not have power to influence either their own governments or international politics. It is the hill tribes of Thailand, the pastoralists of Tanzania, and the forest peoples of Indonesia who are invariably expected to relocate, often at gunpoint, as Dowie and many scholars, including Dan Brockington in his book Fortress Conservation (2002), have demonstrated.

How will human society withstand the shock of removing so much land and ocean from food-growing and other uses? Wilson criticises the Anthropocene worldview’s faith that technological innovation can solve environmental problems or find substitutes for depleted resources, but he simultaneously promotes his own techno-fix in a vision of ‘intensified economic evolution’ in which ‘the free market, and the way it is increasingly shaped by high technology’ will solve the problem seemingly automatically. According to Wilson, ‘products that win competition today… are those that cost less to manufacture and advertise, need less frequent repair and replacement, and give highest performance with a minimum amount of energy’. He thus invokes a biological version of Adam Smith’s invisible hand in maintaining that ‘[j]ust as natural selection drives organic evolution by competition among genes to produce more copies of themselves per unit cost in the next generation, raising benefit-to-cost of production drives the evolution of the economy’ and asserting, without any evidence, that ‘[a]lmost all of the competition in a free market, other than in military technology, raises the average quality of life’.

Remarkably, this utopian optimism about technology and the workings of the free market leads Wilson to converge on a position rather like that of the Anthropocene conservationists he so dislikes, advocating a vision of ‘decoupling economic activity from material and environmental throughputs’ in order to create sustainable livelihoods for a population herded into urban areas to free space for self-willed nature. The Breakthrough Institute has recently promoted its own, quite similar, manifesto for land sparing and decoupling to increase terrain for conservation.

In this vision, science and technology can compensate for some of humanity’s status as the world’s ‘most destructive species’. And at the pinnacle of science stands (conservation) biology, according to Wilson. He argues: ‘If people are to live long and healthy lives in the sustainable Eden of our dreams, and our minds are to break free and dwell in the far more interesting universe of reason triumphant over superstition, it will be through advances in biology.’ How exactly humans are to ‘break free’ is not explained and is, in fact, impossible according to Wilson himself, given ‘the Darwinian propensity in our brain’s machinery to favour short-term decisions over long-range planning’. As far as Wilson is concerned, any worldview that does not favour protected-area expansion as the highest goal is by definition an irrational one. In this way, the world’s poor are blamed not only for overpopulating biodiversity hotspots but also for succumbing to the ‘religious belief and inept philosophical thought’ standing in the way of environmental Enlightenment.

Let us finish by making a broader point, drawing on Wilson’s approving quotation of Alexander von Humboldt, the 19th-century German naturalist who claimed that ‘the most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world’. In viewing the world, we also construct it, and the world Wilson’s offers us in Half-Earth is a truly bizarre one. For all his zeal, (misplaced) righteousness and passion, his vision is disturbing and dangerous, and would have profoundly negative ‘consequences if played out’. It would entail forcibly herding a drastically reduced human population into increasingly crowded urban areas to be managed in oppressively technocratic ways. How such a global programme of conservation Lebensraum would be accomplished is left to the reader’s imagination. We therefore hope readers will not take Wilson’s proposal seriously. Addressing biodiversity loss and other environmental problems must proceed by confronting the world’s obscene inequality, not by blaming the poor and trusting the ‘free market’ to save them.


Half-Earth (AEON)

29 February, 2016

Half of the Earth’s surface and seas must be dedicated to the conservation of nature, or humanity will have no future

by Edward O Wilson

Header essay nationalgeographic 381719

The Serengeti National Park. Photo by Medford Taylor/National Geographic

Edward O Wilson is a professor emeritus in entomology at Harvard. Half-Earth concludes Wilson’s trilogy begun by The Social Conquest of Earth and The Meaning of Human Existence, a National Book Award finalist. 

Edited by Pam Weintraub

Unstanched haemorrhaging has only one end in all biological systems: death for an organism, extinction for a species. Researchers who study the trajectory of biodiversity loss are alarmed that, within the century, an exponentially rising extinction rate might easily wipe out most of the species still surviving at the present time.

The crucial factor in the life and death of species is the amount of suitable habitat left to them. When, for example, 90 per cent of the area is removed, the number that can persist sustainably will descend to about a half. Such is the actual condition of many of the most species-rich localities around the world, including Madagascar, the Mediterranean perimeter, parts of continental southwestern Asia, Polynesia, and many of the islands of the Philippines and the West Indies. If 10 per cent of the remaining natural habitat were then also removed – a team of lumbermen might do it in a month – most or all of the surviving resident species would disappear.

Today, every sovereign nation in the world has a protected-area system of some kind. All together the reserves number about 161,000 on land and 6,500 over marine waters. According to the World Database on Protected Areas, a joint project of the United Nations Environmental Program and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, they occupied by 2015 a little less than 15 per cent of Earth’s land area and 2.8 per cent of Earth’s ocean area. The coverage is increasing gradually. This trend is encouraging. To have reached the existing level is a tribute to those who have led and participated in the global conservation effort.

But is the level enough to halt the acceleration of species extinction? Unfortunately, it is in fact nowhere close to enough. The declining world of biodiversity cannot be saved by the piecemeal operations in current use alone. The extinction rate our behaviour is now imposing on the rest of life, and seems destined to continue, is more correctly viewed as the equivalent of a Chicxulub-sized asteroid strike played out over several human generations.

The only hope for the species still living is a human effort commensurate with the magnitude of the problem. The ongoing mass extinction of species, and with it the extinction of genes and ecosystems, ranks with pandemics, world war, and climate change as among the deadliest threats that humanity has imposed on itself. To those who feel content to let the Anthropocene evolve toward whatever destiny it mindlessly drifts, I say please take time to reconsider. To those who are steering the growth of reserves worldwide, let me make an earnest request: don’t stop, just aim a lot higher.

see just one way to make this 11th-hour save: committing half of the planet’s surface to nature to save the immensity of life-forms that compose it. Why one-half? Why not one-quarter or one-third? Because large plots, whether they already stand or can be created from corridors connecting smaller plots, harbour many more ecosystems and the species composing them at a sustainable level. As reserves grow in size, the diversity of life surviving within them also grows. As reserves are reduced in area, the diversity within them declines to a mathematically predictable degree swiftly – often immediately and, for a large fraction, forever. A biogeographic scan of Earth’s principal habitats shows that a full representation of its ecosystems and the vast majority of its species can be saved within half the planet’s surface. At one-half and above, life on Earth enters the safe zone. Within half, existing calculations from existing ecosystems indicate that more than 80 per cent of the species would be stabilised.

There is a second, psychological argument for protecting half of Earth. The current conservation movement has not been able to go the distance because it is a process. It targets the most endangered habitats and species and works forward from there. Knowing that the conservation window is closing fast, it strives to add increasing amounts of protected space, faster and faster, saving as much as time and opportunity will allow.

The key is the ecological footprint, defined as the amount of space required to meet the needs of an average person

Half-Earth is different. It is a goal. People understand and prefer goals. They need a victory, not just news that progress is being made. It is human nature to yearn for finality, something achieved by which their anxieties and fears are put to rest.

The Half-Earth solution does not mean dividing the planet into hemispheric halves or any other large pieces the size of continents or nation-states. Nor does it require changing ownership of any of the pieces, but instead only the stipulation that they be allowed to exist unharmed. It does, on the other hand, mean setting aside the largest reserves possible for nature, hence for the millions of other species still alive.

The key to saving one-half of the planet is the ecological footprint, defined as the amount of space required to meet all of the needs of an average person. It comprises the land used for habitation, fresh water, food production and delivery, personal transportation, communication, governance, other public functions, medical support, burial, and entertainment. In the same way the ecological footprint is scattered in pieces around the world, so are Earth’s surviving wildlands on the land and in the sea. The pieces range in size from the major desert and forest wildernesses to pockets of restored habitats as small as a few hectares.

But, you may ask, doesn’t a rising population and per-capita consumption doom the Half-Earth prospect? In this aspect of its biology, humanity appears to have won a throw of the demographic dice. Its population growth has begun to decelerate autonomously, without pressure one way or the other from law or custom. In every country where women have gained some degree of social and financial independence, their average fertility has dropped by a corresponding amount through individual personal choice.

There won’t be an immediate drop in the total world population. An overshoot still exists due to the longevity of the more numerous offspring of earlier, more fertile generations. There also remain high-fertility countries, with an average of more than three surviving children born to each woman, thus higher than the 2.1 children per woman that yields zero population growth. Even as it decelerates toward zero growth, population will reach between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion, up from the 7.2 billion existing in 2014. That is a heavy burden for an already overpopulated planet to bear, but unless women worldwide switch back from the negative population trend of fewer than 2.1 children per woman, a turn downward in the early 22nd century is inevitable.

And what of per-capita consumption? The footprint will evolve, not to claim more and more space, as you might at first suppose, but less. The reason lies in the evolution of the free market system, and the way it is increasingly shaped by high technology. The products that win are those that cost less to manufacture and advertise, need less frequent repair and replacement, and give highest performance with a minimum amount of energy. Just as natural selection drives organic evolution by competition among genes to produce more copies of themselves per unit cost in the next generation, raising benefit-to-cost of production drives the evolution of the economy. Teleconferencing, online purchase and trade, ebook personal libraries, access on the Internet to all literature and scientific data, online diagnosis and medical practice, food production per hectare sharply raised by indoor vertical gardens with LED lighting, genetically engineered crops and microorganisms, long-distance business conferences and social visits by life-sized images, and not least the best available education in the world free online to anyone, anytime, and anywhere. All of these amenities will yield more and better results with less per-capita material and energy, and thereby will reduce the size of the ecological footprint.

In viewing the future this way, I wish to suggest a means to achieve almost free enjoyment of the world’s best places in the biosphere that I and my fellow naturalists have identified. The cost-benefit ratio would be extremely small. It requires only a thousand or so high-resolution cameras that broadcast live around the clock from sites within reserves. People would still visit any reserve in the world physically, but they could also travel there virtually and in continuing real time with no more than a few keystrokes in their homes, schools, and lecture halls. Perhaps a Serengeti water hole at dawn? Or a teeming Amazon canopy? There would also be available streaming video of summer daytime on the coast in the shallow offshore waters of Antarctica, and cameras that continuously travel through the great coral triangle of Indonesia and New Guinea. With species identifications and brief expert commentaries unobtrusively added, the adventure would be forever changing, and safe.

The spearhead of this intensive economic evolution, with its hope for biodiversity, is contained in the linkage of biology, nanotechnology, and robotics. Two ongoing enterprises within it, the creation of artificial life and artificial minds, seem destined to preoccupy a large part of science and high technology for the rest of the present century.

The creation of artificial life forms is already a reality. On 20 May 2010, a team of researchers at the J Craig Venter Institute in California announced the second genesis of life, this time by human rather than divine command. They had built live cells from the ground up. With simple chemical reagents off the shelf, they assembled the entire genetic code of a bacterial species, Mycoplasma mycoides, a double helix of 1.08 million DNA base pairs. During the process they modified the code sequence slightly, implanting a statement made by the late theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, ‘What I cannot create, I do not understand,’ in order to detect daughters of the altered mother cells in future tests.

If our minds are to break free and dwell in the far more interesting universe of reason triumphant over superstition, it will be through advances in biology

The textbook example of elementary artificial selection of the past 10 millennia is the transformation of teosinte, a species of wild grass with three races in Mexico and Central America, into maize (corn). The food found in the ancestor was a meagre packet of hard kernels. Over centuries of selective breeding it was altered into its modern form. Today maize, after further selection and widespread hybridisation of inbred strains that display ‘hybrid vigour’ is the principal food of hundreds of millions.

The first decade of the present century thus saw the beginning of the next new major phase of genetic modification beyond hybridisation: artificial selection and even direct substitution in single organisms of one gene for another. If we use the trajectory of progress in molecular biology during the previous half century as a historical guide, it appears inevitable that scientists will begin routinely to build cells of wide variety from the ground up, then induce them to multiply into synthetic tissues, organs, and eventually entire independent organisms of considerable complexity.

If people are to live long and healthy lives in the sustainable Eden of our dreams, and our minds are to break free and dwell in the far more interesting universe of reason triumphant over superstition, it will be through advances in biology. The goal is practicable because scientists, being scientists, live with one uncompromising mandate: press discovery to the limit. There has already emerged a term for the manufacture of organisms and parts of organisms: synthetic biology. Its potential benefits, easily visualised as spreading through medicine and agriculture, are limited only by imagination. Synthetic biology will also bring onto centre stage the microbe-based increase of food and energy.

Each passing year sees advances in artificial intelligence and their multitudinous applications – advances that would have been thought distantly futuristic a decade earlier. Robots roll over the surface of Mars. They travel around boulders and up and down slopes while photographing, measuring minutiae of topography, analysing the chemical composition of soil and rocks, and scrutinising everything for signs of life.

In the early period of the digital revolution, innovators relied on machine design of computers without reference to the human brain, much as the earliest aeronautical engineers used mechanical principles and intuition to design aircraft instead of imitating the flight of birds. But with the swift growth of both fields, one-on-one comparisons are multiplying. The alliance of computer technology and brain science has given birth to whole brain emulation as one of the ultimate goals of science.

From the time of the ancient human-destined line of amphibians, then reptiles, then mammals, the neural pathways of every part of the brain were repeatedly altered by natural selection to adapt the organism to the environment in which it lived. Step-by-step, from the Paleozoic amphibians to the Cenozoic primates, the ancient centres were augmented by newer centres, chiefly in the growing cortex, that added to learning ability. All things being equal, the ability of organisms to function through seasons and across different habitats gave them an edge in the constant struggle to survive and reproduce.

Little wonder, then, that neurobiologists have found the human brain to be densely sprinkled with partially independent centres of unconscious operations, along with all of the operators of rational thought. Located through the cortex in what might look at first like random arrays are the headquarters of process variously for numbers, attention, face-recognition, meanings, reading, sounds, fears, values, and error detection. Decisions tend to be made by the brute force of unconscious choice in these centres prior to conscious comprehension.

Next in evolution came consciousness, a function of the human brain that, among other things, reduces an immense stream of sense data to a small set of carefully selected bite-size symbols. The sampled information can then be routed to another processing stage, allowing us to perform what are fully controlled chains of operations, much like a serial computer. This broadcasting function of consciousness is essential. In humans, it is greatly enhanced by language, which lets us distribute our conscious thoughts across the social network.

What has brain science to do with biodiversity? At first, human nature evolved along a zigzag path as a continually changing ensemble of genetic traits while the biosphere continue to evolve on its own. But the explosive growth of digital technology transformed every aspect of our lives and changed our self-perception, bringing the ‘bnr’ industries (biology, nanotechnology, robotics) to the forefront of the modern economy. These three have the potential either to favour biodiversity or to destroy it.

I believe they will favour it, by moving the economy away from fossil fuels to energy sources that are clean and sustainable, by radically improving agriculture with new crop species and ways to grow them, and by reducing the need or even the desire for distant travel. All are primary goals of the digital revolution. Through them the size of the ecological footprint will also be reduced. The average person can expect to enjoy a longer, healthier life of high quality yet with less energy extraction and raw demand put on the land and sea. If we are lucky (and smart), world population will peak at a little more than 10 billion people by the end of the century followed by the ecological footprint soon thereafter. The reason is that we are thinking organisms trying to understand how the world works. We will come awake.

Silicon Valley dreamers of a digitised humanity have failed to give much thought at all to the biosphere

That process is already under way, albeit still far too slowly – with the end in sight in the 23rd century. We and the rest of life with us are in the middle of a bottleneck of rising population, shrinking resources, and disappearing species. As its stewards we need to think of our species as being in a race to save the living environment. The primary goal is to make it through the bottleneck to a better, less perilous existence while carrying through as much of the rest of life as possible. If global biodiversity is given space and security, most of the large fraction of species now endangered will regain sustainability on their own. Furthermore, advances made in synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, whole brain emulation, and other similar, mathematically based disciplines can be imported to create an authentic, predictive science of ecology. In it, the interrelations of species will be explored as fervently as we now search through our own bodies for health and longevity. It is often said that the human brain is the most complex system known to us in the universe. That is incorrect. The most complex is the individual natural ecosystem, and the collectivity of ecosystems comprising Earth’s species-level biodiversity. Each species of plant, animal, fungus, and microorganism is guided by sophisticated decision devices. Each is intricately programmed in its own way to pass with precision through its respective life cycle. It is instructed on when to grow, when to mate, when to disperse, and when to shy away from enemies. Even the single-celled Escherichia coli, living in the bacterial paradise of our intestines, moves toward food and away from toxins by spinning its tail cilium one way, then the other way, in response to chemosensory molecules within its microscopic body.

How minds and decision-making devices evolve, and how they interact with ecosystems is a vast area of biology that remains mostly uncharted – and still even undreamed by those scientists who devote their lives to it. The analytic techniques coming to bear on neuroscience, on Big Data theory, on simulations with robot avatars, and on other comparable enterprises will find applications in biodiversity studies. They are ecology’s sister disciplines.

It is past time to broaden the discussion of the human future and connect it to the rest of life. The Silicon Valley dreamers of a digitised humanity have not done that, not yet. They have failed to give much thought at all to the biosphere. With the human condition changing so swiftly, we are losing or degrading to uselessness ever more quickly the millions of species that have run the world independently of us and free of cost. If humanity continues its suicidal ways to change the global climate, eliminate ecosystems, and exhaust Earth’s natural resources, our species will very soon find itself forced into making a choice, this time engaging the conscious part of our brain. It is as follows: shall we be existential conservatives, keeping our genetically-based human nature while tapering off the activities inimical to ourselves and the rest of the biosphere? Or shall we use our new technology to accommodate the changes important solely to our own species, while letting the rest of life slip away? We have only a short time to decide.

The beautiful world our species inherited took the biosphere 3.8 billion years to build. The intricacy of its species we know only in part, and the way they work together to create a sustainable balance we have only recently begun to grasp. Like it or not, and prepared or not, we are the mind and stewards of the living world. Our own ultimate future depends upon that understanding. We have come a very long way through the barbaric period in which we still live, and now I believe we’ve learned enough to adopt a transcendent moral precept concerning the rest of life.

Reprinted from ‘Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life’ by Edward O Wilson. Copyright © 2016 by Edward O Wilson. With permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

Oxford’s Halley Professor on How the Climate Challenge Could Derail a Brilliant Human Destiny (Dot Earth/NYT)

By 

FEBRUARY 15, 2016 9:04 AM February 15, 2016 9:04 am

Updated, 11:51 p.m. | Sustained large investments in fundamental science paid off in a big way last week, as Dennis Overbye so beautifully reported in The Times’s package on confirmation of Einstein’s 1916 conclusion that massive moving objects cause ripples in spacetime — gravitational waves.

Raymond Pierrehumbert, a climate scientist and the Halley Professor of Physics at Oxford University.

Raymond Pierrehumbert, a climate scientist and the Halley Professor of Physics at Oxford University. Credit Eva Dalin, Stockholm University

This finding, and the patient investments and effort through which it was produced, came up in the context of humanity’s global warming challenge in an email exchange a few days ago with Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, a veteran climate scientist who was recently appointed the Halley Professor of Physics at Oxford University.*

The common context is the importance of sustained engagement on a big challenge — whether it is intellectual, as in revealing spacetime ripples, or potentially existential, as in pursuing ways to move beyond energy choices that are reshaping Earth for hundreds of generations to come.

I reached out to Pierrehumbert because he is one of many authors of “Consequences of twenty-first-century policy for multi-millennial climate and sea-level change,” an important new Nature Climate Change analysis reinforcing past work showing a very, very, very long impact (tens of millenniums) on the Earth system — climatic, coastal and otherwise — from the carbon dioxide buildup driven by the conversion, in our lifetimes, of vast amounts of fossil fuels into useful energy.

The core conclusion:

This long-term view shows that the next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far. [Read the Boston College news release for even more.]**

summary from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory captures the basic findings:

Humans have been burning fossil fuels for only about 150 years, yet that has started a cascade of profound changes that at their current pace will still be felt 10,000 years from now.

Here’s a snippet from a figure in the paper showing how arguments about the pace of coastal change between now and 2100 distract from a profoundly clear long-term reality — that there will be no new “normal” coastal for millenniums, even with aggressive action to curb emissions:

Photo

A detail from a figure in a new paper shows the projected possible rise in sea levels over the next 10,000 years from today under four levels of emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The highest blue line at right is 50 meters (164 feet) above today’s sea level. Even the lowest scenario eventually floods most of today’s coastal cities.<br /><br />The darker line to the left of today marks sea levels over the last 10,000 years — a geological epoch called the Holocene. The figures below show ice amounts on Greenland and Antarctica today and if humans burn most known fossil fuels. <a href="http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/fig_tab/nclimate2923_F2.html">The full figure and legend is here.</a>
A detail from a figure in a new paper shows the projected possible rise in sea levels over the next 10,000 years from today under four levels of emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The highest blue line at right is 50 meters (164 feet) above today’s sea level. Even the lowest scenario eventually floods most of today’s coastal cities.

The darker line to the left of today marks sea levels over the last 10,000 years — a geological epoch called the Holocene. The figures below show ice amounts on Greenland and Antarctica today and if humans burn most known fossil fuels. The full figure and legend is here.Credit Nature Climate Change

I’d asked Pierrrehumbert to reflect on the time-scale conundrum laid out in the Nature Climate Change paper in the context of another important and provocative proposal by Princeton’s Robert Socolow, published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in December, proposing a new field of inquiry — Destiny Studies — to examine the tough intersection of ethics, risk perception and science. His essay is titled, “Climate change and Destiny Studies: Creating our near and far futures.” Here’s the abstract:

Climate change makes stringent demands on thinking about our future. We need two-sided reasoning to contend equitably with the risks of climate change and the risks of “solutions.” We need to differentiate the future 500 years from now and 50 years from now. This essay explores three pressing climate change issues, using both the 500-year and the 50-year time frames: sea level rise, the nuclear power “solution,” and fossil carbon abundance.

Here’s Pierrehumbert’s “Your Dot” contribution, tying together these elements:

The day of the release of the spectacular LIGO gravitational wave discovery is a good time to be pondering human destiny, the great things we can achieve as a species if only we don’t do ourselves in, and the responsibility to provide a home for future generations to flourish in. It is beyond awesome that we little lumps of protoplasm squinting out at the Universe from our shaky platform in the outskirts of an insignificant galaxy can, after four decades of indefatigable effort, detect and characterize a black hole merger over a billion light years away.

This is just one of the most dramatic examples of what we are capable of, given the chance to be our best selves. In science, I’d rate the revolution in detecting and characterizing exoplanets way up there as well. There’s no limit to what we can accomplish as a species.

But we have to make it through the next two hundred years first, and this will be a crucial time for humanity. This is where Destiny Studies and our paper on the Anthropocene come together. The question of why we should care about the way we set the climate of the Anthropocene is far better answered in terms of our vision for the destiny of our species than it is in terms of the broken calculus of economics and discounting.

For all we know, we may be the only sentience in the Galaxy, maybe even in the Universe. We may be the only ones able to bear witness to the beauty of our Universe, and it may be our destiny to explore the miracle of sentience down through billions of years of the future, whatever we may have turned into by that time. Even if we are not alone, it is virtually certain that every sentient species will bring its own unique and irreplaceable perspectives to creativity and the understanding of the Universe around us.

Thinking big about our destiny, think of this: the ultimate habitability catastrophe for Earth is when the Sun leaves the main sequence and turns into a Red Giant. That happens in about 4 billion years. However, long before that — in only about 500 million years — the Sun gets bright enough to trigger a runaway greenhouse effect and turn us into Venus, sterilizing all life on Earth. We waste half the main sequence lifetime of the Sun.

However, if we last long enough, technology will make it easy to block enough sunlight to save the Earth from a runaway, buying us another 4 billion years of habitability. That’s the only kind of albedo-modification geoengineering I could countenance, and by the time that is needed, presumably we’ll have the wisdom to deploy it safely and the technology to make it robust.

But we have to make it through the next 200 years first.

If we do what humanity has always done in the past, we’re likely to burn all the fossil fuels, and then have a hard landing at a time of high population, with an unbearable climate posing existential risks, at just the time when we’re facing the crisis fossil fuels running out. That will hardly make for ideal conditions under which to decarbonize, and there is a severe risk civilization will collapse, leaving our descendants with few resources to deal with the unbearable environment we will have bequeathed them.

It’s been pointed out that fossil fuels came in just about when we had run out of whale oil, but the whales had been hunted to the brink of extinction when that happened. If we do the same with coal, it’s not going to make for a pretty transition. With regard to the Anthropocene, it’s true that given a thousand years or so — if technological civilization survives — it becomes likely that we would develop ways to remover CO2 from the atmosphere and accelerate the recovery to more livable conditions. But if things get bad enough in the next two hundred years, we may never have that chance.

The alternative future is one where we decide to make the transition to a carbon-free economy before we’re forced into it by the depletion of fossil fuels. We’re going to run out anyway, and will need to learn to do without fossil fuels, so why not get weaned early, before we’ve trashed the climate? If we do that, we might not just buy ourselves a world, but a whole Universe.

Shorthand summary: Can we do better than bacteria smeared on agar?

This passage from a 2011 post, “Confronting the Anthropocene,” conveys my sense of the core focus of “destiny studies”:

We’re essentially in a race between our potency, our awareness of the expressed and potential ramifications of our actions and our growing awareness of the deeply embedded perceptual and behavioral traits that shape how we do, or don’t, address certain kinds of risks [or time scales].

Another author of the Nature Climate Change paper, Daniel Schrag of Harvard, gave a highly relevant talk at the Garrison Institute a couple of years ago in which he raised, but did not answer, a question I hope you’ll all ponder:

Is there a moral argument for some threshold of environmental conditions that we must preserve for future generations?

This would be a cornerstone question in destiny studies. I moderated a conversation on this question and the rest of the lecture with Schrag and Elke U. Weber of Columbia University. I hope you can spare some time to watch.

There are plenty of efforts to build such a field, including Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University and the Arizona State University effort I described in this post: “Building Visions of Humanity’s Climate Future – in Fiction and on Campus.”

Here are other relevant past pieces:

2015 – “Avoiding a Climate Inferno

2013 – “Could Climate Campaigners’ Focus on Current Events be Counterproductive?

2011 – “Pedal to the Metal

2010 – “Which Comes First – Peak Everything or Peak Us?

2009 – “Puberty on the Scale of a Planet

Updated, 11:50 p.m. | David Roberts at Vox today put the Nature Climate Change paper in political context when he wrote: “The U.S. presidential election will matter for 10,000 years.” Read the rest here.

Footnotes |

** This excerpt from the paper was added at 1:36 p.m.

*Pierrehumbert has contributed valuable insights here in the past, writes on Slate on occasion and is a fine accordion player. He contributed sensitively wrought parts on a song on my first album.

Impact of human activity on local climate mapped (Science Daily)

Date: January 20, 2016

Source: Concordia University

Summary: A new study pinpoints the temperature increases caused by carbon dioxide emissions in different regions around the world.


This is a map of climate change. Credit: Nature Climate Change

Earth’s temperature has increased by 1°C over the past century, and most of this warming has been caused by carbon dioxide emissions. But what does that mean locally?

A new study published in Nature Climate Change pinpoints the temperature increases caused by CO2 emissions in different regions around the world.

Using simulation results from 12 global climate models, Damon Matthews, a professor in Concordia’s Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, along with post-doctoral researcher Martin Leduc, produced a map that shows how the climate changes in response to cumulative carbon emissions around the world.

They found that temperature increases in most parts of the world respond linearly to cumulative emissions.

“This provides a simple and powerful link between total global emissions of carbon dioxide and local climate warming,” says Matthews. “This approach can be used to show how much human emissions are to blame for local changes.”

Leduc and Matthews, along with co-author Ramon de Elia from Ouranos, a Montreal-based consortium on regional climatology, analyzed the results of simulations in which CO2 emissions caused the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to increase by 1 per cent each year until it reached four times the levels recorded prior to the Industrial Revolution.

Globally, the researchers saw an average temperature increase of 1.7 ±0.4°C per trillion tonnes of carbon in CO2 emissions (TtC), which is consistent with reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But the scientists went beyond these globally averaged temperature rises, to calculate climate change at a local scale.

At a glance, here are the average increases per trillion tonnes of carbon that we emit, separated geographically:

  • Western North America 2.4 ± 0.6°C
  • Central North America 2.3 ± 0.4°C
  • Eastern North America 2.4 ± 0.5°C
  • Alaska 3.6 ± 1.4°C
  • Greenland and Northern Canada 3.1 ± 0.9°C
  • North Asia 3.1 ± 0.9°C
  • Southeast Asia 1.5 ± 0.3°C
  • Central America 1.8 ± 0.4°C
  • Eastern Africa 1.9 ± 0.4°C

“As these numbers show, equatorial regions warm the slowest, while the Arctic warms the fastest. Of course, this is what we’ve already seen happen — rapid changes in the Arctic are outpacing the rest of the planet,” says Matthews.

There are also marked differences between land and ocean, with the temperature increase for the oceans averaging 1.4 ± 0.3°C TtC, compared to 2.2 ± 0.5°C for land areas.

“To date, humans have emitted almost 600 billion tonnes of carbon,” says Matthews. “This means that land areas on average have already warmed by 1.3°C because of these emissions. At current emission rates, we will have emitted enough CO¬2 to warm land areas by 2°C within 3 decades.”


Journal Reference:

  1. Martin Leduc, H. Damon Matthews, Ramón de Elía. Regional estimates of the transient climate response to cumulative CO2 emissionsNature Climate Change, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2913

Populações pré-colombianas afetavam pouco a Amazônia, diz estudo (Estado de São Paulo)

Fábio de Castro

28 de outubro de 2015

Antes da chegada dos Europeus às Américas, uma grande população indígena habitava a Amazônia. Mas, ao contrário do que sustentam alguns cientistas, os impactos dessa ocupação humana sobre a floresta eram extremamente pequenos, segundo um novo estudo internacional realizado com participação brasileira.

pesquisa, publicada nesta quarta-feira, 28, na revista científica Journal of Biogeography, foi liderada por cientistas do Instituto de Tecnologia da Flórida, nos Estados Unidos e teve a participação de Carlos Peres, pesquisador do Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi.

Imagem de satélite da Amazônia ocidental mostra mendros de rios com 'braços-mortos', onde viviam grandes populações antes da chegada dos europeus; o novo estudo mostra que o impacto desses povos na floresta era menor do que se pensava

Imagem de satélite da Amazônia ocidental mostra mendros de rios com ‘braços-mortos’, onde viviam grandes populações antes da chegada dos europeus; o novo estudo mostra que o impacto desses povos na floresta era menor do que se pensava

Segundo o novo estudo, as populações amazônicas pré-colombianas viviam em densos assentamentos perto dos rios, afetando profundamente essas áreas. Mas os impactos que elas produziam na floresta eram limitados a uma distância de um dia de caminhada a partir das margens – deixando intocada a maior parte da Bacia Amazônica.

A pesquisa foi realizada com o uso de plantas fósseis, estimativas de densidade de mamíferos, sensoriamento remoto e modelagens computacionais de populações humanas. Segundo os autores, os resultados indicam que as florestas amazônicas podem ser muito vulneráveis às perturbações provocadas por atividades madeireiras e de mineração.

O novo estudo refuta uma teoria emergente, sustentada por alguns arqueólogos e antropólogos, de que as florestas da Amazônia são resultado de modificações da paisagem produzidas por populações ancestrais. Essa teoria contradiz a noção de que as florestas são ecossistemas frágeis.

“Ninguém duvida da importância da ação humana ao longo das principais vias fluviais. Mas, na Amazônia ocidental, ainda não se sabe se os humanos tiveram sobre o ecossistema um impacto maior que qualquer outro grande mamífero”, disse o autor principal do estudo, Mark Bush, do Instituto de Tecnologia da Flórida.

Dolores Piperno, outra autora do estudo, arqueóloga do Museu Americano de História Natural, afirma que há exagero na ideia de que a Amazônia é uma paisagem fabricada e domesticada. “Estudos anteriores se basearam em poucos sítios arqueológicos próximos aos cursos de água, e extrapolaram os efeitos da ocupação humana pré-histórica para todo o bioma. Mas a Amazônia é heterogênea e essas extrapolações precisam ser revistas com dados empíricos”, disse ela.

“Esse não é apenas um debate sobre o que ocorreu há 500 anos, ele tem implicações muito relevantes para a sociedade moderna e para as iniciativas de conservação”, afirmou Bush.

De acordo com Bush, se as florestas tivessem sido pesadamente modificadas antes da chegada dos Europeus e tivessem se recuperado no período de uma só geração de árvores para adquirir um nível tão vasto de biodiversidade, essa capacidade de recuperação rápida poderia ser usada como justificativa para uma atividade madeireira agressiva.

Entretanto, se a influência dos humanos foi muito limitada, como mostra o novo estudo, a atividade madeireira e mineradora têm potencial para provocar na floresta consequências de longo prazo, possivelmente irreversíveis.

“Essa distinção se torna cada vez mais importante, à medida em que os gestores decidem se irão reforçar ou flexibilizar a proteção de áreas já designadas como parques de conservação”, afirmou Bush.

Anthropologies #21: Is There Hope for an Anthropocene Anthropology? (Savage Minds)

September 5, 2015, by Ryan.

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the Anthropologies #21 series.

Up next for this issue we have Todd Sanders and Elizabeth F. Hall. Sanders is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. He has written extensively on African and Euro-American knowledge practices, and is currently collaborating with Elizabeth Hall on a project called ‘Knowing Climate Change.’ Hall is a physician-scientist and Research Associate at the Centre for Ethnography at the University of Toronto Scarborough. She trained as a specialist in public health medicine and holds a PhD in epidemiology.  –R.A.

Global climate change is driving anthropologists in opposite directions. Some are enthusiastically adopting “the Anthropocene” – a “gift” from our friends in the natural sciences (Latour 2014) that might enable us to exit, at long last, our Modern world and its Holocene thinking (Hamilton, et al. 2015). The concept potentially dovetails with old and new concerns – networks, rhizomes and relational ontologies; more-than-human socialities; hybrids, nonhumans and the posthuman; multispecies, multinaturalisms and modes of existence – and promises critical purchase over today’s troubled times. For as we enter the Anthropocene, we’ll need new conceptual tools and ways of thinking to understand our new home. The familiar dualisms that have long dogged our discipline and world – Nature and Culture; local and global; Moderns and non-moderns; and so on – are not up to the task. Discard the Modern dualisms. Dwell on the emergent processes of their production. And reimagine worlds as partial and provisional, composed through multiple, heterogeneous entanglements. For many anthropologists, the time is ripe for such an Anthropocene Anthropology.

At the same time, climate change is leading other anthropologists right back to the Holocene. For them, this is not the time to abandon dualisms nor to theorise partial, emergent, hybrid worlds. Instead, we must entrench and purify the well-known anthropological categories of nature and culture, tradition and the local, and insist on the merits of holism. These anthropologists share theoretical affinities more with Julian Steward and Robert Netting than with, say, Latour or Tsing. Their scholarship is large and growing, and asks how climate change will impact local, traditional cultures. The story ordinarily goes like this: local, traditional cultures crucially depend on nature for their cultural, material and spiritual needs. They will therefore suffer first, worst and most directly from rapid climate change. These place-based peoples are somewhat resilient and adaptive, due to their local, indigenous or traditional ecological knowledge. Yet cultural adaptation has limits. Urgent anthropological interventions are thus required to mediate and translate between local and global worlds to help these cultures adapt. The Anthropocene figures here too: not as an opportunity to reconfigure and overcome Modern dualisms but as a way to underscore and holistically integrate them. Welcome to the Holocene!

While this approach is strongly endorsed by the AAA’s Global Climate Change Task Force (Fiske, et al. 2014), other anthropologists will insist that in today’s world, old ideas about local, traditional cultures are “obsolete from the outset” (Hastrup 2009: 23). For them, entrenching ourselves in the Holocene is not the obvious way to enter the Anthropocene. Still, it’s worth noting that obsolescence is a matter of perspective and is context-dependent. This pedestrian point is crucial because, when it comes to climate change, anthropology is not the only discipline in town. And because it isn’t, anthropologists may not get the last word on which of our knowledges and knowledge practices are useful, or useless, in the wider climate change arena.

In this vast, bustling arena, considerable efforts are being devoted to putting a human face on climate change. For many in the human sciences, this means supplementing and nuancing abstract, paternalistic, quantitative climate sciences with humanistic, qualitative data and values from real people (Hulme 2011; Jasanoff 2010). As we discuss elsewhere, this is one reason growing numbers of social and natural scientists are doing ethnographic research on “the human dimensions of climate change” (Hall and Sanders 2015). From geographers to geophysicists, ecologists to ethnobotanists, scholars from every alcove of the academy are joining the human dimensions enterprise. They travel to remote places on the planet to understand how local, traditional cultures will – or will not – adapt to climate change. And they tell familiar tales: the same tales, in fact, that some anthropologists tell about local, traditional, place-based cultures being done in by a changing climate. In this broader academic arena, such local, traditional peoples are fast becoming the human face of climate change. Figure 1, reproduced from a leading interdisciplinary climate change journal, is emblematic.

Sanders-and-Hall_Figure-1-JPEG

 

Figure 1. “Theo Ikummaq in the middle of Fury and Hecla Strait, between Igloolik and Baffin Island, explaining the challenges with spring ice conditions, while waiting at a seal hole (June 22, 2005).” (With kind permission from Springer Science+Business Media: Climatic Change, Travelling and hunting in a changing Arctic: assessing Inuit vulnerability to a sea ice change in Igloolik, Nunavut, 94, 2009, p. 375, Laidler GJ, Ford JD, Gough WA, Ikummaq T, Gagnon AS, Kowal S, Qrunnut K, Irngaut C, figure 2).

This scholarship shares affinities with salvage anthropology and cultural ecology, and while not unaware of the many critiques of such projects, remains mostly unfazed by them. These are urgent, real-world problems, after all, that require serious ethnographic attention. There’s no time for wiffle-waffle. But whatever one’s views on the matter, the point is that this multi- and interdisciplinary scholarship is large, and working hard to complement and complete the climate change puzzle: to serve up culture to nature, local to the global, traditional to the modern, values to facts, indigenous knowledge to Western Science. This is Holocene thinking replayed with a vengeance.

After decades of imploring social scientists to step up to the plate, to leave our ivory towers, to add the missing human piece to the climate change puzzle, “harder” natural scientists are welcoming such “soft” climate change scholars and scholarship. Of course economists got there first. But this new wave of human dimensions scholarship provides hope that, after decades of delay, important aspects of “the human” might finally be fleshed out and “integrated” into our understandings of climate change. These hopes are understandable, given the Modern metaphysics many in this arena share.

It all began with capital-n Nature, which natural and computational scientists reanimated decades ago. Today, this Nature takes the form of coupled Ocean-Atmosphere General Circulation Models (OAGCMs) and Earth System Models (ESMs), which rely on formally-specified (i.e., mathematical) equations to model the Earth System’s natural components and the complex links among them. “The human” came later. Social scientists from many disciplines are now adding in the human, or trying to, and the calls for more such efforts continue.

One perpetual challenge in this arena has been how to combine the two, Nature and Culture, the Ecological and the Sociological. Thus funding streams like the NSF’s long-running Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program have been established for precisely this purpose. The research projects they support are often large, always interdisciplinary and “must include analyses of four different components: (1) the dynamics of a natural system; (2) the dynamics of a human system; (3) the processes through which the natural system affects the human system; and (4) the processes through which the human system affects the natural system.”

But however funded, efforts to “integrate” human and natural components of the system in the name of climate change are legion. Consider the tightly-coupled Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs), which aim quantitatively to bring diverse natural “scientific, economics and social science expertise together to provide analysis and advice that comprehensively addresses all or at least many aspects of the climate change issue” (Sarofim and Reilly 2011: 27). There are also many looser modelling efforts with telling titles – coupled human and natural systems (CHANS), human-environment systems (HES), social-ecological systems (SES) – that aim to couple human and natural components of the Earth System. Such holistic, Modern integrationist efforts stabilise “components” through the act of “coupling” them, and sometimes mistake models for the world. They are also widespread and flourishing.

The Stockholm Resilience Centre, for instance, funded by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (MISTRA) to the tune of 30 million US dollars, is well-known for developing complex social-ecological systems to aid decision-making around climate change. The Centre’s Science Director, Carl Folke, notes:

We want to build a unique transdisciplinary research environment where innovative ideas can flourish. By combining new forms of cooperation with a holistic perspective, we hope to generate the insights that are needed to strengthen societies’ and the ecosystems’ capacities to meet a world which spins faster and faster.

Folke is one of the Centre’s founders, and has devoted much of his distinguished career to theorising “resilience” and “social-ecological systems.” While Figure 2 is illustrative of some of his influential work on coupled systems, similar diagrams could be reproduced from countless other scholars.

Sanders-and-Hall_Figure-2-JPEG2

Figure 2. A conceptual framework developed in relation to the resilience approach. (Republished with permission of Global Environmental Change, from “Resilience: the emergence of a perspective for social-ecological systems analysis,” Folke, C., vol. 16, 2006; permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc.).

Note how the all-embracing social-ecological system is composed of Latour’s modern constitution: a Great Divide between Nature (left) and Culture/Society (right), with feedback loops between the system’s component parts. Note, too, how scale works, also in a Modern register: each side is composed of “nested hierarchies,” the “larger” levels encompassing the “smaller.” (There’s obvious scope here to fill local slots with local knowledges and peoples). While Folke acknowledges that these are conceptual models, many others do not, leading to statements like “[c]oupled human and natural systems (CHANS) are systems in which humans and natural components interact” (Liu, et al. 2007: 639). Coupled systems scholarship may enable us to sort messy empirical worlds into tidy, Modern boxes, and to pretend we haven’t done so. But such purifying practices are of little interest to Anthropocene Anthropology, and do not create an environment in which Anthropocene thinking might flourish. Where to find such a place?

Last year, we attended Carbon 14: Climate is Culture, an innovative ArtScience collaboration at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The event was produced by a London-based charitable organisation whose mission is to bring together artists, scientists, journalists, media specialists and other publics “to stimulate a cultural narrative that will engage and inspire a sustainable and vibrant future society” in the face of global climate change.

The four-month-long exhibition and festival was big, Canadian-flavoured, and guided by a single question, and answer, prominently printed on the catalogue cover: “What does Culture have to do with Climate Change? Everything.” The “culture” had two senses: as in the cultural arts (music, theatre, photography, etc.), which play a crucial role innovating and communicating to the public; and in the anthropological sense (more or less). The event featured a performance by Inuit musician Tanya Tagaq and a mock trial of Canadian broadcaster, environmentalist and scientist, David Suzuki, for his Carbon Manifesto; poetry slams and a performance art piece by Dene-Inuvialuit artist, Reneltta Arluk, that examined “the impacts of climate change on Northern peoples and explore[d] the artist’s personal cultural identity;” talks by journalists, artists and others on fossil fuel dependence and the health of the oceans, biodiversity, sustainability and extinction; workshops on provocative, environmental activist arts; public discussions, including one with University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver and Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the well-known Canadian Inuit cultural and human rights activist and author (Watt-Cloutier 2015). The event also featured visual arts and artists: videos produced with Inuit filmmakers on climate change and Inuit traditional knowledge, on everyday life in the far North, and others; photographs of majestic Nature; and awe-inspiring photos that the Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield, took from outer space.

Climate is Culture was spectacular. Yet the event left us haunted by the thought that the sustainable, vibrant, dare we say “Anthropocene” future we had hoped to find looked strikingly like the present – or even the past. Nature had thoroughly bifurcated from Culture, while Culture had simultaneously split in two: planet destroyers (the global, modern, fossil-fuel-burning West) versus innocent victims (the local, traditional Rest). Modern dualisms ran amok, creating Nature and Culture, local and global, Moderns and non-moderns everywhere we turned. One prominently-displayed photo captured the mood most eloquently: a lone, Inuk elder standing on an ice flow, poised to harpoon an unsuspecting walrus poking its head out from beneath the sea (similar to Figure 1 above, add walrus). “Lukie, 70, prepares to harpoon a walrus while standing on moving ice in Foxe Basin,” read the caption. It continued: “This scene could have been from a thousand years ago, but it is today.” The photographer, a visual artist and Associate Professor of Geography at a major Canadian university, provided the perfect title: “1000 Years Ago Today.” Though the photo, caption and title said it all, a further plaque was provided, just in case:

The Arctic: A Place of Global Warming and Wisdom

Arctic climate change is a hot topic with surface air temperatures in the region warming at double the global average, and corresponding loss of sea ice, glaciers, and permafrost being observed by both scientists and local people. In Canada’s North, Inuit are on the front lines, and traditional knowledge and experience indicate that climate change already affects travel routes and safety; wildlife, vegetation and habitat; human food security and health; and communities and coastal infrastructure. These cumulative impacts challenge cultural and social identity. However, with an ancient culture, persisting over millennia, Inuit show that human ingenuity, connectedness with the land, and respect for future generations are all-important teachings for the modern world as we collectively face climate change, the paramount issue of our time.

*   *   *

So, what should we think when so many cutting-edge scientists including anthropologists, avant-garde artists, activists, journalists, charitable foundations, non-profit and government funders from across the planet are living happily in the Holocene – as if our theoretical lexicons and social imagination were firmly fixed, if not 1000 years ago today, perhaps 100? Who in this world is ready for an Anthropocene Anthropology? Are there grounds for hope? Enthusiasm? We think so, but only with certain shifts in anthropological practice.

First of all, more critical reflections, debates and theorising of anthropological knowledge practices around climate change are required. Many anthropological writings on climate change imply that holistically integrating our discipline’s disparate questions and theoretical concerns, knowledges and knowledge practices is possible and desirable – a win-win scenario, as it were. This approach is seductive: it suggests that every anthropologist can contribute her or his crucial piece of the climate change puzzle. But it is also seriously undertheorised, and does not accord with current thinking in the social sciences – including in anthropology – about what knowledge is and how it works. Partial connections and incommensurabilities render puzzle metaphors suspect. Knowledges are not puzzle pieces, nor can they simply “add up” to create “the whole.” Focus is required. Choices are always made. Power is never absent. Such commonplaces hold within as well as beyond anthropology. For these reasons, sustained engagements with social theory and the anthropology of knowledge would prove productive. How should we understand climate change anthropologically? Which of our many competing analytics provide the most theoretical purchase over the problem at hand? What are their real-world consequences? Should we dwell on culture or “culture”? Local or “local”? Or something altogether different, of which many promising candidates exist? Forging a meaningful Anthropocene Anthropology will mean prioritising certain anthropological knowledges, analytics and concerns over others. We can’t have it all ways.

Second, whatever our disciplinary response, we must recognise that anthropologists may not be the final arbiters on which of our knowledges and knowledge practices find favour in the wider world. Anthropology, after all, exists in a broader context. And as every anthropologist knows, context matters. The way forward is thus not to repeat, at higher volume, the truism that anthropology has lots to offer. It is to anthropologise the myriad Euro-American contexts in which climate change knowledge is produced and put to work. This means critically interrogating natural and social science knowledge practices surrounding climate change (e.g., interdisciplinarity, collaboration, producing “useful knowledge,” etc.), as well as the disparate policy and science policy realms through which scientific knowledges of climate change are institutionalised. Venerable traditions in political and legal anthropology, and in the anthropology of science and of policy, point the way. But whatever context we choose to study – there are many – Anthropocene Anthropology has its work cut out for it. For in today’s world, as Geertz might have said, it’s Holocene turtles all the way down.

References

Fiske, Shirley, J., Crate, Susan A., Crumley, Carole L., Galvin, Kathleen A., Lazrus, Heather, Luber, George, Lucero, Lisa, Oliver-Smith, Anthony, Orlove, Ben, Strauss, Sarah and Wilk, Richard R. 2014. Changing the atmosphere: anthropology and climate change. Final Report of the AAA Global Climate Change Task Force. Arlington, VA: American Anthropological Association.

Hall, Elizabeth F. and Sanders, Todd. 2015. Accountability and the academy: producing knowledge about the human dimensions of climate change. [link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9655.12162/epdf] Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21(2): 438-461.

Hamilton, Clive, Bonneuil, Christophe and Gemenne, François, eds. 2015. The Anthropocene and the global environmental crisis: rethinking modernity in a new epoch. London: Routledge.

Hastrup, Kirsten. 2009. Waterworlds: framing the question of social resilience. Pp. 11-30 in The question of resilience: social responses to climate change, ed. K. Hastrup. Copenhagen: Special-Trykkeriet Viborg a-s.

Hulme, Mike. 2011. Meet the humanities. Nature Climate Change 1: 177-79.

Jasanoff, Sheila. 2010. A new climate for society. Theory, Culture & Society 27(2-3): 233-53.

Latour, Bruno. 2014. Anthropology at the time of the Anthropocene: a personal view of what is to be studied. 113th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting. Washington DC.

Liu, Jianguo, Dietz, Thomas, Carpenter, Stephen R., Folke, Carl, Alberti, Marina, Redman, Charles L., Schneider, Stephen H., Ostrom, Elinor, Pell, Alice N., Lubchenco, Jane, Taylor, William W., Ouyang, Zhiyun, Deadman, Peter, Kratz, Timothy and Provencher, William. 2007. Coupled human and natural systems. Ambio 36(8): 639-49.

Sarofim, Marcus C. and Reilly, John M. 2011. Applications of integrated assessment modeling to climate change. WIREs Climate Change 2: 27-44.

Watt-Cloutier, Sheila. 2015. The right to be cold: one woman’s story of protecting her culture, and the Arctic and the whole planet. Toronto: Allen Lane.

Naomi Klein’s Radical Guide to the Anthropocene (The New Republic)

FILM

OCTOBER 1, 2015

In the author’s new documentary, the climate crisis is tied to our rotten economic system.

By 

Last year, Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything laid bare the capitalist economic system’s dependence on environmental devastation. We can’t fight climate change until we properly understand capitalism’s culpability, she argued. And with her characteristic brand of activist-oriented problem solving, Klein suggested we could seize this moment of climate crisis to revamp our addled global economy. A documentary of the same name, directed by Klein’s husband Avi Lewis, was conceived as a parallel project to Klein’s book and had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. It trumpets the same battle cry: that fighting global warming effectively means overturning capitalism. As politicians keep bickering over absurdly modest measures like cap-and-trade programs and scientists continue to announce startling figures of shrinking glaciers, Lewis and Klein’s message feels as urgent as ever.

Klein is really good at making radical arguments like this one terrifically accessible. This Changes Everything is the third book in Klein’s anti-globalization trilogy, following 1999’s No Logo, which criticized brand-oriented consumer culture, and 2007’s The Shock Doctrine, which chronicled how corporations take advantage of disasters to implement free-market policies designed to enrich a small elite. The film This Changes Everything marks the second time that Klein and Lewis have collaborated on a documentary. Eleven years ago, the pair made The Take, a movie that followed a group of autoworkers in Argentina who took over their factory and turned it into a cooperative. Lewis and Klein’s new film is similar in its aim to promote grassroots anti-capitalist action.

“A book can’t help you from feeling isolated and alone. A film, I think, can,” said Klein when I caught up with her and Lewis in Toronto to talk about the documentary. This Friday, it will be released in select theaters in New York, and will roll out in Los Angeles and Canada soon afterward. In the film, Klein’s thesis—that the climate crisis is inextricably tied to our rotten economic system—is woven together with portraits of activists fighting against mining and energy projects everywhere from Canada to Greece to South India. Like the book, the film succeeds in making a rigorous argument intelligible to a wide audience. By mixing essayistic filmmaking with vérité documentary techniques that showcase the stories of regular people turned activists, This Changes Everything also communicates an emotional urgency perhaps best suited to the cinematic medium. The documentary connects the past and the present, historicizing the activist battle against new coal plants and oil wells.

Klein traces the ideological infrastructure our current petrochemical economy is founded on back to the Enlightenment period. “It’s a moment in history where you have the Scientific Revolution and you also have the colonial project overlapping temporarily. The idea of infinite growth begins and there’s the birth of the machine,” she said. “These are all happening in the very same century.” She thinks drawing attention to when and where these concepts came from is intrinsic to developing alternatives to them. “Calling it human nature erases that it comes from a place. There are other ideas and other ways of relating to the world.”

From the indigenous tribes affected by Tar Sands development in Alberta to the South Indian villagers protesting a proposed coal plant, the documentary shows communities that practice non-capitalist ways of relating to nature. They’re all suspicious of the narrow post-Enlightenment idea of progress that fossil-fuel development promises. They don’t see the industrial extraction of resources as a necessary pit-stop on the way to an advanced society, but are rather see polluting resources like water which sustain human life as backward.

Klein uses these communities as examples of alternative ways of relating to the environment. She refutes the idea that we are doomed because it’s human nature to live in an environmentally destructive manner. A tendency to generalize “human impact” is embedded in terms like the anthropocene, Klein noted, which is the scientific designation for our era—it refers to the epoch in which human activity from industrial farming to resource extraction has irreversibly changed the planet. Basically, you can read our impact in the rocks of Earth itself. “It being ‘the age of man’ diagnoses the problem as being something essential in humans and glosses over the fact it’s not all humans,” Klein said, noting an essay on the subject by Andreas Malm from Jacobin magazine. “[Malm] makes the argument that it’s only a very small subset of humans that came up with the idea of burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale, and it’s still a minority of humans who do so.” For example, the average American consumes 500 times more energy than the average person living in a country like Ethiopia or Afghanistan. And even within the U.S., there are inequalities.

Environmental issues are inextricable from issues of economic and racial justice. “Being in New York the week after Sandy, there were powerful and disturbing flashbacks to being in New Orleans a week after Katrina happened,” said Lewis. For them, they said, the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this year connected the racial justice movement and the climate movement for many. “I think that because Black Lives Matter has united that conversation in the U.S., and then having the Katrina anniversary, for a lot of people it was a bit of an ‘oh yeah’ moment,” Klein said. “If you have a system in which black lives are treated as if they don’t matter, when you layer climate change on top of that then you see the issue on the mass scale.”

Environmental issues are inextricable from issues of economic and racial justice.

While Lewis and Klein’s documentary doesn’t focus on Hurricane Katrina or the intersection of American racial justice and climate change in particular, it does outline how the current economic system values some lives more than others. Klein’s narration returns over and over again to the idea of “sacrifice zones”: A resource economy depends on certain areas being disproportionately ravaged by extraction and processing—these places and the people in them are seen as worth sacrificing for some nebulous concept of the greater good. Populations in sacrifice zones have often been disproportionately poor and people of color, but in the film, we see that as the zones keep expanding middle-class white people from Montana to Greece are realizing they’re new targets of exploitation.

The emotional core of the film comes from individuals battling against being seen as disposable. Though as filmmakers Lewis and Klein unpack troubling realities, their film is cautiously optimistic, and focuses on the power and potential of these grassroots movements. We need a new system, in their view.

While the film concentrates its attention on citizen-driven actions, Klein also spearheaded the policy-focused Leap Manifesto, which was just released in mid-September in advance of the Canadian election, which takes place on October 19. “It’s basically a roadmap for Canada to get off fossil fuels,” explained Klein. Its signatories include public figures like environmentalist David Suzuki and folk-rock icon Neil Young.

Though Lewis and Klein are hopeful, they’re also realistic. Talking to them about the most recent price shocks—which happened since they wrapped shooting, and which have caused the price of oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to fall to historic lows—Lewis notes that “it is not affecting oil company profits as much as you might think it is.” He continued. “There are projects that have been suspended, but there’s thousands of barrels of new capacity that’s going ahead in Alberta each day. It’s not expanding as fast as they want it to, but it’s still expanding.”

Still, Klein explained the price shock is an opportunity. “Here is a pause in the frenetic energy. That kind of money makes it really hard to think. It’s hard to think with oil at $100 a barrel,” she said. “But now we have a moment where we can look in the mirror, and ask is this the best way to run the economy?” Her answer? No.

Climate Debate Needs More Social Science, New Book Argues (Inside Science)

Image credit: Matt Jiggins via Flickr | http://bit.ly/1M6iSlZ

Physical scientists aren’t trained for all the political and moral issues.
Oct 2 2015 – 10:00am

By: Joel N. Shurkin, Contributor

(Inside Science) — The notion that Earth’s climate is changing—and that the threat to the world is serious—goes back to the 1980s, when a consensus began to form among climate scientists as temperatures began to rise noticeably. Thirty years later, that consensus is solid, yet climate change and the disruption it may cause remain divisive political issues, and millions of people remain unconvinced.

A new book argues that social scientists should play a greater role in helping natural scientists convince people of the reality of climate change and drive policy.

Climate Change and Society consists of 13 essays on why the debate needs the voices of social scientists, including political scientists, psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists. It is edited by Riley E. Dunlap, professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and Robert J. Brulle, of Drexel University, professor of sociology and environmental science in Philadelphia.

Brulle said the physical scientists tend to frame climate change “as a technocratic and managerial problem.”

“Contrast that to the Pope,” he said.

Pope Francis sees it as a “political, moral issue that won’t be settled by a group of experts sitting in a room,” said Brulle, who emphasized that it will be settled by political process. Sociologists agree.

Sheila Jasanoff also agrees. She is the Pforzheimer professor of science and technology studies at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and did not participate in the book.

She said that understanding how people behave differently depending on their belief system is important.

“Denial is a somewhat mystical thing in people’s heads,” Jasanoff said. “One can bring tools of sociology of knowledge and belief—or social studies—to understand how commitments to particular statements of nature are linked with understanding how you would feel compelled to behave if nature were that way.”

Parts of the world where climate change is considered a result of the colonial past may resist taking drastic action at the behest of the former colonial rulers. Jasanoff said that governments will have to convince these groups that climate change is a present danger and attention must be paid.

Some who agree there is a threat are reluctant to advocate for drastic economic changes because they believe the world will be rescued by innovation and technology, Jasanoff said. Even among industrialized countries, views about the potential of technology differ.

Understanding these attitudes is what social scientists do, the book’s authors maintain.

“One of the most pressing contributions our field can make is to legitimate big questions, especially the ability of the current global economic system to take the steps needed to avoid catastrophic climate change,” editors of the book wrote.

The issue also is deeply embedded in the social science of economics and in the problem of “have” and “have-not” societies in consumerism and the economy.

For example, Bangladesh sits at sea level, and if the seas rise enough, nearly the entire country could disappear in the waters. Hurricane Katrina brought hints of the consequences of that reality to New Orleans, a city that now sits below sea level. The heaviest burden of the storm’s effects fell on the poor neighborhoods, Brulle said.

“The people of Bangladesh will suffer more than the people on the Upper East Side of Manhattan,” Brulle said. He said they have to be treated differently, which is not something many physical scientists studying the processes behind sea level rise have to factor into their research.

“Those of us engaged in the climate fight need valuable insight from political scientists and sociologists and psychologists and economists just as surely as from physicists,” agreed Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and author who is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont. “It’s very clear carbon is warming the planet; it’s very unclear what mix of prods and preferences might nudge us to use much less.”


Joel Shurkin is a freelance writer in Baltimore. He was former science writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer and was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for covering Three Mile Island. He has nine published books and is working on a tenth. He has taught journalism at Stanford University, the University of California at Santa Cruz and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He tweets at @shurkin.