The remarkable on-line book to which I linked in the previous post led me to a pretty fundamental academic article by two anthropologists entitled “Unsettling Anthropocentrism” that vividly explores the interface between the Machine World created by humans and the Natural World that it is devastating beyond its limits to support civilised life. Human hubris takes the stance that nature exists on our behalf, simply to serve our species’ need. This belief has become deeply embedded in our collective unconscious. The article opens as follows:
In an article titled ‘‘Robochop,’’ The Economist reported a practical problem and its technological solution. The problem was that swarms of jellyfish clogged up the pipes of a Swedish nuclear power plant on the Baltic Sea coast, forcing the plant’s temporary shutdown. The proposed solution involved utilizing an invention of ‘‘a fleet of killer robots that turn jellyfish into mush.’’ The devices known as JEROS (Jellyfish Elimination Robotic Swarms) are designed to follow a lead robot and work in formation: They can apparently chop up to 900 km of jellyfish an hour.1 The report raises an irrepressible question: Is there not something wrong—even deeply disturbing—about this picture?
The article concludes as follows but the whole text is very worth reading:
David Kidner’s contribution in which the face value assumption of anthropocentrism is that it constitutes a perspective that serves human interests—is radically challenged. ‘‘Anthropocentrism,’’ Kidner contends, is not anthropocentric. He traces the roots of what is considered anthropocentric thinking—especially the belief that ‘‘all forms of life exist to serve us’’—in a reductive technological-economic order that gained ascendancy in early modernity and has culminated in the industrial system of our time. This system has colonized human consciousness just as surely as it has colonized the natural world; as Kidner puts it, within it both ‘‘humanity and nature are being dissolved.’’ Far from being beneficiaries of an order that displaces embodied forms of awareness, reduces value to money, and approaches problems through technological management, human beings are unknowing perpetrators of that order—unknowing in the sense of being unable to escape their conditioning by its symbolic and material dimensions. Echoing critical theory themes, Kidner argues that the domination of nature and the domination of human consciousness are simultaneous and deeply entangled. ‘‘Just as the nuances of human awareness are replaced by the rational calculations of the economist and the marketing executive, so the intricate interactions of tropical forests are replaced by the ecological sterility of palm oil plantations.’’
This link is to remarkable new publication (free & online) of stunning photographs and accompanying text entitled “Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot”. Global Population Speak Out is making copies of Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (OVER) free for people who would like to request free books to use promoting awareness and action on the important environmental and social issues addressed within its pages.
A NASA-funded study “Human and Nature Dynamics” (HANDY) has created a model of how civilisations collapse that has created quite a stir in the community of people concerned about human threats to our current civilisation on “Spaceship Earth”. The report’s conclusion starts as follows:
Collapses of even advanced civilizations have occurred many times in the past five thousand years, and they were frequently followed by centuries of population and cultural decline and economic regression. Although many different causes have been offered to explain individual collapses, it is still necessary to develop a more general explanation. In this paper we attempt to build a simple mathematical model to explore the essential dynamics of interaction between population and natural resources. It allows for the two features that seem to appear across societies that have collapsed: the stretching of resources due to strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity, and the division of society into Elites (rich) and Commoners (poor).
The very notion of ‘sustainable growth’ is an oxymoron when applied to economic output of goods and services on a finite planet with a burgeoning human population. Yet Christine Legarde, the Director of the World Bank, uses the term with no hesitation or qualification. Even worse, a former senior economist in the USA, Laurence Summers, who oversaw the deregulation of the financial markets that led to the 2008 economic collapse, demonstrated alarmingly how economic thinking can completely ignore a concern for the well-being of poor people living in the least prosperous parts of the world. This article from Resilience entitled The Global Economy’s ‘Impeccable Logic’ is an almost unbelievable illustration of economic immorality. The obsession with economic growth and capital accumulation appears to override ethical concerns for the well-being of both people and the planet.
The question of the ethics of climate change is the theme of this book “A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change” by philosopher Stephen M. Gardiner. He argues that it is immoral to take modest economic benefits now while leaving massive environmental and economic costs for those who will live after us. Such an ethical stance seems indefensible.
Jeremy Williams today has an important blog.
He announces , with the aid of a short video, the campaign to keep fossil fuels in the ground in order to limit global warming. Three key numbers are used:
2 degrees Celsius – the agreed limit required if global warming is not to sabotage ‘Spaceship Earth’.
565 – the amount in gigatons of CO2 emissions that would warm the Earth by 2 degrees Celsius (the Carbon Budget Limit)
2795 – the amount in gigatons of CO2 locked up in known reserves of fossil fuel. Companies last year invested 700 billion dollars looking to explore for more of these reserves.
Hence the campaign to ‘keep coal down the hole and oil in the soil’!
Williams also points out how the British press pays far more attention to the ‘fracas’ of a TV celebrity with his producer than to the threat to civilisation posed by the release of ever-increasing fossil fuel emissions and consequent anthropogenic global warming.
The term Anthropocene is used to describe the emergence of humans as the major geological force affecting the Earth. This article on the BBC website reports on new thinking that dates the start of this large-scale planetary effect to a time over 400 years ago. Since World War II which many have assumed may have been the start of the Anthropocene (literally “The [geological] Age of Humans”) the term “The Great Acceleration” for these planetary effects may be more appropriate. However one uses these terms, the more important issue is whether or not human impact has ‘progressed’ beyond the point of enabling a long-term sustainable co-existence between the Natural World and the ‘Machine World’ created by humans that has now invaded the Earth’s systems. These natural ‘spheres’ include litho-; atmo-; hydro-; cryo- and bio-spheres that support the techosphere and memospheres created by human, themselves a part of the biosphere). The sphere of life evolved over 3.5 billion years. The technosphere (tool and machine -making) by hominid species around 2 to 3 million years ago, but the truly global impact of the technosphere may now be considered as starting around 400 BP while the exponential “Great Acceleration” started only around one lifetime ago for those of us in our mid-70s!
Jeremy Williams shares an interesting analogy in his blog today derived from Michael Jacobs’ book The Green Economy. The notion of ‘the hidden hand’ was Adam Smith’s metaphor for the way that market forces guide economic life, usually interpreted as for the general good. Extending the metaphor: every hand is guided by an elbow and elbows are often the cause of unintended clumsiness, as well as sometimes being used to gain an advantage over one’s rivals! Economic external costs (externalities) that are not factored into the ‘story’ of the ‘hidden hand’ can be seen as an invisible but damaging ‘hidden elbow’. This helps to explain why there is still almost universal acceptance of measures of economic growth (such as the envy of China’s recently announced 7% per annum goal = doubling current GNP in the next 10 years) that fail to factor in costs to the environment and debts passed on to future generations.