Arquivo da tag: Fim do mundo

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.


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.

The Anthropocene as Fetishism (Mediations)

Daniel Cunha

“A society that is always sicker, but always stronger, has everywhere concretely re-created the world as the environment and decor of its illness, a sick planet.”1

The “Anthropocene” has become a fashionable concept in the natural and social sciences.2 It is defined as the “human-dominated geologic epoch,” because in this period of natural history it is Man who is in control of the biogeochemical cycles of the planet.3The result, though, is catastrophic: the disruption of the carbon cycle, for example, leads to a global warming that approaches tipping points that might be irreversible.4 The exponential growth of our freedom and power, that is, of our ability to transform nature, is now translated into a limitation to our freedom, including the destabilization of the very framework of life. It reaches its highest degree with the problem of global warming.5 In this context, it becomes clear that the Anthropocene is a contradictory concept. If the “human-dominated geologic epoch” is leading to a situation in which the existence of humans might be at stake, there is something very problematic with this sort of domination of Nature that reduces it to a “substrate of domination” that should be investigated.6 Its very basic premise, that it is human-dominated, should be challenged — after all there should be something inhuman or objectified in a sort of domination whose outcome might be human extinction.

What is claimed here is that, exactly as for freedom, the Anthropocene is an unfulfilled promise. The same way that freedom in capitalism is constrained by fetishism and class relations — capitalist dynamics are law-bound and beyond the control of individuals; the workers are “free” in the sense that they are not “owned” as slaves, but also in the sense that they are “free” from the means of production, they are deprived of their conditions of existence; the capitalists are “free” insofar as they follow the objectified rules of capital accumulation, otherwise they go bankrupt — so is the social metabolism with Nature. Therefore, I claim that the Anthropocene is the fetishized form of interchange between Man and Nature historically specific to capitalism, the same way as the “invisible hand” is the fetishized form of “freedom” of interchange between men.

Since primitive accumulation, capital caused a metabolic rift between Man and Nature. It was empirically observable at least since the impoverishment of soils caused by the separation between city and countryside in nineteenth-century Great Britain.7 In the twenty-first century, though, this rift is globalized, including critical disruptions of the carbon cycle (global warming), the nitrogen cycle, and the rate of biodiversity loss that implies that humanity is already outside of a “safe operating space” of global environmental conditions.8 The Anthropocene, appears, then, as the globalized disruption of global natural cycles — and, most importantly, not as a (for whatever reason) planned, intentional, and controlled disruption, but as an unintended side effect of social metabolism with Nature that seems to be progressively out of control. It can easily be illustrated with examples. In the case of the carbon cycle, the burning of fossil fuels is carried out as an energy source for industrial and transport systems. Massive coal extraction began in England during the Industrial Revolution so that, with this new mobile energy source, industries could move from near dams to the cities where cheap labor was.9

There was no intention to manipulate the carbon cycle or to cause global warming, or any consciousness of it. The result, though, is that, in the twenty-first century, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is already beyond the safe boundary of 350 ppm for long-term human development. As for the nitrogen cycle, it was disrupted by the industrialization of agriculture and fertilizer production, including the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen with the Haber-Bosch process. Again, there was no intention or plan to control the nitrogen cycle, to cause eutrophication of lakes, or to induce the collapse of ecosystems. Once again, the boundary of sixty-two million tons of nitrogen removed from the atmosphere per year is by far already surpassed, with 150 million tons in 2014.10 A similar story could be told about the rate of biodiversity loss, and the phosphorous cycle and ocean acidification are following the same pattern. The “human-dominated” geologic epoch, in this regard, seems much more a product of chance and unconsciousness than of a proper control of the global material cycles, in spite of Crutzen’s reference to Vernadsky’s and Chardin’s “increasing consciousness and thought” and “world of thought” (noösphere). “They do not know it, but they do it” — this is what Marx said about the fetishized social activity mediated by commodities, and this is the key to a critical understanding of the Anthropocene.11

In fact, Crutzen locates the beginning of the Anthropocene in the design of the steam engine during the Industrial Revolution.12 However, instead of seeing it as a mere empirical observation, the determinants of the “human-dominated” geologic epoch should be conceptually investigated in the capitalist form of social relations. With his analysis of fetishism, Marx showed that capitalism is a social formation in which there is a prevalence of “material relations between persons and social relations between things,” in which “the circulation of money as capital is an end in itself.”13 Capital is the inversion where exchange value directs use, abstract labor directs concrete labor: a social formation in which the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite,” and its circulation as money and commodities for the sake of accumulation constitutes the “automatic subject,” “self-valorizing value.”14 Locating the Anthropocene in capitalism, therefore, implies an investigation into the relation between the Anthropocene and alienation, or, as further developed by the late Marx, fetishism.15 This is the core of the contradictions of the “human-dominated” geologic epoch. According to Marx, the labor-mediated form of social relations of capitalism acquires a life of its own, independent of the individuals that participate in its constitution, developing into a sort of objective system over and against individuals, and increasingly determines the goals and means of human activity. Alienated labor constitutes a social structure of abstract domination that alienates social ties, in which “starting out as the condottiere of use value, exchange value ended up waging a war that was entirely its own.”16 This structure, though, does not appear to be socially constituted, but natural.17 Value, whose phenomenic form of appearance is money, becomes in itself a form of social organization, a perverted community. This is the opposite of what could be called “social control.”18 A system that becomes quasi-automatic, beyond the conscious control of those involved, and is driven by the compulsion of limitless accumulation as an end-in-itself, necessarily has as a consequence the disruption of the material cycles of the Earth. Calling this “Anthropocene,” though, is clearly imprecise, on one hand, because it is the outcome of a historically specific form of metabolism with Nature, and not of a generic ontological being (antropo), and, on the other hand, because capitalism constitutes a “domination without subject,” that is, in which the subject is not Man (not even a ruling class), but capital.19

It is important to note that fetishism is not a mere illusion that should be deciphered, so that the “real” class and environmental exploitation could be grasped. As Marx himself pointed out, “to the producers…the social relations between their private labors appear as what they are, i.e., as material relations between persons and social relations between things”; “commodity fetishism…is not located in our minds, in the way we (mis)perceive reality, but in our social reality itself.”20 That is why not even all scientific evidence of the ecological disruption, always collected post festum, is able to stop the destructive dynamic of capital, showing to a caricatural degree the uselessness of knowledge without use.21The fact that now “they know very well what they are doing, yet they are doing it” does not refute, but rather confirms that the form of social relations is beyond social control, and merely changing the name of the “Anthropocene” (to “Capitolocene” or whatever) would not solve the underlying social and material contradictions.22 Value-directed social production, that is, production determined by the minimization of socially necessary labor time, results in an objectified mode of material production and social life that can be described by “objective” laws. Time, space, and technology are objectified by the law of value. Of course the agents of the “valorization of value” are human beings, but they perform their social activity as “character [masks],” “personifications of economic relations”: the capitalist is personified capital and the worker is personified labor.23 The fetishistic, self-referential valorization of value through the exploitation of labor (M-C-M’) with its characteristics of limitless expansion and abstraction of material content implies the ecologically disruptive character of capitalism, that is, that in capitalism “the development of productive forces is simultaneously the development of destructive forces.”24 Self-expanding value creates an “industrial snowball system” that is not consciously controlled, “a force independent of any human volition.”25 In this context, it is not a surprise that the disruption of global ecological cycles is presented as the “Anthropocene,” that is, as a concept allusive to a natural process. That Man is presented as a blind geologic force, such as volcanic eruptions or variations in solar radiation, is an expression of the naturalized or fetishized form of social relations that is prevalent in capitalism.

Therefore, the technical structures with which Man carries out its metabolism with Nature is logically marked by fetishism. As Marx noted, “technology reveals the active relation of man to nature, the direct process of the production of his life, and thereby it also lays bare the process of the production of the social relations of his life, and of the mental conceptions that flow from those relations.”29 In capitalism, production processes are not designed according to the desires and needs of the producers, ecological or social considerations, but according to the law of value. Taking as an example the world energy systems, it has been demonstrated that there is no technical constraint to a complete solar transition in two or three decades if we consider the use-value of fossil and renewable energies (their energy return and material requirements), that is, it is technically feasible to use fossil energy to build a solar infrastructure to provide world energy in a quantity and quality sufficient for human development.27 This transition, which from the point of view of use-value or material wealth is desirable, necessary, and urgent (due to global warming) is not being carried out, though, because fossil energy is still more prone to capital accumulation, to the valorization of value: capital went to China to exploit cheap labor and cheap coal, causing a strong spike in carbon emissions on the eve of a climate emergency, in a clear display of fetishistic irrationality.28 More generally, the American ecologist Barry Commoner showed that in the twentieth century many synthetic products were developed (such as plastics and fertilizers) that took the place of natural and biodegradable products. However, the new products were not better than the old ones; the transition was only carried out because it was more lucrative to produce them, although they were much more polluting and environmentally harmful — in fact it is shown that these new technologies were the main factor for the increase of pollution in the United States, more than the increase in population or consumption.26

Of course the law of value does not determine only the final products, but also the production processes, which must be constantly intensified both in terms of rhythms and material efficiency, if not in terms of the extension of the working day. Already, in his day, Marx highlighted the “fanaticism that the capitalist shows for economizing on means of production” as they seek the “refuse of production” for reuse and recycling.30 However, under the capitalist form of social production, productivity gains result in a smaller amount of value created per material unit, so that it fosters enlarged material consumption.31 This general tendency is empirically observable in the so-called Jevons Paradox, when efficiency gains eventually result in a rebound effect, increased material production.32 It was first shown by William Stanley Jevons, who presented data that demonstrate that the economy of coal in steam engines during the Industrial Revolution resulted in increased coal consumption.33 What in a conscious social production would be ecologically beneficial (increased efficiency in resource use), in capitalism increases relative surplus-value, and therefore reinforces the destructive limitless accumulation of capital and a technological system that is inappropriate in the first place. It is astonishing that many environmentalists still preach efficiency as an ecological fix, without noticing that the capitalist social form of wealth (value) turns productivity into a destructive force.

Even the way capitalism deals with the problem of pollution is configured by alienation: everything can be discussed, but the mode of production based on commodification and maximization of profits. As production is carried out in competing isolated private production units, socio-technical control is limited to external control, through state regulations that enforce end-of-pipe technologies and market mechanisms. The Kyoto Protocol is the best example of market mechanism. It represents the commodification of the carbon cycle, establishing the equivalence principle, the very form of commodity fetishism, in a sort of stock exchange of carbon. Therefore, it implies a whole process of abstraction of ecological, social, and material qualities to make possible the equivalence of carbon emissions, offsets, and carbon sinks located in very different ecological and social contexts. The abstraction process includes the equalization of emission reductions in different social and ecological contexts, of emissions reductions carried out with different technologies, of carbon of fossil origin and biotic origin, the equalization of different molecules through the concept of “carbon equivalent” and a definition of “forest” that does not include any requirement of biodiversity.34

However, as with any commodity in capitalism, use-value (carbon emissions reductions) is governed by exchange-value. The fetishistic inversion of use-value and exchange-value that characterizes capitalism implies that the effective goal of the whole process of emissions trading comes to be money, not emissions reduction. Empirical examples abound. The trading scheme does not present any incentive for long-term technology transition, but only for short-term financial earnings (time is money). Offsets in practice allow polluters to postpone a technological transition, while the corresponding Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project probably generates a rebound effect that will foster fossil fuel deployment in developing countries.35 Easy technological reductions, such as burning methane in landfills, allow the continuation of carbon emissions by big corporations. Some industries earned more profits mitigating emissions of HFC-23 than with the commodities they produced, while generating huge amounts of offsets that again allow polluters to keep up with their emissions.36 And the comparison of projects with baseline “would be” scenarios even tragically allows the direct increase of emissions, for example, by financing coal mines that mitigate methane emissions. And more examples could be cited. The fact that global warming is determined by cumulative emissions in any meaningful human time-scale reveals the perverse effects of this exchange-value−driven scheme: delays in emissions reductions today constrain the possibilities of the future.37Again, as could be grasped beforehand with a simple theoretical Marxian critique, exchange-value becomes dominant over use-value, as the allocation of carbon emissions is determined not by socio-ecological criteria, but according to the valorization requirements or by “the optimized allocation of resources” — when the global carbon market hit the record market value of 176 billion dollars in 2011, the World Bank said that “a considerable portion of the trades is primarily motivated by hedging, portfolio adjustments, profit taking, and arbitrage,” typical jargon of financial speculators.38 Kyoto, with its quantitative approach, does not address, and hampers, the qualitative transition that is necessary to avoid a catastrophic climate change, that is, the solar transition. Even though substantial amounts of capital are mobilized with the trading schemes, global carbon emissions continue to increase.

In this scenario, it is increasingly likely that the application of an end-of-pipe technology might be necessary. With the rise of the Welfare State and ecological regulation, a myriad of such technologies were used to mitigate industrial emissions to water, air, and soil — air filters, wastewater treatment plants, etc. The problem is that these technologies can only be applied in particular corporate units if it is feasible in the context of value-driven production, that is, only if it does not jeopardize the profitability of corporations. It happens, though, that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is still too expensive to be used in production units or transport systems. Therefore, what comes to the fore is geoengineering, the ultimate end-of-pipe technology, the technological mitigation of the effects of carbon emissions on a planetary scale, the direct manipulation of world climate itself — with the use of processes such as the emission of aerosols to the stratosphere to reflect solar radiation, or the fertilization of oceans with iron to induce the growth of carbon-sequestering algae.39 Its origins can be traced back to the Vietnam War and Stalinist projects, and one of its first proponents was Edward Teller, the father of the atomic bomb.40 There are huge risks involved in this approach, as the climate system and its subsystems are not fully understood and are subject to non-linearities, tipping points, sudden transitions, and chaos. Besides, climate system inertia implies that global warming is irreversible in the time scale of a millennium, so that such geoengineering techniques would have to be applied for an equal amount of time, what would be a burden for dozens of future generations.41 In case of technological failure of the application of geoengineering, the outcome could be catastrophic, with a sudden climate change.42

Considering its relatively low cost, though, it is likely that capitalism assumes the risk of business as usual in order to preserve its fetishistic quest for profits, keeping geoengineering as a sort of silver bullet of global warming.43 Of course there is the frightening possibility of combining geoengineering and trading schemes, so that geoengineering projects could generate carbon credits in a competitive market. That was the idea of Planktos Inc. in a controversial experiment of ocean fertilization, that alludes to a dystopian future in which world climate is manipulated according to the interests of corporate profits.44 It is clear that capitalist control of pollution, either through market mechanisms or state regulations, resembles the Hegelian Minerva’s Owl: it only (re)acts after the alienated process of production and the general process of social alienation. However, if the core of destructiveness is the fetishistic process itself that is reproduced by trading schemes, and end-of-pipe technologies are subject to failure and complex dynamics that are not rationally accessible to the time scales of human institutions (at least in their current forms), both market and state mechanisms might fail in avoiding a catastrophic climate change.

Future projections of global warming by neoclassical economists reveal the alienated core of the Anthropocene in its very essence. In integrated climate-economic models such as the ones developed by William Nordhaus and Nicholas Stern, the interest rate ultimately determines what is acceptable in terms of atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases and its related impacts (coastal inundations, biodiversity loss, agricultural disruption, epidemic outbreaks, etc.), as “cost-benefit analyses” discount future impacts and compound present earnings.45 But as shown by Marx, the interest is the part of the profit that the industrial capitalist pays to the financial capitalist that lent him money-capital in the first place, after the successful valorization process.46 Interest-bearing capital is value that possesses the use-value of creating surplus-value or profit. Therefore, “in interest-bearing capital the capital relationship reaches its most superficial and fetishized form,” “money that produces money,” “self-valorizing value.”47 Interest-bearing capital is the perfect fetishistic representation of capital, as the automatic geometric progression of surplus-value production, a “pure automaton.”48Correspondingly, the determination of future social metabolism with Nature by the interest rate is the ultimate expression of the fetishistic character of this historical form of social metabolism with Nature, that is, of the fetishistic core of the so-called Anthropocene, no matter the magnitude of the interest rate. In capitalism the interest rate is determinant of investments and allocation of resources, and overcoming this is not a matter of moralistically (and irrealistically) using a lower magnitude for the interest rate as Stern does, but of overcoming the capitalist mode of production itself.49

Future scenarios determined by the interest rate ultimately negate history, since only in capitalism the interest rate is socially determining, as it is capital in its purest form. While in capitalism interest-bearing capital becomes totally adapted to the conditions of capitalist production, and fosters it with the development of the credit system, in pre-capitalist social formations, “usury impoverishes the mode of production, cripples the productive forces.”50This is so because in capitalism credit is given in the expectation that it will function as capital, that the borrowed capital will be used to valorize value, to appropriate unpaid “free” labor, while in the Middle Ages the usurer exploited petty producers and peasants working for themselves.51 The determination of future social metabolic relation with Nature by the interest rate is thus an extrapolation of the capitalist mode of production and all of its categories (value, surplus-value, abstract labor, etc.) into the future, the fetishization of history — again, this is in line with the term Anthropocene, that makes reference to an ahistorical Man.

Besides, the sort of cost-benefit analysis that Nordhaus and Stern carry out tends to negate not only history, but matter itself, as the trade-off of the degradation of material resources with the abstract growth implies the absolute exchangeability between different material resources, and hence between abstract wealth (capital) and material wealth, which in practice is a false assumption. For example, the most basic natural synthetic process necessary for life as we know on Earth, photosynthesis, is not technologically substitutable, that is, no amount of exchange-value could replace it.52 Besides, synthesizing the complex interactions and material and energy fluxes that constitute ecosystems of different characteristics and scales, with their own path-dependent natural histories, is not at all a trivial task — material interactions and specificity are exactly what exchange-value abstracts from. What this sort of analysis takes for granted is commodity-form itself, with its common substance (value) that allows the exchange between different material resources in definite amounts, detached from their material and ecological contexts. But it is this very detachment or abstraction that leads to destructiveness. “The dream implied by the capital form is one of utter boundlessness, a fantasy of freedom as the complete liberation from matter, from nature. This ‘dream of capital’ is becoming the nightmare of that from which it strives to free itself — the planet and its inhabitants.”53

Last but not least, capital is also trying to increase its profits exploiting the very anxiety caused by the prospect of the ecological catastrophe, as an extension of the production of subjectivity by the culture industry.54 For example, Starbucks cafés offer their customers a coffee that is a bit more expensive, but claim that part of the money goes to the forest of Congo, poor children in Guatemala, etc. This way, political consciousness is depoliticized in what is called the “Starbucks effect.”55 It can also be seen in commercial advertisements. In one of them, after scenes depicting some kind of undefined natural catastrophe intercalated with scenes of a carpenter building an undefined wooden structure and women in what seems to be a fashion show, the real context is revealed: the models are going to a sort of Noah’s Arc built by the carpenter, so that they can survive the ecological catastrophe. The purpose of the advertisement is finally disclosed: to sell deodorant — “the final fragrance.” The slogan — “Happy end of the world!” — explicitly exploits the ecological collapse to sell commodities.56 Opposition and political will themselves are being seduced to fit into the commodity form, even pervading climate science itself. Some scientists seem to notice this pervasive pressure of economic fetishism over science when they state: “liberate the science from the economics, finance, and astrology, stand by the conclusions however uncomfortable” or “geoengineering is like a heroin addict finding a new way of cheating his children out of money.”57Decarbonization is always challenged to be “economically feasible.” What is necessary, though, is that a more radical critique come to the fore in the public debate, an explicitly anticapitalist stance that refuses the requirements of capital accumulation in the definition of socio-environmental policies — not the least because it seems it is already impossible to reconcile the limitation of global warming to two degrees Celsius and simultaneously keep “economic growth.”58

It must be highlighted that the fetishization here described and its ecological destructiveness are a historical development, specific to capitalism, and that is why it can be overcome: the social metabolism with nature is not necessarily destructive. Commodity fetishism and labor as the social-mediating category (abstract labor) are historically specific to capitalism, and began with primitive accumulation.59 The Anthropocene as the globalized disruption of Nature is the externalization of alienated labor, its logical material conclusion.60 Overcoming it requires the reappropriation of what has been constituted in alienated form, that is, the decommodification of human social activity or the overcoming of capitalism.61 Technology so reconfigured and socialized would no longer be determined by profitability, but would be the technical translation of new values, and would tend to become art.62 Instead of being determined by the unidimensional valorization of value, social production would be the outcome of a multiplicity of commonly discussed criteria, ranging from social, ecological, aesthetic, and ethical considerations, and beyond — in other words, material wealth should be freed from the value-form. Technologies such as solar energy, microelectronics, and agroecology, for example, could be used to shape a world of abundant material wealth and a conscious social metabolism with Nature — a world with abundant clean renewable energy, abundant free social time due to the highly automated productive forces, and abundant food ecologically produced, under social control.63

Then and only then Man could be in conscious control of planetary material cycles and could use this control for human ends (even if deciding to keep them in their “natural” state). In fact, this means taking the promise of the Anthropocene very seriously, that is, Man should take conscious control of planetary material cycles, extend the terrain of the political hitherto left to the blind mechanics of nature and, in capitalism, to commodity fetishism.64 And this not only because the productive forces developed by capitalism allow it — although up to now we do it without conscious social control — but also because it might be necessary. Civilization is adapted to the Holocenic conditions that prevailed in the last ten thousand years, and we should be prepared to act to preserve these conditions that allow human development, or mitigate sudden changes, because they could be challenged not only by human (fetishized) activity, but also by natural causes, what already occurred many times in natural history (such as in the case of glacial-interglacial cycles triggered by perturbations in Earth’s orbit, or the catastrophic extinction of dinosaurs due to a meteor impact).65 The (fetishized) “invisible hand” and the (fetishized) “Anthropocene” are two faces of the same coin, of the same unconscious socialization, and should both be overcome with the communalization of social activity, that is, the real control of planetary material cycles depends on conscious social control of world production.

It should be emphasized that what is here criticized as “fetishism” is not merely the imprecise naming of the “Anthropocene,” but the form of material interchange itself. And yet what emerges here is a truly utopian perspective, the promise of the realization of the Anthropocene, not as an anthropological constant or a “natural” force, but as a fully historical species-being that consciously controls and gives form to the material conditions of the planet. If, as put by the young Marx, alienated labor alienates Man’s species-being, the liberatory reorganization of social-material interchange would unleash the species potential that is embedded, though socially negated, in the “Anthropocene.”66Geoengineering and advanced technology in general freed from value-form and instrumental reason could be used not only to solve the climate problem, but also, as Adorno wrote, to “help nature to open its eyes,” to help it “on the poor earth to become what perhaps it would like to be.”67 Advanced forces of production imply that Fourier’s poetic utopian vision recalled by Walter Benjamin could be materialized:

cooperative labor would increase efficiency to such an extent that four moons would illuminate the sky at night, the polar ice caps would recede, seawater would no longer taste salty, and beasts of prey would do man’s bidding. All this illustrates a kind of labor which, far from exploiting nature, would help her give birth to the creations that lie dormant in her womb.68

Even the elimination of brutality in nature (predation) and the abolition of slaughterhouses through the production of synthetic meat nowadays seem within theoretical reach with “genetic reprogramming” and stem-cell technology. That goes beyond the wildest Marcusean utopian dreams.69 Of course, this requires a social struggle that subverts the production determined by the valorization of value and frees, first of all, human potential. On the other hand, with business as usual, we are likely to see our material future on Earth being determined by the interest rate, emergency geoengineering, and chance.

  1. Guy Debord, The Sick Planet, trans. Not Bored (2006 [1971])
  2. I would like to thank Cláudio R. Duarte, Raphael F. Alvarenga, Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro, and the anonymous reviewers for the valuable suggestions.BACK
  3. Paul Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind,” Nature 415 (2002) 23.BACK
  4. David Archer, The Global Carbon Cycle (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2010), and James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009). BACK
  5. Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times (New York: Verso, 2010) 333.BACK
  6. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: PhilosophicalFragments. Trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002 [1947]) 6.BACK
  7. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume III, trans. David Fernbach (London: Penguin, 1991 [1894]) 949, and John Bellamy-Foster, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York: Monthly Review, 2000). BACK
  8. Johan Rockström et al., “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” Nature 461 (2009): 472-75, and Will Steffen et al. (2015), “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet,” Science 347: 6223 (13 February 2015).BACK
  9. Andreas Malm, “The Origins of Fossil Capital: From Water to Steam in the British Cotton Industry,” Historical Materialism 21:1 (2013): 15-68. BACK
  10. Steffen et al., “Planetary Boundaries.”BACK
  11. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, as per first German edition, trans. Albert Dragstedt (n. d. [1867]).BACK
  12. Crutzen, “Geology.” BACK
  13. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I. Trans. Ben Fowkes. (London: Penguin, 1990 [1867]) 166, 253. BACK
  14. Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, 175, 255.BACK
  15. For a discussion of the continuity between the Marxian concepts of alienation and fetishism, see Lucio Colletti’s introduction in Karl Marx, Marx’s Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton (London: Penguin, 1992 [1844]).BACK
  16. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, trans. D. Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone, 1994 [1967]) 46. See also Moishe Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993), and Anselm Jappe, Les aventures de la marchandise: Pour une nouvelle critique de la valeur (Paris: Denoël, 2003): 25-86.BACK
  17. Postone, Time 158-60. BACK
  18. Jappe, Les aventures 25-86. BACK
  19. Robert Kurz, Subjektlose Herrschaft: zur Aufhebung einer verkürzten Gesellschaftskritik, EXIT! (1993).BACK
  20. Capital, Volume I 166 (emphasis added), and Žižek, End Times 190. BACK
  21. Debord, Sick PlanetBACK
  22. Slavoj Žižek, Mapping Ideology (New York: Verso, 1994) 8.BACK
  23. Capital, Volume I 179, 989. BACK
  24. Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (New York: St. Martin’s, 1999) 79-98, and Robert Kurz, Schwarzbuch Kapitalismus (Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn, 2009 [1999]) 10. BACK
  25. Kurz, Schwarzbuch 218, and John Holloway, Crack Capitalism (New York: Pluto, 2010) 146.BACK
  26. Capital, Volume I 493n4. BACK
  27. Peter D. Schwartzman and David W. Schwartzman, A Solar Transition Is Possible(London: IPRD, 2011), and Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, “A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030,” Scientific American (Nov. 2009): 58-65BACK
  28. Andreas Malm, “China as Chimney of the World: The Fossil Capital Hypothesis,” Organization and Environment 25:2 (2012): 146-77, and Daniel Cunha, “A todo vapor rumo à catástrofe?” Sinal de Menos 9 (2013): 109-33. BACK
  29. Barry Commoner, “Chapter 8: Population and Affluence” and “Chapter 9: The Technological Flaw,” The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology (New York: Knopf, 1971).  BACK
  30. Capital, Volume III 176.BACK
  31. Claus Peter Ortlieb, “A Contradiction between Matter and Form,” Marxism and the Critique of Value, ed. Neil Larsen, Mathias Nilges, Josh Robinson, and Nicholas Brown (Chicago: MCM’, 2014 [2008]) 77-121.BACK
  32. John Bellamy-Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (New York: Monthly Review, 2010): 169-182. BACK
  33. William Stanley Jevons, The Coal Question: An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal Mines (n. d. [1865])
  34. Larry Lohmann, “The Endless Algebra of Climate Markets,” Capitalism Nature Socialism22:4 (2011): 93-116, and Maria Gutiérrez, “Making Markets Out of Thin Air: A Case of Capital Involution,” Antipode 43:3 (2011): 639-61.BACK
  35. Kevin Anderson, “The Inconvenient Truth of Carbon Offsets,” Nature 484 (2012) 7. BACK
  36. Lohmann, “Endless Algebra.”BACK
  37. Damon Matthews, Nathan Gillet, Peter Stott, and Kirsten Zickfeld, “The Proportionality of Global Warming to Cumulative Carbon Emissions,” Nature 459 (2009): 829-33.BACK
  38. Jeff Coelho, “Global Carbon Market Value Hits Record $176 Billion,” Reuters (30 May 2012).BACK
  39. ETC Group, Geopiracy: The Case Against Geoengineering (Manila: ETC Group, 2010).BACK
  40. Eli Kintisch, Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope—or Worst Nightmare—for Averting Climate Catastrophe (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2010): 77-102. BACK
  41. Susan Solomon, Gian-Kasper Plattner, Reto Knutti, and Pierre Friedglinstein, “Irreversible Climate Change Due to Carbon Dioxide Emissions,” PNAS 106:6 (2009): 1704-9. BACK
  42. Victor Brovkin, Vladimir Petoukhov, Martin Claussen, Eva Bauer, David Archer, and Carlo Jaeger, “Geoengineering Climate by Stratospheric Sulfur Injections: Earth System Vulnerability to Technological Failure,” Climatic Change 92 (2009): 243-59. BACK
  43. Scott Barrett, “The Incredible Economics of Geoengineering,” Environmental and Resource Economics 39:1 (2007): 45-54.BACK
  44. Martin Lukacs, “World’s Biggest Geoengineering Experiment ‘Violates’ UN Rules,” The Guardian (15 October 2012).BACK
  45. William Nordhaus, A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies (New Haven: Yale UP, 2008), and Nicholas Stern, The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review (London: HM Treasury, 2007). BACK
  46. Capital, Volume III 459-524. BACK
  47. Capital, Volume III 515. BACK
  48. Capital, Volume III 523. BACK
  49. Stern, Economics.BACK
  50. Capital, Volume III 731-32.BACK
  51. Capital, Volume III 736.BACK
  52. Robert Ayres, “On the Practical Limits to Substitution,” Ecological Economics 61 (2007): 115-28.BACK
  53. Postone, Time 383. BACK
  54. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic. BACK
  55. Slavoj Žižek, Catastrophic But Not Serious. Lecture video (2011).BACK
  56. Axe, “Happy End of the World!” Advertisement video (2012).BACK
  57. Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, “A New Paradigm for Climate Change: How Climate Change Science Is Conducted, Communicated and Translated into Policy Must Be Radically Transformed If ‘Dangerous’ Climate Change Is to Be Averted,” Nature Climate Change 2 (Sept. 2012): 639-40, and Kintisch, Hack 57. BACK
  58. Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, “Beyond ‘Dangerous’ Climate Change: Emission Scenarios for a New World,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369 (2011): 20-44.BACK
  59. Postone, Time; Holloway, Crack Capitalism; Krisis Group, Manifesto Against Labour(1999).BACK
  60. Sick Planet.BACK
  61. Time.BACK
  62. Commoner, Closing Circle; Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon, 1964); Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation (Boston: Beacon, 1969). BACK
  63. Robert Kurz, Antiökonomie und Antipolitik. Zur Reformulierung der sozialen Emanzipation nach dem Ende des “Marxismus” (1997); Schwartzman and Schartzman, Solar Transition;Miguel Altieri, Agroecology: The Science of Sustainable Agriculture (Boulder: Westview, 1995).BACK
  64. Eric Swyngedouw, “Apocalypse now! Fear and Doomsday Pleasures,” Capitalism NatureSocialism 24:1 (2013): 9-17. BACK
  65. Hansen, Storms, and Rockström et al., “Safe Operating Space.”BACK
  66. Marx, Marx’s Early Writings. BACK
  67. Cited in Herbert Marcuse, Counterrevolution and Revolt (Boston: Beacon, 1972) 66.BACK
  68. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History” in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-1940, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Belknap, 2003) 394.BACK
  69. See David Pierce, Reprogramming Predators (2009), and BBC, World’s First Lab-Grown Burger Is Eaten in London (5 Aug. 2013). Marcuse’s skepticism about the “pacification of nature” is expressed in Counterrevolution and Revolt 68.BACK

Slamming the Anthropocene: Performing climate change in museums (reCollections)

reCollections / Issues / Volume 10 number 1 / Papers / Slamming the Anthropocene

by Libby Robin and Cameron Muir – April 2015

The Anthropocene

Today’s museums are generally expected to use their objects and collections in ways that extend beyond exhibitions. Theatrical events, for example, can provide important complementary activities. This particularly applies to public issues such as climate change and nature conservation, which are often framed in scientific and technical terms. An exhibition is expensive to mount and demands long lead times, but a public program is ‘light on its feet’; it can respond to a topical moment such as a sudden disaster, and it can incorporate new scientific findings where relevant.

One way to make such debates inclusive and non-technical is to explore through performance the cultural and emotional dimensions of living with environmental change. Violent Ends: The Arts of Environmental Anxiety, staged at the National Museum of Australia in 2011,is an example of a one-day event that used art, film and performance to explore anxieties and public concerns about climate change. The event opened with the Chorus of Women, who sang a ‘Lament for Gaia’, and it concluded with ‘Reconciliation’, both works excerpted from The Gifts of the Furies(composed by Glenda Cloughly, 2009).[1] The performance presented  issues that are often rendered as ‘dry science’ in a way that enabled emotional responses to be included in discussions about global warming. A legacy of this event is a ‘web exhibition’ that includes podcasts, recordings and some of the art, including that of a leading Australian environmental artist, Mandy Martin, whose more recent work we discuss further below.[2] The curators of the event, Carolyn Strange (Australian National University), Libby Robin (National Museum of Australia and Australian National University), William L Fox (Director of the Center for Art+Environment, Nevada Museum of Art, Reno) and Tom Griffiths (Director of the Centre for Environmental History, Australian National University), are all scholars  with active partnerships in the arts and the museum sector. Violent Ends explored climate change through a variety of environmental arts. Since 2011, we have seen many comparable programs, in Australia and beyond.

banner image for the Violent Ends website

Thunderstorm over Paestum, after Turner, Wanderers in the Desert of the Real, 2008, used in the banner for the Violent Ends website ©Mandy Martin

In this paper, we review some recent international museum and events-based ideas emerging around the concept of the Anthropocene, the proposition that the Earth has now left the Holocene and entered a new epoch: The Anthropocene (or Age of Humans). The Anthropocene is defined by changes in natural systems that have occurred because of the activities of humans. It is an idea that emerges from earth sciences, but it is also cultural: indeed the geological epoch of the Holocene (the last 11,700 years) marks the period in which most of the world’s major civilisations and cultures have emerged; it includes both the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions. To assert that the planet has moved ‘beyond the Holocene’ is to assert that humanity (indeed all life) has entered a new cultural and physical space that has not been previously experienced. Questions of how humans live in a planet with changed atmosphere, oceans, land systems, cities and climates are moral as well as physical. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has described climate change as the greatest human rights issue of our times.[3]

The Anthropocene epoch is defined by material evidence of human activities that have affected the way biophysical systems work. The stratigraphers (geologists) who decide if the new epoch should be formalised are seeking evidence of human activities in the crust of the earth, in rock strata, as this is the way boundaries between geological eras, epochs and ages have been traditionally defined.[4] Paul Crutzen, a Nobel-Prize-winning atmospheric chemist and the author of the original proposal to name the new epoch the ‘Anthropocene’, has focused on global systems, particularly evidence such as CO2 levels in the atmosphere (showing the burning of fossil fuels) and pH factors in the oceans (showing acidification caused by agricultural outfalls).[5]

Perhaps the most important question is not whether the Holocene has ended but, if it has, how are people (and the cultural systems that have evolved in the Holocene years) to live with such change? The idea of an uncharted new Age of Humans has attracted considerable attention from creative artists, museum curators and scholars in the environmental humanities.[6] Even as the stratigraphers debate the end of the Holocene, global change is upon us, and the creative sector has tackled these questions in its own way. One art and ethnographic museum, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin, hosted the most recent scientific meeting of the International Commission on Stratigraphy in October 2014.[7] HKW, with its mission to represent ‘all the cultures of the world’, recognises that the ‘people’ focus of the Anthropocene demands debate that is both cultural and scientific, and that is concerned with more than just the people of the West. The HKW Anthropocene Project and Anthropocene Curriculum have a strong artistic and museum sector focus, which we discuss further below.[8]

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW)

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin, October 2014 – photograph by Libby Robin

Environmental humanities scholars of the Anthropocene emphasise the questions of justice (and injustice) embedded in planetary changes. Changes to climate, air quality and oceans, and loss of biodiversity are caused by subsets of humans (not all humanity) and their effects are felt by different people, and of course ultimately all life on Earth. The challenge for the humanities is to enable the voices of the people who suffer from the changes, or advocate on behalf of other creatures, to be part of the conversations that contribute to adapting cultural practices in response. People are already living with rapid change: the so-called ‘Great Acceleration’ of changes since the 1950s includes sharp growths in population, wealth and global financial systems, as well as biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, atmospheric carbon dioxide and inequalities between rich and poor.[9] All these changes together are unsettling, yet people are seeking positive, resilient futures in the face of ‘strange change’. This is a debate where the creative sector – design, architecture, museums and humanistic scholarship – is well-poised to make contributions to ideas for living in a changed world of the future. Artists and scientists alike want a broad-based future, not just one that simply ‘reduces the future to climate’, in the apt phrase of Mike Hulme, one of the world’s leading climate scientists.[10]

The Anthropocene is defined by its materiality. The fossil systems that trace its onset and evolution may be buried under layers of rock, lava or sea, as were the traces of earlier epochs. Stratigraphers seeking ‘markers’ for this epoch look for material that might survive the end of an age of Earth. For example, in the case of the mass extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago, footprints in the mud and bones remain, even after the collision of the Earth with a huge meteorite. The ‘markers of the era’ are material, and particularly well preserved if the disaster is sudden and buries them (rather than slow and eroding).  University of Leicester geologist Jan Zalasiewicz and his Anthropocene stratigraphy committee are looking for things that might become ‘buried treasure’, surviving as markers of humanity, after humanity is long gone. They are considering various forms of ‘artificial rock’ – bricks and concrete, for example, are long lasting, human-made and in vast quantities. The group is also considering plastics (manufactured polymers) as ideal for forming fossils that would date this epoch as different from all before it.[11]

The materiality of the Anthropocene makes it of interest to museums, but on a very different scale from that considered by the stratigraphers. One of the alternatives to looking for material change in rock strata is to create cabinets of curiosities in our museums, spaces where objects enable conversations about what is strange change. People now have more ‘stuff’ than ever before and there is ever more waste – what does a gyre of plastic the size of a continent floating in the Pacific ocean (‘the Great Pacific Garbage Patch’), say about the Age of Humans?[12] How could it be embodied as an object or set of objects in a Museum? What are the material objects that complement abstract representations of strata, atmospheric chemical analysis, and graphs trending upwards? The challenge for museums and cultural institutions with a stake in valuing objects is to tell their stories well, and to give them rich context. If we are interested in how objects can entertain, inform and inspire, we need to present them as more than mere ‘stuff’.

The slam

In November 2014, the University of Wisconsin hosted an Anthropocene slam, an object-inspired event that brought together artists, filmmakers, scholars and performers at its campus in the state capital, Madison. The university has, since its inception, avowed a commitment to public intellectual life and the community of Wisconsin state. ‘The Wisconsin Idea’, as expressed by the university’s president, Charles Van Hise, in 1904, is quoted today in the words on the wall of the Wisconsin Seminar Room and on a centenary public memorial on the highest hill on the Madison campus: ‘I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the university reaches every home in the state’.

‘The Wisconsin Idea’ centenary public memorial

‘The Wisconsin Idea’ centenary public memorial – photograph by Libby Robin

The Wisconsin Idea expresses an aspiration that university work can inform and enrich the ‘public good’ including cultural institutions. The University of Wisconsin takes as its brief to benefit all the citizens of Wisconsin, not just those who have the privilege to be its students. As well as repaying the investment of the state in its university, the public good aspiration has come to hold strong appeal for the state’s benefactors and donors. The Chazen Art Museum in the University of Wisconsin at Madison combines an outstanding collection of modern art and a strong teaching program in art history, including curatorial education, research and leadership programs.

The Nelson Institute’s Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE) initiative at the university has also used the support of private donors to develop a range of ambitious programs under the banner ‘Environmental futures’. The film festival Tales from Planet Earth, which has since 2007 successfully screened all over Madison and beyond in a range of venues, including Centro Hispano, a community centre serving Madison’s Latino population, has drawn new local audiences to the university’s programs and has helped to increase diversity within the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. In November 2014, the CHE team, Gregg Mitman, William Cronon and Rob Nixon, among others, hosted a new venture, a very different sort of public event, The Anthropocene Slam: A Cabinet of Curiosities.

The ‘slam’ is a concept that originated with poetry, performance and a competitive spirit. The first poetry slam in 1984 was a poetry reading in the Get Me High lounge in Chicago. Poets performed their words and audiences voted with acclamation for the winners. The community audience was essential. The slams were noisy, theatrical and democratic – very different from ‘high art’ poetry recitation. The Anthropocene Slam borrowed the performance and entertainment idea, asking contributors to ‘pitch in a public fishbowl setting’ an object that might represent the Anthropocene in a cabinet of curiosities. From a large field of applicants, 25 objects appeared in five sessions, involving a total of 32 presenters (several objects were presented by teams). The sessions (held across three days from 8-10 November 2014) were grouped into intriguing themes:

  1. nightmares/dreams
  2. Anthropocene fossils
  3. tales and projections
  4. trespass
  5. resistance/persistence.

The aim was to find objects that might help humanity rethink ‘its relationship to time, place, and the agency of things that shape planetary change’.[13] This innovative scholarly method was designed from the start to be inclusive of scientific, artistic and practical ideas, extending what is usually possible in academic settings. One of its public outcomes was the performance event in Madison.

The slam presentations were complemented by a major public lecture from journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, drawing on her bestselling book, The Sixth Extinction.[14] An audience of more than 500 people from all over Wisconsin came out on a chilly night to hear this fluent and well-known communicator of big ideas explain the thesis that the loss of biodiversity today is on a scale equivalent to the mass extinctions evident in geological strata. The last (fifth) mass extinction ended the era of dinosaurs. The slam created a context for this important lecture.[15]

Another aspect of the slam was the building of a travelling cabinet of curiosities,to exhibit the most popular objects and stories, and to take them to local communities. Like the original Wunderkammer from the 16th and 17th centuries, the cabinet created out of the slam is as much a cabinet of conversations and global connections as one of objects.[16] The purpose of the slam was to discover objects that might travel to a cabinet in another context: the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany, the largest science and technology museum in the world. One item from the cabinet even made it to opening night on 4 December 2014 of Willkommen im Anthropozän, the world’s first gallery exhibition of the Anthropocene.[17]

There will be a more formal reception for the cabinet and its objects in July 2015, in an Anthropocene Objects and Environmental Futures workshop, a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin, the Rachel Carson Center at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU), the Deutsches Museum and the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm.[18] The cabinet will also be available to travel elsewhere, including to Sweden, where the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory hosted an international variation on the Tales from Planet Earth film festival in 2014.[19]

The ‘call for objects’ drafted by Gregg Mitman and Rob Nixon was rather different from a standard conference or workshop ‘call’:

We are in the midst of a great reawakening to questions of time – across the spans of geological, ecological, evolutionary, and human history. It is a reawakening precipitated, not by a nostalgia for the past, but by a sense of urgency about the future. The Anthropocene, coined in 2000 by ecologist Eugene Stoermer and popularized by Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, is one of the most resonant examples of how the urgency of the future has prompted scientists, artists, humanities scholars and social scientists to engage creatively with the emerging legacy of our geomorphic and biomorphic powers. The advent of this new scientific object – the Anthropocene – is altering how we conceptualize, imagine and inhabit time. The Anthropocene encourages us to re-envisage (in Nigel Clark’s phrase) future and past relations between ‘earthly volatility and bodily vulnerability’. What images and stories can we create that speak with conceptual richness and emotional energy to our rapidly changing visions of future possibility? For in a world deluged with data, arresting stories and images matter immeasurably, playing a critical role in the making of environmental publics and the shaping of environmental policy.

The Anthropocene is just one among many moments in time when new scientific objects have altered humanity’s relationship to the past, present, and future. The coming-into-being of scientific objects such as fossils, radioactivity, genetic mutations, toxic pesticides, and ice cores, to name a few, have precipitated different narratives and imaginings of the human past and the human future. What might a cabinet of curiosities for the age of the Anthropocene look like? What objects might jolt us into reimagining environmental time across diverse scales, from the recent past to deep history? How might certain kinds of objects make visible the differential impacts – past, present, and future – that have come to shape the relationships among human and non-human beings, living in an era of extreme hydrocarbon extraction, extreme weather events, and extreme economic disparity?

… How is the appearance and impact of homo sapiensas a geomorphic force registered in the sediments of history, the objects around us, and the things yet to be? What emotionally layered Anthropocene objects can surprise, disturb, startle or delight us into new ways of thinking and feeling? What objects speak to resilience or adaptation, to vanishing biota or emerging morphologies?[20]

The cabinet also explored ‘future imaginaries’, both ‘utopian and apocalyptic’, considering the ideas of art and science, literature and film, history and policy. This wider Environmental Futures project opened a transnational and interdisciplinary conversation, with a focus on material objects and on the emotional responses (for example, hopes and fears) that they invoked. The challenge for the objects and their presenters was to:

… comprehend and portray environmental change that occurs imperceptibly and over eons of time – and that inflicts slow violence upon future generations – when media, corporate, and political cultures thrive on the short-term.[21]

Cabinets of curiosities

The Wunderkammer started life in German as a ‘room of wonder’, rather than the English ‘curiosity’. The cabinet of curiosities evoked awe. Rather than evoking rational curiosity, a cabinet should enable enchantment, according to political ecologist Jane Bennett:

Thirteenth-century writer Albertus Magnus described wonder as, like fear, ‘shocked surprise’ … but fear cannot dominate if enchantment is to be … it is a state of interactive fascination, not fall to your knees awe.’[22]

‘Awe’ was a word laden with moral and religious overtones in pre-Enlightenment times. In the 21st century, the objects of a cabinet stir questions about the ‘ethical relevance of human affect’.[23]

The rarity of objects in the era of the Wunderkammer added much to their value. In 1500, the average Middle European household had just 30 objects. By 1900, such households contained 400 objects. The proliferation of objects continued throughout the 20th century, rising to 12,000 objects per household in 2010.[24] The sheer number of objects in modern life changes them: they are no longer precious but rather just ‘stuff’, too many to count or care about. An Anthropocene-era cabinet of curiosities rediscovers objects that can stir wonder, curiosity and care, even for a jaded 21st-century viewer, whose home is burdened with an excess of objects. Each object’s story needs to be evocative, remarkable, perhaps even luminous. Even a prosaic object can carry a big story. This can be assisted by a great ‘pitch’ or performance that breathes life into the story.

When objects have lost their stories and their place in the lives of their owners, they are just stuff. When the stories are remembered and embraced with the object, they stimulate memories and reflection. These can even have clinical value for those suffering from memory loss. Keeping the context of the object simple and clear is often better for stimulating memory than cluttering it with high-tech apps.[25]

Restoring enchantment to objects demands retelling their stories, making individual objects special and important to identity again. The slam was a deliberate strategy to foster engagement and to enliven and reinvigorate objects, to sponsor a ‘sense of play’. It was a technique that could ‘hone sensory receptivity to the marvellous specificity of things’ and, above all, that could ‘resist the story of the disenchantment of modernity’, in Jane Bennett’s words.[26] The challenge of the Anthropocene is its scale. It may seem so large and frightening that it makes people feel they can do nothing about it. The performance event is a strategy for keeping open possibilities for adaptive strategies in the face of rapid change, allowing objects to explore facets of a bigger story in smaller, playful ways.

Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects is one attempt to tell human history ‘from out of Africa to the credit card’. He argues for the levelling power of objects: not all societies have text to tell their stories, but objects may survive to speak from cultures beyond the written word. A history created from objects can include the 95 per cent of human history that is only told in stone. [27] While organic objects cannot survive indefinitely, and fragile objects are more likely to be lost than robust ones, the survival of an object is not just physical: it is also testimony to a cultural context where someone cared enough to protect this object – perhaps in a grave, perhaps in a pocket. Small objects may survive better than large. Edmund de Waal’s imaginative memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes, told through his global family’s netsuke collection, shows just how powerful a small and special object can become. Netsuke are tiny Japanese ceramic, wood and ivory carvings (originally merely a functional addendum that enabled men to carry a tobacco pouch on a kimono). The de Waal collection of netsuke moved through generations and over a century of extraordinary international events, holding the family memories across time and space, and encapsulating his family’s history.[28]

If we follow Neil MacGregor’s notion of a museum as a place that enables ‘the study of things [which] can lead to a truer understanding of the world’[29], then we have a particular new challenge to find the poignancy of objects in a time when there are too many of them. Which objects might enchant audiences and museum visitors in a world marked by the proliferation of things? How can we learn to wonder or be curious about ‘stuff’? The answer, in Mitman’s vision, is that we select and perform or present just a few objects, juxtaposed with others that can carry the Anthropocene story in quirky ways. When the idea of global change is too big and abstract for human comprehension, a small cabinet can act as a microcosm to enable an imaginative and active response. Each object is there for its own story. Together in a cabinet they become a chorus of stories.

The object

One of the 25 objects ‘performed’ at the Anthropene Slam and subsequently selected for the Deutsches Museum’s Anthropocene Wunderkammer was a domestic pesticide applicator. The familiar bike-pump-sized pesticide sprayer was a popular household item from the 1920s to the 1950s. In the United States the Standard Oil Company’s ‘Flit’ brand of insecticide became synonymous with the spray pump. Other countries had their own brands: in Australia it was Mortein.

‘Flit’ branded handheld pesticide spray pump

‘Flit’ branded handheld pesticide spray pump, 1928 – Hamburg Museum

The pesticide pump sprayer speaks of a faith in science to improve lifestyles, and the hubris of humanity’s desire to control nature. The sprayer’s genealogy links to both the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions, each a break in time that has been argued to mark the Anthropocene.[30] It is an object born of the demographic shift towards large urban populations, and the demands for greater intensification and efficiencies in food growing that make that shift possible. Until the mid-20th century (the likely date stratigraphers will use for the dawn of the Anthropocene[31]), most older-generation pesticides had been available for hundreds of years. Soaps, oils, salt, sulphur, and more toxic substances, such as those derived from arsenic, lead and mercury, were applied in all manner of ways. It was the social and economic changes of the 19th century, however, that drove sprayer development, as growers sought to cover plants and trees on a larger scale, with more efficiency.

Bellows syringe sprayer

Bellows syringe sprayer, 1874 – The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser

As early as the 1870s, American Agriculturalist reported a French horticulturalist using bellows across a nozzle to disperse insecticide. The article explains that the device and its production of ‘liquid dust’ use the same principles of fluid dynamics as a perfume sprinkler or medical atomiser.[32] A fine spray could cover all of a tree more easily, quickly and without wasting pouring liquid or dusting. By the 1890s the use of portable and horsedrawn pesticide sprayers was so common that the New South Wales Minister for Mines and Agriculture held a field competition in December 1890 at Parramatta to determine the best and most efficient commercial insecticide sprayer. The Australian-made ‘Farrington’ machine was fitted on a cart and could spray 500 gallons per day. Some needed two operators but others could be used by a single person, pumping with one hand and holding the sprayer with the other. The Lowe’s machine had a three-in-one action: it could spray, fumigate and expel a hot vapour of sulphur and steam near its nozzle. Observers noted that cross-winds often wasted the fumigant, so some orchardists proposed enveloping trees in tents that could ensure the expensive fumes were trapped where they were needed. On the day, the most impressive sprayer was a new machine from the United States. It was compact and used compressed air rather than a hand pump to create the hydraulic pressure, so ‘all that the orchardist has to do is stand at the nozzle and blaze away at pest and disease’.[33] It was the fastest of the sprayers in the competition, dressing a tree in just two-and-a-half minutes.

At the same time that chemical companies were advertising pesticide formulas to landholders in the late 19th century, they were adapting agricultural sprayers to deliver chemicals for domestic gardens and inside the home.[34] From the 1920s, when better sprayer design and pervasive chemical industry advertising combined with higher household incomes and campaigns for improved domestic hygiene and ‘mothercraft’, the familiar home pump sprayer became widely used. After the Second World War, the sprayer formulas became longer lasting and more effective, with new synthetic chemicals. Less than two decades later, the public began to discover that the miracle chemicals were not as safe as they had been led to believe.

Performing the object

A ten-minute ‘slam’ format presents a challenge to historians in particular, who by their nature and training, are dedicated to providing context. How much story, information and reflection is possible in ten minutes? The format shaped the form and selection of story – the performance had to provoke and begin a conversation. It would not be possible to explain everything. The invited presenters, Michelle Mart and Cameron Muir, opened their performance by playing characters, two archetypes associated with the use of chemicals in different contexts – domestic, urban, wealthy on the one hand, and industrial, rural and poor on the other.[35]

An immaculate housewife waits at the door to greet her husband

An immaculate housewife waits at the door to greet her husband, 1953 – H Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Corbis

Michelle Mart appeared as a 1950s housewife, a stereotype from the period’s advertising posters come to life, complete with lipstick, pearls and twin-set. She advocated the convenience and virtues of a bug-free household, as images projected in the background showed advertising and stylised scenes of the suburban ideal. Successful domestic management, or orderliness, cleanliness, and wholesomeness: perfect weed-free lawns, insect-free kitchens, and unblemished fruit and vegetables. Mart was the woman who stood on the veranda of a neat, architecturally designed house to welcome her husband home from work. Her home was managed with a pump spray that dispersed DDT through the kitchen cupboards, just like in the military, where officers were photographed spraying DDT down a fellow serviceman’s shirt. Some of the men came home from being sprayed in wartime service to the new peacetime spraying on the suburban frontier.

A US soldier is demonstrating DDT hand-spraying equipment while applying the insecticide

A US soldier is demonstrating DDT hand-spraying equipment while applying the insecticide – Centres for Disease Control Public Health Image Library

Advertising urged homeowners to use chemicals for the sake of the family’s health (some thought polio was spread by the housefly), while another has fruit and vegetables singing, ‘DDT is good for me-e-e!’ Mart’s 1950s character proclaimed she is ‘lucky to live at a time when the wonders of modern technology and chemistry have transformed our lives’, and best of all, the new chemicals are ‘safe for everybody’.[36]

‘DDT is good for m-e-e’ advertisement, Penn Salt Chemicals

‘DDT is good for m-e-e’ advertisement, Penn Salt Chemicals, 1947 – Collector’s Weekly

At this point the second character entered: Cameron Muir was an agricultural worker in a white, full-body chemical hazmat suit, including hood, gloves, goggles and face mask, and carrying a large knapsack pump sprayer adorned with lurid red-and-black warnings about its toxicity. We have moved beyond the innocence of postwar hubris in scientific and industrial expertise, but users are exposed to more chemicals than ever. The agricultural worker character speaks of his brother, who blames the pesticides for illnesses and behavioural problems in his children. He wants to leave the job of spraying but he can’t find work elsewhere. The worker fears local complaints about the chemicals will endanger their relationship with the company employing them.

Woman in Metema community, Ethiopia, using knapsack sprayer

Woman in Metema community, Ethiopia, using knapsack sprayer, 2010 – International Livestock Research Institute

The images projected in the background show the faces of individual agricultural works in developing countries, some of them disfigured by pesticide exposure and light aircraft spraying vast fields. Amidst health concerns and well-informed anxiety about spraying pesticides, industrial agriculture has scaled up again in the 21st century.

Crop duster plane flying over Imperial Valley farms

Crop duster plane flying over Imperial Valley farms, May 1972 – Charles O’Rear/The US National Archives

The object and performance as provocateur

Who owns the story of pesticides? The narrative of triumphant technological progress and control of nature continues to hold influence even in the face of startling costs and unintended consequences. Social and political commentators still attempt to discredit Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring 50 years later, while the chemical and seed industries sell promises of control, simplicity and safety to farmers wracked by the reality of an unpredictable nature and markets. More powerful than earnestness and statistics, Mart and Muir’s performance gave the voice to the Flit spray can and used it to retell the stereotypical narrative of technological progress. Humour, irony and juxtaposition can be more effective than numbers in exposing hubris in the failed narrative. The presentation made its point not just by telling, but by showing. It is a human story. The archetypal characters, images and objects spoke for themselves; each member of the audience actively made their own interpretations and connections.

Towards the end of the presentation, Mart and Muir stepped out of character and spoke to the audience directly, personally. The ‘pitch’ or telling mode was reserved until the object story and its historical frames had been performed beforehand. The background or hypertext for the performance included the bigger scale, Anthropocene stories: since the Second World War humans have released more than 80,000 chemical compounds that no organism had previously encountered in the 3.5-billion-year history of life on earth.[37] This profound change will persist in the geological record and in our genetic legacies. Everyone is still exposed to this chemical soup. Researchers in the Lancet Neurology have declared we are in the midst of a ‘global, silent pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity’.[38] It’s even worse for those who farm or who live in the world’s most polluted places. The presentation ended with a provocative set of images. In the 1990s anthropologist Elizabeth Guillette asked children from the Yaqui Valley in Mexico to draw simple pictures – one group was from the agricultural lowlands, the other from the pesticide-free highlands. The children from the agricultural region could barely form shapes.[39] The difference in the drawings was a striking visualisation of what is largely an invisible agent of harm. It was also an illustration of the geographic inequality of toxic burdens.

The chorus

The domestic pesticide applicator object was one of 25 performed in the Madison Chorus. It has now been chosen to travel on to the Deutsches Museum, where a new cabinet of curiosities will be re-assembled in July 2015 with some of the Madison objects and some new, locally chosen Anthropocene objects. Global changes are everywhere, but human responses are personal, local, and the slam was an event for Madison. Munich is another context: another language, a science and technology museum, and the juxtaposition of the cabinet with a whole gallery of ideas and objects for the Anthropocene.[40] What the Madison cabinet brings is an event and a set of objects that can interrogate the gallery project for the Deutsches Museum and its university partner, the Rachel Carson Center. It also invites local content – objects that have resonance in Munich. The slam-style event works to collect together the object stories and to draw out patterns and sympathies between them.

The Anthropocene Slam created a chorus of objects that worked together in Madison, juxtaposed with each other and the performances of their presenters. In fact, the audience was reluctant to vote for ‘best object’ in each section; these were not solo objects or voices, but rather notes that together created chords of global change stories, stories that were layered together with others. It didn’t make sense to pick out the ‘tenor’ or ‘soprano’ line for special attention. The poetry slam is usually a competition with a cash prize. The Anthropocene Slam resisted the competitive framework. Rather, it invited scholarly collaboration in a playful context. The shift from competition to chorus was its great success, enabling collaboration and partnerships and the reflections arising from some very different objects.

The global and the local

The Anthropocene Slam suggested one way to scale the abstract and global through personal objects. It created an object-conversation that worked for all ages and in intergenerational contexts. Educating citizens about living with global change is not a task for schools alone. This story affects every generation. As the Deutsches Museum has already realised, museums can be partners in this global education, and are ideally suited to intergenerational conversations: grandchildren and grandparents already often visit a museum together.

HKW took the scholarly mission to educate people about the Anthropocene as its focus, as part of a two-year Anthropocene Project. For 11 days in November 2014, HKW created an international ‘Anthropocene Campus’, where its galleries showcased the exhibitions, video documentaries and artworks developed through its Anthropocene Project. Campus participants worked to develop a ‘curriculum’, including textbook and online teaching materials, through seminars and workshops on approaches to the ideas of the Anthropocene. Nearly 30 presenters worked with more than 100 interested participants, doctoral and postdoctoral scholars and practising artists.[41] Most of the presenters came from scientific disciplines leading Anthropocene discussions (especially earth, atmospheric and ocean sciences). Participants included a significant number of designers, museum specialists and visual artists, as well as scholars of earth sciences and environmental humanities. The boundaries between science and humanities dissolved in the intense program; the need to communicate and to teach and learn demanded clear, non-technical language and strong images. The overwhelming thrust of the curriculum materials was to develop human and emotional responses to the Anthropocene, as well as ways to converse beyond disciplinary silos to work together to solve problems and engage audiences.

Thinking with museums

How can we slow down the future to enable a sense of control? What is globally curious? What will we ‘wonder’ at in future? What sort of objects should we collect now for museums of the future? These are all urgent present problems as we imagine how museums will work in the changing circumstances of the Anthropocene. For Collecting the Future, a museum event at the American Museum of Natural History in October 2013, Jennifer Newell, Libby Robin and Kirsten Wehner specifically investigated what communities might collect for community museums of the future in local places that are changing fastest. What objects and stories can travel from depopulating Pacific Islands (where people are confronted with salinising ground water and rising seas) to their new communities in New Zealand or New York? These practical questions about living with climate change can bring communities into museums to use their collections in new ways. Community museums, national museums, science museums and art museums are all members of the Museums and Climate Change network of exchange that emerged from this event.[42]

In Australia, as elsewhere, the arts have been engaging with ideas for imaginative futures through local museums and events. Climarte is one such group that ‘harnesses the creative power of the Arts to inform, engage and inspire action on climate change’.[43] It is an arts-led partnership including prominent artists, Nobel-Prize-winning scientist Peter Doherty and directors of key galleries, Maudie Palmer (founding director of Heide Museum of Modern Art and TarraWarra Museum of Art) and Stuart Purves (director of Australian Galleries, Australia’s longest and most established commercial art gallery). Australian Galleries will host the 2015 Climarte Festival’s opening exhibition, The Warming, curated by Mandy Martin, who was one of the international artists attending the Wisconsin Anthropocene Slam. The exhibition brings together eight artists from Australian Galleries with 17 additional artists who have been invited to contribute an ‘Anthropocene cabinet of curiosities’, a plinth of objects at the heart of the show. Some of the artists will also pitch their ‘curious object’ briefly at a special event on 3 May 2015, and there will be responses from moderators, Peter Christoff (from the University of Melbourne and formerly Victorian Commissioner for the Future), William L Fox and Libby Robin. The aim is to create an event to inspire new thinking about what the arts can do in a future beyond the Holocene.

The future is often constructed through the lens of economic expertise. For example, the Australian Treasury has issued a 2015 Intergenerational Report that focuses exclusively on the economic burdens that the present generation places on those living in 2055.[44] Sometimes it is earth system scientists, or climate modellers who describe futures – for example, under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios of 2 or 4 or 6 degrees of warming. Yet the future is also about cultural and moral choices, not just economics and environment. The worlds of 2055 and beyond will be more than just climate spaces and economies. The museum sector is poised to treat the future as a ‘cultural fact’, in Arjun Appadurai’s terms. Appadurai writes of a future that includes ‘imagination, anticipation and aspiration’.[45] The future is not just about imagining nature or anticipating economic conditions, it is also about aspiration. While ‘probable’ futures are generated by mathematical models of nature and economics, such models often offer little hope. An alternative is to look to museums, to objects and to the creative dialogues of personal visits and performance events to foster qualitative possible futures. The future is not just a technical or neutral space: it is ‘shot through with affect and sensation’.[46] Science and scholarship alone often lack important sensations for imagining the future: ‘awe, vertigo, excitement, disorientation’. Rather than just measuring change in our world – or denying that there is any – we can take a third way that acknowledges change, including, but not only, climate change. Cultural institutions have an important role in enabling communities to get on with living positively with the changes of the Anthropocene. Culture works through ‘the traction of the imagination’, expanding the possibilities for ways to live with the future as it unfolds.[47]

This paper has been independently peer-reviewed.



2 Violent Ends: The Arts of Environmental Anxiety.


4 Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin N Waters, Mark Williams et al., ‘When did the Anthropocene begin? A mid-twentieth century boundary level is stratigraphically optimal’, Quaternary International, 12 January 2015,

5 PJ Crutzen, ‘Geology of mankind’, Nature, vol. 415, no. 6867, 2002, 23.

6 Christian Schwägerl, The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How it Shapes the Planet, Synergetic Press, Santa Fe/London, 2014; Luke Keogh & Nina Möllers, ‘Pushing the boundaries: Curating the Anthropocene at the Deutsches Museum’, in Fiona Cameron & Brett Neilson (eds), Climate Change, Museum Futures: The Roles and Agencies of Museums and Science Centers, Routledge, London, 2014, pp. 78–89.

7 Currently chaired by Jan Zalasiewicz, who has worked extensively with humanities scholars (at the University of Chicago and the University of Sydney), and has supervised art projects such as the French artist Yesenia Thibault-Picazo’s Cabinet of Future Geology, currently showing at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, until 2016. In 2015 another version of Thibault-Picazo’s work will be part of the Globale Festival in the New Media Museum, Karlsruhe, Germany.

8 Bernd Scherer (ed.), The Anthropocene Project: A Report, HKW, Berlin, 2014; Libby Robin, Dag Avango, Luke Keogh, Nina Möllers, Bernd Scherer & Helmuth Trischler, ‘Three galleries of the Anthropocene’, Anthropocene Review, vol. 1, no. 3,  207–24.

9 W Steffen, J Grinevald, P Crutzen & J McNeill, ‘The Anthropocene: Conceptual and historical perspectives’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A,vol. 369, 2011, 842–67.

10 Mike Hulme, ‘Reducing the future to climate: A story of climate determinism and reductionism’, Osiris, vol. 26, 2011, 245–66, p. 245.

11 Jan Zalasiewicz, ‘Buried treasure’, in Geoff Manaugh (ed.), Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions, Nevada Museum of Art and Actar, Reno, 2013, pp. 258–61.

12 Susan L Dautel, ‘Transoceanic trash: International and United States strategies for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal, vol. 3, no. 1, 2009, 181–208. This sort of global phenomenon (which grew and changed shape dramatically after the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011) has been very effectively illustrated in museums through ‘Science on a Sphere’ technology created by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Alaska State Museum, Juneau,

13 From the ‘Call for objects’ (distributed through H-Net online 2013),

14 Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2014.

15 Crutzen, ‘Geology of mankind’ (p. 23).

16 Oliver Impey & Arthur MacGregor (eds) The Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Europe, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1985.

17 Welcome to the Anthropocene: The Earth in Our Hands (in English). The exhibition gallery opened 4 December 2014, and will run till 2016; Nina Möllers, Christian Schwägerl & Helmuth Trischler (eds) Willkommen im Anthropozän: Unsere Verantwortung für die Zukunft der Erde, Deutsches Museum, Munich, 2014; see also Libby Robin, Dag Avango, Luke Keogh, Nina Möllers, Bernd Scherer & Helmuth Trischler, ‘Three galleries of the Anthropocene’, Anthropocene Review, vol. 1, no. 3, 2014, 207–24, doi:10.1177/2053019614550533.

18 Munich, 5–7 July 2015,



21 From Environmental Futures unpublished prospectus (‘Call for papers’), 2013; see also Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2011.

22 Jane Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2001, p. 5, emphasis added.

23 Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Duke UP, Durham, 2010, p. xi.

24 Christof Mauch, ‘The Great Acceleration of Objects’, Plenary panel, Anthropocene Slam, UW Madison, 10 November 2014.

25 Charles Leadbeater, ‘The disremembered’, Aeon Magazine, March 2015,

26 Bennett, Enchantment,p. 4.

27 Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects, Penguin, London, 2012 (1st edn 2010), p. xix.

28 Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, Vintage, London, 2011.

29 MacGregor, History of the World, p. xxv.

30 William F Ruddiman, ‘The Anthropogenic Greenhouse Era began thousands of years ago’, Climatic Change, vol. 61, no. 3, 2003; Crutzen, ‘Geology of mankind’.

31 Zalasiewicz, Waters, Williams et al., ‘When did the Anthropocene begin?’.

32 ‘Destroying insects – Bellows-Syringe’, Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 28 March 1874.

33 ‘Death to fruit pests and diseases: Experiments with appliances’, Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW), 13 December 1890.

34 Will Allen, The War on Bugs, Chelsea Green, White River Junction, Vt, 2008.

35 Michelle Mart (Pennsylvania State University) and Cameron Muir (Australian National University), both former fellows of the Rachel Carson Center, Munich, independently suggested the sprayer. They were both among the group selected to present at the slam, and since they had the same object, they were asked to work together on it.

36 Michelle Mart & Cameron Muir, ‘Flit sprayer’, Anthropocene Slam presentation, 8 November 2014, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA.

37 Mariann Lloyd-Smith & Bro Sheffield-Brotherton, ‘Children’s environmental health: Intergenerational equity in action – a civil society perspective’, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 11, no. 1140, 2008, 190–200.

38 Philippe Grandjean & Philip J Landrigan, ‘Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity’, Lancet Neurology, vol. 13, no. 3, 2014, 330–8.

39 Elizabeth A Guillette, Maria Mercedes Meza, Maria Guadalupe Aquilar, Alma Delia Soto & Idalia Enedina Garcia, ‘An anthropological approach to the evaluation of preschool children exposed to pesticides in Mexico’, Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 106, 1998, 347–53.

40 Robin et al., ‘Three galleries’.

41 Scherer et al., The Anthropocene Project; see also Robin et al., ‘Three galleries’, esp. p. 215, doi:10.1177/2053019614550533.

42 Museums and Climate Change; Collecting the Future event,; Jennifer Newell, Libby Robin & Kirsten Wehner (eds), Curating the Future,University of Hawaii Press, Hawaii, forthcoming.



45 Arjun Appadurai, The Future as a Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition, Verso, London, 2013, p. 286.

46 ibid.

47 ibid.

Flavorwire Exclusive: Civilization Is Doomed! McKenzie Wark Takes on the Anthropocene (Flavorwire)

By Jonathon Sturgeon – Apr 29, 2015 12:00pm

In the below excerpt, drawn from the conclusion of his energizing new book Molecular Red, McKenzie Wark confesses that “we all know this civilization can’t last.” Nevertheless! Wark asserts that our imaginations are up to the standard of describing a new and better world, and so he sets out to consider what metaphors we might use to define a future that will “undo the workings of the Anthropocene.” The industriousness and intellectual range you see here defines Molecular Red, a brilliant and persistently entertaining book that considers everything from cyborgs to Russian intellectuals and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Marstrilogy.

From the conclusion to Molecular Red:

There is still some low theory work to do, to transmit the metaphor of the Anthropocene between domains, but in that process, those labor processes will change it. Rather than “interrogate” Crutzen’s Anthropocene—and where did that metaphor come from?—perhaps it is better to see it as what it is: a brilliant hack. The Anthropocene introduces the labor point of view—in the broadest possible sense—into geology. Perhaps the challenge is then to find analogous but different ways to hack other specialized domains of knowledge, to orient them to the situation and the tasks at hand.

Let’s invent new metaphors! Personally, I like the #misanthropocene, but don’t expect it to catch on. Jason Moore prefers the Capitalocene, Jussi Parikka the Anthrobscene. Kate Raworth suggests Manthropocene, given the gender make-up of the Anthropocene Working Group considering it as a name for a geological era. Donna Haraway offers to name it the Chthulucene, a more chthonic version of Cthulhu, the octopoid monster of H. P. Lovecraft’s weird stories. “Chthulucene does not close in on itself; it does not round off; its contact zones are ubiquitous and continuously spin out loopy tendrils.”

Haraway notes the strikingly parallel evolution of new meta- phorical tools in both humanities and biologies, where competitive individualism is no longer a given. In Bogdanovite terms, perhaps it is because in both domains, producing knowledge got strangely complex, collaborative, and mediated by apparatuses. A new breed of basic metaphor is at least partly at work and in play, one which in the biologies could be described as a “multi-species becoming-with.”

Haraway wants to both “justify and trouble” the language of the Anthropocene. As Edwards does with climate science, she insists on the embeddedness in an infrastructure that makes the global appear as a work-object to those natural scientists for whom the Anthropocene makes sense as a metaphor. She points to the limits of its basic metaphors, which still think one-sidedly of competition between populations or genes, where success equals reproduction. More symbiotic—dare we say comradely?—kinds of life hardly figure in such metaphors. But perhaps, as Haraway says, “we are all lichens now”—cyborg lichens.

After Robinson, the task is not debating names or trading stories, but making comradely alliances. Is not Crutzen one of those curious scientist-intellectuals that Robinson’s fiction trains us to look out for? Crutzen and his colleagues in the earth sciences have flagged something that needs to shape the agenda for knowledge, culture, and organization. For those of us seeking to respond from the left, I think the authors presented in Molecular Red offer some of the best ways of processing that information. Bogdanov and Platonov would not really be surprised by the Anthropocene. They were vulgar enough to think aspects of it already.

So let’s pop the following tools into the dillybag for future use:

Something like an empirio-monism has its uses, because it is a way of doing theory that directs the tendency to spin out webs of metaphoric language to the task at hand. It steers the language arts toward agendas arising out of working processes, including those of sciences. It is agnostic about which metaphors best explain the real, but it sees all of them as substitutions which derive from the forms of labor and apparatus of the time.

Something like proletkult has its uses, as the project for the self-organization of the labor point of view. It filters research into past culture and knowledge through the organizational needs of the present. Those needs put pressure on the traditional category of labor, opening it toward feminist standpoints, not to mention our queer cyborg entanglements.

Something like a tektology has its uses, as a way of coordinating labor other than through exchange or hierarchy, or the new infra- structure of corporatized “networks.” It communicates between labor processes poetically and qualitatively. It is a training of the metaphoric wiliness of language toward particular applications which correspond to and with advances in labor technique.

Lastly, something like the utopia of Red Star has its uses, in motivating those working in separate fields to think beyond the fetishistic habits of the local and toward comradely goals. In the absence of a single counter-hegemonic ideology, perhaps something like a meta-utopia might be more useful, and more fun. Meta-utopia offers not so much an imaginary solution to real problems as a real problematizing of how to navigate the differences between the imaginal that corresponds to each particular labor points of view.

And so, to conclude with the slogan with which we began. It might be the slogan of a Cyborg International. One which already possesses in imagination the means and the will to undo the workings of the Anthropocene. One with nothing for it but to build the new living world within the ruins of the old one. We all know this civilization can’t last. Let’s make another.


Experts Warn of “Cataclysmic” Changes as Planetary Temperatures Rise (Truthout)

Monday, 27 April 2015 00:00 By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Report 

Two unprecedentedly high temperatures were recorded in Antarctica, providing an ominous sign of accelerating ACD as one of the readings came in at just over 63 degrees Fahrenheit. (Photo: Iceberg via Shutterstock)

Two unprecedentedly high temperatures were recorded in Antarctica, providing an ominous sign of accelerating climate change as one of the readings came in at just more than 63 degrees Fahrenheit. (Photo: Iceberg via Shutterstock)

Climate Disruption DispatchesThis month’s anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) dispatch begins with the fact that recently released National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data show that this March was, by far, the hottest planetary March ever recorded, and the hottest January to March period on record as well.

We are watching unprecedented melting of glaciers across the planet, increasingly high temperature records and epic-level droughts that are now becoming the new normal: Planetary distress signals are increasing in volume.

One of these took place recently in Antarctica, of all places, where two unprecedentedly high temperatures were recorded, providing an ominous sign of accelerating ACD as one of the readings came in at just over 63 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We’re going to be out of water.”

A fascinating recent report shows that approximately 12 million people living in coastal areas will be displaced during the next 85 years, with areas along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States seeing some of the most dramatic impacts.

In the US, another report shows that the Navajo Nation is literally dying of thirst, with one of the nation’s leaders flatly sounding the alarm by stating, “We’re going to be out of water.”

A study just published in Geophysical Research Lettersbolsters the case that a period of much faster ACD is imminent, if it hasn’t already begun.

On that note, leading climate researchers recently saidthere is a possibility that the world will see a 6-degree Celsius temperature increase by 2100, which would lead to “cataclysmic changes” and “unimaginable consequences for human civilization.”

With these developments in mind, let us take a look at recent developments across the planet since the last dispatch.


Signs of ACD’s impact across this sector of the planet are once again plentiful, and the fact that the Amazon is suffering is always a very loud alarm buzzer, given that every year the world’s largest rainforest cycles through 18 billion tons of carbon when its 6 million square kilometers of trees breathe in carbon dioxide and then release it back into the atmosphere when they die. This is twice the amount of carbon that fossil fuel burning emits in an entire year. A recent report shows that while the Amazon is continuing to absorb more carbon than it is releasing, a tipping point is coming, and likely soon, as deforestation, drought and fires there continue to remove precious trees at a frightful rate. With 1.5 acres of rainforest lost every single second, somewhere around the world, the situation in the Amazon does not bode well for our future.

In the United States, in Harvard Forest, located 70 miles west of the university’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, hemlock trees are dying at an alarming rate. Harvard Forest is a case study, as it is part of a network of 60 forests around the world called the Center for Tropical Forest Science-Forest Global Earth Observatories, where they are being studied for their response to ACD and other anthropogenic issues. Kristina Anderson-Teixeira, an ecologist with the network, said its forests are “being impacted by a number of different global change factors. We do expect more of this, be it pests or pathogens or droughts or heat waves or thawing permafrost.”

Another report from April revealed that Russia has been losing an amount of forest the size of Switzerland (16,600 square miles of tree cover) every year, for three years running.

Without ice in the summer, polar bears will starve and die off.

Terrestrial animals continue to struggle to survive in many areas. It should come as no surprise that in the Arctic, a recent studyshows that the theory that polar bears will be able to adapt to ice-free seas in the summer by eating on land has been debunked. Without ice in the summer, polar bears will starve and die off.

Another study shows that ACD is threatening mountain goats, due to the warming that is occurring even at the higher elevations where the goats live, as the rate of warming there is two to three times faster than the rest of the planet. According to the study, due to the warming, the goats’ future is now uncertain.

In California, sea lion strandings have already reached more than 2,250 for this year alone, which is a record. The worsening phenomenon is being blamed on warming seas that are disrupting the food supply of marine mammals.

Across the United States, hunters are seeing their traditions being changed by ACD. “I could point you to a million different forums online where hunters are complaining about the season and how hunting is terrible,” said one hunter in a recent report. “At the end of the day, it’s changing weather patterns. Winters around here are not as cold as they used to be.”

March report from a researcher in Rhode Island showed that the growth and molting rates of juvenile lobsters are decreasing “significantly” due to oceans becoming increasingly acidic from ACD. This makes the animals more vulnerable to predations, thus leading to fewer adult lobsters and an overall rapidly declining population.


There have been a few major developments recently in this sector of our analysis.

Interestingly, some of the more commonly used anesthetics are apparently accumulating in the planet’s atmosphere, thus contributing to warming of the climate, according to a report in April. It is a small amount, mind you, but the volume is increasing.

US greenhouse gas pollution increased 2 percent over the previous year in 2013.

Bad news on the mitigation front comes in the form of a study that revealed that ongoing urban sprawl and auto exhaust is hampering cities’ best efforts toward lowering carbon dioxide emissions. If people continue to drive as much as they are, and development continues apace, the push to build more dense housing, better transit systems and more bike lanes in urban centers will be for naught.

Speaking of lack of mitigation, the US Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that US greenhouse gas pollution increased 2 percent over the previous year in 2013.

Drought plagued California gets more bad news in this sector, as recently released data shows that the state continues to have its warmest year ever recorded, with statewide temperatures coming in nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the previous record, which was set in 2014. The state is quite literally baking.

Another study showed that the frozen soil (permafrost) of the planets’ northern polar regions that holds billions of tons of organic carbon is melting and that melting is being sped up by ACD, hence releasing even more carbon into our already carbon dioxide-supersaturated atmosphere.

Lastly in this section, those who believe in technological fixes for our predicament received some bad news in April, which came in the form of a report that shows that any attempts to geoengineer the climate are likely to result in “different” climate disruption, rather than an elimination of the problem. The most popular proposed idea of solar radiation management that would utilize stratospheric sulfate aerosols to dim the sun has been proven to be, well, destructive. Using a variety of climate models, Ken Caldeira from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, has investigated the likely consequences of such geoengineering on agriculture across the globe.

According to a report on the matter:

His research showed that while dimming could rapidly decrease global temperatures, high carbon dioxide levels would be expected to persist, and it is the balance between temperature, carbon dioxide, and sunlight that affects plant growth and agriculture. Exploring the regional effects, he finds that a stratospherically dimmed world would show increased plant productivity in the tropics, but lessened plant growth across the northerly latitudes of America, Europe and Asia. It is easy to see how there might be geopolitical shifts associated with changes in regional food production across the globe. “It’s probably the poor tropics that stand to benefit and the rich north that stands to lose,” said Prof Caldeira.

Hence, given that the results would be detrimental to the “rich north,” which by far and away has pumped more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the “poor tropics,” the results of geoengineering would indeed be karmic.


In the United States, California’s epic drought continues to lead in the water sector of analysis.

For the first time in California’s history, mandatory water use reductions have been imposed on residents after a winter of record-low snowfalls, and hence a record-low snowpack. “People should realize we are in a new era,” Gov. Jerry Brown said at a news conference there in April, standing on a patch of brown and green grass that would normally be thick with snow that time of year. “The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past.”

Climate scientists also recently announced, disconcertingly, that California’s record-breaking drought is merely a preview of future ACD-generated megadroughts.

Shortly after Brown announced the mandatory water restrictions for his state, another study was released showing that California will also be facing more extreme heat waves, along with rising seas, caused by increasingly intense impacts from ACD. According to the study, the average number of days with temperatures reaching 95 degrees will double or even triple by the end of this century. Simultaneously, at least $19 billion worth of coastal property will literally disappear as sea levels continue to rise.

Experts also announced in April that in “drought-era” California, “every day” should now be considered “fire season.” NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory climatologist Bill Patzert said of California, “We are in an incendiary situation.”

California’s state climatologist, Michael Anderson, issued a very stark warning in April when he said the state faces dust bowl-like conditions, as he compared the water crisis in California to the legendary US dustbowl. “You’re looking on numbers that are right on par with what was the Dust Bowl,” he said.

Forty out of the 50 US states will face a water shortage within the next 10 years.

As aforementioned, this year’s dry, warm winter has left the entire western United States snowpack at record-low levels. Given that this is a critical source of fresh surface water for the entire region, this will only exacerbate the already critical water shortages that are plaguing the region.

One ramification of this is exampled by how the once-powerful Rio Grande River has been reduced to a mere trickle still hundreds of miles from its destination at the end of its 1,900-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to the increasing impacts of ACD. Farmers and residents who rely on it for water are in deep trouble.

And it’s not just California and the US Southwest that are dealing with major water shortages. The Government Accountability Office recently released a report showing that 40 out of the 50 US states will face a water shortage within the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, up in Alaska, that state’s iconic Iditarod sled dog race has been reduced to having mushers have their dogs drag their sleds across large swaths of mud that spanned over 100 miles in some areas, due to warmer temperatures there melting snow and ice that used to cover the course. “I love the challenge, being able to overcome anything on the trail,” said four-time winner Martin Buser of the new conditions. “But if this is a new normal, I’m not sure I can sustain it.”

In this writer’s backyard, glaciers are melting away at dramatic rates in Olympic National Park. Pictures tell the story, which was also addressed in detail recently at a talk given at the park by University of Washington research professor Michelle Koutnik, who was part of a team monitoring the park’s Blue Glacier. By way of example, an entire section of the lower Blue Glacier that existed in 1989 was completely gone by 2008, and melt rates are increasing. A sobering “before and after” look at the photographic evidence should not be missed.

A recent study gave another grim report on glaciers, this one focusing on Canada where glaciers in British Columbia and Alberta are projected to shrink by at least 70 percent by the end of this century, and of course ACD was noted as the main driving force behind the change. “Most of that is going to go,” one of the researchers said of Canada’s glaciers. “And most seems to be on its way out.”

study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that as the Arctic Ocean warms and loses its sea ice cover, phytoplankton populations will explode. This creates another positive feedback loop for ACD, as it further amplifies warming in a region that is already heating up twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

On the other end of the water spectrum, rising seas continue to afflict Venice, where the city is seeing dramatic changes. According to a recent report: “In the 1920s, there were about 400 incidents of acqua alta, or high water, when the right mix of tides and winds drives the liquid streets up into homes and shops in the lowers parts of the city. By the 1990s, there were 2,400 incidents – and new records are set every year.”


An April report shows that ACD is predicted to bring more fires and less snow to the iconic Yellowstone National Park. These changes will likely fuel catastrophic wildfires, cause declines in mountain snows and threaten the survival of animals and plants, according to the scientists who authored the report. It shows that expected warming over the US West over the next three decades will transform the land in and around Yellowstone from a wetter, mostly forested Rocky Mountain ecosystem into a more open landscape, more akin to the arid US Southwest.

“Ecological Implications of Climate Change on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” compiled by more than 20 university and government scientists, said that such dry conditions in that area have not been seen for the last 10,000 years, and extremely destructive wildfires like the one in 1988 that burned thousands of acres of the park are going to become more common, while years without major fires will become rare.

Denial and Reality

The climate disruption deniers have been barking loudly over the last month, which should be expected as irrefutable evidence of ACD continues in an avalanche.

Following Florida’s lead, Wisconsin officially became the next state to censor its employees’ work regarding climate disruption. Wisconsin has banned its employees from working on ACD, after Florida banned the use of the terms “climate change” and “global warming.”

Perhaps this is what played a role in inspiring acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to proclaim that politicians denying science is “the beginning of the end of an informed democracy.”

Facing a loss of high-profile corporate sponsors, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), now tired of being accused of ACD denial, has threatened actionagainst activist groups that accuse it of denying ACD. This “action” could come in the form of lawsuits.

The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released very interesting county-by-county maps of the United States, which show the various levels of ACD denial across the country and are worth examining.

Over the last four years, extreme weather events in the US caused 1,286 fatalities and $227 billion in economic losses.

Not to be outdone by fellow Republican ACD-denying presidential candidates, Marco Rubio voluntarily donned the dunce cap by stating that scientists have not determined what percentage of ACD is due to human activities compared to natural climate variability, and added brilliantly, “climate is always changing.”

This year has seen us cross yet another milestone in the Arctic – this one being that sea ice covering the top of the world reached the lowest maximum extent yet observed during the winter. This means, ominously, that in just the last four years Arctic sea ice has seen a new low both for its seasonal winter peak (2015) and for its summer minimum (2012). While most sane people would see this as a gut-wrenching fact to have to process emotionally, Robert Molnar, the CEO of the Sailing the Arctic Race, is busily planning an “extreme yacht race” for the summer and fall of 2017 there. “The more ice that’s being melted, the more free water is there for us to be sailing,” he said.

In stark contrast, US Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting the Arctic amid concerns over the melting ice, and some of the mainstream media, in this case The Washington Post, are running op-eds claiming that ACD deniers are actually now in retreat due to their own outlandish comments.

In a historic move, even oil giant BP’s shareholders voted overwhelmingly to support a resolution that would force the company to disclose some of its ACD-related risks.

Also on the reality front, recently released analysis shows that densely populated Asian islands and countries like Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines are likely to face even more intense climatic events in the future.

Another report, this one titled “An Era of Extreme Weather” by the Center for American Progress, shows that major weather events across the United States in 2014 cost an estimated $19 billion and caused at least 65 human fatalities. The report also shows that over the last four years, extreme weather events in the US caused 1,286 fatalities and $227 billion in economic losses spanning 44 states.

US President Barack Obama formally submitted to the UN a commitment to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Critics believe this is far too little, too late, but at least it is a move in the right direction.

In an interesting twist of fate, while many Florida Republican lawmakers are busily denying ACD, other Florida Republicans are busy working to protect their state’s coastal areas from rising seas resulting from advancing ACD.

Lastly in this month’s dispatch, a recently published study shows that acidic oceans helped fuel the largest mass extinction event in the history of the planet, which wiped out approximately 90 percent of all life on earth.

The carbon released that was one of the primary drivers of that extinction event was found to have been released at a similar rate to modern emissions. Dr. Matthew Clarkson, one of the authors of the study, commented: “Scientists have long suspected that an ocean acidification event occurred during the greatest mass extinction of all time, but direct evidence has been lacking until now. This is a worrying finding, considering that we can already see an increase in ocean acidity today that is the result of human carbon emissions.”

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission

Earth is halfway to being inhospitable to life, scientist says (RT)

Published time: March 20, 2015 04:02

Edited time: March 21, 2015 10:25 

Reuters / NASA

Reuters / NASA

A Swedish scientist claims in a new theory that humanity has exceeded four of the nine limits for keeping the planet hospitable to modern life, while another professor told RT Earth may be seeing an impending human-made extinction of various species.

Environmental science professor Johan Rockstrom, the executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, argues that there are nine “planetary boundaries” in a new paper published in Science – and human beings have already crossed four of them.

Those nine include carbon dioxide concentrations, maintaining biodiversity at 90 percent, the use of nitrogen and phosphorous, maintaining 75 percent of original forests, aerosol emissions, stratospheric ozone depletion, ocean acidification, fresh water use and the dumping of pollutants.

The planet has been our best friend by buffering our actions and showing its resilience,” said Rockstrom. “But for the first time ever, we might shift the planet from friend to foe.”

Image from

Image from

Rockstrom’s planetary boundary theory was first conceived in 2007. His new paper reveals that because of climate stability, which began when the Ice Age ended 11,000 years ago, a planetary calm helped our ancestors to cultivate wheat, domesticate animals, and launch industrial and communications revolutions. But those advances have strained the stability of the planet, and Rockstrom says we have broken four boundaries: too much nitrogen has been added to ecosystems, too many forests have been cut down, the climate is changing too quickly and species are going extinct at too great a rate.

Speaking to RT’s Ben Swann, Professor of Ethics Bron Taylor from the University of Florida said that we have accelerated the extinction crisis through deforestation and ocean acidification, a development which is driving species to extinction.

“[Human] beings have increased, even from 1925, from 2 billion – which is considered to be a sustainable population for human beings, according to northern European consumption standards – to 7.2 billion at this point,” he said.

What we have also done is increased the number of domestic animals, the ones we eat and the ones that are companion animals. We have 4.3 domestic animals one for every two human beings on the planet. Cultivating the land they need creates species extinction because where they are, other organism are not. Where we cut down forests for cattle, other species are not there.”

We are losing literally tens of thousands of endemic or native species to these trends.”

Professor Taylor told RT that scientists say we entering the Sixth extinction, but that this an anthropogenic extinction caused by human beings.

If you don’t have control over something, there is no moral obligation,” said Taylor. “In this case, we are doing it. So we have to ask the question: If we are doing something that is driving species off the planet, are we in some sense morally culpable?”

“What right do we have to drive [out] other species, who got here in precisely in the same way that we have, who have participated in the long struggle for existence just as we have?”

Meanwhile, Professor Rockstrom is using his planetary boundary theory not as a doomsday message but as analysis to keep the planet “safe” for humanity. He said nations can cut their carbon emissions to almost nothing and pull the Earth back across the climate boundary.

“For the first time,” he said, “we have a framework for growth, for eradicating poverty and hunger, and for improving health.”

Welcome to Global Warming’s Terrifying New Era (Slate)

By Eric Holthaus

19 March 2015


Storm damage in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo by UNICEF via Getty Images

On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announcedthat Earth’s global temperature for February was among the hottest ever measured. So far, 2015 is tracking above record-warm 2014—which, when combined with the newly resurgent El Niño, means we’re on pace for another hottest year in history.

In addition to the just-completed warmest winter on record globally (despite the brutal cold and record snow in the eastern U.S.), new data on Thursday from the National Snow and Ice Data Center show that this year’s peak Arctic sea ice reached its lowest ever maximum extent, thanks to “an unusual configuration of the jet stream” that greatly warmed the Pacific Ocean near Alaska.

But here’s the most upsetting news. It’s been exactly 30 years since the last time the world was briefly cooler than its 20th-century average. Every single month since February 1985 has been hotter than the long-term average—that’s 360 consecutive months.

More than just being a round number, the 30-year streak has deeper significance. In climatology, a continuous 30-year stretch of data is traditionally what’s used to define what’s “normal” for a given location. In a very real way, we can now say that for our given location—the planet Earth—global warming is now “normal.” Forget debating—our climate has officially changed.

This 30-year streak should change the way we think and talk about this issue. We’ve entered a new era in which global warming is a defining characteristic and a fundamental driver of what it means to be an inhabitant of planet Earth. We should treat it that way. For those who care about the climate, that may mean de-emphasizing statistics and science and beginning to talk more confidently about the moral implications of continuing on our current path.

Since disasters disproportionately impact the poor, climate change is increasingly an important economic and social justice issue. The pope will visit the United States later this year as part of a broader campaign by the Vatican to directly influence the outcome of this year’s global climate negotiations in Paris—recent polling data show his message may be resonating, especially with political conservatives and nonscience types. Two-thirds of Americans now believe that world leaders are morally obligated to take steps to reduce carbon.

Scientists and journalists have debated the connection between extreme weather and global warming for years, but what’s happening now is different. Since weather impacts virtually every facet of our lives (at least in a small way), and since climate change is affecting weather at every point in the globe every day (at least in a small way), that makes it at the same time incredibly difficult to study and incredibly important. Formal attribution studies that attempt to scientifically tease out whether global warming “caused” individual events are shortsighted and miss the point. It’s time for a change in tack. The better question to ask is: How do we as a civilization collectively tackle the weather extremes we already face?

In the aftermath of the nearly unprecedented power and destructive force of Cyclone Pam’s landfall in the remote Pacific island nation of Vanuatu—where survivors were forced to drink saltwater—emerges perhaps the best recent example I’ve seen of a government acknowledging this changed climate in a scientifically sound way:

Cyclone Pam is a consequence of climate change since all weather is affected by the planet’s now considerably warmer climate. The spate of extreme storms over the past decade—of which Pam is the latest—is entirely consistent in science with the hottest ever decade on record.

The statement was from the government of the Philippines, the previous country to suffer a direct strike by a Category 5 cyclone—Haiyan in 2013. As chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum negotiating bloc, the Philippines also called for a strengthening of ambition in the run-up to this year’s global climate agreement in Paris.

The cost of disasters of all types is rising around the globe as population and wealth increase and storms become more fierce. This week in Japan, 187 countries agreed on a comprehensive plan to reduce loss of life from disasters as well as their financial impact. However, the disaster deal is nonbinding and won’t provide support to the most vulnerable countries.

Combining weather statistics and photos of devastated tropical islands with discussions of political and economic winners and losers is increasingly necessary as climate change enters a new era. We’re no longer describing the problem. We’re telling the story of how humanity reacts to this new normal.

As the Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, in an editorial kickoff of his newspaper’s newly heightened focus on climate, said, “the mainstream argument has moved on.” What’s coming next isn’t certain, but it’s likely to be much more visceral and real than steadily upward sloping lines on a graph.

Losing our Fear! Facing the Anthro-Obscene (Entitle Blog)

October 20, 2014

by Erik Swyngedouw**

It’s useless to wait-for a breakthrough, for the revolution, the nuclear apocalypse or a social movement. To go on waiting is madness. The catastrophe is not coming, it is here. We are already situated within the collapse of a civilisation. It is within this reality that we must choose sides.

The Invisible Committee

The hegemonic liberal frame that sutures the environmental literary landscape today is ‘market environmentalism’. Greening the market economy, so the fantasy goes, is systematically advanced across the academic and popular media landscape as the panacea for the environmental deadlock we are in. The dominant argumentation of ‘green economy’ pundits maintains that merely greening the existing socio-economic relations will bring a sustainable solution. Ecologising the economy would be necessary and sufficient to evade a pending ecological Armageddon while permitting the untroubled continuation of civilisation as we know it for a while longer.

It is precisely the premise of this biblical promise of an ecological catastrophe coming near you in the near future that should be rejected completely. Confronted with cataclysmic images of imminent ecological disaster, which predominate the ecological and climate discourse and imaginary, and whose ultimate goal is precisely to make sure that the disaster does not take place (if we take the right measures), the only correct radical answer seems to be ‘don’t worry’ (Al Gore, Prince Charles, green boys and girls, eco-responsible companies, environmental civil servants), your disaster scenario is factually correct, but just a bit out-of-synch; social-ecological Armageddon will not only take place, it is already taking place, it has already happened. Many already live in the apocalypse, in those places where the intertwining of environmental change and social conditions has already reduced living conditions to ‘bare life’. Socio-ecological entanglements have already reached the ‘point of no return’. It is already too late to do something about nature. It has always already been too late. It is precisely by accepting this reality that a new politics can emerge.

Source: Robyn Woolston

‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’ has become an often-heard slogan to inform us that a new geological era has started, that it is already too late to save Nature. Whereas until recently earthly processes only proceeded very slowly and irrespective of human interventions at the earth’s surface or in the atmosphere, human beings have now become co-producers of a deep geological time itself. Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize winning chemist, invented the term about ten years ago to refer to what comes after the Holocene, the relatively moderate geo-climatic period in which agriculture, cities and complex human civilisations came into being. The notion of the Anthropocene suggests that the intertwining of social and ‘natural’ processes is now so intense that Nature as the merely external condition of existence for human beings has come to an end. There is no longer a form of Nature that is not influenced by social, cultural, and economic relations. Henrik Ernstson, eminent political ecologist, recently proffered the term ‘Anthro-Obscene’ to signal the starkly de-politicising and plainly disempowering mobilisation of what nonetheless sounds like a revolutionary concept. Is the ‘Anthropocene’ and its intense human – non-human entanglements not precisely the name for the disavowed historical unfolding of the capitalist political ecology of the past few centuries? Has it not been the historical-geographical dynamic of capitalism and its global spread that has banned the very existence of an external nature?

The Anthropocene heralds the period since the beginning of industrialisation, and therefore capitalism, which brought a qualitative change in the geo-eco-climatic dynamic on earth as a result of the ever intensifying interaction between human beings and their physical conditions of existence. The Anthropocene is therefore nothing else than a geological name for capitalism WITH nature. Ocean acidification, changes in biodiversity, genetic migration and new genetic combinations, climate change, large infrastructures which influence the geodetic dynamic, new materials, global and often unexpected new disease carriers and so on and so forth resulted in ever more complex entanglements of ‘natural’ and ‘social’ processes whereby human beings became active agents in the co-production of the earth’s future history. The Anthropocene is just another name to indicate the End or the Death of Nature. This cannot be undone, however hard we try. Time is irreversible. There is no ideal, lost place, time or ecology, no Arcadia to which we can return. Eden has never existed anyway. The past is foreclosed forever, but the future – now including the future of a thoroughly socialised nature – is radically open. It is within this historically and geographically specific configuration that not only the possibility, but also the necessity for a real politicisation of the environment arises, that choices have to be made and different socio-ecological entanglements have to be experimented with and produced.

The Anthropocene in its Anthro-Obscenic reality displaces the terrain of the political as merely inter-human activity to the environment as a whole, including those processes, which recently were left to (the laws of) nature. Non-human actants and processes are now engaged in a process of politicisation. And this should be recognised fully in its radical materiality. The Anthro-Obscene opens a perspective whereby different nature-realities and social-ecological interactions can be imagined and realised. The political struggle about the nature, direction and development of these interactions and about the process of egalitarian social-ecological co-production of the commons of life is what a progressive politicisation of the environment envisages. Yes, the apocalypse is already here, but that is not a reason for despair or panic. Let us fully recognise the emancipatory possibilities of apocalyptic life!

The ‘green economy’. Source: Nation of Change

Many people would concur with the view that the climate crisis will fundamentally not be solved by hegemonic approaches of the ‘green economy’, by making capital compatible with – if not cashing in on – ecology; they note that energy costs are on the rise, social inequalities increase, rigid nationalisms – if not worse – emerge everywhere, and that the marketisation of everything is being paid for at an extravagant ecological and social cost. Many people know that things can and should be different. However, like me, they do not know what to do or how to get to something not only different, but better. We all share this gnawing and uncanny feeling that hopeless attempts by economic and political elites to translate the ecological and social catastrophe which surrounds us into a ecological and social crisisthat can and needs to be managed does not solve the problems but push them into the future or to other places. Indeed, does the dominant rhetoric of the elite not maintain that ‘the situation is serious but not catastrophic’? Is their neoliberal recipe book proffered as guarantee that the disaster will not occur? Don’t they claim that the crisis can be overcome with a bit of goodwill and effort: social unity will be restored, economic growth will recover and ecological problems will be addressed sustainably? ‘Hold on for a while’, they seem to be saying, ‘rescue is on its way!’

Don’t you have the surreptitious feeling that something is wrong about this rhetoric of those who (sometimes literally) want to conserve the existing situation at all cost; that the ecological and social crisis cannot be made manageable with the help of mere technical and organisational adaptations; that the attempts of the elite to reduce the catastrophe to a crisis which only requires ‘good’, ‘participatory’ and ‘ecological’ management only enlarges the anxiety, increases insecurity, and especially, worsens the catastrophe which many already experience?

What would happen if we threw off the fear? If we resolutely accepted that the ecological, social and economic apocalypse is already here, that we live in the Anthro-Obscene, that it no longer needs to be announced as a dystopian promise for an avoidable future (if only the right measures are taken today)? What if we really would believe that things can not only change, but have to? That it really is already too late for many people and ecologies?

Yes but, you might think. After all, there is no catastrophe, we don’t live in the Apocalypse. It was a good wine year, the summer was a bit disappointing but the holidays were sunny, the financial crisis is being addressed without too much pain for me and my siblings, my education proceeds as planned, sustainable environmental technologies are stimulated, the hybrid car really drives smoothly, waste is being reduced, and the new IKEA catalogue promises sustainable entrepreneurship. Furthermore, the green parties are not doing badly in the polls. You’re right. The catastrophe is not for most of you or for me. Crisis, yes, but talking about catastrophe appears a bit overdone.

But perhaps we should not forget the words of the Italian Marxist Amadeo Bordiga: ‘when the ship goes down, so too do the first class passengers’. There is no salvation island where the elites can retreat into splendid isolation (despite their best efforts to do so) he claimed. This slogan is often adopted by ecologists of a variety of stripes or colours. We are all in the same boat. Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jeffrey, Richard Branson, the inhabitants of sinking islands, my son, and even Prince Charles today share the opinion of this notorious communist of the common threat facing the commons. But on closer inspection – I would argue — good old Amadeo was desperately wrong. See the blockbuster movie Titanic once again. A large share of the upper class passengers found a lifeboat; the others remained stuck in the underbelly of the beast. The social and ecological catastrophe is indeed not here for everyone; the apocalypse is uneven. And this is where the ultimate truth of our current predicament is situated. Remember the images of the earthquake in Haiti a few years ago, or the devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina in New Orleans: hundreds of thousands of homeless people, hundreds of deaths, dysentery and malaria spreading fast, exaggerated reports about thieves who stole paltry possessions to stay alive, shortages of drinking water. The earthquake was not the consequence of human interventions in nature, the hurricane perhaps. But what we know very well is that the socio-ecological catastrophe is not caused by the earthquake or the hurricane. It was there long before disaster struck. Nature was not responsible for the post-apocalyptic post-human landscape after the quake. Most Haitians, together with all the others who balance on the verge of survival, have always already lived in the apocalypse, before, during and after the quake. Racial prejudices, dire living conditions and a precarious socio-ecological existence were also the lot of the poor in New Orleans. Or think about the incalculable number of environmental refugees.

Source: FightBack

We have a rough idea about the number that is reaching European shores via the Mediterranean, but we have not a clue about the countless migrants, except through occasional harrowing stories of sunken boats, that fail to make it to the continent, and become fish fodder. It is precisely the combination of ecological, social and economic relations, which pushes them, often with desperately little means, to leave their home countries. They, too, fled a catastrophe. Our apocalyptic times are perversely uneven, whereby the survival pods of the elites are fed and sustained by the disintegration of life-worlds elsewhere.

Consider, for example, how the socio-ecological conditions in Chinese mega-factories, like Foxconn, where our iPhone, iPod, iPad and other gadgets, so indispensable for ‘normal’ life are assembled, make 19th century European cities look like socio-ecological utopias. The social and ecological catastrophe which international elites imposed upon Greece to make sure the European neoliberal model could be sustained a while longer shows that the collapse of daily life is reserved for certain people, so that the others can go on with business as usual. If nuclear power plants close down tomorrow, the lights will continue burning on Putin’s gas. Despite Pussy Riot. And tar sands exploitation or ‘fracking’ will protect us from the disaster of ‘peak oil’ while further pumping up greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere never before found in the earth’s history.

‘Natural’ and ecological disasters show in all their sharpness what we have already known for a long time, namely, the politically powerless and economically weak are paying the price, they always do. The apocalypse is always theirs, and only theirs. While the biblical apocalypse of Saint John announced the final judgment which offered paradise to the chosen few and damned the evil ones, the socio-ecological apocalypse separates the elite from the powerless and excluded.

Perhaps something must be done about the lifeboats. For some, the solution is to seal them off hermetically, to protect them with electric fences and impenetrable walls, to strengthen militarised forces to secure the perimeter of their own little eco-paradise. The zombies of the apocalypse, the hordes at the gates, the motley crew that demands its share of nature, the rebels who ask a new order: they represent the reality of catastrophe today. And this reality should be taken seriously. We all share in it. Eco-warrior, advocate of nuclear energy, incorrigible Malthusian and inventor of the Gaia hypothesis James Lovelock summarised the possible consequences of the uneven apocalypse very eloquently and soberly:

“… what if at some time in the next few years we realise, as we did in 1939, that democracy had temporarily to be suspended and we had to accept a disciplined regime that saw the UK as a legitimate but limited safe haven for civilisation. Orderly survival requires an unusual degree of human understanding and leadership and may require, as in war, the suspension of democratic government for the duration of the survival emergency.”

The emergency situation evoked by Lovelock is not there to make sure everyone survives. It is supposed to be the consequence of the demographic explosion cum ecological disintegration of the Global South as a result of which hordes of eco-zombies will crowd at the gates of the egalitarian social-ecological paradise at the other side of the Channel. An autocratic leadership and the suspension of democracy are precisely needed to keep the gates firmly shut. This might appear a somewhat exaggerated perspective. But is this not exactly what happened over the past few years? Perhaps not so much with regard to climate change (very little has happened on that terrain), but surely with regard to attempts to reduce the economic-financial catastrophe to a manageable crisis. All other problems were shoved aside. Draconian austerity measures were imposed which especially affected the weakest, massive public means were and are mobilised to keep financial institutions afloat, migration is being managed with all possible repressive means. Despite profound and previously unseen protest, only one set of recipes was applied to restore the existing financial-economic order. The elite indeed will, if necessary, use all means available to maintain its status and position.

But does in the generalised forms of resistance reside not only the hope, but the absolute certainty, that change is possible and needed? A change that revolves around the signifiers of democracy, solidarity and the egalitarian management of the commons? Does this not suggest, rather provocatively, that the political project that combines those terms might carry the name ‘communism’; ‘a communism of the commons’. This suggestion breaks so strongly with the currently hegemonic logic and recipes that many will sceptically respond: how can the democratic management of the commons ever be realised? How can the egalitarian and collective management of the commons be organised in the current neoliberal climate which includes the privatisation of nature, the individualisation of daily life, and the fragmentation of the political and ideological landscape? Of course, the critique of the hegemonic project of the green economy is valid, and another approach is necessary, but should we – faced with the coming catastrophes – not rather opt for practical solutions, which maybe do not really question the status quo, but are at least a bit more realistic, less weighted down by history, and feasible today?

Furthermore, the term ‘communism’ probably – and rightly – evokes the horror of the 20th century (the Stalinist terror, the ecological disaster, the social inequality), or at least, the term refers to a radical failure of what was once presented as a utopian solution for society’s ills. Perhaps ‘communism’ is indeed not a good name to refer to a democratic ecological project of the commons. Perhaps we should let fear triumph here too. Or maybe it is better to reserve the term socialism or communism for the elitist and undemocratic mobilisation of the commons for personal gain and the reinforcement of the elite’s power position.

We are all socialists now. Source: Newsweek

In February 2009, Newsweek, not immediately the most radical magazine, stated on its cover “We are all socialists now”. The title evidently referred to the 1.5 trillion dollars of public money that President Barack Obama pumped into the banking system to save Wall Street and to prevent a (foretold apocalyptic) planetary financial meltdown. Shortly afterwards, other countries, including the European Union would follow suit. Trillions of euros, part of the common capital, of our commons, were mobilised to provide the sputtering profit motor with new oil. Is there a better example to show that socialism is a real possibility, that collective means, the commons, can massively and collectively be used to reach a particular social goal, in this case the maintenance of elite positions, the avoidance of the apocalypse for the elite on the back of the weakest? Despite the Spanish Indignados, the Greek outraged, and many Occupy! movements which demand ‘Real Democracy Now’, the assembled elites continue undisturbed, realising their collective phantasmagorical utopia. Indeed, we are living in properly socialist times, a socialism of the elites.

We are NOT all socialists now…..Source:

Is a better example possible that the commons can indeed be used collectively (in this case the collective of the 1% – still a significant number)? That a communism of the elites is precisely the political name for the current neoliberal practice? Putin’s Russia is a good example of the appropriation of the commons by an oligarchic ultra-minority. As Marx stated long ago, history unfolds as a drama (the real socialism of the 20th century) and repeats itself as a farce (the real socialism of the elites today). What the socialist movement of the 20th century mostly failed to realise (the nationalisation of the banks) is being achieved by the elite in a very short lapse of time, in the name of the recovery of and sustainability of capitalism! It appears indeed that the collective management of the commons as such is not the problem. It is certainly not a naive or utopian proposal. The question is rather one of its management by whom and for whom?

Where resides the problem then? What is it that we don’t dare to face? What withholds us from tackling the unequal social-ecological apocalypse? The answer is implicit in what precedes. Not the collective management of the commons, of the environment, is the problem, but rather the undemocratic character of the current type of management. This does not relate to the shortcomings of the institutional and electoral machines of daily policy-making (parliaments, regular elections, public administration, political parties, etcetera  – very few still believe in its potential to nurture democratizing and egalitarian change), but to the basis of a democratic society itself. The foundation of democracy is that everyone is supposed to be equal. Democratic equality is not a sociologically verifiable given – we all know that each concrete society knows many clearly observable inequalities – but an axiomatic principle. The democratic is precisely the axiomatic acceptance of the equality of everyone and the recognition of the egalitarian capacity to govern in a concrete context, which is always marked by social and ecological inequalities.  That is the truth which is put forward time and again by resistance movements, Indignados, the Arab Spring, the women’s, workers’ and environmental movements. That is why the truth of democracy is not a universal standard. Its universal truth (we are all equal in principle) is carried by the particular group who is wronged as its equality is mis- or unrecognised. That is why we can conclusively state that Al Gore, Richard Branson, the president of the European Central bank, or Angela Merkel are undemocratic, while environmental refugees, climate justice activists, resistance movements against the privatisation of the commons and Occupy! activists, through their political action, reveal the scandal of institutionalised democracy and the necessity of an egalitarian communist restructuration of political, social and ecological relations, although they too are a sociological minority. In this sense, they precisely indicate what really matters in these apocalyptic times. Let’s join them. Translating the egalitarian demand in concrete social-ecological equality is the stake of a real politicisation of the environment. And this requires intellectual courage, social mobilisation, and new forms of political action and organisation. We have nothing to lose but our fear.

* I have taken the term ‘Anthro-Obscene’ from Henrik Ernstson, eminent political ecologists of the Universities of Stockholm, Stanford, and Cape Town, who suggested it as part of the theme for an upcoming workshop on politicizing urban political ecology that we are organising in 2015. This blog is a redacted reflection of a foreword for a fantastic book coming out in 2015: Kennis A. and Lievens M. The Myth of the Green Economy. (London and New York: Routledge).

** Erik Swyngedouw Erik is Professor of Geography at the University of Manchester in its School of Environment and Development. He received his PhD entitled “The production of new spaces of production” under the supervision of David Harvey at Johns Hopkins University (1991). From 1988 until 2006 he taught at the University of Oxford and was a Fellow of St. Peter’s College. He moved to the University of Manchester in 2006. Erik has published several books and research papers in the fields of political economy, political ecology, and urban theory and culture. He aims at bringing politically explicit yet theoretically and empirically grounded research that contributes to the practice of constructing a more genuinely humanising geography.

Affective Habitus, Environment & Emotions (Synthetic Zero)

“Ariel Salleh: The Vicissitudes of an Earth Democracy

Even as we face the global crisis, an Earth on fire, the role of water goes unacknowledged. Yet it is water that joins Humanity and Nature, mind and body, subject and object, men, women, queers, children, animals, plants, rocks, and air. Water carries the flow of desire, nourishes the seed, sculpts our valleys, and our imaginations. As water joins heaven and Earth, it steadies climates. But the Promethian drive to mastery, militarism, mining, manufacture, steals water, leaves deserts in its wake. More than peak oil, we face peak water. What kind of ecotheory will turn this Anthropocene around? Who embodies the deep flow of resistant affect that Adorno and Kristeva find in non-identity? Can the universities give us theory that is guided by this logic of water? Or are our canons and cognitions still too embedded in the commodities and objects of fire? While life on Earth falls into Anthropocenic disrepair, a global bourgeois culture promotes ad hoc action as policy and pastiche as style. Timothy Morton’s recent essay ‘The Oedipal Logic of Ecological Awareness’ is provocative in this respect. In response, we ask: What does the hybrid politics of ecological feminism say about affect and the dissolution of old binaries like Humanity versus Nature? How does its embodied materialism translate into an Earth Democracy? Whose affective habitus can nurture nature’s agency – indigenes, mothers, peasants? Whose common labour skills reproduce the unity of water and land?

Eileen Joy: Post/Apocalyptically Blue

This talk is an attempt to think about depression as a shared creative endeavor, as a trans-corporeal blue (and blues) ecology that would bind humans, nonhumans, and stormy weather together in what anthropologist Tim Ingold has called a meshwork, where “beings do not propel themselves across a ready-made world but rather issue forth through a world-in-formation, along the lines of their relationships.” In this enmeshment of the “strange strangers” of Timothy Morton’s dark ecology, “[t]he only way out is down” and art’s “ambiguous, vague qualities will help us to think things that remain difficult to put into words.” It may be, as Morton has also argued, that while “personhood” is real, nevertheless, “[b]oth the surface and the depth of our being are ambiguous and illusory.” And “still weirder, this illusion might have actual effects.” I want to see if it might be possible to cultivate this paradoxical interface (literally, “between faces”) between illusion and effects, especially with regard to feeling blue, a condition I believe is a form of a deeply empathic enmeshment with a world that suffers its own “sea changes” and which can never be seen as separate from the so-called individuals who supposedly only populate (“people”) it.”

O apagão do planeta (O Estado de São Paulo)

Entrevista. Martin Rees

Indiferente aos ‘céticos do clima’, a Terra está cada vez mais quente e a previsão é de desastres devastadores até o fim do século, alerta astrônomo de Cambridge

Ivan Marsiglia

24 Janeiro 2015 | 16h 00



Os desastres da gestão da água em São Paulo e dos apagões elétricos no País não são obra de São Pedro ou de Deus, esse brasileiro – como chegaram a atribuir certas autoridades. Mas foram ambos agravados por cenário maior, também de catástrofe anunciada, só que em escala global. Há anos o Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), da ONU, alerta para o risco de mudanças climáticas decorrentes do aquecimento global, pregando praticamente no deserto. Na semana passada, somando-se ao aumento perceptível de eventos atmosféricos extremos mundo afora, um relatório da Nasa, a agência espacial americana, confirmou: 2014 foi o ano mais quente desde que essa medição começou a ser feita, em 1880. E, embora os cientistas “céticos do clima” continuem sua cruzada para esfriar os ânimos do ambientalismo, essa é uma realidade cada vez mais difícil de negar.

“Se as emissões anuais de CO2 continuarem a aumentar podemos enfrentar uma mudança climática drástica, com cenários devastadores até o século 22”, crava um dos cientistas mais respeitados do mundo na área. Sir Martin John Rees, astrônomo e professor de cosmologia e astrofísica na Universidade de Cambridge, presidente da prestigiosa Royal Society entre 2005 e 2010, não é o que se pode chamar de “alarmista”. E, no entanto, em um livro de 2003 – Our Final Century (Hora Final – Alerta de um Cientista, Companhia das Letras) – já dizia, com polidez britânica, que a humanidade tem 50% de chance de sobreviver ao século 21.

Na entrevista a seguir, o autor de From Here to Infinity: A Vision for the Future of Science – livro de 2012 em que investiga as conexões entre ciência, política e economia no século 21 – descreve o delicado estado de coisas neste nosso “mundo congestionado”, sob ameaça não só do crescimento populacional e da incessante demanda por recursos naturais, mas também da incapacidade humana de pensar a longo prazo. Problemas que, alerta Martin Rees, não serão resolvidos com medidas paliativas ou pela mão invisível do mercado: “Exigem intervenção governamental e ação internacional”.

Em Our Final Century (2003) o sr. afirmava que nossa civilização tinha 50% de chance de sobreviver até o fim do século 21. Esse porcentual continua o mesmo?

Não mudei meu ponto de vista – e tenho ficado surpreso com a quantidade de pessoas que pensam que não sou suficientemente pessimista. Claro que é improvável que todos nós sejamos exterminados. Mas penso que vamos ter que ter muita sorte para evitar retrocessos devastadores. Em parte devido ao aumento do estresse nos ecossistemas devido ao crescimento populacional e a nossa crescente demanda por recursos. Mas, mais do que isso, porque nos apoderamos de uma nova tecnologia: entramos em uma nova era geológica, o “antropoceno”, em que as ações humanas determinam o futuro do meio ambiente.

Em que medida isso é uma ameaça?

Até a segunda metade do século 20, a grande ameaça, ao menos para o Hemisfério Norte, era a guerra termonuclear, que por pouco não foi desencadeada durante a crise dos mísseis em Cuba, na década de 1960. Estivemos perto dela em outras ocasiões durante a Guerra Fria. Mas agora enfrentamos novas ameaças decorrentes do uso indevido das bio e cybertecnologias, em avanço espantoso. É com elas que me preocupo mais e por causa delas é que teremos uma jornada difícil neste século.

O ano passado foi o mais quente na Terra desde 1880, quando esse tipo de medição começou a ser feito, disse um relatório divulgado essa semana pela Nasa, a agência espacial americana, e o National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). O que está acontecendo com o planeta?

Já está claro que há uma tendência de aquecimento de longo prazo nos últimos 50 anos. Essa taxa não é estável nem uniforme na superfície da Terra. Mas é uma tendência que se sobrepõe a outros efeitos, como o El Niño, em que as alterações na circulação e no calor do oceano armazenam-se nele em vez de na atmosfera. Sabemos que a quantidade de CO2 na atmosfera está aumentando e isso provoca aquecimento – e, consequentemente, mudanças em larga escala nos padrões climáticos em todo o mundo. O que ainda não está claro é quão grande é esse efeito. A duplicação do CO2 na atmosfera causa um aquecimento de 1,2°C. Mas esse efeito pode ser ampliado devido às trocas de vapor d’água e nuvens – e não sabemos as consequências desses processos. Entretanto, parece claro que se as emissões anuais de CO2 continuarem a aumentar poderemos enfrentar uma mudança climática drástica, com cenários devastadores até o século 22.

Depois de fazer um diagnóstico catastrófico em 2007, quando estimou que 6 bilhões de pessoas morreriam até o final do século, o cientista britânico James Lovelock voltou atrás em 2012, dizendo que havia sido ‘alarmista’ em relação ao aquecimento global. Esse novo relatório da Nasa reforça as opiniões mais pessimistas?

Não posso falar por James Lovelock – mas é fantástico vê-lo, aos 95 anos de idade, engajado nesses temas e ainda disposto a mudar de ideia. Recentemente, por exemplo, ele adotou uma postura favorável à energia nuclear. Entretanto, não serão dados relativos a um único ano que vão convencer as pessoas a mudar suas atitudes. Acho que vamos levar uns 20 anos ainda para começar a reduzir a atual taxa de aquecimento. Até lá, saberemos com mais precisão – talvez a partir de modelos produzidos por computação avançada – quanto a temperatura global tem efetivamente aumentado e quão fortemente o feedback de vapor d’água e nuvens de que falei amplifica os efeitos da acumulação de CO2 no “efeito estufa”.

Por que, apesar de todos os alertas feitos pelo IPCC da ONU, os líderes políticos ao redor do mundo parecem ainda pouco sensibilizados pela questão, caminhando lentamente na direção de formas alternativas de energia ou na redução dos atuais padrões de consumo?

Embora devamos ter esperança de que a conferência de Paris em dezembro deste ano obtenha progressos efetivos, meu palpite pessimista é que os esforços políticos para descarbonizar a produção de energia no mundo não vão ganhar força. E a concentração de CO2 na atmosfera vai subir a um ritmo acelerado nas próximas duas décadas. Até lá, ficará claro se o clima do mundo está entrando em um território perigoso. Pode então haver pânico e uma pressão para que sejam adotadas medidas de emergência. O que poderia tornar necessário um “plano B”: fatalismo quanto à continuidade da dependência mundial dos combustíveis fósseis, acompanhado de medidas que combatam seus efeitos com o uso da geoengenharia.

Que tipo de medidas poderiam reverter o aquecimento global?

O efeito estufa poderia ser contra-atacado, por exemplo, com a colocação de aerossóis (partículas que absorvem e dispersam a luz solar) na atmosfera ou mesmo de grandes guarda-sóis no espaço. É aparentemente factível lançar material suficiente na estratosfera para mudar o clima do mundo – o assustador seria imaginar como isso seria feito, se com recursos de uma única nação ou talvez de uma megacorporação. Os problemas políticos em torno do uso desse tipo de geoengenharia podem ser esmagadores. Sem falar na possibilidade de ocorrerem efeitos colaterais. Além disso, o aquecimento poderia voltar caso essas medidas fossem por alguma razão descontinuadas e também se mostrassem ineficazes em relação a outras consequências do acúmulo de CO2. Em especial, os efeitos deletérios que o gás causa na acidificação dos oceanos.

Ou seja, ainda que estejam surgindo tecnologias supostamente capazes de reverter o aquecimento global, a utilização delas teria resultados imprevisíveis?

A geoengenharia seria um pesadelo político absoluto. Nem todas as nações iriam querer ajustar o termostato da mesma maneira. Modelos climáticos superelaborados seriam necessários para calcular os impactos regionais de qualquer intervenção artificial. Imagine: seria uma festa para os advogados se um indivíduo ou uma nação pudessem ser responsabilizados por qualquer mau tempo. Acho que seria prudente estudar suficientemente as técnicas de geoengenharia para deixar claro que opções fazem sentido antes de adotar um otimismo injustificado em relação a elas. Não haverá “solução rápida e técnica” para consertar o clima.

Qual é a sua opinião sobre os chamados ‘céticos do clima’, cientistas que ainda negam o aquecimento global, com pesquisas às vezes financiadas por grupos econômicos que ganham com a exploração dos combustíveis fósseis?

O debate sobre o clima tem sido marcado por muita disputa entre a ciência, a política e os interesses comerciais. Aqueles que rejeitam as projeções feitas pelo IPCC têm contribuído mais para jogar a ciência na lata do lixo do que em fazer um apelo “por uma ciência melhor”. E ainda que os resultados da ciência fossem claros e cristalinos, haveria uma margem gigantesca para debate sobre a melhor resposta política. Acho que as divergências em questão dizem respeito mais a desentendimentos éticos e econômicos do que científicos. Os que propõem medidas tímidas e convencionais, como por exemplo, (o cientista dinamarquês) Bjørn Lomborg (autor do bestseller O Ambientalista Cético, Campus, 2002), estão de fato desconsiderando o que pode acontecer para além de 2050. Há, de fato, pouco risco de uma catástrofe dentro desse horizonte temporal – e assim não é surpresa que se queira minimizar a prioridade do combate às alterações climáticas. Mas se você se preocupa com quem vai viver no século 22 e depois dele, então pode considerar que vale a pena fazer um investimento agora. Para proteger as gerações futuras contra o pior cenário e prevenir o desencadeamento de mudanças de longo prazo, como o derretimento do gelo da Groenlândia.

O Brasil, um dos tão aclamados Brics, vive um momento dramático, com o sistema elétrico saturado e possibilidade real de colapso total da água em São Paulo, a maior metrópole do País. Podemos assistir em breve a um cenário de colapsos econômicos e evacuação de cidades?

Vivemos num mundo interconectado cada vez mais dependente de energia e tecnologias avançadas. Embora eu não esteja familiarizado o bastante para falar sobre São Paulo, as “megacidades” são especialmente vulneráveis. No curto prazo, a prioridade absoluta é assegurar energia elétrica confiável para todos. Esse problema é muito maior em países como a Índia, onde milhões usam madeira ou estrume como combustível para cozinhar, sofrendo em consequência abalos na saúde. No longo prazo, todas as nações deveriam adotar políticas de baixo carbono. Políticos não gostam de defender medidas que tragam mudanças de vida indesejadas – especialmente se os benefícios dessas medidas só venham a aparecer daqui a décadas. Mas há três medidas políticas realistas que deveriam ser impulsionadas. A primeira é os países promoverem ações que poupem dinheiro, mais eficiência energética, melhor isolamento dos prédios, etc. A segunda é concentrar esforços em reduzir poluentes, metano e carbono negro. São substâncias que não agravam tanto o aquecimento global, mas sua redução, diferentemente da de CO2, traz mais benefícios locais. A terceira e mais importante é incrementar a pesquisa e desenvolvimento de todas as formas de energia limpa – incluindo, a meu ver, a energia nuclear. Por que a pesquisa energética não é feita numa escala comparável à pesquisa médica? Nesse campo, o Brasil, já um inovador em biocombustível e outros tipos de energia, poderia tornar-se um líder mundial.

Um outro estudo divulgado há poucos dias pelo Goddard Space Flight Center, da Nasa, alerta para a perspectiva de a civilização industrial entrar em colapso nas próximas décadas por causa da exploração insustentável de recursos e da distribuição desigual de riqueza – uma abordagem que poderia estar em seu livro dez anos antes. É realista imaginar o mundo caminhando em outra direção?

Robôs estão substituindo humanos na indústria manufatureira. Vão ocupar cada vez mais nossos empregos, não apenas no trabalho manual. Mas a grande pergunta é: o advento da robótica será como o ocorrido com outras novas tecnologias – a do carro, por exemplo -, que criavam tantos empregos quanto eliminavam? Ou desta vez será diferente? As atuais inovações podem gerar riquezas imensas, mas será preciso haver maciça redistribuição, via impostos, para garantir a cada um pelo menos um “salário de sobrevivência”. Não existem impedimentos científicos para se chegar a um mundo sustentável e seguro em que todos tenham um estilo de vida melhor que o do Ocidente de hoje. Podemos ser “tecnologicamente otimistas”, embora o equilíbrio tecnológico exija redirecionamento e se guie por valores que a ciência em si não pode prover. Mas a aridez da política e da sociologia – o abismo entre potencialidades e o que ocorre na realidade – indica pessimismo. Políticos pensam em eleitores e nas próximas eleições. Investidores esperam lucro no curto prazo. Fingimos ignorar o que ocorre neste exato momento em países longínquos. E minimizamos fortemente os problemas que deixaremos para as novas gerações. Sem uma perspectiva mais ampla, sem aceitar que estamos juntos neste mundo congestionado, governos não vão priorizar projetos políticos de longo prazo, mesmo que esse longo prazo seja apenas um instante na história do planeta. A “Nave Terra” está vagando pelo espaço. Seus passageiros estão ansiosos e divididos. O mecanismo de suporte de vida deles é vulnerável a rupturas e colapsos. Mesmo assim, há pouco planejamento, pouca observação do horizonte, pouca consciência dos riscos de longo termo. São problemas que não podem ser resolvidos pelo mercado: exigem intervenção governamental e ação internacional.


Doomsday Clock Set at 3 Minutes to Midnight (Live Science)

by Megan Gannon, News Editor   |   January 22, 2015 01:25pm ET

Is a climate disaster inevitable? (Book Forum)

From De Ethica, Michel Bourban (Lausanne): Climate Change, Human Rights and the Problem of Motivation; Robert Heeger (Utrecht): Climate Change and Responsibility to Future Generations: Reflections on the Normative Questions; Casey Rentmeester (Finlandia): Do No Harm: A Cross-Disciplinary, Cross-Cultural Climate Ethics; and Norbert Campagna (Luxembourg): Climate Migration and the State’s Duty to Protect. Harvard’s David Keith knows how to dial down the Earth’s thermostat — is it time to try? Renzo Taddei (UNIFESP): Alter Geoengineering. Tobias Boes and Kate Marshall on writing the Anthropocene. People don’t work as hard on hot days — or on a warming planet. James West on 2014 was the year we finally started to do something about climate change. How much is climate change going to cost us? David Roberts investigates. Is a climate disaster inevitable? Adam Frank on what astrobiology can tell us about the fate of the planet. If we’re all headed for extinction anyway—AND WE ARE—won’t it be a lot more enjoyable to run out the clock with everyone looking a little more pleasant? Welcome to the latest exciting opportunity in the sights of investors: the collapse of planet Earth. You can download Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence by Christian Parenti (2011). You can download Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene by Joanna Zylinska (2014).

[Emphasis added]

Eliane Brum: Antiautoajuda para 2015 (El Pais)

Em defesa do mal-estar para nos salvar de uma vida morta e de um planeta hostil. Chega de viver no modo avião


22 DIC 2014 – 10:54 BRST

Não tenho certeza se esse ano vai acabar. Tenho uma convicção crescente de que os anos não acabam mais. Não há mais aquela zona de transição e a troca de calendário, assim como de agendas, é só mais uma convenção que, se é que um dia teve sentido, reencena-se agora apenas como gesto esvaziado. Menos a celebração de uma vida que se repactua, individual e coletivamente, mais como farsa. E talvez, pelo menos no Brasil, poderíamos já afirmar que 2013 começou em junho e não em janeiro, junto com as manifestações, e continua até hoje. Mas esse é um tema para outra coluna, ainda por ser escrita. O que me interessa aqui é que nossos rituais de fim e começo giram cada vez mais em falso, e não apenas porque há muito foram apropriados pelo mercado. Há algo maior, menos fácil de perceber, mas nem por isso menos dolorosamente presente. Algo que pressentimos, mas temos dificuldade de nomear. Algo que nos assusta, ou pelo menos assusta a muitos. E, por nos assustar, em vez de nos despertar, anestesia. Talvez para uma época de anos que, de tão acelerados, não terminam mais, o mais indicado seja não resoluções de ano-novo nem manuais sobre ser feliz ou bem sucedido, mas antiautoajuda.

Quando as pessoas dizem que se sentem mal, que é cada vez mais difícil levantar da cama pela manhã, que passam o dia com raiva ou com vontade de chorar, que sofrem com ansiedade e que à noite têm dificuldade para dormir, não me parece que essas pessoas estão doentes ou expressam qualquer tipo de anomalia. Ao contrário. Neste mundo, sentir-se mal pode ser um sinal claro de excelente saúde mental. Quem está feliz e saltitante como um carneiro de desenho animado é que talvez tenha sérios problemas. É com estes que deveria soar uma sirene e por estes que os psiquiatras maníacos por medicação deveriam se mobilizar, disparando não pílulas, mas joelhaços como os do Analista de Bagé, do tipo “acorda e se liga”. É preciso se desconectar totalmente da realidade para não ser afetado por esse mundo que ajudamos a criar e que nos violenta. Não acho que os felizes e saltitantes sejam mais reais do que o Papai Noel e todas as suas renas, mas, se existissem, seriam estes os alienados mentais do nosso tempo.

Olho ao redor e não todos, mas quase, usam algum tipo de medicamento psíquico. Para dormir, para acordar, para ficar menos ansioso, para chorar menos, para conseguir trabalhar, para ser “produtivo”. “Para dar conta” é uma expressão usual. Mas será que temos de dar conta do que não é possível dar conta? Será que somos obrigados a nos submeter a uma vida que vaza e a uma lógica que nos coisifica porque nos deixamos coisificar? Será que não dar conta é justamente o que precisa ser escutado, é nossa porção ainda viva gritando que algo está muito errado no nosso cotidiano de zumbi? E que é preciso romper e não se adequar a um tempo cada vez mais acelerado e a uma vida não humana, pela qual nos arrastamos com nossos olhos mortos, consumindo pílulas de regulação do humor e engolindo diagnósticos de patologias cada vez mais mirabolantes? E consumindo e engolindo produtos e imagens, produtos e imagens, produtos e imagens?

Neste mundo, sentir-se mal é sinônimo de excelente saúde mental

A resposta não está dada. Se estivesse, não seria uma resposta, mas um dogma. Mas, se a resposta é uma construção de cada um, talvez nesse momento seja também uma construção coletiva, na medida em que parece ser um fenômeno de massa. Ou, para os que medem tudo pela inscrição na saúde, uma das marcas da nossa época, estaríamos diante de uma pandemia de mal-estar. Quero aqui defender o mal-estar. Não como se ele fosse um vírus, um alienígena, um algo que não deveria estar ali, e portanto tornar-se-ia imperativo silenciá-lo. Defendo o mal-estar – o seu, o meu, o nosso – como aquilo que desde as cavernas nos mantém vivos e fez do homo sapiens uma espécie altamente adaptada – ainda que destrutiva e, nos últimos séculos, também autodestrutiva. É o mal-estar que nos diz que algo está errado e é preciso se mover. Não como um gesto fácil, um preceito de autoajuda, mas como uma troca de posição, o que custa, demora e exige os nossos melhores esforços. Exige que, pela manhã, a gente não apenas acorde, mas desperte.

Anos atrás eu escreveria, como escrevi algumas vezes, que o mal-estar desta época, que me parece diferente do mal-estar de outras épocas históricas, se dá por várias razões relacionadas à modernidade e a suas criações concretas e simbólicas. Se dá inclusive por suas ilusões de potência e fantasias de superação de limites. Mas em especial pela nossa redução de pessoas a consumidores, pela subjugação de nossos corpos – e almas – ao mercado e pela danação de viver num tempo acelerado.

Sobre essa particularidade, a psicanalista Maria Rita Kehl escreveu um livro muito interessante, chamado O Tempo e o Cão (Boitempo), em que reflete de forma original sobre o que as depressões expressam sobre o nosso mundo também como sintoma social. Logo no início, ela conta a experiência pessoal de atropelar um cachorro na estrada – e a experiência aqui não é uma escolha aleatória de palavra. Kehl viu o cachorro, mas a velocidade em que estava a impedia de parar ou desviar completamente dele. Conseguiu apenas não matá-lo. Logo, o animal, cambaleando rumo ao acostamento, ficou para trás no espelho retrovisor. É isso o que acontece com as nossas experiências na velocidade ditada por essa época em que o tempo foi rebaixado a dinheiro – uma brutalidade que permitimos, reproduzimos e com a qual compactuamos sem perceber o quanto de morte há nessa conversão.

Defendo o mal-estar como aquilo que nos mantém vivos desde as cavernas

Sobre a aceleração, diz a psicanalista: “Mal nos damos conta dela, a banal velocidade da vida, até que algum mau encontro venha revelar a sua face mortífera. Mortífera não apenas contra a vida do corpo, em casos extremos, mas também contra a delicadeza inegociável da vida psíquica. (…) Seu esquecimento (do cão) se somaria ao apagamento de milhares de outras percepções instantâneas às quais nos limitamos a reagir rapidamente para em seguida, com igual rapidez, esquecê-las. (…) Do mau encontro, que poderia ter acabado com a vida daquele cão, resultou uma ligeira mancha escura no meu para-choque. (…) O acidente da estrada me fez refletir a respeito da relação entre as depressões e a experiência do tempo, que na contemporaneidade praticamente se resume à experiência da velocidade”. O que acontece com as manchas escuras, com o sangue deixado para trás, dentro e fora de nós? Não são elas que nos assombram nas noites em que ofegamos antes de engolir um comprimido? Como viver humanamente num tempo não humano? E como aceitamos ser submetidos à bestialidade de uma vida não viva?

Hoje me parece que algo novo se impõe, intimamente relacionado a tudo isso, mas que empresta uma concretude esmagadora e um sentido de urgência exponencial a todas as questões da existência. E, apenas nesse sentido, algo fascinante. A mudança climática, um fato ainda muito mais explícito na mente de cientistas e ambientalistas do que da sociedade em geral é esse algo. A evidência de que aquele que possivelmente seja o maior desafio de toda a história humana ainda não tenha se tornado a preocupação maior do que se chama de “cidadão comum” é não uma mostra de sua insignificância na vida cotidiana, mas uma prova de sua enormidade na vida cotidiana. É tão grande que nos tornamos cegos e surdos.

Como nos submetemos a viver num tempo acelerado e não humano?

Em uma entrevista recente, aqui publicada como “Diálogos sobre o fim do mundo”, o antropólogo Eduardo Viveiros de Castro evoca o pensador alemão Günther Anders (1902-1992) para explicar essa alienação. Anders afirmava que a arma nuclear era uma prova de que algo tinha acontecido com a humanidade no momento em que se mostrou incapaz de imaginar os efeitos daquilo que se tornou capaz de fazer. Reproduzo aqui esse trecho da entrevista: “É uma situação antiutópica. O que é um utopista? Um utopista é uma pessoa que consegue imaginar um mundo melhor, mas não consegue fazer, não conhece os meios nem sabe como. E nós estamos virando o contrário. Nós somos capazes tecnicamente de fazer coisas que não somos nem capazes de imaginar. A gente sabe fazer a bomba atômica, mas não sabe pensar a bomba atômica. O Günther Anders usa uma imagem interessante, a de que existe essa ideia em biologia da percepção de fenômenos subliminares, abaixo da linha de percepção. Tem aquela coisa que é tão baixinha, que você ouve mas não sabe que ouviu; você vê, mas não sabe que viu; como pequenas distinções de cores. São fenômenos literalmente subliminares, abaixo do limite da sua percepção. Nós, segundo ele, estamos criando uma outra coisa agora que não existia, o supraliminar. Ou seja, é tão grande, que você não consegue ver nem imaginar. A crise climática é uma dessas coisas. Como é que você vai imaginar um troço que depende de milhares de parâmetros, que é um transatlântico que está andando e tem uma massa inercial gigantesca? As pessoas ficam paralisadas, dá uma espécie de paralisia cognitiva”.

O fato de se alienar – ou, como fazem alguns, chamar aqueles que apontam para o óbvio de “ecochatos”, a piada ruim e agora também velha – nem impede a corrosão acelerada do planeta nem a corrosão acelerada da vida cotidiana e interna de cada um. O que quero dizer é que, como todos os nossos gritos existenciais, o fato de negá-los não impede que façam estragos dentro de nós. Acredito que o mal-estar atual – talvez um novo mal-estar da civilização – é hoje visceralmente ligado ao que acontece com o planeta. E que nenhuma investigação da alma humana desse momento histórico, em qualquer campo do conhecimento, possa prescindir de analisar o impacto da mudança climática em curso.

De certo modo, na acepção popular do termo “clima”, referindo-se ao estado de espírito de um grupo ou pessoa, há também uma “mudança climática”. Mesmo que a maioria não consiga nomear o mal-estar, desconfio que a fera sem nome abra seus olhos dentro de nós nas noites escuras, como o restante dos pesadelos que só temos quando acordados. Há esse bicho que ainda nos habita que pressente, mesmo que tenha medo de sentir no nível mais consciente e siga empurrando o que o apavora para dentro, num esforço quase comovente por ignorância e anestesia. E a maior prova, de novo, é a enormidade da negação, inclusive pelo doping por drogas compradas em farmácias e “autorizadas” pelo médico, a grande autoridade desse curioso momento em que o que é doença está invertido.

O novo mal-estar da civilização está hoje ligado à mudança climática

São Paulo é, no Brasil, a vitrine mais impressionante dessa monumental alienação. A maior cidade do país vem se tornando há anos, décadas, um cenário de distopia em que as pessoas evoluem lentamente entre carros e poluição, encurraladas e cada vez mais violentas nos mínimos atos do dia a dia. No último ano, a seca e a crise da água acentuaram e aceleraram a corrosão da vida, mas nem por isso a mudança climática e todas as questões socioambientais relacionadas a ela tiveram qualquer impacto ou a mínima relevância na eleição estadual e principalmente na eleição presidencial. Nada. A maioria, incluindo os governantes, sequer parece perceber que a catástrofe paulista, que atinge a capital e várias cidades do interior, é ligada também à devastação da Amazônia. O tal “mundo como o conhecemos” ruindo e os zumbis evolucionando por ruas incompatíveis com a vida sem qualquer espanto. Nem por isso, ouso acreditar, deixam sequer por um momento de ser roídos por dentro pela exterioridade de sua condição. A vida ainda resiste dentro de nós, mesmo na Zumbilândia. E é o mal-estar que acusa o que resta de humano em nossos corpos.

É de um cientista, Antonio Nobre, um texto fundamental. Ler “O futuro climático da Amazônia” não é uma opção. Faça um favor a si mesmo e reserve uma hora ou duas do seu dia, o tempo de um filme, entre na internet e leia as 40 páginas escritas numa linguagem acessível, que faz pontes com vários campos do conhecimento. Há trechos de grande beleza sobre a maior floresta tropical do planeta, território concreto e simbólico sobre o qual o senso comum, no Brasil alimentado pela propaganda da ditadura civil-militar, construiu uma ideia de exploração e de nacionalismos que só vigora até hoje por total desconhecimento. É também por ignorância nossa que o atual governo, reeleito para mais um mandato, comanda na Amazônia seu projeto megalômano de grandes hidrelétricas com escassa resistência. E causa, agora, neste momento, um desastre ambiental de proporções não mensuradas em vários rios amazônicos e o etnocídio dos povos indígenas da bacia do Xingu.

A Amazônia sobreviveu por 50 milhões de anos a meteoros e glaciações, mas em menos de 50 anos está ameaçada por ação humana

Antonio Nobre mostra como uma floresta com um papel – insubstituível – na regulação do clima do Brasil e do planeta teve, nos últimos 40 anos, 762.979 quilômetros quadrados desmatados: o equivalente a três estados de São Paulo ou duas Alemanhas. Ou o equivalente a mais de 12 mil campos de futebol desmatados por dia, mais de 500 por hora, quase nove por minuto. Somando-se a área de desmatamento corte raso com a área degradada, alcançamos a estimativa aterradora de que, até 2013, 47% da floresta amazônica pode ter sido impactada diretamente por atividade humana desestabilizadora do clima. “A floresta sobreviveu por mais de 50 milhões de anos a vulcanismos, glaciações, meteoros, deriva do continente”, escreve Nobre. “Mas em menos de 50 anos está ameaçada pela ação de humanos.” A Amazônia dá forma ao momento da História em que a humanidade deixa de temer a catástrofe para se tornar a catástrofe.

Como é possível que isso aconteça bem aqui, agora, e tão poucos se importem? Se não despertarmos do nosso torpor assustado, nossos filhos e netos poderão viver e morrer não com a Amazônia transformada em savana, mas sim em deserto, com gigantesco impacto sobre o clima do planeta e a vida de todas as espécies. Para se ter uma ideia da magnitude do que estamos fazendo, por ação ou por omissão, por alienação, anestesia ou automatismo, alguns dados. Uma árvore grande transpira mais de mil litros de água por dia. A cada 24 horas a floresta amazônica lança na atmosfera, pela transpiração, 20 bilhões de toneladas de água – ou 20 trilhões de litros de água. Para se ter uma ideia comparativa, o rio Amazonas lança menos que isso – cerca de 17 bilhões de toneladas de água por dia– no oceano Atlântico. Não é preciso ser um cientista para imaginar o que acontecerá com o planeta sem a floresta.

Nobre defende que já não basta zerar o desmatamento. Alcançamos um nível de destruição em que é preciso regenerar a Amazônia. A floresta não é o “pulmão do mundo”, ela é muito mais do que isso: é o seu coração. Não como uma frase ultrapassada e clichê, mas como um fato científico. É o mundo e não só o Brasil que precisa se engajar nessa luta: o cientista defende que, se não quisermos alcançar o ponto de não retorno, deveríamos empreender – já, agora – um esforço de guerra: começando por uma guerra contra a ignorância. Fazer uma campanha tão forte e eficaz como aquela contra o tabaco. Isso, claro, se quisermos continuar a viver.

Se não quisermos alcançar um ponto de não retorno, é preciso deixar de viver no modo avião

Nessa época de tanta conexão, em que a maioria passa quase todo o tempo de vigília conectado na internet, há essa desconexão mortífera com a realidade do planeta – e de si. Como cidadão, a maioria no máximo recicla o seu lixo, achando que está fazendo um enorme esforço, mas não se informa nem participa dos debates e das decisões sobre as questões do clima, da Amazônia e do meio ambiente. Neste e em vários sentidos, é como existir no “modo avião” do celular. Um estar pela metade, o suficiente apenas para cumprir o mínimo e não se desligar por completo. Um contato sem contato, um toque que não toca nem se deixa tocar. Um viver sem vida.

É preciso sentir o mal-estar. Sentir mesmo – e não silenciá-lo das mais variadas maneiras, inclusive com medicação. Ou, como diz a pensadora americana Donna Haraway: “É preciso viver com terror e alegria”.

Só o mal-estar pode nos salvar.

Eliane Brum é escritora, repórter e documentarista. Autora dos livros de não ficção Coluna Prestes – o Avesso da Lenda, A Vida Que Ninguém vê, O Olho da Rua, A Menina Quebrada, Meus Desacontecimentos e do romance Uma Duas. Site: Email: Twitter: @brumelianebrum

Aquecimento global é inevitável e 6 bi morrerão, diz cientista (Rolling Stone)

Edição 14 – Novembro de 2007

James Lovelock, renomado cientista, diz que o aquecimento global é irreversível – e que mais de 6 bilhões de pessoas vão morrer neste século

Aos 88 anos, depois de quatro filhos e uma carreira longa e respeitada como um dos cientistas mais influentes do século 20, James Lovelock chegou a uma conclusão desconcertante: a raça humana está condenada. “Gostaria de ser mais esperançoso”, ele me diz em uma manhã ensolarada enquanto caminhamos em um parque em Oslo (Noruega), onde o estudioso fará uma palestra em uma universidade. Lovelock é baixinho, invariavelmente educado, com cabelo branco e óculos redondos que lhe dão ares de coruja. Seus passos são gingados; sua mente, vívida; seus modos, tudo menos pessimistas. Aliás, a chegada dos Quatro Cavaleiros do Apocalipse – guerra, fome, pestilência e morte – parece deixá-lo animado. “Será uma época sombria”, reconhece. “Mas, para quem sobreviver, desconfio que vá ser bem emocionante.”

Na visão de Lovelock, até 2020, secas e outros extremos climáticos serão lugar-comum. Até 2040, o Saara vai invadir a Europa, e Berlim será tão quente quanto Bagdá. Atlanta acabará se transformando em uma selva de trepadeiras kudzu. Phoenix se tornará um lugar inabitável, assim como partes de Beijing (deserto), Miami (elevação do nível do mar) e Londres (enchentes). A falta de alimentos fará com que milhões de pessoas se dirijam para o norte, elevando as tensões políticas. “Os chineses não terão para onde ir além da Sibéria”, sentencia Lovelock. “O que os russos vão achar disso? Sinto que uma guerra entre a Rússia e a China seja inevitável.” Com as dificuldades de sobrevivência e as migrações em massa, virão as epidemias. Até 2100, a população da Terra encolherá dos atuais 6,6 bilhões de habitantes para cerca de 500 milhões, sendo que a maior parte dos sobreviventes habitará altas latitudes – Canadá, Islândia, Escandinávia, Bacia Ártica.

Até o final do século, segundo o cientista, o aquecimento global fará com que zonas de temperatura como a América do Norte e a Europa se aqueçam quase 8 graus Celsius – quase o dobro das previsões mais prováveis do relatório mais recente do Painel Intergovernamental sobre a Mudança Climática, a organização sancionada pela ONU que inclui os principais cientistas do mundo. “Nosso futuro”, Lovelock escreveu, “é como o dos passageiros em um barquinho de passeio navegando tranqüilamente sobre as cataratas do Niagara, sem saber que os motores em breve sofrerão pane”. E trocar as lâmpadas de casa por aquelas que economizam energia não vai nos salvar. Para Lovelock, diminuir a poluição dos gases responsáveis pelo efeito estufa não vai fazer muita diferença a esta altura, e boa parte do que é considerado desenvolvimento sustentável não passa de um truque para tirar proveito do desastre. “Verde”, ele me diz, só meio de piada, “é a cor do mofo e da corrupção.”

Se tais previsões saíssem da boca de qualquer outra pessoa, daria para rir delas como se fossem devaneios. Mas não é tão fácil assim descartar as idéias de Lovelock. Na posição de inventor, ele criou um aparelho que ajudou a detectar o buraco crescente na camada de ozônio e que deu início ao movimento ambientalista da década de 1970. E, na posição de cientista, apresentou a teoria revolucionária conhecida como Gaia – a idéia de que nosso planeta é um superorganismo que, de certa maneira, está “vivo”. Essa visão hoje serve como base a praticamente toda a ciência climática. Lynn Margulis, bióloga pioneira na Universidade de Massachusetts (Estados Unidos), diz que ele é “uma das mentes científicas mais inovadoras e rebeldes da atualidade”. Richard Branson, empresário britânico, afirma que Lovelock o inspirou a gastar bilhões de dólares para lutar contra o aquecimento global. “Jim é um cientista brilhante que já esteve certo a respeito de muitas coisas no passado”, diz Branson. E completa: “Se ele se sente pessimista a respeito do futuro, é importante para a humanidade prestar atenção.”

Lovelock sabe que prever o fim da civilização não é uma ciência exata. “Posso estar errado a respeito de tudo isso”, ele admite. “O problema é que todos os cientistas bem intencionados que argumentam que não estamos sujeitos a nenhum perigo iminente baseiam suas previsões em modelos de computador. Eu me baseio no que realmente está acontecendo.”

Quando você se aproxima da casa de Lovelock em Devon, uma área rural no sudoeste da Inglaterra, a placa no portão de metal diz, claramente: “Estação Experimental de Coombe Mill. Local de um novo hábitat. Por favor, não entre nem incomode”.
Depois de percorrer algumas centenas de metros em uma alameda estreita, ao lado de um moinho antigo, fica uma casinha branca com telhado de ardósia onde Lovelock mora com a segunda mulher, Sandy, uma norte-americana, e seu filho mais novo, John, de 51 anos e que tem incapacidade leve. É um cenário digno de conto de fadas, cercado de 14 hectares de bosques, sem hortas nem jardins com planejamento paisagístico. Parcialmente escondida no bosque fica uma estátua em tamanho natural de Gaia, a deusa grega da Terra, em homenagem à qual James Lovelock batizou sua teoria inovadora.

A maior parte dos cientistas trabalha às margens do conhecimento humano, adicionando, aos poucos, nova informações para a nossa compreensão do mundo. Lovelock é um dos poucos cujas idéias fomentaram, além da revolução científica, também a espiritual. “Os futuros historiadores da ciência considerarão Lovelock como o homem que inspirou uma mudança digna de Copérnico na maneira como nos enxergamos no mundo”, prevê Tim Lenton, pesquisador de clima na Universidade de East Anglia, na Inglaterra. Antes de Lovelock aparecer, a Terra era considerada pouco mais do que um pedaço de pedra aconchegante que dava voltas em torno do Sol. De acordo com a sabedoria em voga, a vida evoluiu aqui porque as condições eram adequadas: não muito quente nem muito frio, muita água. De algum modo, as bactérias se transformaram em organismos multicelulares, os peixes saíram do mar e, pouco tempo depois, surgiu Britney Spears.

Na década de 1970, Lovelock virou essa idéia de cabeça para baixo com uma simples pergunta: Por que a Terra é diferente de Marte e de Vênus, onde a atmosfera é tóxica para a vida? Em um arroubo de inspiração, ele compreendeu que nossa atmosfera não foi criada por eventos geológicos aleatórios, mas sim devido à efusão de tudo que já respirou, cresceu e apodreceu. Nosso ar “não é meramente um produto biológico”, James Lovelock escreveu. “É mais provável que seja uma construção biológica: uma extensão de um sistema vivo feito para manter um ambiente específico.” De acordo com a teoria de Gaia, a vida é participante ativa que ajuda a criar exatamente as condições que a sustentam. É uma bela idéia: a vida que sustenta a vida. Também estava bem em sintonia com o tom pós-hippie dos anos 70. Lovelock foi rapidamente adotado como guru espiritual, o homem que matou Deus e colocou o planeta no centro da experiência religiosa da Nova Era. O maior erro de sua carreira, aliás, não foi afirmar que o céu estava caindo, mas deixar de perceber que estava. Em 1973, depois de ser o primeiro a descobrir que os clorofluocarbonetos (CFCs), um produto químico industrial, tinham poluído a atmosfera, Lovelock declarou que a acumulação de CFCs “não apresentava perigo concebível”. De fato, os CFCs não eram tóxicos para a respiração, mas estavam abrindo um buraco na camada de ozônio. Lovelock rapidamente revisou sua opinião, chamando aquilo de “uma das minhas maiores bolas fora”, mas o erro pode ter lhe custado um prêmio Nobel.

No início, ele também não considerou o aquecimento global como uma ameaça urgente ao planeta. “Gaia é uma vagabunda durona”, ele explica com freqüência, tomando emprestada uma frase cunhada por um colega. Mas, há alguns anos, preocupado com o derretimento acelerado do gelo no Ártico e com outras mudanças relacionadas ao clima, ele se convenceu de que o sistema de piloto automático de Gaia está seriamente desregulado, tirado dos trilhos pela poluição e pelo desmatamento. Lovelock acredita que o planeta vai recuperar seu equilíbrio sozinho, mesmo que demore milhões de anos. Mas o que realmente está em risco é a civilização. “É bem possível considerar seriamente as mudanças climáticas como uma resposta do sistema que tem como objetivo se livrar de uma espécie irritante: nós, os seres humanos”, Lovelock me diz no pequeno escritório que montou em sua casa. “Ou pelo menos fazer com que diminua de tamanho.”

Se você digitar “gaia” e “religion” no Google, vai obter 2,36 milhões de páginas – praticantes de wicca, viajantes espirituais, massagistas e curandeiros sexuais, todos inspirados pela visão de Lovelock a respeito do planeta. Mas se você perguntar a ele sobre cultos pagãos, ele responde com uma careta: não tem interesse na espiritualidade desmiolada nem na religião organizada, principalmente quando coloca a existência humana acima de tudo o mais. Em Oxford, certa vez ele se levantou e repreendeu Madre Teresa por pedir à platéia que cuidasse dos pobres e “deixasse que Deus tomasse conta da Terra”. Como Lovelock explicou a ela, “se nós, as pessoas, não respeitarmos a Terra e não tomarmos conta dela, podemos ter certeza de que ela, no papel de Gaia, vai tomar conta de nós e, se necessário for, vai nos eliminar”.
Gaia oferece uma visão cheia de esperança a respeito de como o mundo funciona. Afinal de contas, se a Terra é mais do que uma simples pedra que gira ao redor do sol, se é um superorganismo que pode evoluir, isso significa que existe certa quantidade de perdão embutida em nosso mundo – e essa é uma conclusão que vai irritar profundamente estudiosos de biologia e neodarwinistas de absolutamente todas as origens.

Para Lovelock, essa é uma idéia reconfortante. Considere a pequena propriedade que ele tem em Devon. Quando ele comprou o terreno, há 30 anos, era rodeada por campos aparados por mil anos de ovelhas pastando. E ele se empenhou em devolver a seus 14 hectares um caráter mais próximo do natural. Depois de consultar um engenheiro florestal, plantou 20 mil árvores – amieiros, carvalhos, pinheiros. Infelizmente, plantou muitas delas próximas demais, e em fileiras. Agora, as árvores estão com cerca de 12 metros de altura, mas em vez de ter ar “natural”, partes do terreno dele parecem simplesmente um projeto de reflorestamento mal executado. “Meti os pés pelas mãos”, Lovelock diz com um sorriso enquanto caminhamos no bosque. “Mas, com o passar dos anos, Gaia vai dar um jeito.”

Até pouco tempo atrás, Lovelock achava que o aquecimento global seria como sua floresta meia-boca – algo que o planeta seria capaz de corrigir. Então, em 2004, Richard Betts, amigo de Lovelock e pesquisador no Centro Hadley para as Mudanças Climáticas – o principal instituto climático da Inglaterra -, convidou-o para dar uma passada lá e bater um papo com os cientistas. Lovelock fez reunião atrás de reunião, ouvindo os dados mais recentes a respeito do gelo derretido nos pólos, das florestas tropicais cada vez menores, do ciclo de carbono nos oceanos. “Foi apavorante”, conta.

“Mostraram para nós cinco cenas separadas de respostas positivas em climas regionais – polar, glacial, floresta boreal, floresta tropical e oceanos -, mas parecia que ninguém estava trabalhando nas conseqüências relativas ao planeta como um todo.” Segundo ele, o tom usado pelos cientistas para falar das mudanças que testemunharam foi igualmente de arrepiar: “Parecia que estavam discutindo algum planeta distante ou um universo-modelo, em vez do lugar em que todos nós, a humanidade, vivemos”.

Quando Lovelock estava voltando para casa em seu carro naquela noite, a compreensão lhe veio. A capacidade de adaptação do sistema se perdera. O perdão fora exaurido. “O sistema todo”, concluiu, “está em modo de falha.” Algumas semanas depois, ele começou a trabalhar em seu livro mais pessimista, A Vingança de Gaia, publicado no Brasil em 2006. Na sua visão, as falhas nos modelos climáticos computadorizados são dolorosamente aparentes. Tome como exemplo a incerteza relativa à projeção do nível do mar: o IPCC, o painel da ONU sobre mudanças climáticas, estima que o aquecimento global vá fazer com que a temperatura média da Terra aumente até 6,4 graus Celsius até 2100. Isso fará com que geleiras em terra firme derretam e que o mar se expanda, dando lugar à elevação máxima do nível de mar de apenas pouco menos de 60 centímetros. A Groenlândia, de acordo com os modelos do IPCC, demorará mil anos para derreter.

Mas evidências do mundo real sugerem que as estimativas do IPCC são conservadoras demais. Para começo de conversa, os cientistas sabem, devido aos registros geológicos, que há 3 milhões de anos, quando as temperaturas subiram cinco graus acima dos níveis atuais, os mares subiram não 60 centímetros, mas 24 metros. Além do mais, medidas feitas por satélite recentemente indicam que o Ártico está derretendo com tanta rapidez que a região pode ficar totalmente sem gelo até 2030. “Quem elabora os modelos não tem a menor noção sobre derretimento de placas de gelo”, desdenha o estudioso, sem sorrir.

Mas não é apenas o gelo que invalida os modelos climáticos. Sabe-se que é difícil prever corretamente a física das nuvens, e fatores da biosfera, como o desmatamento e o derretimento da Tundra, raramente são levados em conta. “Os modelos de computador não são bolas de cristal”, argumenta Ken Caldeira, que elabora modelos climáticos na Universidade de Stanford, cuja carreira foi profundamente influenciada pelas idéias de Lovelock. “Ao observar o passado, fazemos estimativas bem informadas em relação ao futuro. Os modelos de computador são apenas uma maneira de codificar esse conhecimento acumulado em apostas automatizadas e bem informadas.”

Aqui, em sua essência supersimplificada, está o cenário pessimista de Lovelock: o aumento da temperatura significa que mais gelo derreterá nos pólos, e isso significa mais água e terra. Isso, por sua vez, faz aumentar o calor (o gelo reflete o sol, a terra e a água o absorvem), fazendo com que mais gelo derreta. O nível do mar sobe. Mais calor faz com que a intensidade das chuvas aumente em alguns lugares e com que as secas se intensifiquem em outros. As florestas tropicais amazônicas e as grandes florestas boreais do norte – o cinturão de pinheiros e píceas que cobre o Alasca, o Canadá e a Sibéria – passarão por um estirão de crescimento, depois murcharão até desaparecer. O solo permanentemente congelado das latitudes do norte derrete, liberando metano, um gás que contribui para o efeito estufa e que é 20 vezes mais potente do que o CO2… e assim por diante. Em um mundo de Gaia funcional, essas respostas positivas seriam moduladas por respostas negativas, sendo que a maior de todas é a capacidade da Terra de irradiar calor para o espaço. Mas, a certa altura, o sistema de regulagem pára de funcionar e o clima dá um salto – como já aconteceu muitas vezes no passado – para uma nova situação, mais quente. Não é o fim do mundo, mas certamente é o fim do mundo como o conhecemos.

O cenário pessimista de Lovelock é desprezado por pesquisadores de clima de renome, sendo que a maior parte deles rejeita a idéia de que haja um único ponto de desequilíbrio para o planeta inteiro. “Ecossistemas individuais podem falhar ou as placas de gelo podem entrar em colapso”, esclarece Caldeira, “mas o sistema mais amplo parece ser surpreendentemente adaptável.” No entanto, vamos partir do princípio, por enquanto, de que Lovelock esteja certo e que de fato estejamos navegando por cima das cataratas do Niagara. Simplesmente vamos acenar antes de cair? Na visão de Lovelock, reduções modestas de emissões de gases que contribuem para o efeito estufa não vão nos ajudar – já é tarde demais para deter o aquecimento global trocando jipões a diesel por carrinhos híbridos. E a idéia de capturar a poluição de dióxido de carbono criada pelas usinas a carvão e bombear para o subsolo? “Não há como enterrar quantidade suficiente para fazer diferença.” Biocombustíveis? “Uma idéia monumentalmente idiota.” Renováveis? “Bacana, mas não vão nem fazer cócegas.” Para Lovelock, a idéia toda do desenvolvimento sustentável é equivocada: “Deveríamos estar pensando em retirada sustentável”.

A retirada, na visão dele, significa que está na hora de começar a discutir a mudança do lugar onde vivemos e de onde tiramos nossos alimentos; a fazer planos para a migração de milhões de pessoas de regiões de baixa altitude, como Bangladesh, para a Europa; a admitir que Nova Orleans já era e mudar as pessoas para cidades mais bem posicionadas para o futuro. E o mais importante de tudo é que absolutamente todo mundo “deve fazer o máximo que pode para sustentar a civilização, de modo que ela não degenere para a Idade das Trevas, com senhores guerreiros mandando em tudo, o que é um perigo real. Assim, podemos vir a perder tudo”.

Até os amigos de Lovelock se retraem quando ele fala assim. “Acho que ele está deixando nossa cota de desespero no negativo”, diz Chris Rapley, chefe do Museu de Ciência de Londres, que se empenhou com afinco para despertar a consciência mundial sobre o aquecimento global. Outros têm a preocupação justificada de que as opiniões de Lovelock sirvam para dispersar o momento de concentração de vontade política para impor restrições pesadas às emissões de gases poluentes que contribuem para o efeito estufa. Broecker, o paleoclimatologista de Columbia, classifica a crença de Lovelock de que reduzir a poluição é inútil como “uma bobagem perigosa”.

“Eu gostaria de poder dizer que turbinas de vento e painéis solares vão nos salvar”, Lovelock responde. “Mas não posso. Não existe nenhum tipo de solução possível. Hoje, há quase 7 bilhões de pessoas no planeta, isso sem falar nos animais. Se pegarmos apenas o CO2 de tudo que respira, já é 25% do total – quatro vezes mais CO2 do que todas as companhias aéreas do mundo. Então, se você quer diminuir suas emissões, é só parar de respirar. É apavorante. Simplesmente ultrapassamos todos os limites razoáveis em números. E, do ponto de vista puramente biológico, qualquer espécie que faz isso tem que entrar em colapso.”

Mas isso não é sugerir, no entanto, que Lovelock acredita que deveríamos ficar tocando harpa enquanto assistimos o mundo queimar. É bem o contrário. “Precisamos tomar ações ousadas”, ele insiste. “Temos uma quantidade enorme de coisas a fazer.” De acordo com a visão dele, temos duas escolhas: podemos retornar a um estilo de vida mais primitivo e viver em equilíbrio com o planeta como caçadores-coletores ou podemos nos isolar em uma civilização muito sofisticada, de altíssima tecnologia. “Não há dúvida sobre que caminho eu preferiria”, diz certa manhã, em sua casa, com um sorriso aberto no rosto enquanto digita em seu computador. “Realmente, é uma questão de como organizamos a sociedade – onde vamos conseguir nossa comida, nossa água. Como vamos gerar energia.”

Em relação à água, a resposta é bem direta: usinas de dessalinização, que são capazes de transformar água do mar em água potável. O suprimento de alimentos é mais difícil: o calor e a seca vão acabar com a maior parte das regiões de plantações de alimentos hoje existentes. Também vão empurrar as pessoas para o norte, onde vão se aglomerar em cidades. Nessas áreas, não haverá lugar para quintais ajardinados. Como resultado, Lovelock acredita, precisaremos sintetizar comida – teremos que criar alimentos em barris com culturas de tecidos de carnes e vegetais. Isso parece muito exagerado e profundamente desagradável, mas, do ponto de vista tecnológico, não será difícil de realizar.
O fornecimento contínuo de eletricidade também será vital, segundo ele. Cinco dias depois de visitar o centro Hadley, Lovelock escreveu um artigo opinativo polêmico, intitulado: “Energia nuclear é a única solução verde”. Lovelock argumentava que “devemos usar o pequeno resultado dos renováveis com sensatez”, mas que “não temos tempo para fazer experimentos com essas fontes de energia visionárias; a civilização está em perigo iminente e precisa usar a energia nuclear – a fonte de energia mais segura disponível – agora ou sofrer a dor que em breve será infligida a nosso planeta tão ressentido”.

Ambientalistas urraram em protesto, mas qualquer pessoa que conhecia o passado de Lovelock não se surpreendeu com sua defesa à energia nuclear. Aos 14 anos, ao ler que a energia do sol vem de uma reação nuclear, ele passou a acreditar que a energia nuclear é uma das forças fundamentais no universo. Por que não aproveitá-la? No que diz respeito aos perigos – lixo radioativo, vulnerabilidade ao terrorismo, desastres como o de Chernobyl – Lovelock diz que este é dos males o menos pior: “Mesmo que eles tenham razão a respeito dos perigos, e não têm, continua não sendo nada na comparação com as mudanças climáticas”.

Como último recurso, para manter o planeta pelo menos marginalmente habitável, Lovelock acredita que os seres humanos podem ser forçados a manipular o clima terrestre com a construção de protetores solares no espaço ou instalando equipamentos para enviar enormes quantidades de CO2 para fora da atmosfera. Mas ele considera a geoengenharia em larga escala como um ato de arrogância – “Imagino que seria mais fácil um bode se transformar em um bom jardineiro do que os seres humanos passarem a ser guardiões da Terra”. Na verdade, foi Lovelock que inspirou seu amigo Richard Branson a oferecer um prêmio de US$ 25 milhões para o “Virgin Earth Challenge” (Desafio Virgin da Terra), que será concedido à primeira pessoa que conseguir criar um método comercialmente viável de remover os gases responsáveis pelo efeito estufa da atmosfera. Lovelock é juiz do concurso, por isso não pode participar dele, mas ficou intrigado com o desafio. Sua mais recente idéia: suspender centenas de milhares de canos verticais de 18 metros de comprimento nos oceanos tropicais, colocar uma válvula na base de cada cano e permitir que a água das profundezas, rica em nutrientes, seja bombeada para a superfície pela ação das ondas. Os nutrientes das águas das profundezas aumentariam a proliferação das algas, que consumiriam o dióxido de carbono e ajudariam a resfriar o planeta. “É uma maneira de contrabalançar o sistema de energia natural da Terra usando ele próprio”, Lovelock especula. “Acho que Gaia aprovaria.”

Oslo é o tipo perfeito de cidade para Lovelock. Fica em latitudes do norte, que ficarão mais temperadas na medida em que o clima for esquentando; tem água aos montes; graças a suas reservas de petróleo e gás, é rica; e lá já há muito pensamento criativo relativo à energia, incluindo, para a satisfação de Lovelock, discussões renovadas a respeito da energia nuclear. “A questão principal a ser discutida aqui é como manejar as hordas de pessoas que chegarão à cidade”, Lovelock avisa. “Nas próximas décadas, metade da população do sul da Europa vai tentar se mudar para cá.”

Nós nos dirigimos para perto da água, passando pelo castelo de Akershus, uma fortaleza imponente do século 13 que funcionou como quartel-general nazista durante a ocupação da cidade na Segunda Guerra Mundial. Para Lovelock, os paralelos entre o que o mundo enfrentou naquela época e o que enfrenta hoje são bem claros. “Em certos aspectos, é como se estivéssemos de novo em 1939”, ele afirma. “A ameaça é óbvia, mas não conseguimos nos dar conta do que está em jogo. Ainda estamos falando de conciliação.”

Naquele tempo, como hoje, o que mais choca Lovelock é a ausência de liderança política. Apesar de respeitar as iniciativas de Al Gore para conscientizar as pessoas, não acredita que nenhum político tenha chegado perto de nos preparar para o que vem por aí. “Em muito pouco tempo, estaremos vivendo em um mundo desesperador, comenta Lovelock. Ele acredita que está mais do que na hora para uma versão “aquecimento global” do famoso discurso que Winston Churchill fez para preparar a Grã-Bretanha para a Segunda Guerra Mundial: “Não tenho nada a oferecer além de sangue, trabalho, lágrimas e suor”. “As pessoas estão prontas para isso”, Lovelock dispara quando passamos sob a sombra do castelo. “A população entende o que está acontecendo muito melhor do que a maior parte dos políticos.”

Independentemente do que o futuro trouxer, é provável que Lovelock não esteja por aí para ver. “O meu objetivo é viver uma vida retangular: longa, forte e firme, com uma queda rápida no final”, sentencia. Lovelock não apresenta sinais de estar se aproximando de seu ponto de queda. Apesar de já ter passado por 40 operações, incluindo ponte de safena, continua viajando de um lado para o outro no interior inglês em seu Honda branco, como um piloto de Fórmula 1. Ele e Sandy recentemente passaram um mês de férias na Austrália, onde visitaram a Grande Barreira de Corais. O cientista está prestes a começar a escrever mais um livro sobre Gaia. Richard Branson o convidou para o primeiro vôo do ônibus espacial Virgin Galactic, que acontecerá no fim do ano que vem – “Quero oferecer a ele a visão de Gaia do espaço”, diz Branson. Lovelock está ansioso para fazer o passeio, e planeja fazer um teste em uma centrífuga até o fim deste ano para ver se seu corpo suporta as forças gravitacionais de um vôo espacial. Ele evita falar de seu legado, mas brinca com os filhos dizendo que quer ver gravado na lápide de seu túmulo: “Ele nunca teve a intenção de ser conciliador”.

Em relação aos horrores que nos aguardam, Lovelock pode muito bem estar errado. Não por ter interpretado a ciência erroneamente (apesar de isso certamente ser possível), mas por ter interpretado os seres humanos erroneamente. Poucos cientistas sérios duvidam que estejamos prestes a viver uma catástrofe climática. Mas, apesar de toda a sensibilidade de Lovelock para a dinâmica sutil e para os ciclos de resposta no sistema climático, ele se mostra curiosamente alheio à dinâmica sutil e aos ciclos de resposta no sistema humano. Ele acredita que, apesar dos nossos iPhones e dos nossos ônibus espaciais, continuamos sendo animais tribais, amplamente incapazes de agir pelo bem maior ou de tomar decisões de longo prazo que garantam nosso bem-estar. “Nosso progresso moral”, diz Lovelock, “não acompanhou nosso progresso tecnológico.”

Mas talvez seja exatamente esse o motivo do apocalipse que está por vir. Uma das questões que fascina Lovelock é a seguinte: A vida vem evoluindo na Terra há mais de 3 bilhões de anos – e por que motivo? “Gostemos ou não, somos o cérebro e o sistema nervoso de Gaia”, ele explica. “Agora, assumimos responsabilidade pelo bem-estar do planeta. Como vamos lidar com isso?”
Enquanto abrimos caminho no meio dos turistas que se dirigem para o castelo, é fácil olhar para eles e ficar triste. Mais difícil é olhar para eles e ter esperança. Mas quando digo isso a Lovelock, ele argumenta que a raça humana passou por muitos gargalos antes – e que talvez sejamos melhores por causa disso. Então ele me conta a história de um acidente de avião, anos atrás, no aeroporto de Manchester. “Um tanque de combustível pegou fogo durante a decolagem”, recorda. “Havia tempo de sobra para todo mundo sair, mas alguns passageiros simplesmente ficaram paralisados, sentados nas poltronas, como tinham lhes dito para fazer, e as pessoas que escaparam tiveram que passar por cima deles para sair. Era perfeitamente óbvio o que era necessário fazer para sair, mas eles não se mexiam. Morreram carbonizados ou asfixiados pela fumaça. E muita gente, fico triste em dizer, é assim. E é isso que vai acontecer desta vez, só que em escala muito maior.”

Lovelock olha para mim com olhos azuis muito firmes. “Algumas pessoas vão ficar sentadas na poltrona sem fazer nada, paralisadas de pânico. Outras vão se mexer. Vão ver o que está prestes a acontecer, e vão tomar uma atitude, e vão sobreviver. São elas que vão levar a civilização em frente.”

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[Denialist view]

BREAKING: James Lovelock backs down on climate alarm (What’s up with that?)

MSNBC reports that the lack of temperature rise in the last 12 years has convinced environmentalist James Lovelock ( The Gaia Hypothesis) that the climate alarmism wasn’t warranted.

From his Wikipedia entry: Writing in the British newspaper The Independent in January 2006, Lovelock argues that, as a result of global warming, “billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable” by the end of the 21st century. 

He has been quoted in The Guardian that 80% of humans will perish by 2100 AD, and this climate change will last 100,000 years. According to James Lovelock, by 2040, the world population of more than six billion will have been culled by floods, drought and famine. Indeed “[t]he people of Southern Europe, as well as South-East Asia, will be fighting their way into countries such as Canada, Australia and Britain”.

What he has said to MSNBC is a major climb down. MSNBC reports in this story:

James Lovelock, the maverick scientist who became a guru to the environmental movement with his “Gaia” theory of the Earth as a single organism, has admitted to being “alarmist” about climate change and says other environmental commentators, such as Al Gore, were too.

Lovelock, 92, is writing a new book in which he will say climate change is still happening, but not as quickly as he once feared.

He previously painted some of the direst visions of the effects of climate change. In 2006, in an article in the U.K.’s Independent newspaper, he wrote that “before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.”

However, the professor admitted in a telephone interview with that he now thinks he had been “extrapolating too far”…

“The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened,” Lovelock said.

“The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium. Twelve years is a reasonable time… it (the temperature) has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising — carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that.”

This won’t sit well with many. McKibben has a whole movement based on alarm for example. Watch the true believers now trash him in the “doddering old man” style we’ve seen before.

hat tip to Steve Milloy at

(Tradução de Ana Ban)

On the end of the world / sobre o fim do mundo (21.12.2012)

O mundo não acabou (Folha de S.Paulo)

Contardo Calligaris – 27/12/2012 – 03h00

Pode ser que o mundo acabe entre hoje (segunda, dia em que escrevo) e quinta, 27, dia em que seria publicada esta coluna. Em tese, eu não devo me preocupar: meu título não será desmentido –pois, se o mundo acabar, não haverá mais ninguém para verificar que eu me enganei.

Tudo isso, em termos, pois o fim do mundo esperado (mais ou menos ansiosamente) por alguns (ou por muitos) não é o sumiço definitivo e completo da espécie. Ao contrário: em geral, quem fantasia com o fim do mundo se vê como um dos sobreviventes e, imaginando as dificuldades no mundo destruído, aparelha-se para isso.

Na cultura dos EUA, os “survivalists” são também “preppers”: ou seja, quem planeja sobreviver se prepara. A catástrofe iminente pode ser mais uma “merecida” vingança divina contra Sodoma e Gomorra, a realização de uma antiga profecia, a consequência de uma guerra (nuclear, química ou biológica), o efeito do aquecimento global ou, enfim (última moda), o resultado de uma crise financeira que levaria todos à ruina e à fome.

A preparação dos sobreviventes pode incluir ou não o deslocamento para lugares mais seguros (abrigos debaixo da terra, picos de montanhas que, por alguma razão, serão poupados, lugares “místicos” com proteção divina, plataformas de encontro com extraterrestres etc.), mas dificilmente dispensa a acumulação de bens básicos de subsistência (alimentos, água, remédios, combustíveis, geradores, baterias) e (pelo seu bem, não se esqueça disso) de armas de todo tipo (caça e defesa) com uma quantidade descomunal de munições -sem contar coletes a prova de balas e explosivos.

Imaginemos que você esteja a fim de perguntar “armas para o quê?”. Afinal, você diria, talvez a gente precise de armas de caça, pois o supermercado da esquina estará fechado. Mas por que as armas para defesa? Se houver mesmo uma catástrofe, ela não poderia nos levar a descobrir novas formas de solidariedade entre os que sobraram? Pois bem, se você coloca esse tipo de perguntas, é que você não fantasia com o fim do mundo.

Para entender no que consiste a fantasia do fim do mundo, não é preciso comparar os diferentes futuros pós-catastróficos possíveis. Assim como não é preciso considerar se, por exemplo, nos vários cenários desolados do dia depois, há ou não o encontro com um Adão ou uma Eva com quem recomeçar a espécie. Pois essas são apenas variações, enquanto a necessidade das armas (e não só para caçar os últimos coelhos e faisões) é uma constante, que revela qual é o sonho central na expectativa do fim do mundo.

Em todos os fins do mundo que povoam os devaneios modernos, alguns ou muitos sobrevivem (entre eles, obviamente, o sonhador), mas o que sempre sucumbe é a ordem social. A catástrofe, seja ela qual for, serve para garantir que não haverá mais Estado, condado, município, lei, polícia, nação ou condomínio. Nenhum tipo de coletividade instituída sobreviverá ao fim do mundo. Nele (e graças a ele) perderá sua força e seu valor qualquer obrigação que emane da coletividade e, em geral, dos outros: seremos, como nunca fomos, indivíduos, dependendo unicamente de nós mesmos.

Esse é o desejo dos sonhos do fim do mundo: o fim de qualquer primazia da vida coletiva sobre nossas escolhas particulares. O que nos parece justo, no nosso foro íntimo, sempre tentará prevalecer sobre o que, em outros tempos, teria sido ou não conforme à lei.

Por isso, depois do fim do mundo, a gente se relacionará sem mediações –sem juízes, sem padres, sem sábios, sem pais, sem autoridade reconhecida: nós nos encararemos, no amor e no ódio, com uma mão sempre pronta em cima do coldre.

E não é preciso desejar explicitamente o fim do mundo para sentir seu charme. A confrontação direta entre indivíduos talvez seja a situação dramática preferida pelas narrativas que nos fazem sonhar: a dura história do pioneiro, do soldado, do policial ou do criminoso, vagando num território em que nada (além de sua consciência) pode lhes servir de guia e onde nada se impõe a não ser pela força.

Na coluna passada, comentei o caso do jovem que matou a mãe e massacrou 20 crianças e seis adultos numa escola primária de Newtown, Connecticut. Pois bem, a mãe era uma “survivalist”; ela se preparava para o fim do mundo. Talvez, junto com as armas e as munições acumuladas, ela tenha transmitido ao filho alguma versão de seu devaneio de fim do mundo.

*   *   *

Are You Prepared for Zombies? (American Anthropological Association blog)

By Joslyn O. – December 21, 2012 at 12:52 pm


In light of all the end of the world talk, a repost of this Zombie preppers post from last spring:

Today’s guest blog post is by cultural anthropologist and AAA member, Chad Huddleston. He is an Assistant Professor at St. Louis University in the Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice department.

Recently, a host of new shows, such as Doomsday Preppers on NatGeo and Doomsday Bunkers on Discovery Channel, has focused on people with a wide array of concerns about possible events that may threaten their lives.  Both of these shows focus on what are called ‘preppers.’ While the people that may have performed these behaviors in the past might have been called ‘survivalists,’ many ‘preppers’ have distanced themselves from that term, due to its cultural baggage: stereotypical anti-government, gun-loving, racist, extremists that are most often associated with the fundamentalist (politically and religiously) right side of the spectrum.

I’ve been doing fieldwork with preppers for the past two years, focusing on a group called Zombie Squad. It is ‘the nation’s premier non-stationary cadaver suppression task force,’ as well as a grassroots, 501(c)3 charity organization.  Zombie Squad’s story is that while the zombie removal business is generally slow, there is no reason to be unprepared.  So, while it is waiting for the “zombpacolpyse,” it focuses its time on disaster preparedness education for the membership and community.

The group’s position is that being prepared for zombies means that you are prepared for anything, especially those events that are much more likely than a zombie uprising – tornadoes, an interruption in services, ice storms, flooding, fires, and earthquakes.

For many in this group, Hurricane Katrina was the event that solidified their resolve to prep.  They saw what we all saw – a natural disaster in which services were not available for most, leading to violence, death and chaos. Their argument is that the more prepared the public is before a disaster occurs, the less resources they will require from first responders and those agencies that come after them.

In fact, instead of being a victim of natural disaster, you can be an active responder yourself, if you are prepared.  Prepare they do.  Members are active in gaining knowledge of all sorts – first aid, communications, tactical training, self-defense, first responder disaster training, as well as many outdoor survival skills, like making fire, building shelters, hunting and filtering water.

This education is individual, feeding directly into the online forum they maintain (which has just under 30,000 active members from all over the world), and by monthly local meetings all over the country, as well as annual national gatherings in southern Missouri, where they socialize, learn survival skills and practice sharpshooting.

Sound like those survivalists of the past?  Emphatically no.  Zombie Squad’s message is one of public education and awareness, very successful charity drives for a wide array of organizations, and inclusion of all ethnicities, genders, religions and politics.  Yet, the group is adamant on leaving politics and religion out of discussions on the group and prepping. You will not find exclusive language on their forum or in their media.  That is not to say that the individuals in the group do not have opinions on one side or the other of these issues, but it is a fact that those issues are not to be discussed within the community of Zombie Squad.

Considering the focus on ‘future doom’ and the types of fears that are being pushed on the shows mentioned above, usually involve protecting yourself from disaster and then other people that have survived the disaster, Zombie Squad is a refreshing twist to the ‘prepper’ discourse.  After all, if a natural disaster were to befall your region, whom would you rather be knocking at your door: ‘raiders’ or your neighborhood Zombie Squad member?

And the answer is no: they don’t really believe in zombies.