Arquivo da tag: Antropoceno

The deep Anthropocene (AEON)

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)

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 Issue

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]

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

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: E-mail:

[2] Professor no Departamento de Ciências Sociais Aplicadas da Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia da Universidade Nova de Lisboa (FCT-UNL). Orcid ID: E-mail:

[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: E-mail:

[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)

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)

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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?”


[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: 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? 


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.

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)


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:


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="">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.



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.


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.


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.

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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.

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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)


OCTOBER 1, 2015

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


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 |

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.

The Village That Will Be Swept Away (The Atlantic)

Residents of Newtok, Alaska, voted to relocate as erosion destroyed their land. That was the easy part.

Andrew Burton / Getty


AUG 30, 2015

NEWTOK, Alaska—Two decades ago, the people of this tiny village came to terms with what had become increasingly obvious: They could no longer fight back the rising waters.

Their homes perched on a low-lying, treeless tuft of land between two rivers on Alaska’s west coast, residents saw the water creeping closer every year, gobbling up fields where they used to pick berries and hunt moose. Paul and Teresa Charles watched from their blue home on stilts on Newtok’s southern side as the Ninglick River inched closer and closer, bringing with it the salt waters of the Bering Sea.

“Sometimes, we lose 100 feet a year,” Paul Charles told me, over a bowl of moose soup.

Many communities across the world are trying to stay put as the climate changes, installing expensive levees and dikes and pumps, but not Newtok, a settlement of about 350 members of the Yupik people. In 1996, the village decided that fighting Mother Nature was fruitless, and they voted to move to a new piece of land nine miles away, elevated on bedrock.

It wasn’t an easy decision, to leave behind the place where many of them were born, and where most have memories of following their parents and grandparents out on the tundra to hunt and fish. But villagers could see the water creeping closer to their homes and school, which the Army Corps of Engineers said could be underwater as soon as 2017.

Alana Semuels

Newtok is eroding in part because it sits on permafrost, a once-permanently frozen sublayer of soil found in Arctic region. As temperatures increase in Alaska, that permafrost is melting, leading to rapid erosion. Snow is melting earlier in the spring in Alaska, sea ice is disappearing and the ocean temperature is increasing. Alaska is warming at a rate two to three times faster than the mainland United States, and the average winter temperature has risen 6.3 degrees over the past 50 years.

Alaska sits on the front lines of climate change. But the rest of the nation is getting warmer, too, and so communities across the country may soon have to face some of the same problems. That’s one reason President Obama is visiting the region this week.

“What’s happening in Alaska isn’t just a preview of what will happen to the rest of us if we don’t take action,” Obama said in a video previewing his visit. “It’s our wakeup call.”

But many of the nation’s climate change policies are focused on helping victims rebuild in place after a disaster. There’s little funding or political will to spend money on moving communities away from disaster-prone zones to prevent tragedies from happening, perhaps because policymakers don’t want to believe the dire predictions about what will happen to many of the nation’s coastal villages and towns.

But the experience of Alaska shows that failing to take action could be costly.A  2003 report from the Government Accountability Office found that most of Alaska’s 200-plus native villages are affected by erosion and flooding, and that four were in “imminent danger.” By 2009, the GAO said 31 villages were in imminent danger.

As of this year, though, only a few of those villages are making immediate plans to move. Newtok is the furthest along of these four villages in its relocation efforts, and the scariest part is that it isn’t very far along at all.

* * *

Newtok is an isolated village. There are no roads that lead there—the only way a visitor can get in or out is by a propeller plane that stops by a few times each day, except in inclement weather. There are no roads in Newtok, either— boardwalks run between the homes and the school and the post office, and just about every family has a small boat that is its primary mode of transportation.

It wasn’t that long ago that Yupik communities like this one were nomadic, traveling to the rivers to catch salmon and to higher ground when the waters rose. But between 1900 and 1950, as missionaries in Alaska tried to “civilize” native Alaskans, the Yupik began to settle in villages, in part because of legislation that required all children of a certain age to attend school. One group of people ended up in the place where Newtok now stands in part because a federal-government barge carrying a new school building could only reach this far up the Newtok River before getting stuck.

The river is fast approaching Newtok’s series of boardwalks. (Alana Semuels)

Villagers did not abandon their lifestyle just because they began living in a town with a post office and electricity. This is still a place built on a subsistence system, where residents survive off moose, seals, fish, berries, and other local plants all year round. The homes, small wooden boxes on stilts, often have pelts from a musk ox hanging on their porches, or moose antlers stacked alongside the snowmobiles and ATVs in the yard. As Canadian geese caw overhead, different breeds of dogs run throughout the village, a reminder of the dog teams that used to help villagers travel through snow. Just about every house has a small shelter out back where residents hang the moose, seal, and fish they’ve caught to dry.

As I wandered around town, I encountered Zenia Andy, who was watching her son Paiton disembowel a seal he had hunted. His hands stained red with blood, he gutted the creature with  an ulu, a sharp rounded blade attached to a handle. He separated the ribs, the heart, the flippers, the head, carefully saving every part.

The dedication to this subsistence lifestyle could have made it difficult for residents to pick up and move, since most Alaska Natives want to continue to be close to traditional hunting grounds but high enough off the land that the rising tides will not displace them ever again. Kivalina and Shismaref, two of the other threatened Alaska Native villages, have struggled to find a place to relocate that is within reach of their traditional hunting grounds and can also withstand decades of melting permafrost, Robin Bronen, the executive director of the Alaska Immigration Justice Project, told me.

But Newtok was lucky. Villagers had once spent summers nine miles from Newtok on a place called Nelson Island, part of a vast stretch of land on Alaska’s western coast that sits on volcanic bedrock elevated from the river. Villagers voted to move there, to a piece of land they call Mertarvik, which in Yupik means “getting water from the stream.”

In 1996, the Newtok Native Corporation, which was then the village’s governing body, passed a resolution allowing leaders to negotiate with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which managed the land where Mertarvik sits. Newtok had to hire a lobbyist to prod Congress for eight years to get title to the land, Bronen said, and in exchange they offered to relent their claim to their current land and allow the government to turn it into a wildlife refuge. This shouldn’t have been a difficult swap—fly over Mertarvik or Newtok by plane, and all you can see is vast stretches of land and water with no development (or trees) whatsoever. The trade was finally approved in 2003.

But it’s been 12 years since then and not a whole lot has happened since, despite two massive flooding incidents in 2004 and 2005, one of which temporarily turned Newtok into an island. Three homes have been constructed in Mertarvik, but no one lives there year round. There’s a half-completed evacuation center next to piles of pipes and Dura-base flooring.

“We’ve been waiting so long. I don’t know. I’m beginning to lose a little bit of hope,” Newtok resident Jimmy Charles told me as he stopped by the one-room post office to pick up his mail.

The difficulty of relocating Newtok was evident from the beginning. Most villages can’t find funding for relocation projects because the costs often outweigh the expected benefits, according to the 2003 GAO report. Money to build new runways is usually only available after the old runways have been flooded or eroded, not to prevent such flooding from happening. It’s expensive to bring in materials and labor to remote villages, and the Army Corps of Engineers requires villages to pay up to half of the costs of these projects—“funding that many of them do not have,” according to the report. Dave Williams, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager in Alaska, told me his group had been approved to build a road and community building at the new site. Newtok would be required to pay 35 percent of the costs, but has not followed through on the necessary paperwork, he saidThe Corps estimated that moving Newtok could cost $130 million in total.

The whole effort to move a village feels a bit like a giant Catch-22: The school district won’t build a new school at the new site until 25 families live there, but no families want to live there without a school. The FAA won’t fund the design and construction of the Newtok airport until there is power generation at Mertarvik to provide runway lighting, but without an airport, it’s difficult to get a power source there. Mail service requires at least 25 families and regularly scheduled transportation to the community, which doesn’t exist without an airport.

Paiton Andy gets help from friends gutting a seal. (Alana Semuels)

Newtok’s experience demonstrates that decades after the nation first became familiar with climate change, Americans are still focused on responding to climate-related disasters, not preventing them.

“In almost every disaster event in America, from Hurricane Sandy to tornadoes in Oklahoma, the rally cry of ‘we will rebuild’ and FEMA’s support of rebuilding in place exemplifies the hazard-centric idea that disasters are one-off aberrations of normal conditions and that increased warning infrastructure, response plans, and technological interventions can prevent the next disaster,” writes Elizabeth Marino, an anthropologist who has studied Shismaref and has a book coming out about the town’s efforts to move. “Rebuilding in the same way, in the same place leaves no space for reconsidering our relationship with the environment.”

In Kivalina, for example, the U.S. government completed a $2.5 million sea wall to protect the village from the sea in 2006 to great fanfare. The wall was partially destroyed in a storm surge the same year, according to Bronen. In 1900, Galveston, Texas, was destroyed by a hurricane that killed 6,000 people, but the city rebuilt, only to be damaged repeatedly by storms, including Hurricane Ike in 2008. The city is now considering building an “Ike Dike,” which would cost billions.

Still, no matter how compelling it might be to try and move Newtok, neither the state nor federal government has the authority or the funding to spearhead the move.

“There has not been any formal direction on how to proceed on all of this,” Sally Russell Cox, a planner with Alaska’s Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, told me. “While I can advise and assist and provide resources, it’s really the community that’s supposed to be relocating themselves.”

I was referred to Cox by a number of different governmental agencies when I asked for a name of a point person on the move. Yet Cox told me she was never asked to formally lead any sort of relocation project, it’s just fallen to her because she’s in her department’s division of community and rural affairs.

To be sure, there are problems inherent in having a state or federal agency step in and move a Native community, but the village voted to move itself, and needs assistance and funding to carry out those plans. Yet there is nowhere the village could apply on the state level to get the funding they need to move, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“To my knowledge, there is no mechanism within any of the departments of state government that could wholly fund the move of Newtok to Mertarvik,” he told me.

Funds are even tighter now that Alaska is facing a $3.7 billion budget deficit because of the declining price of oil. The state gets almost 90 percent of its revenues from oil taxes and royalties.

The river is eroding whole chunks of land near homes. (Alana Semuels)

While it has waited for funding, erosion has made Newtok even more isolated.  In 1996, the Newtok river was captured by the Ninglick River, creating more powerful tides on the smaller river, and in 2005, a raging storm temporarily turned the village into an island. A 2013 storm destroyed the barge landing where the town gets most of its supplies. The barge now drops off goods at a makeshift landing on ground that is continuing to erode.

“It’s getting closer each year,” Zenia Andy told me, as her son gutted the seal. She glanced up at the river, which is now just a few hundred feet from her house. “It used to be so far away.”

The community members in 2006 partnered with state and federal agencies to create the Newtok Planning Group, which meets a few times a year to coordinate efforts. But the group comes with no funding mandate, nor does it have much authority. Four homes close to the Ninglick River need to be moved, but when the group asked the Natural Resources Conservation Service for funding to do so, they were told the move would not meet the program’s criteria. Funds designated by Congress to move communities like Newtok were instead used to study the feasibility of a move, Bronen told me.

The villagers’ biggest hope for funding is now FEMA, thanks to the 2013 storm and the subsequent flooding, which allowed Newtok to apply for $4 million of FEMA funds through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. That money, if it is approved, will be used to relocate 12 homes and buy out five homeowners in Newtok, who can use that money to build a new house in Mertarvik. But that application was submitted in July and funds won’t be available for another year.

The two decades the village has been trying to move seem especially long when compared to the amount of time it took the village of Pattonsburg, Missouri, to move after the Great Flood of 1993. The community had experienced floods for years, but the Great Flood buried homes and businesses under 20 feet of water. That year, the village voted to move, and by 1994, the town of New Pattonsburg had been established on higher ground. All it took was a disaster.

* * *

Nine miles may sound close to people accustomed to paved roads, highways, and dense cities. But the nine-mile-long ride from Newtok to Mertarvik is 50 minutes on a bumpy boat across a river so wide it looks like the sea. In the winter, villagers go back and forth by snowmobile once the river freezes up, and they say that freeze-up is happening later and later. Boat and snowmobile are the only way to get between the two sites.

I visited Mertarvik with Tom John, a tribal administrator, and his wife Bernice, on a recent August afternoon. We had to wait for high tide, since the Newtok river is now too shallow during low tide for boats. As the motor coughed up mud, we headed out to the wider waters of the Ninglick River. We passed land sloughing off into the sea and signs of erosion everywhere, as if someone had taken a guillotine and chopped the Earth away. Though it was summer, typically an easy time to get across, the air was cold and the water bumpy, and the journey felt long.

Andrew Burton / Getty

We arrived in Mertarvik, parked the boat at a small dirt beach there, and walked up a steep ramp of road made from Dura-base—mats that are easier and faster to install than roads—laid by the military as part of the Defense Department’s Innovative Readiness Training program, which seeks to deploy military personnel to help civilian communities as part of war preparation. (The soldiers have since left.)

In addition to the Dura-base road and three tan houses on the hillside, there are the beginnings of a massive evacuation center, funded by Alaska’s state legislature, but so far, only the foundation has been completed. Nails are falling out of the stairway leading to the elevated evacuation center, which had been considered a top priority because the village needs somewhere to house families while their homes are being transported between the two sites. (A 2013 audit of the evacuation center found that the group in charge of building the center, the Newtok Traditional Council, failed to inspect the workmanship and the materials. That council has been replaced by the Newtok Village Council, which employs Tom John.)

It was spitting rain and windy the day we visited Mertarvik, weather that will become more common through the fall months, the Johns told me. The wet weather only made the urgency of the move more evident to them as they stood on this high mountain, looking out over the water towards their village, which this fall will be threatened with floods every time it rains.

“We have to get it right this time,” Tom John told me, standing on the platform of the rickety evaluation center as his grandson played on nearby abandoned construction vehicles.

“The whole world is watching us,” Bernice added, and then she headed off to a nearby field to pick salmon berries and blackberries.

Bernice and Tom John in the half-completed evacuation center in Mertarvik. (Alana Semuels)

Much of the move is out of their hands, though. Without a major influx of new homes and an airport it will be difficult to convince anyone to live in Mertarvik. And without more money—a lot more money—the town can’t build anything.

Lisa and Jeff Charles and their five children moved to one of the three new homes in Mertarvik in the summer of 2012. There was no electricity or running water, so the experience felt like camping, but they enjoyed the quiet, Lisa Charles told me. But their children needed to go to school, so the family couldn’t stay in Mertarvik during the school year.

When Lisa got pregnant, she didn’t want to be a 50-minute boat ride from medical care. Though they could survive on the food they caught, the Charles’ have loans to pay, for the snowmobiles and ATV that allow them to subsistence hunt. To pay those loans, they needed jobs back in the village. After the summer, they returned home to Newtok, and the tribal council gave the Mertarvik home to someone else.

* * *

While the village waits to move to Mertarvik, Newtok is falling apart. State agencies have been hesitant to invest in the town, since it is supposed to be moving soon. The boardwalks connecting the homes are rotted, their nails falling out, pieces of wood surrendered to the mud. A small spit of land runs between the air strip and the village, but the boardwalk connecting the two has gaping holes, making the ride over it in a four-wheeler harrowing.

Without running water or toilets, villagers use “honey buckets” for waste, which they dump into the river, but high waters sometimes bring waste back into the village. The dump site was lost to erosion, and the new dump is only accessible during high tide by boat. “Do not burn your trash here,” one sign reads on the banks of the Ninglick River.

The village’s water supply, a freshwater lake, is just a few hundred feet from the saltwater river—in a severe storm, it could be compromised by the saltwater. A rickety series of pipes, held up on stilts, connects the lake to a shed where villagers collect tap water, where the boardwalk is nearly always covered in mud and trash.

The deterioration is taking a toll on public health. Between 1994 and 2009, more than one-quarter of infants in Newtok were hospitalized with lower respiratory tract infections, which meant Newtok had one of the highest rates of infection in the state. Public health professionals in 2006 found that inadequate levels of drinking water and high levels of contamination from honey bucket waste could be contributing to the infections.

Lisa Charles raised two of her children in Anchorage, and the rest in Newtok. Her infants had no health problems in Anchorage, but in Newtok, two of her babies came down with fevers and respiratory infections, she told me.

With little progress on Mertarvik and the water continuing to rise, it’s unclear how much longer the villagers will wait. If they leave and head to a bigger city, the centuries-old traditions and culture that they’ve preserved could disappear.

“My kids’ education comes first,” Zenia Andy told me, when I asked her whether she planned to move. If the school begins to lose teachers and students, she may move her family somewhere else.

The waters could reach Newtok’s school by 2017. (Alana Semuels)

Another resident, Jimmy Charles, told me that his children didn’t want to stay in Newtok because of the frequent floods.

Lisa and Jeff Charles have stuck around despite the floods and the health scares because they think Newtok is a good place to raise their children, and they want their kids to have the same experiences they did, trapping muskrats in the winter and fishing in the summer for survival. But Lisa Charles is beginning to worry for their safety. During the 2013 storm, she and her family watched as the water got higher and higher, eventually reaching 20 feet from their house. Charles eventually evacuated her grandmother and children to the school to be safe.

She wants to stay and relocate the nine miles across the water to Mertarvik, but she’s been waiting a long time.

“If it gets too dangerous, I have to get my kids out,” she told me.

Over the past few weeks, the fall rains have started, once again threatening to flood her hometown.


Alaska’s Climate Refugees 

An Astrobiologist Asks a Sci-fi Novelist How to Survive the Anthropocene (Nautilus)


Humans will have a chance to prove their adaptability as the Earth undergoes unprecedented challenges in the Anthropocene, an era named after our impact on the biosphere. To learn what it takes to survive far into the future, astrobiologist David Grinspoon interviewed Kim Stanley Robinson, a writer regarded as one of the most important science fiction and political novelists alive today. Robinson’s recent book, 2312, permits humans to survive near-extinction and populate the solar system over the course of 300 years.

We decided to kick off the conversation with a 2312 excerpt from the chapter, “Earth, The Planet of Sadness:”

“Clean tech came too late to save Earth from the catastrophes of the early Anthropocene. It was one of the ironies of their time that they could radically change the surfaces of the other planets, but not Earth. The methods they employed in space were almost all too crude and violent. Only with the utmost caution could they tinker with anything on Earth, because everything there was so tightly balanced and interwoven.”


David Grinspoon: Humans in 2312 can transverse the universe, but they could not save the Earth from environmental devastation. Do you think our intelligence just isn’t adaptive enough to learn how to live sustainably?

Kim Stanley Robinson: Human intelligence is adaptive. It’s given us enormous powers in the physical world thus far. With it, we’ve augmented our senses by way of technologies like microscopes, telescopes, and sensors, such that we have seen things many magnitudes smaller and larger than we could see with unaided senses, as well as things outside of our natural sensory ranges.

But our intelligence has also led to unprecedented problems as our planet reaches its carrying capacity. Is intelligence adaptive enough to adjust to the calamities of its own success? This situation is a completely new thing in history—which means that no one can answer the question now.

DG: What do you think it would take for us to persist?

KSR: I think we can make it through this current, calamitous time period. I envision a two-part process. First, we need to learn what to do in ecological terms. That sounds tricky, but the biosphere is robust and we know a lot about it, so really it’s a matter of refining our parameters; i.e. deciding how many of us constitutes a carrying capacity given our consumption, and then figuring out the technologies and lifestyles that would allow for that carrying capacity while also allowing ecosystems to thrive. We have a rough sense of these parameters now.

The second step is the political question: It’s a matter of self-governance. We’d need to act globally, and that’s obviously problematic. But the challenge is not really one of intellect. It’s the ability to enforce a set of laws that the majority would have to agree on and live by, and those who don’t agree would have to follow.

So this isn’t a question of reconciling gravity with quantum mechanics, or perceiving the strings of string theory. Instead it involves other aspects of intelligence, like sociability, long-range planning, law, and politics. Maybe these kinds of intelligence are even more difficult to develop, but in any case, they are well within our adaptive powers.

DG: Do you think the spread of Internet access can help us forge a multi-generational global identity that might drive change? It wouldn’t be the first time that technological advancements massively transformed humankind’s history.

KSR: The Internet may be helpful but we’ll need more than global awareness. We need a global economic system that is designed specifically for sustainability. We already have a global economic system in the form of institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Together, their agreements make up a comprehensive system. But right now, this system cheats future generations by systematically underpricing the true costs of our exploitation of the biosphere. It sets the prices of the Earth’s natural resources by establishing what is basically the aggregation of supplies and demands. But this process is biased toward pricing things lower and lower, because of pressure from buyers and the need for sellers to stay in business. As a result, sellers sell their products for less than they cost to make, which should lead to bankruptcy for the seller, but it doesn’t because parts of the costs have been shifted onto future generations to pay. When practiced systematically it becomes a kind of multi-generational Ponzi scheme, and leads to the mass extinction event of the early Anthropocene, which we have already started.

What we want is to remember that our system is constructed for a purpose, and so in need of constant fixing and new tries.

Measurements used by the Global Footprint Network and a famous study led by Robert Costanza have shown that the “natural services” we use can be assigned a dollar amount that is much greater than the entire human economy, and that we overdraw these resources and destroy their function. So in effect, we are eating our future.

And I think it’s going to be hard to change the global economic system quickly. There’s a term for that among economists called path dependence. For example, we have a path dependency on carbon that we could shift over to a cleaner and cheaper—cheaper, if you take into account the true costs to the planet—power and transport system. But the pace of technological change for something that big might be up to a century because we’re constrained by path dependence. And I don’t think we have that much time.

DG: So, are we talking evolution or revolution? Do we need to escape from path dependence and start anew? 

KSR: No, we have to alter the system we already have, because like an animal with evolutionary constraints, we can’t change everything and start from scratch. But what we could do is reconstruct regulations on the existing global economic system. For this, we would need to wrench capitalism so that the global rules of the World Bank, etc., required ecological sustainability as their main criterion. That way, prices would shift to match their true costs. Burning carbon would cost more than it does now, and clean energy would become cheaper than burning carbon. This would address the most pressing part of our crisis, but finding a replacement for the market to allocate goods and price them is not easy.

As we enter this new mass extinction event, at some point there is going to be a global civilization response that will try to deal with it: try to cope, survive, and repair landscapes and ecosystems. The scientific method and democratic politics are going to be the crucial tools, I’d say. For them to work, we need universal justice and education because we need active and well-educated citizens who are empowered and live at adequacy.

From where we are now, this looks pretty hard, but I think that’s because capitalism as we know it is represented as natural, entrenched, and immutable. None of that is true. It’s a political order and political orders change. What we want is to remember that our system is constructed for a purpose, and so in need of constant fixing and new tries.

DG: I often wonder if civilizations elsewhere in the universe have made it through times like the ones we’re facing now. Astrobiologists think the likelihood of there being extraterrestrial intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is high. Our next question is if they’re out there, why haven’t they made themselves obvious to us? One recently suggested answer to this puzzle, known as the Fermi Paradox, is that unsustainable growth is an unavoidable property of civilizations, so they self-destruct. 

KSR: The Fermi Paradox poses a really interesting question, but I think it’s unanswerable. My feeling is, the universe is too big, and life too planet-specific for intelligent life forms to communicate with each other, except for by accident and very rarely. So perhaps they’re out there, and perhaps they’ve made it through something like our current era, but we wouldn’t know. I am just making assumptions based on the data, and telling a science fiction story. But so is everyone else talking about this issue.

DG: If you don’t want to speculate on outer space, do you think civilizations in science fiction offer any examples of long-lived societies?

KSR: I like to think so. In Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, a planetary society runs as a kind of giant anarchist collective. Decisions are made in long, consensus-building sessions, and the economy appears to be a matter of voluntary contributions of work. It’s a culture of minimal need and use, such that everyone lives at adequacy and no one consumes very much, as this is regarded as gross behavior.

Iain Banks’s Culture series describes a far-future, post-scarcity society in which the technological power available to civilization is such that basic needs are always more than satisfied. However, they have other sorts of problems that have to do with the interactions between different societies.

In my novel, 2312, the economy is in some ways a funhouse mirror portrayal of our world. One of the civilizations—called the Mondragon after the Basque city in Spain that runs its economy as a set of nested co-ops—provides for everyone’s basic needs as a kind of public utility district service. Then there is a more free-market capitalist world of exchange of luxuries; these arrangements are loosely grouped as “above and beyonds.” That’s one image of a possible future, sustainable economy. However, if you include all the civilizations on Earth and in space in 2312, there remains a steep inequality gradient with most of the poor on Earth.

DG: So you’re saying that even if we learn to live sustainably, we may still have serious poverty?

KSR: Actually, 2312 is not so much a prediction of a future but rather a symbolic portrait of now. Poverty is mostly political in nature because the technological ability to create adequacy for all living humans exists in 2312 (as it does now) but it has never been made the “civilizational project.” In the symbolic sense, people have already begun a process of speciation, in that the most prosperous on Earth live on average decades longer than the poorest people, and can change gender to an extent. Instead, the main division between people is height. By dividing people into the “shorts” and the “talls,” I was alluding to the idea that we are becoming separate sub-species based on class. And by describing how the “shorts” have many advantages, I was trying to point out that the assumption that bigger is better is false in many situations.


DG: Another interesting detail in 2312 is that biomes can be made from scratch on asteroids, according to a set of directions that reads like a recipe. But you warn of a potential danger at an early stage in the process: “Once you get your marsh going, you may fall in love with it.” Why is that a risk?

KSR: It’s a bit of a joke. Some of the ecologists I spoke to when I was writing the book told me that marshes were their favorite biomes because of their fecundity. As someone who likes the high Sierra I was surprised by this, and learned to look at the landscape differently. It also made me consider how all biomes are beautiful, depending on how you look at them. So being urged to move on to drier biomes is then part of that idea, but it’s not a very serious one. I have to admit that a lot of what is in 2312 is me fooling around. I think this is one thing that has made the book attractive to people, the sense of play, and that our landscapes and cities as artworks with aesthetic pleasures.

DG: Even though the Earth is a mess in 2312, the heroine of the book falls in love with the sky as seen on Earth, and the wolves that have been re-introduced. Do you think that people will always retain a connection to this planet despite its flaws? 

KSR: Yes, this was a point I was trying to make. I have this intuition that because we evolved on Earth, and are, as individuals, part of a complex network of living and natural forces, that we are biomes in effect. The result is that we will never be able to stay healthy if away from Earth for long. We carry the Earth within us, and by the same measure, I think we’ll always need the Earth around us to replenish ourselves.

David Grinspoon is an astrobiologist working with several interplanetary spacecrafts. In 2013, he was named the inaugural Chair of Astrobiology at the Library of Congress. He tweets at @DrFunkySpoon.

This article was originally published in our “Turbulence” issue in July, 2014.

Anthropologies #21: Annual Review of Anthropology, Climate Change, Anthropocene (Savage Minds)

August 31, 2015 / 

To kick off this issue, we begin with Sean Seary’s excellent overview of recent literature about anthropology’s engagement with climate. This review originally appeared on Anthropology Report, has been reproduced here to give us a solid foundation for moving forward. Seary, a recent graduate from Hartwick College, currently lives in Brunswick, Maine. His research interests focus on the convergence of anthropology and climate change. Seary’s work has also been featured on PopAnth. –R.A.

Introduction: Anthropological Interventions

Since the 1960s, global climate and environmental change have been important topics of contemporary scientific research. Growing concerns about climate change have introduced a (relatively) new variable in climate change research: the anthropogenic causes of local-global climate and environmental change. Despite archaeologists providing some of the first research and commentary on climate change–a point that is explored in Daniel Sandweiss and Alice Kelley’s Archaeological Contributions to Climate Change Research: The Archaeological Record as a Paleoclimatic and Paleoenvironmental Archive–the field of climate and environmental change research has been predominantly studied by “natural scientists.” This is where Susan Crate’s Climate and Culture: Anthropology in the Era of Contemporary Climate Change in the 2011 Annual Review of Anthropology intervenes. Crate calls for anthropological engagement with the natural sciences (and vice versa) on global climate change discourse, with the intention of creating new multidisciplinary ethnographies that reflect all the contributors to global environmental change.

Crate’s review begins by stating that the earliest anthropological research on climate change was associated with archaeologists: most of whom studied how climate change had an impact on cultural dynamics, societal resilience and decline, and social structure. Anthropological and archaeological engagement with climate change revolved around how cultures attributed meaning and value to their interpretations of weather and climate. Archaeology has long been working on understanding the relationship between climate, environment, and culture. Historically, archaeologists have worked with “natural” scientists in the recovery of climate and environmental data pulled from archaeological strata (Sandweiss and Kelley 2012:372). Such works include Environment and Archaeology: An Introduction to Pleistocene Geography (Butzer 1964), Principles of Geoarchaeology: A North American Perspective (Waters 1992) and Environmental Archaeology: Principles and Practice(Dincauze 2000). The archaeological record incorporates not only stratigraphic data, but also proxy records. These records contributed to much larger paleoclimate and paleoenvironmental studies, including publications in general science literature like ScienceNature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Sandweiss and Kelley 2012:372; see also the 2013 article in NatureContribution of anthropology to the study of climate change). Conversely, the work of “natural” scientists has also appeared in archaeological literature. Contemporarily, archaeologists have studied the impacts that water (or lack thereof) can have on human-environment interactions, through the study of soil and settlements drawing from case studies in Coastal Peru, Northern Mesopotamia, the Penobscot Valley in Maine, or Shetland Island.

Contemporary anthropological analysis of climate change usually focuses on adaptations towards local climate, temperature, flooding, rainfall, and drought (Crate 2011:178). Climate change impacts the cultural framework in which people perceive, understand, experience, and respond to the world in which they live. Crate believes that because of anthropologists’ ability to “be there,” anthropologists are well-suited to interpret, facilitate, translate, communicate, advocate, and act in response to the cultural implications of global (and local) climate change. Understanding the role that people and culture play in understanding land use changes is crucial to defining anthropology’s engagement with climate change. Anthropologists, as well as scientists from allied disciplines must engage in vigorous cross-scale, local-global approaches in order to understand the implications of climate change (Crate 2011:176).

Crate urges that anthropology use its experience in place-based community research and apply it to a global scale, while focusing on ethnoclimatology, resilience, disasters, displacement, and resource management. By studying people living in “climate-sensitive” areas, anthropologists can document how people observe, perceive, and respond to the local effects of global climate change, which at times can compromise not only their physical livelihood, but also undermine their cultural orientations and frameworks (Crate 2011:179). Anthropology is well positioned to understand the “second disaster,” or sociocultural displacement which follows the first disaster (physical displacement), as a result local environmental and climate change. Some of these “second disasters” include shifts in local governance, resource rights, and domestic and international politics (Crate 2011:180). These “second disasters” present yet another challenge to anthropology’s involvement with global climate change: that global climate change is a human rights issue. Therefore, anthropologists should take the initiative in being active and empowering local populations, regions, and even nation-states to seek redress for the damage done by climate change (Crate 2011:182) It is the responsibility of anthropologists working in the field of climate change to link the local and lived realities of environmental change with national and international policies.

In order to accommodate to the rapidly changing (human) ecology, anthropology is in need of new ethnographies that show how the “global” envelops the local, and the subsequent imbalance (environmental injustice/racism) that it creates during this process. Crate urgently calls for anthropologists to become actors in the policy process, utilizing a multidisciplinary, multi-sited collaboration between organizations, foundations, associations, as well as political think tanks and other scientific disciplines. Anthropology’s task at hand is to bridge what is known about climate change to those who are not aware of its impacts, in order to facilitate a global understanding of climate change and its reach (Crate 2011:184).

Crate’s “Climate and Culture” may not have been the first Annual Review article regarding climate change and anthropology, but it is certainly one of the most urgent and pressing. Crate became a member of the American Anthropological Association’s Global Climate Change Task Force. Their report released in January 2015 sets an ambitious agenda for anthropology and climate change. Crate’s article also became foundational for a thematic emphasis of the 2012 Annual Review of Anthropology, which featured seven additional articles on anthropology and climate change.

Politics of the Anthropogenic

Nathan Sayre’s Politics of the Anthropogenic continues where Crate’s Climate and Culture left off: at the advent of a new form of anthropology, one that utilizes an interdisciplinary approach towards understanding the human ecology in relation to global climate change. Sayre invokes a term which Crate did not use in her review article, but that seems to have increasing salience to anthropology: The Anthropocene. Notably, the idea of the Anthropocene and its relationship to anthropology was also the subject of Bruno Latour’s keynote lecture to the American Anthropological Association in 2014: Anthropology at the Time of the Anthropocene.

Sayre describes the Anthropocene as the moment in history when humanity began to dominate, rather than coexist with the “natural” world (Sayre 2012:58). What defines the Anthropocene as a distinct epoch or era is when human activities rapidly shifted (most often considered the Industrial Revolution) from merely influencing the environment in some ways to dominating it in many ways. This is evident in population growth, urbanization, dams, transportation, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and the overexploitation of natural resources. The adverse effects of anthropogenic climate change can be measured on nearly every corner of the earth. As a result of local environmental change and global climate change, humans, climate, soil, and nonhuman biota have begun to collapse into one another; in this scenario, it is impossible to disentangle the “social” from the “natural” (Sayre 2012:62). Sayre states that anthropology’s role, together with other sciences, in analyzing climate change in the Anthropocene is to understand that there is no dichotomy between what is considered natural and cultural. Understanding the fluctuations in the earth’s ecosystems cannot be accounted for without dispelling the ideological separation between the natural and the cultural. By adopting conceptual models of “climate justice” and earth system science, anthropologists and biophysical scientists can further dispel the archaic dichotomy of humanity and nature.

The atmosphere, the earth, the oceans, are genuinely global commons. However, environmental climate change and the subsequent effects are profoundly and unevenly distributed throughout space and time (Sayre 2012:65). Biophysically and socioeconomically, the areas that have contributed most to global climate change are the least likely to suffer from its consequences. Those who have contributed the least suffer the most. Anthropologists can play an important role in utilizing climate-based ethnography to help explain and understand the institutions that are most responsible for anthropogenic global warming–oil, coal, electricity, automobiles–and the misinformation, lobbying, and public relations behind “climate denialism” in the Anthropocene. This is the first step in seeking redress for the atrocities of environmental injustice.

Evolution and Environmental Change in Early Human Prehistory

Understanding climate change in the Anthropocene is no easy task, but as Richard Potts argues in Evolution and Environmental Change in Early Human Prehistory, humans have been influencing their environments and their environments have been influencing them well before the era that is considered the “Anthropocene.” Throughout the last several million years the earth has experienced one of its most dramatic eras of climate change, which consequently coincided with the origin of hominins. Homo sapiens represent a turning point in the history of protohuman and human life, because of their capacity to modify habitats and transform ecosystems. Now, approximately 50% of today’s land surface is reserved for human energy flow, and a further 83% of all the viable land on the planet has either been occupied or altered to some extent (Potts 2012:152).

Vrba’s turnover-pulse hypothesis (TPH) and Potts’s variability selection hypothesis (VSH) both serve as explanations for the correlation between environmental and evolutionary change. Vrba’s TPH focused on the origination and extinction of lineages coinciding with environmental change, particularly the rate of species turnovers following major dry periods across equatorial Africa. Potts’s VSH focused on the inherited traits that arose in times of habitat variability, and the selection/favoring of traits that were more adaptively versatile to unstable environments (Potts 2012:154-5). There are three ways in which environmental change and human evolution can potentially be linked. First, evolutionary events may be concentrated in periods of directional environmental change. Second, evolution may be elicited during times of rising environmental variability and resource uncertainty. Finally, evolution may be independent of environmental trend or variability (Potts 2012:155). The aforementioned hypotheses and subsequent links between evolution and environmental change help shed light on the origins and adaptations of Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthals. The anatomical, behavioral, and environmental differences between neanderthals and modern humans suggests that their distinct fates reflect their differing abilities to adjusting to diverse and fluctuating habitats (Potts 2012:160). Potts does an excellent job of stating that before the Anthropocene, early Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthals not only impacted and manipulate their surrounding environments, but were (genetically) impacted by their environments.

Sea Change: Island Communities and Climate Change

Heather Lazrus’s Annual Review article Sea Change: Island Communities and Climate Change returns to climate change in the more recent Anthropocene. For island communities, climate change is an immediate and lived reality in already environmentally fragile areas. These island communities, despite their seeming isolation and impoverishment, are often deeply globally connected in ways that go beyond simplistic descriptions of “poverty” and “isolated” (Lazrus 2012:286). Globally, islands are home to one-tenth of the world’s population, and much of the world’s population tends to be concentrated along coasts. Therefore both are subject to very similar changes in climate and extreme weather events. Islands tend to be regarded as the planet’s “barometers of change” because of their sensitivity to climate change (Lazrus 2012:287). Not only are islands environmentally dynamic areas, consisting of a variety of plants and animal species, but they also have the potential to be areas of significant social, economic, and political interest.

Madagascar: A History of Arrivals, What Happened, and Will Happen Next

Madagascar is a fascinating example of sociopolitical and ecological convergence, and is explored by Robert Dewar and Alison Richard in their Madagascar: A History of Arrivals, What Happened, and Will Happen Next. Madagascar has an extremely diverse system of human ecology that is nearly as diverse the island’s topography, environments, and climate. As a product of its physical diversity, the human ecology of Madagascar has a dynamic social and cultural history. In the Southwest, the Mikea derive significant portions of their food from foraging in the dry forest. Outside of most urban areas, hunting and collecting wild plants is common. Along the west coast, fishing is crucial as a central focus of the economy, but also as a supplement to farming. Farmers in Madagascar have a wide range of varieties and species to choose from including maize, sweet potatoes, coffee, cacao, pepper, cloves, cattle, chickens, sheep, goats, pigs, and turkeys (Dewar and Richard 2012:505). Throughout the island, rice and cattle are the two most culturally and economically important domesticates, and are subsequently adapted to growing under the local conditions of the microclimates of Madagascar. Semi-nomadic cattle pastoralism takes place in the drier regions of Madagascar. Whatever the environmental, climatic, social, or economic surroundings may be, Madagascar (as well as other islands) serve as local microcosms for climate change on the global scale. This relates to Crate’s call for an anthropology that brings forth the global array of connections (“natural”/ sociocultural) portraying local issues of climate change to the global sphere.

Ethnoprimatology and the Anthropology of the Human-Primate Interface

Agustin Fuentes’s main arguments in Ethnoprimatology and the Anthropology of the Human-Primate Interface focus on human-induced climate change and how it affects a vast amount of species, including the other primates (Fuentes 2012:110). By getting rid of the ideology that humans are separate from natural ecosystems and the animals within them, then anthropology can better grasp inquiries relating to global climate change within the Anthropocene. Fuentes then goes on to say (similarly to Crate and Sayre) that by freeing anthropological (and other scientific discourse) from the dichotomy of nature and culture, people will fully understand their relationship in the order of primates, but also their place within the environment. Our human capacity to build vast urban areas, transportation systems, and the deforestation of woodland all impact the local environments in which we live, and consequently gives humans an aura of dominance over nature. As Fuentes states, “at the global level, humans are ecosystem engineers on the largest of scales, and these altered ecologies are inherited not only by subsequent generations of humans but by all the sympatric species residing within them. The ways in which humans and other organisms coexist (and/or conflict) within these anthropogenic ecologies shape the perceptions, interactions, histories, and futures of the inhabitants” (Fuentes 2012:110). Essentially, Fuentes points out that humans have dominated ecosystems on a global scale; however, this has impacted not only human populations but also various plant and animals species, as well as entire ecosystems. It is only within the understanding of the symbiotic relationship between human/plants/animals/ecosystems that people will realize their impact on the environment on a global scale.

Lives With Others: Climate Change and Human-Animal Relations

In Lives With Others: Climate Change and Human-Animal Relations, Rebecca Cassidy ties together Fuentes’s arguments with Crate’s by demonstrating how climate change not only impacts people’s physical livelihood, but also their sociocultural lives. Cassidy states that people with animal-centered livelihoods experience climate change on many different levels, and subsequently, climate change may see those animals (or plants) become incapable of fulfilling their existing functions. Societies that are most frequently geopolitically marginalized often are left reeling from the impacts that climate change has on their social, political, economic, and environmental lives (Cassidy 2012:24). The impacts that climate change has on marginalized societies often affects their ability to live symbiotically and sustainably with other species. Human/animal “persons” are conceived to be reciprocal and equal, living in a symbiotic world system, in which their sustenance, reproduction, life, and death are all equally important. The extinction of particular species of animals and plants can cause cosmological crises, as well as disrupt the potential for future adaptability.

Cassidy’s claim that humans, animals, plants, and their environments are reciprocal and symbiotic ties in with Crate’s plea for an anthropology that rids itself of the old dichotomy of the natural and cultural. Crate’s idea for new ethnographies that consider the human ecology of climate change begin by utilizing what Lazrus calls Traditional Environmental Knowledge, or TEK. TEK is “a cumulative body of knowledge, practice, and belief, evolving by adaptive process and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment” (Lazrus 2012:290). TEK utilizes the spiritual, cosmological, and moral practices that condition human relationships with their surrounding physical environments. Such ethnographies should reflect all of the potential contributors to climate change in the Anthropocene, but they should also infuse new urgency to anthropological approaches. As Crate states “anthropologists need to become more globalized agents for change by being more active as public servants and engaging more with nonanthropological approaches regarding climate change” (Crate 2011: 183).

As made evident by the work of Sandweiss and Kelley, anthropology has early roots in climate change research dating back to the 1960s. Since then, anthropology’s contribution to climate change research has been significant, and is now sparking a new generation of engaged anthropology in the Anthropocene.

The Anthropocene debate: Why is such a useful concept starting to fall apart? (Entitle Blog)

July 7, 2015

by Aaron Vansintjan*

Like ‘sustainability’, ‘development’, ‘natural’, or ‘green’, the term is so vague that it can be used by anyone, whether they want to challenge the powers that be, just want to make a quick buck, or score a research grant. While the term can be used to support arguments for action on climate change, it can just as well be used to support digging more oil wells (“oh what the heck, we live in the age of human superiority anyway!”).

In order to keep the ‘bad’ Anthropocene in check, scientists have proposed using airborne particles to deflect sunlight, intentionally altering the atmosphere. Source:

The word “Anthropocene” has become a rallying cry, to many signifying the urgency of action on climate change. The question now is whether we should keep using it.

‘Good’ Anthropocene or ‘Bad’ Anthropocene?

The types of opinions that cluster around the Anthropocene vary. In the book The God Species, prominent environmental writer Mark Lynas argues that, since we are entering into a new, never-seen-before era of human control of the environment, we have the responsibility, duty, and possibility to control it further. He argues that precisely because we are seeing unforeseen problems at a greater scale than anything we’ve ever seen, we will need to use all tools at our disposal. That includes nuclear power and genetic engineering.

Recently, Mark Lynas joined a cohort of other pro-tech scientists, writers, and environmentalists, and helped pen an “eco-modernist manifesto” The authors claim that “modern technologies, by using natural ecosystem flows and services more efficiently, offer a real chance of reducing the totality of human impacts on the biosphere. To embrace these technologies is to find paths to a good Anthropocene.”

The Anthropocene is often used to justify massive geo-engineering schemes, leading to an attitude that Richard Heinberg calls “we’re-in-charge-and-loving-it.”. Source:

Richard Heinberg at the Post-Carbon Institute calls this the “we’re-in-charge-and-loving-it” attitude. To him, this “techno-Anthropocene” argument signifies a brand of scientist who embraces the Anthropocene simply because it gives humans full license to keep terraforming the planet. Heinberg proposes his own version: the “lean-green Anthropocene”, since any feasible techno-solution will be powered by more energy, not less.

Somewhat surprisingly, the term has been eagerly adopted by critical theorists—perhaps too uncritically. Bruno Latour often likes to use the term as a launching point to discuss the new politics that these crises require. Recently, he pushed back against the eco-modernist manifesto, complaining that “to add ‘good’ to Anthropocene was a ridiculous thing to do”. According to Latour, there is only a ‘bad’ Anthropocene. But there is no doubt that there is an Anthropocene.

Prominent political ecology scholars Laura Ogden, Paul Robbins, and Nik Heynen reference the term to support their own arguments that grassroots organisations are the key to resilience and political resistance in this new era. In another article on this blog, Robbins and Sarah A. Moore suggest that while political ecologists and eco-moderns may have differing views, they are both reactions to the reality of the Anthropocene. Slavoj Zizek suggests that the Anthropocene, and the scientists that propose it, make us ask new questions about humans’ relationship to their environment, and our culture’s obsession with the ever-present apocalypse. In another essay, Dipesh Chakrabarty partly challenges the term from a postcolonial perspective, but ends up endorsing it, since it means that everyone (the colonisers and the colonised, the rich and the poor) will be affected by the coming disasters.

I say surprisingly since these same theorists would hesitate to use the words democracy, development, or progress without “scare-quotes”—they specialise in questioning everything under the sun (and rightly so). For them to endorse this new word so uncritically is perhaps the best indication of its widespread appeal.

One geo-engineering proposal would see expensive mirrors launched into space to reflect sunlight. Source:

The politics of climate science

Yet, in the past year—especially the past months—a flurry of critiques of the Anthropocene concept have appeared.

The first key issue is scientific.

Since Paul Crutzen first proposed the term (he suggested it started with the industrial revolution, but then changed his mind claiming that it started with the testing of atomic bombs) scientists have struggled to define what it is exactly and when it started. There is currently no consensus.

The vagueness of the term led to the inability to pin down what it would actually look like, and how it could be measured. Leading scientists have posed the question whether the Anthropocene is really just a ‘pop culture’ phenomenon, or a serious issue of concern for stratigraphers.

Consequentially, these scientific conversations are political in themselves. For many scientists involved, there is a feeling that those advancing the concept are interested more in highlighting the destructive qualities of humans to encourage action on climate change than to define a new scientific term. As such, the Anthropocene once again reveals that science—often claimed to be objective—is driven by, and subject to, personal and political agendas.

Blaming humans, erasing history

But it’s not just because the Anthropocene is politically charged and difficult to pin down that we should think again about using it. There are more troubling issues with the concept that we should be aware of.

First is the concern that the Anthropocene concept ‘naturalizes’ human’s impact on the earth. What does this mean? Essentially, that by saying that this is the ‘epoch of humans’, we are suggesting that all humans are the cause. In other words, that there is something intrinsically bad about humans, where we will always and inevitably leave an imprint on our environment.

At play here is the (very Western) idea that humans are separate from nature, and that either we get back to it or we rise above it. The alternative, as environmental theorist Jim Proctor suggests, is appreciating that the Anthropocene is not ‘because’ of humans. It requires acknowledging that these processes and events are many and they are intertwined—there is no clear separation between nature and culture, between human desires and natural forces.

But what forces should we blame? In all of the climate change research, we are told that it is definitely ‘man-made’. Arguing against this could bring us dangerously close to the denialist road.

It is at this point that we might want to select option (C): ask a historian. James W. Moore, a professor in environmental history, has asked whether we really ought to point the finger at steam engines, atomic bombs, or humanity as a whole. Instead, he argues for a different term altogether: the ‘Capitalocene’: the geological era of capitalism.

In short, it is not because of the steam engine that we saw unprecedented use of fossil fuels—it is rather a system of governance and social organisation that led to the global alterations we are seeing today.

It is strange to see the extent to which these kinds of wider social dynamics are totally obscured in the Anthropocene debate. Many have argued that the invention of fire was the first spark that would inevitably lead to the immense footprint that humans place on the earth. This idea is endorsed by, for example, Paul Crutzen, Mark Lynas, and John R. McNeill.

But to say that the control of fire was a necessary condition for humanity’s ability to burn coal is one thing, to argue that it is the reason why we are currently facing a climate crisis is another. Many Anthropocene proponents tend to reduce complex social and historical processes to simple, reductive explanations. But climate change is not just a matter of humans vs. earth.

Neither is the Anthropocene ‘the new reality’ affecting everyone. Actually, as Andreas Malm and Alf Hornborg point out, because of existing power relationships, the ‘new reality’ will be more ‘real’ for some than for others. For most people, it will mean increased hardship and a fight for survival, while for some there will be easy lifeboats.

In this way, Malm and Hornborg suggest that Dipesh Chakrabarty, the scholar embracing the concept from a postcolonial perspective, should rethink his position: climate change is not, in itself, a universal levelling force, but may instead further exacerbate inequalities between the rich and the poor.

Climate change won’t affect everyone equally. More likely, it will mean that some get lifeboats and others do not. Source:

This leads to a final issue: the problem of politics. If, as many Anthropocene enthusiasts argue, the concept helps people understand the extent of human involvement in the earth’s systems, it also could lead to a promising political conversation, finally alerting those in power that something needs to be done.

But depending on your personal beliefs, the Anthropocene concept will lead you to different conclusions and calls to action. As Ian Angus from Climate and Capitalism argues, ecomodernists have hijacked the term for their own uses. But perhaps it’s the concepts own vagueness that has allowed it to be co-opted in the first place. It’s likely that this vagueness has played at least a small part in both the struggles of scientists to define the term and its chameleon-like ability to fit anyone’s agenda.

Is the term still useful?

It’s hard to say if the term is, on average, inimical to good debate or if it encourages it. But after considering the twists and turns the concept has taken since its inception until its current use, it’s worth taking the critics seriously.

Yes, ‘Anthropocene’ can be useful to tell the history of life on earth. It can also illustrate the extent to which humans have modified the earth’s systems. It also suggests that we can no longer go back to a ‘pristine’ nature that existed before humans, as cultural critics have long suggested. The term is incredibly appealing from a geological perspective, highlighting the fact that humans have made so deep an impact on the earth’s crust that future inhabitants of the earth, when digging, will come across a layer of soil that has ‘human’ written all over it. This geological fact is a useful tidbit to highlight all of the above.

But it doesn’t necessarily, as many have argued, help challenge the systems that perpetuate climate change. Because it applies to humans as a whole, it does not indicate that our problem is political, resting on the uneven distribution of power. In leaving the starting date of the Anthropocene undefined (some say 50 years ago, others say 400 years ago, yet others say 10,000, still others say 50,000), the word fails to highlight the primary actors of today’s ecological crisis.

Like ‘sustainability’, ‘development’, ‘natural’, or ‘green’, the term is so vague that it can be used by anyone, whether they want to challenge the powers that be, just want to make a quick buck, or score a research grant. While the term can be used to support arguments for action on climate change, it can just as well be used to support digging more oil wells (“oh what the heck, we live in the age of human superiority anyway!”).

You might ask, isn’t this the case with all words? Not true. There are plenty of terms that the climate movement is using that are both powerful and are not so easy to appropriate: degrowthclimate justiceecocide, ecological debt, and 350ppm are just few.

Unfortunately, the term ‘Anthropocene’ fails to adequately frame the current situation, and in-so-doing allows anyone to co-opt it for their own solutions. While it has certainly got many people talking, it is neither political nor precise, and therefore may not lead to a very good, or challenging, conversation. And right now we need to have challenging conversations.

*Aaron Vansintjan studies ecological economics, food systems, and urban change. He is co-editor at Uneven Earth and enjoys journalism, wild fermentations, decolonization, degrowth, and long bicycle rides.

A version of this article originally appeared on Uneven Earth.

“A Manifesto for Abundant Futures” (Inhabiting the Anthropocene Blog)

Posted on July 21, 2015

Rosemary-Claire Collard, Jessica Dempsey, and Juanita Sundberg. 2015. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Vol. 105, No. 2, pp. 322-330.
The concept of the Anthropocene is creating new openings around the question of how humans ought to intervene in the environment. In this article, we address one arena in which the Anthropocene is prompting a sea change: conservation. The path emerging in mainstream conservation is, we argue, neoliberal and postnatural. We propose an alternative path for multispecies abundance. By abundance we mean more diverse and autonomous forms of life and ways of living together. In considering how to enact multispecies worlds, we take inspiration from Indigenous and peasant movements across the globe as well as decolonial and postcolonial scholars. With decolonization as our principal political sensibility, we offer a manifesto for abundance and outline political strategies to reckon with colonial-capitalist ruins, enact pluriversality rather than universality, and recognize animal autonomy. We advance these strategies to support abundant socioecological futures.

What becomes of conservation—a field that has long defined itself as protecting nature from humanity—in a time when human impacts reach every corner of the planet?

Many conservationists, it seems, would argue that the defense of natural spaces has never been more urgent than it is now.  As Michael Soulé puts it, “The worth of nature is beyond question and our obligation to minimize its gratuitous degradation is no less.”  Others, however, are disillusioned with the notion of pristine nature and have instead embraced the idea that we live in a “postnatural” world.  “Conservationists,” they argue, “will have to jettison their idealized notions of nature, parks, and wilderness […] and forge a more optimistic, human-friendly vision. […] [We] need to acknowledge that a conservation that is only about fences, limits, and far away places only a few can actually experience is a losing proposition.”

No single factor can account for the emergence of postnatural conservation—resilience theory, postequilibrium ecology, ecosystems services, climate change, and the Anthropocene proposal itself all come readily to mind.  But, whatever its causes, the postnatural turn suggests the prospect of new common ground with environmental social scientists, philosophers, and historians for whom nature has always been a problematic category.  This is, after all, similar to what we’ve been saying all along.

But is the “new” conservation really what we had in mind?  In their new article, “A Manifesto for Abundant Futures,” geographers Collard, Dempsey, and Sundberg raise several important concerns about conservation’s postnatural turn and offer an alternative set of conservation principles.  What I’d like to do here is very briefly highlight their concerns before commenting (again briefly) on their proposed alternatives.

Collard and her colleagues’ concerns about postnatural conservation revolve around its close connection to neoliberal managerialism.  Postnatural approaches to conservation, they explain, usually propose on the use of economic incentives to promote environmentally sustainable practices.  Under this model, human wellbeing is the tide that raises all ecological ships, and economic optimization the standard according to which competing tradeoffs are weighed.  Meanwhile, postnatural conservation breaks with traditional conservation by orienting itself toward the future rather than the past.  Its focus is not on restoring degraded landscapes to a past condition or addressing the historical roots of contemporary problems, but rather on looking hopefully toward a prosperous, globally integrated future.

This combination of anthropocentrism, instrumentalism, futurism, and globalism make postnatural conservation an excellent fit for neoliberal managerialism, not for critical environmental studies.  As a result, “new” conservation may actually reinforce the “old” political-economic system at the root of our global ecological crisis.  These concerns strongly resonate with those I have raised in prior posts.

What, then, is the alternative Collard and her colleagues envision?  I will not attempt a full summary here—the article itself is a great read!  Instead, I will offer a few comments on how their vision of conservation fits into the themes that emerged through our recent Habitation in the Anthropocene project.

History: As a corrective to the ahistorical futurism and market triumphalism of postnatural conservation, the authors center their approach on addressing the accumulated experiences of social and ecological suffering that characterize the Anthropocene.  Instead of bracketing ecocide, they propose looking back to past nonhuman abundance as an aspirational benchmark for the future.  Likewise, they cite work being done by a host of social and environmental justice movements and call for “political struggle grounded in decolonizing” (p. 326).  Not unlike Asa’s post about the “multitemporal” nature of human-environment interactions, the “Manifesto” conditions future habitability on dealing with the complex inheritances of the past.

Future: Like postnatural conservation, Collard and her colleagues seek to foster a sense of hope that the future will be abundant (as per the definition in their abstract).  Their hope, however, is not for a future dominated by economic rationality, but for a plurality of futures where less instrumental and anthropocentric standards for good living have a chance to define abundance in new ways.  In particular, they highlight Leanne Simpson’s work on the Anishinaabeg concept of mino bimaadiziwin, which denotes “promoting life” or “continuous rebirth” and suggests an “alternative to worlds that are enacted through utilitarianism and extraction” (p. 328).  Finally, they do not look to managerial, market-based solutions within the current global system, but instead insist that “creating conditions for abundance necessitates enacting alternatives to imperial capitalism” (p. 323).

Agency: Against the human exceptionalism of postnatural conservation, they make “multispecies entanglements” foundational to their approach.  They tie the wellbeing of humans to that of nonhumans and, in so many words, propose a relational ethics for multispecies cohabitation.  Although they join postnatural conservation in rejecting the concept of wilderness, they seek to preserve that of wildness so as to recognize “animal autonomy,” meaning “the fullest expression of animal life, including capacity for movement, for social and familial association, and for work and play” (p. 328).  Finally, they advocate “acting pluriversally”—an ontological orientation that aims for radical openness to different ways of bringing the world into being.  In this way, their vision leaves open possibilities for multiple, self-determined futures in a way that postnatural conservation does not.

Limits: The authors acknowledge the material limits to habitability—and in particular how these have been reached as a result of capitalist imperialism and experienced most acutely by politically marginalized humans and nonhumans.  However, as my comments above should make clear, their vision focuses mostly on moral limits to habitability, particularly those involving social justice, animal autonomy, and self-determination.

I hope that “A Manifesto for Abundant Futures” will be read widely.  I share with its authors the sense that the Anthropocene is at best “a spark that will light a fire in our imaginaries” (p. 326) and their hope that we can again achieve “a world literally filled to the brim with different creatures” (p. 321).

William Cronon. 1995. “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” In William Cronon, ed., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., pp. 69-90. This highly influential essay historicizes the concept of “wilderness” in the US context and explains why tropes of “pristine nature” are not only empirically misleading but also politically damaging.
Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier, Robert Lalasz. 2012. “Conservation in the Anthropocene.” Breakthrough Journal. Winter issue. Here Kareiva and colleagues lay out a vision for what is referred to above as postnatural conservation.
Michael Soulé. 2013. “The ‘New Conservation’.” Conservation Biology. Vol. 27., No. 5., pp. 895-897. In this op-ed, Soulé, who is considered one of the founders of conservation science, makes a case against postnatural conservation.

James Lovelock: ‘Saving the planet is a foolish, romantic extravagance’ (Newsweek)

By    5/31/15 at 12:22 PM

Scientist James Lovelock

Harry Borden for Newsweek

Jim Lovelock, environmentalist, scientist, and celebrated proposer of the Gaia hypothesis, has always taken the long view of Earth’s future. So it feels appropriate that he should have retired to a coastguard’s cottage perched above Chesil Beach on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast – so called because 180 million years of geological history lie exposed along its cliffs and coves.

This shoreline is constantly eroding. In the winter storms of 2013, Lovelock’s cottage was cut off for four days when the road leading to it was washed into the sea – not that Lovelock, whose latest book is entitled A Rough Ride to the Future, needed any reminder of the precariousness of our world. A decade ago, he predicted that billions would be wiped out by floods, drought and famine by 2040. He is more circumspect about that date these days, but he has not changed his underlying belief that the consequences of global warming will catch up with us eventually. His conviction that humans are incapable of reversing them – and that it is in any case too late to try – is also unaltered. In the week when the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change reported that the world is still miles off meeting its 2030 carbon emission targets, Lovelock cannot easily be dismissed.

There are other doomsayers. What makes this one so unusual is his confounding cheerfulness about the approaching apocalypse. His optimism rests on his faith in Gaia – his revolutionary theory, first formulated in the 1970s, that our planet is not just a rock but a complex, self-regulating organism geared to the long-term sustenance of life. This means, among other things, that if there are too many people for the Earth to support, Gaia – Earth – will find a way to get rid of the excess, and carry on.

Lovelock’s concern is less with the survival of humanity than with the continuation of life itself. Against that imperative, the decimation of nations is almost inconsequential to him. “You know, I look with a great deal of equanimity on some sort of happening – not too rapid – that reduces our population down to about a billion,” he says, five minutes into our meeting. “I think the Earth would be happier … A population in England of five or 10 million? Yes, I think that sounds about right.” To him, even the prospect of nuclear holocaust has its upside. “The civilisations of the northern hemisphere would be utterly destroyed, no doubt about it,” he says, “but it would give life elsewhere a chance to recover. I think actually that Gaia might heave a sigh of relief.”

He is driven, at least in part, by a deep affinity for the English countryside. When he warns that sea levels are rising three times faster than the first climatology models predicted, and that this threatens “an awful lot of land north of Cambridge that is one or two meters below sea level”, you sense that he really cares about that landscape’s fate. No doubt he inherited this affection, along perhaps with a certain independence of spirit and thought, from his father. Born in West Berkshire in 1872, Lovelock senior grew up as a “hunter-gatherer” in support of his impoverished family, until, aged 14, he was caught poaching and imprisoned in Reading for six months. “I am very proud of that first part of my father’s life,” he says.

Like others of his generation, Lovelock mourns the changes to the countryside wrought by the post-War agricultural revolution. As a young man in the 1930s, he recalls, he cycled from Kent to the West Country, when England was “unbelievably beautiful”. “It all looks very green and pleasant around here,” he adds, waving at the gentle downland beyond his kitchen window, “but it’s nothing compared to what it used to be”.

Like Gaia, he has evidently developed certain stratagems for the sustenance of life. One would not guess from his appearance that he will be 96 this year. With his American wife Sandy, who is 20 years his junior, he still walks to the village shops each Saturday, a round-trip of six miles; and his intellectual vigour is so unimpaired that conversing with him soon makes the head spin.

Japan Earthquake and tsunami 2011

While the 2011 Japan earthquake caused devastation, Lovelock observes that “zero” have died of radiation from FukushimaThe Asahi Shimbun via Getty

He contends that the end of the world as we know it began in 1712, the year the Devonshire blacksmith Thomas Newcomen invented the coal-powered steam engine. It was the first time that stored solar energy had been harnessed in any serious way, with effects that now “grip us and our world in a series of unstoppable events. We are like the sorcerer’s apprentice, trapped in the consequences of our meddling”. Newcomen’s discovery set in train more than just the era of industrial development. It also marked the start of a new geological epoch, the “Anthropocene”, the most significant characteristic of which, Lovelock believes, has been the emergence of “an entirely new form of evolution” that is one million times faster than the old process of Darwinian natural selection.

He points out that for half a century now, computing power has roughly doubled every two years – a trajectory of growth known as Moore’s Law – and that computers are already capable of many actions far beyond what humans can do. In his scariest scenario, which sounds disturbingly close to the premise of the Arnie Schwarzenegger Terminator movies, he warns that computers could morph into an autarkic life form powerful enough to “destroy us, our carbon life forms, and inherit the Earth”. Luckily he thinks this outcome unlikely, and in the end has no fear of the Rise of the Machines. “Computers are entirely rational creations. But true intelligence, the ability to create and to invent, is intuitive – and you can’t do rational intuition.”

On the other hand, his preferred prediction for humanity is scarcely less disturbing. He foresees the evolution of a man-machine hybrid by a process of endosymbiosis that, he argues, has already begun. “I am already endosymbiotic. I’m fitted with a pacemaker. It runs on a 10-year lithium battery, but the next generation will have its own power supply drawn from the body. I’m already worried about being hacked … Fairly soon, I think, the internet is going to be fully embedded in our bodies.”

Looking further still into the future, he says that life on Earth, based as it presently is on carbon, cannot last beyond 100 million years, because by then it will be too hot. The evolution of a different life form based on some more heat-resistant element – such as electronic silicon – could potentially extend life by another 500 million or even a billion years.

But first, of course, mankind has to survive the immediate global warming crisis. Lovelock is a famously outspoken critic of the green energy revolution, especially wind power, which he describes as “an absolute scam. A great big German scam”. The purveyors of wind turbines and solar panels, he says, are like 18th-century doctors trying to cure serious diseases with leeches and mercury. Instead he wants us to embrace nuclear fission, a completely clean energy source that he regards as a “gift”. The Western world’s prejudice against nuclear – underscored earlier this year when the number of reactors in the US dipped below a hundred for the first time in decades – is “tragic”.

German windmills, Dessau

Lovelock says wind power is a “great big German scam”Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

“What gets my goat are the lies peddled about Fukushima [the Japanese nuclear reactor disaster of 2011]. Do you know how many people died of radiation? Zero. Not one – although there were 50-odd suicides among people driven to it by fear. Nuclear energy is actually 10 times safer, per GigaWatt hour of production, than wind power. Yet France and Germany responded to Fukushima by temporarily shutting down their entire nuclear industries. It makes no sense.” The reason, he thinks, is public ignorance, combined with a form of green politics that amounts to a “new religion – the same force that drives jihadists in Syria”. It is, he agrees, a paradox that the new accessibility of information brought about by the internet revolution has intensified, not diminished, the old battle between science and superstition. “There’s a campaign in our village to stop a new mobile phone mast. The electromagnetic radiation it will emit is trivial. It’s comparable to a household television. Yet the campaigners say it can give you cancer. This is about fear – not facts.”

With one or two exceptions such as Margaret Thatcher and Germany’s Angela Merkel, both of whom studied chemistry, he thinks our leaders are just as bad. “If you talk to any politician, American or British or European, they are absolutely blind on matters of science,” he says. He reserves special ire for Tony Blair, “the really mad prime minister” who, swayed by green ideology and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, passed legislation subsidising the renewable energy sector, which made fresh investment in the nuclear industry almost impossible. (This, he argues, is one reason why the heating costs of an average house in the UK are up to 10 times greater than in America, which, overall, has a colder climate. For many years, he asserts, the Lovelocks wintered in St Louis, Missouri, purely in order to avoid British heating bills.)

But even a wholesale switch to nuclear power, in his view, would come too late to solve humanity’s principal problem, which is overpopulation. The old post-war goal of sustainable development, he says, has become an oxymoron and should be abandoned in favour of a strategy of sustainable retreat. He is scathing about the very idea of “saving the planet”, which he calls “the foolish extravagance of romantic Northern ideologues”. The vast sums of money being invested in renewable energy would be much better spent on strategies designed to help us survive and adapt, such as flood defences.

Above all, he thinks that we should embrace the ongoing global shift towards urban living. It would, he insists, be far easier and more economic to regulate the climate of cities than our current strategy of attempting to control the temperature of an entire planet. The regions beyond the cities would then be left to Gaia to regulate for herself. It seems a sci-fi fantasy, rather like Mega-City One from the pages of Judge Dredd, a post-apocalypse megalopolis shielded from the “Cursed Earth” beyond by massive boundary walls. But, in fact, the concept is not so futuristic. Noah, arguably, had a similar idea when he built the ark.

It is certainly not a new concept to Lovelock, who wrote a paper for the oil multinational, Shell, as far back as 1966 in which he predicted that the cities of the future would become much denser, and that Shell would be making plenty of money out of “the avoidance of ecological disaster”. The fictional Mega-City One held 800 million citizens, and incorporated the entire eastern seaboard of the United States. Lovelock points that the average population density of England is higher than that of greater Boston. His 1966 paper, which was recently reprinted by Shell, no longer looks as fantastical as it once did.

Singapore, he suggests, shows us how a city can succeed in an overheated climate. The trend there for building underground, as well as in places like Japan and even London (albeit for different reasons), might be part of the same process of adaptation. Architectural practices from the past might also offer clues to a sustainable retreat in the future. The streets of the medieval Dalmatian island town of Korcula, for instance, follow a unique herringbone plan designed to capture and channel the prevailing, cooling sea breeze.

Nature offers models for future city architecture, too. Lovelock is much taken at the moment with termites. Their mounds, he says, are built like the cities of the future might be. Like Korcula, they are oriented towards the prevailing wind. They also tend to lean towards the zenith of the sun, to minimise exposure to its rays at the hottest time of the day – a stratagem that perhaps has its analogue in a recent suggestion by the Scottish nationalist politician Rob Gibson, who wants all new housing estates to be orientated towards the south in order to maximise the efficiency of rooftop solar panels.

(In London, meanwhile, the architects NBBJ recently proposed building the world’s first “shadowless skyscraper” by building two towers – one to block out the sun, the other to reflect light down into the shadow of the first).

More interesting still, a recent paper in Science magazine has shown that termite mounds, once thought to be a sign of encroaching desertification, may actually have the ability to stabilise or even reverse the effects of climate change by trapping rainfall. “Termites are very Gaian,” Lovelock enthuses. “There are these wonderful pictures of little plants growing up between the termite cities. You could look at that as a nice future for humans.”

So does Lovelock really think that humanity could end up mimicking social insects? A dumbed-down world inhabited by worker drones might be environmentally efficient, but what about the surrender of privacy that would imply; isn’t the sublimation of individuality too high a price to pay? How could such a society ever throw up a Beethoven, a Shakespeare, or an Einstein? “That’s true, and of course it depends how far down this track we choose to go,” says Lovelock, “but do you think that evolution, as a process, gives two hoots about any of that?”

This is, to be sure, a reductive view of human existence. A man in the twilight of his years, as Lovelock is, might feel a sense of futility. Instead he maintains a steady wonder at what he calls “the ineffable: a lovely word, don’t you think?” while apparently seeking no earthly legacy beyond a modest hope that he will be remembered as having been consistent in his arguments.

As a man of science, he remains agnostic on the subject of God. And yet, he says, “I am beginning to swing round, to think more and more, that there’s something in Barrow and Tipler’s cosmic-anthropic principle – the idea that the universe was set up in such a way that the formation of intelligent life on some planet somewhere was inevitable … The more you look at the universe, the more puzzling it is that all the figures are just right for the appearance on this planet of people like us.”

For the time being our species may be, as he has written, “scared and confused, like a colony of red ants exposed when we lift the garden slab that is the lid of their nest”. But he is also content to be one of those ants, because he sees a kind of beauty in that confusion – and perhaps even some sort of grand design. “Humanity may be as important to Earth, to Gaia, as the first photo-synthesisers,” he thinks. “We are the first species to harvest information … that is something very special.”

Above all he is convinced that mankind can recover itself – and in this he may be a product of his vanishing generation. Some years ago, at a lecture in Edinburgh, I heard him reminisce how marvellously the British nation had pulled together when threatened by Nazi invasion, but that it had taken that existential threat to make them do so. When the climate crisis finally breaks, he believes, the world’s differences will again be put aside – and our species, for all its present idiocies, will pull together in a way that will astonish the cynics among us.

Schizoanalysis as Anthro-Ecology (Synthetic Zero)

May 31, 2015

WILD ECOLOGIES - Featured Post #3: Edmund Berger with an in-depth 
analysis of Guattari's 'ecosophy' and possible points of connection, 
overlap and divergence from anarchist thought.  


How does one begin to broach the question of linkage, passage, and reflexivity to be found in the theories and practices of anarchism, the radical post-psychoanalysis of Felix Guattari, and the ontological framework that has been ushered in the necessity of acknowledging the forces that we label “the Anthropocene”? The overlaps between each are undeniable: in was ecological concerns that late in his life Guattari turned his mind to; the field that his work is commonly situated – the school of post-structuralism – is often affiliated with anarchism of the so-called “post-left” variety. That Guattari was closely aligned with the Italian Autonomia, which the post-left anarchists owe much of their discourse to, is no passing coincidence. We can also note the presence of “green anarchism” under the post-left label, alongside the controversial, anti-civilizational stance espoused by anarcho-primitivism. Yet we can see clearly that this triad of eco-ontology, Guattari, and anarchism have yet to really have the dialogue that they deserve.

On even a surface level reading the commonalities between each point is immediately clear: none points to a resolving synthesis in thought or being. The Anthropocene has brought us full circle and pried open what was also present but shunted aside by the progress of the West – that civilization and nature are not separate, and that civilization and culture exist entangled in the complex web of the ecology itself, defined as it is by various states of emergence. Anarchism, regardless of which of the many monikers it adapts, is at its core a program that is constantly evading and contesting the centralizing and homogenizing forms of the state itself. Guattari, meanwhile, shifts these focuses to the levels of individuals and group’s subjecthood, looking to move from fixed and stable states to ones far from equilibrium. Keeping in tune with the manner in which each point in this triad presents itself as an ongoing unfolding, this essay will attempt no resolute synthesis. I am more concerned in this moment with simply tracing out a constellation of convergences and patterns, looking for possibilities of a minor politics for the Anthropocene.


From beginning to end, Guattari’s work centered on the problems of psychology, even if his approach appeared – and continues to appear – utterly alien to the orthodox scriptures put forth by the orthodoxy of psychoanalysis. He can best be understood as playing the role not of a psychoanalytic atheist (denouncing the whole paradigm, as those of anti-psychiatry are oft to appear), or the agnostic, undecided and wavering back and forth, but the heretic, positioning himself within the discourse but enacting a virulent rebellion against the limitations and interpretations of the primary institutions. While psychoanalysis enacts a practice of steering, moving the divergent subjectivity back into the confines deemed acceptable by civilization (that is, the body as laboring force for productivity), Guattari offers instead a schizoanalysis that renounces steering and searches for ways to unleash the subjectivity in a way that moves against civilization and its regime of production. Each step in his work covers a different region in which outside forces are capable of opening up subjectivity. In Anti-Oedipus (co-authored with Gilles Deleuze in 1972) this took the form of a revolt against Freud psychoanalysis and capitalism, curtesy of Marx, Nietzsche, and a radicalized anthropology. In A Thousand Plateaus (co-authored again with Deleuze, in 1980) a schizoanalytic framework is shown that denies the difference between scales, disciplines, arts and sciences. After his encounter with the Autonomia and their pirate radio programs, media became situated front and center. In 1989 he published the Three Ecologies, turning to the complexity of nature and the cosmos to illustrate the full scope of his project. Much of this work is a natural progression from his work on media technologies, as clear in the book’s opening line: “The Earth is undergoing a period of intense techno-scientific transformations. If no remedy is found, the ecological disequilibrium this has generated will ultimately threaten the continuation of life on the planet’s surface.”[1]


For Guattari the remedy to this state of affairs is not to be found in the technocratic solutions offered by the state and the monoliths of capitalism. It will be found instead in what he calls a practice of ecosophy, that is, a shifting mediation between three intertwining registers: “the environment, social relations and human subjectivity.”[2] This affair, however, is not as simple as it initially appears. Each of these ecological registers, in turn, is largely contingent upon relations with the others. We can read of this entanglement right at the outset of his earliest work with Deleuze, Anti-Oedipus:

…we make no distinction between man and nature: the human essence of nature and the natural essence of man become one within nature in the form of production or industry, just as they do within the life of man as a species. Industry is then no longer considered from the extrinsic point of view of utility, but rather from the point of view of its fundamental identity with nature as production of man and by man… man and nature are not like two opposite terms confronting one another… rather, they are one and the same essential reality producer-product.[3]

Human subjectivity and the social too work in the manner of relationity and encounter. In what he would later call his schizoanalytic cartographies, Guattari maps out the way that subjectivity comes into being, through a series of becomings that emerge from assemblages and states of flows: the territories in which the bodies exist and their own relations to nature, the codification of these territories by state form and cultural constructs, the intimate interactions between bodies, media and technology, architecture and aesthetics, the flows of capital, so on and so forth. As Foucault would so eloquently illustrate, the state of the subject itself is a composition that is molded and enforced by the apparatuses of state and industry; the subject itself can operate as confinement, reproducing through the activities of daily life the demands of regimented production itself. The schizoanalytic cartographies themselves are designed to model (or better, meta-model), these assemblages and apparatuses that work upon the subject in order to find a point of exit, towards other ways of articulating life and existence.  In other words, this particular heresy becomes one of mutation, in which subjectivity transforms into something revolutionary and imperceptible.

cartographies-schizoanalytiques (1)

In his last work, Chaosmosis (1992), Guattari alludes to the schizoanalytic cartographies as an “ecosophic object”, illustrating that the two approaches (the three ecologies and the cartographies) are inseparable entities. This is further compounded by the fact that The Three Ecologies was originally slated to be a chapter in the book titled Schizoanalytic Cartographies, and was published separately at the urging of Paul Virilio.[4] While the prudent thing to do here might be to stop and look at the cartographies themselves,[5] and look at their alignment with the processes laid out within The Three Cartographies, I would like to stop and examine the way in which the schizoanalytic program itself developed at different stages in Guattari’s oeuvre, looking at the way in which it unfolded in different historic moments and terrains of leftist struggle.

Revolutionary Science

Schizoanalytic Cartographies, The Three Ecologies debuted against the escalation of what Guattari described as “integrated world capitalism”, a total planetary marketization that “tends increasingly to decentre its sites of power, moving away from structures producing goods and services towards structures producing signs, syntax and – in particular, through the control which it exercises over the media, advertising, opinion polls, etc. – subjectivity.”[6]  Integrated world capitalism goes by many different names to be applied in different contexts: for the spread of markets, it is “globalization,” to describe the particularities of its govermentality the term “neoliberalism” is preferred. For the transnationalization of production itself, it is “post-Fordism”, for the role of signs, it is “semiocapitalism”. For the ascendancy of intellectual labor through the growth of the so-called ‘white collar’ jobs (primarily finance and I.T. work), it is “cognitive capitalism”. From the perspective of civil societies made global through information technologies, it is the rather ambiguous “network society”.

It is Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus that is the great text of the network society, written right at the point in which this particular mode of production was first coming into existence. The schema of the network itself is found in the figure of the rhizome, which anticipates not only the eventual structuring of the internet but the way the social itself operates on a globalized level: “any point of the rhizome can be connected to any other, and must be… a rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles.”[7] While this is the most commonly remember aspect of the book, it is, all in all, one of the lesser moments; the real purpose of A Thousand Plateaus is to show the central role of new technologies and cutting-edge sciences in bringing this science into fruition, and the ways in which these sciences and technologies can be repurposed towards revolutionary ends.

Looking backwards, we can find this same effort at work in Anti-Oedipus as well. As the title of the work implies, the target of attack here is Oedipus, understood as what Lacan would call the “symbolic order” – the rule of language and law, the ‘orderly conduct’ of civilizational affairs that becomes internalized within the subject and conflated with the state of nature. Elsewhere they remark that Oedipus is the operation of the double-bind, a theory of schizophrenia first identified by Gregory Bateson. As Deleuze and Guattari summarize:

Double bind is the term used by Gregory Bateson to describe the simultaneous transmission of two kinds of messages, one of which contradicts the other, for example the father who says to his son: go ahead, criticize me, but strongly hints that all effective criticism – at least a certain type of criticism – will be very unwelcome. Bateson sees in this phenomena a particularly schizophrenizing situation…[8]


Deleuze and Guattari hold Bateson up as an example of deterritorialization, a flight of becoming from the enforced territories of being and thought. Indeed, Bateson not only finds a theory of schizophrenia in the double-bind, but also a remarkable congruence with the Zen koans given to the pupil by the master. If the double-bind in Western civilization leads to psychosis, in the East it leads to Enlightenment: “We feel that the schizophrenic finds himself continually in the same situation as the pupil but he achieves something like disorientation rather than enlightenment.”[9] Bateson would go to find a variety of overlaps between experiences of madness and schizophrenia with initiation rites in other societies; following in these footsteps, R.D. Laing would build a differing school of psychoanalysis that points away the confines of civilization, indicating the direction that schizoanalysis would eventually take.

Through Deleuze and Guattari’s usage of Bateson we can discern in their text a reaction to a specific mode of machinic configuration or arrangement. The machine in question here is less a literal machine and more of a metaphor for systems: that of cybernetics, a sciences of feedback loops, first identified by Norbert Wiener but quickly applied throughout the military, industry, and governance. For Bateson, however, the realization that action derives from interacting agents in a system opened an ontological horizon that could only be described in cosmological terms: systems now could be understood as self-regulating, utilizing the dynamics of positive and negative feedback to reach homeostatic states, as well self-organizing, capable of shifting homeostatic states towards “new patterns” and complexity. An ecology, he reasons, acts as an aggregate of many subsystems bound up in interaction operating across a variety of scales. We shouldn’t think of this ecology strictly in terms of the environment, for the environment itself is one of these parts; it also includes culture, social bodies, and importantly for Bateson, the mind itself. The Cartesian foundation of Western thought, which posits the separation of the physical body from its essence – the mind or soul – becomes unglued in these systems. While the state sought to deploy systems thinking to reinforce its governmental apparatuses and capital looked to streamline its profit producing capabilities, Bateson was charting far-out territories where the boundaries between the human and the non-human dissolve, right down to the molecular level.

Bateson’s so-called “second-order cybernetics” foreshadowed a whole realm of scientific theorizing that would emerge across the 1970s and 80s, going by names such as chaos theory, complexity theory, and emergence. Returning to Deleuze and Guattari, we can draw a resemblance between his ecology of aggregates and the machinic ecologies of flows discussed in Anti-Oedipus: Oedipus, the symbolic order, is a force that blocks the flows, framing them in a way to produce the subject. As a double bind, it assumes the function of the homeostat and prevents or wards off attempts to organize to patterns different from this equilibrium. The openings towards complexity and emergence, however, provided schizoanalytic praxis will a new scientific vocabulary to draw upon, expressed most clearly in A Thousand Plateaus.


This influence is found primarily in the chapters of the book focusing on the war machine, that is, minotorian or nomadic bands that can be defined by their degrees of separation from the state. This, incidentally, is also the point in which Deleuze and Guattari appear at their most anarchist. These two points convergence on the acknowledgement that absolute control is an impossibility; as long as there are states, there will be war machines that flee from it. The state here, that Oedipal function, seeks homeostasis but the war machine can disrupt equilibria, triggering processes of self-organization towards new states. “From turba to turbo: in other words, from bands or packs of atoms to the great vortical organizations. The model is a vortical one; it operates in an open space throughout which things-flows are distributed, rather than plotting out a closed space for linear and solid things.”[10]

To further draw out their point, Deleuze and Guattari plot out a dialectic of royal sciences and nomad sciences. We can see how the developments from cybernetics onward can easily reflect both paradigms: for the military looking to maximize its command and control over an environment, managing feedback between movements on the territory and weaponry became paramount. For the government, cybernetics allowed new means to articulate the organizations of power and the constituency, while in the market, feedback systems allowed rapid developments in everything from pricing stock market options and derivatives to the management of logistics for global production chains. These royal applications find their nomadic compliment in cybernetic’s application in all sorts of far-off territories: Stafford Beer’s holism and the Chilean CyberSyn experiment, “cybernetic guerrilla warfare”, R.D. Laing and Gregory Bateson… “What we have… are two formally different conceptions of science, and, ontologically, a single field of interaction in which royal science continually appropriates the contents of vague or nomad science while nomad science continually cuts the contents of royal science loose. At the limit, all that counts is the constantly shifting borderlands.”[11]

Cosmos against Civilization

I must confess a strong suspicion for political discourse that relies heavily on a rhetoric of self-organization. It appears, particularly in the wake of the developments in the economy from the 1990s onward,that such discourse closely to the spectacular logic of neoliberal capitalism itself, which in the technological evolution of integrated world capitalism strives to be an ontological horizon in its own right – a self-organizing system of human interaction that corresponds to the activities of nature. This trajectory can trace its origins back to the economic theories of F.A. Hayek (if not earlier) and his extensive borrowings from early systems thinking. In his methodological individualism, Hayek conflates the self-organizing principles with an atomist understanding of the individual, where agency emerges from not only as a radical force from within (as opposed agency emerging from relations within assemblages and aggregates), but from a Cartesian split between the human and non-human, civilization and nature.

Another problem from a differing perspective is that Guattari seems to take the possibilities inherent in information technology a little too strongly at their face value, seeing the inevitably of critical mutations of subjectivity riding the wave of their development. He guiding points in this techno-optimism were the experiences of Radio Alice in Italy, the usage of the French Minitel system by activist networks, and the growth of online community message boards spring up around groups and interests that appeared marginal against the greater cultural backdrop. Such things were evident, he argued, that minotorian groups could shape the future deployment of media technologies in a way free from statecraft, unleashing a thousand subaltern subjectivities.

This techno-optimism was, however, a cautious one, as he expressed only several times over the course of his later books: “The post-mediatic revolution to come will have to be guided to an unprecedented degree by those minority groups which are still the only ones to have realized the mortal risk for humanity of questions such as: the nuclear arms race; world famine; irreversible ecological degradation; mass-mediatic pollution of collective subjectivities.”[12] Part of this minotorian becoming, he insisted, could come from within movements of capitalism across the globe. In this regard Japan’s unique culture, a collision of the archaic and the hypermodern, was held up as an exemplar of mutant subjectivity that contrasted sharply the capitalist vision of the west. “Might Japanese capitalism,” he posed, “be a mutation resulting from the monstrous crossing of animist powers inherited from feudalism during the ‘Baku-han’ and the machinic powers of modernity to which it appears everything here must revert?”[13]


While there much to say on this idiosyncratic fascination with Japan, it is on this broader point of animism that I now wish to focus. Guattari’s late writings are peppered with references to the possibility of machinic subjectivities that have more in common with those of archaic societies than the contemporary postmodern malaise. He maintained a strong interest in the cosmological belief systems of the Australian Aborigines, which had developed at the time he was preparing the materials for Schizoanalytic Cartographies. To quote anthropologist Barbara Glowczewski at length,

The message that I brought back from Australia after my first field trips in 1979 and 1980 related to the ancestral connections with the land, which Aboriginal people experienced as a moving network: a real ontology in which humans, animals, plants, water and the whole of social life are thought of as the actualization of virtualities that are constantly in feedback with the space-time of Jukurrpa, the itineraries of ancestral travelers called Kangaroo, Plum or Digging-Stick Dreaming. These beings and the tracks of their voyages are effectively defined as being in becoming: sleeping in hundreds of places, springs, rocks, and interacting with humans in their own dreams and rituals, which aim to reinforce the links between all living things. Dreaming was practised as a means of regenerating life. My 1981 thesis Le rapport au temps et à l’espace des Aborigènes d’Australie (The Relation of Australian Aborigines to Time and Space) aimed to demonstrate that this dynamic process – mistakenly described by most anthropologists as ‘out of time’ – was intrinsic to the traditional vision of the world. I also demonstrated the active role of women – whose power had been denied (and continues to be denied) – in these societies. I utilized Guattari’s conception of the flux of desires to account for the mythic networks and to analyse numerous rituals: including the circulation among allies of hair strings as women’s non-alienable possessions, or a secret cult which, dreamed following the wrecking of a ship (Koombanah) deporting Aboriginal people in 1912, had journeyed among different languages groups as a symbolic form of economic transformation producing a double law, including that of the White men. Two years after I defended my thesis, I received a surprise phone call from Guattari, whom I hadn’t yet met. He invited me to his seminar to discuss my thesis, a copy of which he had received from his friend the video-maker François Pain and which he had just read in one sitting.[14]

Shortly thereafter Glowczewski arrived at the La Borde clinic to present her thesis before the patients, who, she recounted, had “a surprisingly intuitive understanding of the Aboriginal aims and workings of these social games and rituals.”[15] For the Aboriginals, all things radiate from the Dreamtime; all social structure, by extension, becomes articulated in terms of a singular family – extremely different from the nuclear family so savagely critiqued all the way back in Anti-Oedipus. This unique form of animism indicates as well that the binary division between the human and the nonhuman elements that compose the territory are largely inseparable, since they come from and will return to the same place.

SYDNEY OLYMPICS -- Sept. 15, 2000 -- Performers during the

Glowczewski not only mentions that Guattari’s interest in the” Aborigines would foreshadow the politics of intertwining described in The Three Ecologies, but that his enthusiasm for the totemic paths and the use of dreams by the Warlpiri was stimulated, by, among other things, the fact that the kinship system – which extends to all the totems (Dreamings) and their associated places – seems to favour social strategies that prevent centralized structures of domination”[16] What Glowczewski is describing here is the influence of anthropologist Pierre Clastres, whose work on ‘primitive’ societies had greatly influenced Deleuze and Guattari. Focusing primarily on Amerindians and particularly those of Amazonia, Clastres illustrates that through kinship structures, the subpolitics of chieftanship, and war as social force the formal organization of the state is prevented at every point in which it could emerge. In his words these societies are, in fact, societies without states.

Using anthropological study to elucidate several key aspects in anarchist theory, Clastres argues that the state-form itself is indistinguishable, particularly where the Western state is involved, from ethnocidal practices of colonization: ethnocide, which is the elimination of the Other or difference to protection the interest of the same, “is clearly a part of the essence of the State…”[17] The state for Clastres is an extension of ethnocentric culture, formed with this culture becomes a property unto itself. It intrinsically forms itself against the Other, assembling itself higher on a hierarchical ladder and grants itself the enlightened goal of managing and correcting the Other’s perceived primitivism. In the case of Western civilization, the rapid expansion and deployment of both ethnocide and genocide under the colonialist banner is directly tied to the growth necessary for the reproduction of capitalist production, as so many Marxist theories of imperialism have waged. Clastres: “What differentiates the West is capitalism, as the impossibility of remaining within a frontier, as the passing beyond of all frontiers… Industrial society, the most formidable machines of production, is for that very reason the most terrifying machine of destruction. Races, societies, individuals; space, nature, forests, subsoils: everything is useful, everything must be used, everything must be productive, with productivity pushed to its maximum rate of intentsity.”[18]

In Anti-Oedipus (a book praised by Clastres), Deleuze and Guattari link this colonialist mentality to the relationship between capitalist production, the state, and Oedipus:

The colonizer… abolishes the chieftainship, or uses it to further his own ends (and he uses many other things besides: the chieftainship is only the beginning). The colonizer says: your father is your father and nothing else, or your maternal grandfather – don’t mistake them for chiefs; you can go have yourself triangulated in your corner, and place your house between those of your paternal and maternal kin; your family is your family and nothing else; sexual reproduction no longer passes through those points, although we rightly need your family to furnish a material that will be subjected to a new order of reproduction. Yes, then, an Oedipal framework is outlined for the dispossessed primitives: a shantytown Oedipus.[19]

Furthermore, they assert, the colonized continually resist Oedipus, fighting back at each turn, either in large, collective movements such as the anti-colonialist revolts of the 1960s, or the private moments of rebellion, as analyzed by Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth. Just as the schizo can retreat from the civilizing double-bind while the psychoanalyst attempts to ‘(re)colonize his or her mind, the resistance to the state on the part of the Others is “schizoanalysis in action.”[20]

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In A Thousand Plateaus, the two take up again the question of Clastres’ anthropology in their discussion of the war machine. This time, archaic societies ability to evade the state composes the actions of the war machines themselves, nomad movements that constantly overflow the limits but are also sought to be captured by the state. “War machines take shape against the apparatuses that appropriate the war machine and make war their affair and their object: the bring connections to bear against the great conjunction of the apparatuses of capture and domination.”[21] We can now grasp the unification of the archaic and the (post)modern machinic in Guattari’s later work – in A Thousand Plateaus we see two functions of the war machine. On one hand, it is their relationship to these anarchic functions of the anti-state social formations, constantly deterritorializing away from centralization. On the other hand, it is the relationship (which we must acknowledge is only partly a metaphor) between the war machine and nomad science – the sciences of self-organization and emergence, particularly in the contexts in which they break through the boundaries that the apparatuses of Western civilization seek to impose on them. In the era of media-information technologies, intricately bound to these sciences as they are, it is the minor groups that act of the war machine, becoming visible and communicable through the powers of the network. All too unfortunately, the apparatus of capture has appeared to be wildly successful.

The reader might ask, what then of animism? What is the relationship between animist subjectivity and the societies that reject the state, the war machine? Here the writings of Guattari, with or without Deleue, cease to be as instructive as they have to do this point. This is by no means the end of our constellation – the way forward is by looking now to the thinkers who probe these similar areas, pushing thought into new divergent directions by drawing in equal measures the ontological ecologies generated by the nomad sciences and the perspectives articulated by non-Western societies, who to this day exist in extreme danger of disappearance from both capitalism’s insatiable thirst for resources for growth and the ecological reactions to this megamachine.

It is Eduardo Vivieros de Castro, an expert on Amerindians, who insists that “animism is the ontology of societies without a state.”[22] does he mean by this? The state, he holds, can be defined by interiority. For capitalism, all things can be made to be interior to its complex assemblages, while the modern liberal stateform, which seeks to pluralistically manage differences, seeks to act as the universal mediator of social relations within its territories, while seeking to make its outside assimilate to its scripture – in other words, following the spatial expansion of capital, the state too wants to bring the outside into its interior. On the molecular, the self too is defined as interiority, interior to the body in accordance with the Cartesian rationalization that separates body and mind. This molecular rendering, in turn, is plugged into the state-capitalist machine: it is the source of the atomist thought, retained by Hayek, that transformed the subjectivity into a rational actor, primed for the permanent utopia of the market.


In animism, however, this interior exists nowhere – all things are outside, or more properly, in the relationship between things in the outside. In Amerindian belief bodies “are not thought as given but rather as made.”[23] The primordial stuff in which the body and its soul – of which there is zero division – is the stuff of the world itself, limited not only to the physicality of matter but also to the substance of the spiritual. Here too we find zero lines demarcating the division of matter from spirit, as all things are forever being made – the body, culture, nature, all are perfomative and unfolding in a process of worlding. Neither subject nor object, but entanglement and unfolding.

Phillipe Descola argues that this worldview emerges precisely because of these cultures emergence from spaces of complex ecosystems – “Might the apparent inability to objectivize nature of many Amazonian peoples be a consequence of the properties of their environment?”[24] What’s at stake in this observation is representationalism, which aims to separate all things, make them objects, quantifiable, and subject to control via discursive practices. The linguistic turn in critical theory, which took aim at the power of discursivity, managed only to muddy these waters by trapping discourse at the level of the signifier. This turn, however, connects the discursive to matter, making matter matter. Maurizio Lazzarrato: “we must move beyond both language and semiotics.”[25]

de Castro insists that “Not only would Amerindians put a wide birth between themselves and the Great Cartesian Divide which seperates humanity from animality, but their views anticipate the fundamental lessons of ecology which we are now only in a position to assimilate.”[26] Furthermore, their eco-cosmological perspective “reveals itself as the universal admixture of subject and objects, humans and non-humans against modern hubris, the primitive and postmodern ‘hybrids’, to borrow a term from Latour. Next to Latour we could make a list of thinkers that either anticipated or are fully engaged with this posthuman, perfomative turn: Deleuze and Guattari, Donna Haraway, Andrew Pickering, Karen Barad, Timothy Morton, so on and so forth – in short, a roster of the new ontologies that have informed and shaped much critical contemporary critical debate. The key becomes, however, not isolating this debate away into the halls of the academy, which will simply serve to ‘Oedipalize’ and regulate their function at the level of circulating signs. Instead, it becomes imperative not to simply think of these texts, and debate it. The purpose is think alongside action, to see where they meet the infrastructural systems forming in the era of late neoliberalism.

For de Castro, the translation of performativity into anthropology goes by the label “perspectivism”, which he describes as a “cosmology against the state”.[27] While perspectivism is a practice of knowing the subaltern or those operating on what appears to us to be an outside, it also performs a dual political role by bringing to us realizations of being and becoming utterly foreign to our perception. It provides, in its own way, a blueprint for living in a way that differs from capitalist realism. For this reason perspectivist anthropology, in de Castro’s own words, is a nomad science, as described in A Thousand Plateaus. And like schizoanalysis, the purpose is one of decolonization, of restarting the flows that have been blocked in the name of civilized progress.

For me, anthropology is in fact the theory—to sound a bit like Trotsky—the theory of a permanent decolonization. A permanent decolonization of thought. That is anthropology for me. It is not a question of decolonizing society, but of decolonizing thought. How to decolonize thought? And how to do it permanently? Because thinking is constantly recolonized and reterritorialized… What does it mean to live in a society without a state, against the state? We don’t have any idea. You have to live there to see how things happen in a world without a state. In a society that is not only lacking the state but, as Clastres thought, is against the state because it is constituted precisely on the absence of the state. Not because of the lack of a state, but upon the absence of the state, so that the state cannot come into existence. And animism has to do with that.[28]

[1] Felix Guattari The Three Ecologies Athlone Press, 2000, pg. 27

[2] Ibid

[3] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Penguin Classics, 2009, pgs. 4-5

[4] Francois Dosse Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: Intersecting Lives Columbia University Press, 2010, pg. 391

[5] See Brian Holmes “Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Cartographies (or, the Pathic Core at the Heart of Cybernetics)” Three Crises; as well as my own “How Does Schizoanalysis Work? (or, “how do you make a class function like a work of art?”) Deterritorial Investigations Unit,

[6] Guattari The Three Ecologies pg. 47

[7] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia University of Minnesota Press, 1989, pg. 6-7

[8] Deleuze and Guattari Anti-Oedipus pg. 76

[9] Gregory Bateson, Don D. Jackson, Jay Haley, and John Weakland “Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia” Behavioral Science, 1956, pg. 5

[10] A Thousand Plateaus pg. 361

[11] Ibid, pg. 367

[12] quoted in Gary Genosko “The Promise of Post-Media” in Clemens Apprich, Josephine Berry Slater, Anthony Iles and Oliver Lerone Schultz (eds.) Provocative Alloys: A Post-Media Anthology Mute, 2013, pg. 20

[13] quoted in “Japanese Singularity”, in Gary Genosko Felix Guattari: An Aberrant Introduction Continuum, 2002, pg. 142

[14] Barbara Glowczewski “Guattari and Anthropology: Existential Territories among Indigenous Australians” in Eric Alliez and Andrew Goffey (eds.) The Guattari Effect Bloomsbury, 2011, pg. 102

[15] Ibid, pg. 103

[16] Ibid, pg. 102

[17] Pierre Clastres “On Ethnocide” in Archeology of Violence Semiotext(e), 2010, pg. 111

[18] Ibid, pg. 112

[19] Deleuze and Guattari Anti-Oedipus pg. 169

[20] Ibid, pg. 167

[21] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

[22] Angela Melitopoulos and Maurizio Lazzarato “Assemblages: Felix Guattari and Machinic Animism” e-Flux July, 2012

[23] Eduardo Viveiros de Castro Cosmological Perspectivism in Amazonia and Elsewhere: Four lectures given in the Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge University, February-March 1998 Hau-Net, 2012, pg. 123

[24] Phillipe Descola Beyond Nature and Culture University of Chicago Press, 2013, pg. 11

[25] Maurizio Lazzarato Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of SubjectivitySemiotext(e), 2014, pg. 17

[26] Eduardo Viveiros de Castro “Cosmological Deixis and the Amerindian Perspectivism” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Sep., 1998), pg. 475

[27] Eduardo Viveiros de Castro “The Untimely, Again” introduction to Clastres Archeology of Violencepg. 48

[28] Melitopouos and Lazzarato “Assemblages”

Previsão do clima: terremotos intermitentes (Folha de S.Paulo)

Marcelo Leite, 03/05/2015  01h57

Depois de Katmandu, o terremoto no Nepal sacudiu também uma noção preconcebida comum entre jornalistas de ciência – esta coluna, por exemplo, foi abalada por um tuíte de Matthew Shirts, que levava para uma reportagem da revista “Newsweek”.

A leitura do texto, “Mais Terremotos Fatais Virão, Alertam Cientistas da Mudança do Clima”, trouxe à memória um momento constrangedor. Que o relato sirva para desencorajar nossa tendência a acreditar em verdades estabelecidas.

Certa vez um colega de redação perguntou se eu poderia escrever para explicar por que tsunamis estavam se tornando mais frequentes e qual era a relação disso com o aquecimento global. Segurei a vontade de rir e expliquei, condescendente, que processos climáticos não tinham o poder de desencadear eventos geológicos.

Não é bem assim. Há pesquisadores respeitáveis investigando a hipótese de que a mudança climática deflagrada pelo aquecimento global possa, sim, tornar terremotos e erupções vulcânicas mais frequentes.

Não seria nada inédito na história da Terra. Um exemplo recentíssimo na escala geológica (o planeta tem mais de 4 bilhões de anos) ocorreu entre 20 mil e 12 mil anos atrás, ao término do último período glacial.

A retração de geleiras continentais com quilômetros de espessura aliviou a pressão sobre a crosta terrestre o bastante para desencadear intensa atividade vulcânica. Há boas evidências disso em lugares como a Islândia.

O geólogo britânico Bill McGuire tem uma teoria ainda mais preocupante. Ele acha que a elevação dos mares em 100 m, causada pelo derretimento das calotas de gelo, teria deflagrado também terremotos e tsunamis (o que poderia repetir-se a partir de agora, com o aquecimento da atmosfera).

O imenso volume de água adicionado aos oceanos, ao pressionar suas bordas, teria desestabilizado as falhas geológicas próximas da costa, causando os tremores e colapsos submarinos que levantam ondas colossais. Mas a hipótese de McGuire, detalhada no livro “Acordando o Gigante”, ainda carece de medições e dados para ser aceita.

No caso do terremoto de Katmandu, o mecanismo pressuposto para pôr a culpa no clima é outro: chuva. Não uma pancada qualquer, mas as poderosas monções que castigam Índia e Nepal de junho a agosto.

Tamanho volume de água, que perde só para o movimentado na bacia Amazônica, seria capaz de alterar o balanço do estresse entre as placas Indo-Australiana e Asiática. O geólogo argelino Pierre Bettinelli, então no CalTech, mostrou que a atividade sísmica nos Himalaias é duas vezes mais intensa no inverno e atribuiu isso à gangorra de pressões entre os dois lados da falha tectônica.

Falta provar, claro. Mas que é instigante, isso é.

Quanto a terremotos causados pelo aquecimento global, ninguém precisa sair comprando kits de sobrevivência. O degelo da última glaciação demorou milhares de anos, e as piores previsões para a subida no nível dos oceanos indicam não muito mais que 1 m ou 2 m até o final deste século.

Ninguém está a salvo de tsunamis, porém. Há alguma chance – uma vez a cada 10 mil anos, talvez – de que o litoral brasileiro seja atingido por um deles, como pode ter ocorrido com São Vicente em 1541, após cataclisma nalgum ponto do Atlântico.