Tag Archives: anthropocene

Earth is speaking. Loudly. Can we hear? | Elizabeth Allison | Huffington Post

Interesting and timely article by Elizabeth Allison, Professor of Ecology and Religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Earth is speaking. Loudly. Can we hear?by Elizabeth Allison

Angela Yuriko Smith 

Transgressing Earth’s planetary boundaries will result in responses that make human life on Earth increasingly difficult. We have gotten a taste of this possibility over the past few weeks. It is time to pay attention to the unequivocal messages we are receiving about our impacts on Earth. The mechanistic paradigm no longer serves us. We must stop imagining Earth as an insentient machine, and start perceiving her as a partner to whom obligations of care and respect are owed. 

Source: Earth is speaking. Loudly. Can we hear? | Elizabeth Allison | HuffPost

 

Knowledge and collaboration across species and worlds in the anthropocene

This is the seventh (and final post) in a series of posts in response to weekly readings from a seminar I am participating in called “The Fate of Nature in the Anthropocene,” a critical and interdisciplinary seminar exploring ideas about being human on a changing planet.

“The Fate of Nature in the Anthropocene Collaborative Research Seminar brings together faculty and graduate students from the humanities and environmental sciences to develop a theoretical framework for the environmental humanities and to examine possibilities for an integrated approach to the recent environmental turn in the humanities.”

Thinking beyond the human and the mattering of other worlds and of “others” is something that may be necessary to truly understand what it means to be human during the Anthropocene. Cohen, Colebrook, and Miller suggest that it is perhaps in the denial of humanity that we are able to assert our own existence. There is a sense that we need to escape ourselves in order to understand what we truly are. Is this not a reflection of our desire for objectivity, for what Haraway calls, the “God Trick”? This is also what Clark refers to as the “overview effect” in which, from a supposed “afar”, one is able to see the violence that “humanity” has waged on the world. However, as Cohen et al assert, there is not necessarily some reality that we can grasp if we can only somehow get outside of it.

This desire to grasp reality from an external perspective is precisely what Merchant speaks of when she refers to Francis Bacon’s desire to extract the secrets of nature through control and force. It is this desire for control and for forceful knowledge that gave rise to the myth of objectivity as attainable within science. The knowledge produced by science has been universalized to the point in which other ways of knowing (including the very ways that were perhaps practiced by the pagans and the witches, which the progenitors of the scientific method wished to extract secrets from), are denied as having any valid truth. This universalizing occurred with the help of European colonial expansion, which Lightfoot et al claim was the truer beginning of the Anthropocene. This European-based, imperialized, and violent way of gaining knowledge became the universal standard  for knowledge production. As Haraway says, “it matters what knowledges know knowledges”. Arvin, Tuck, and Morrill elaborate a decolonial feminism, which allows native feminist theories to stand on their own, without need for validation or inclusion from what they call “whitestream feminisms”.

From Haraway: A depiction of invertebrates by German biologist Ernst Haeckel, published as lithographic and halftone prints in Art Forms in Nature (1899).
From Haraway: A depiction of invertebrates by German biologist Ernst Haeckel, published as lithographic and halftone prints in Art Forms in Nature (1899).

In Haraway’s chapter on tentacular thinking, she opposes this desire for transcendence and any sort of outside knowing, in an imploration to move more deeply into the multi-species muddle, communing and communicating with the life that exists. This offers up a different type of knowing, and calls for collaborative ways of thinking, as well as a recognition of the humanity in other creatures, and the hybrid nature of ourselves as humans. With collaborative thinking that moves into the morass, instead of trying to escape it, we are able to partake in multiple worlds that are coming into being, coexisting, and interpenetrating each other, without ever attempting to grasp or control them. Knowledge becomes something personal, rather than objective. Perhaps the gift of being alive in the Anthropocene is the urgency that Haraway speaks of, allowing us to move more deeply into our own experiences, rather than trying to escape some future that we were never entitled to, and never had any control over in the first place.

 

Weekly Readings:

  1. Lightfoot, Kent, et al. “European Colonialism and the Anthropocene.” Anthropocene 4 (2013): 101-115.
  2. Merchant, Carolyn. “The Scientific Revolution and the Death of Nature.” Special Focus Section, Isis 97, no. 3 (2006): 513-533.
  3. Arvin, Maile, Eve Tuck, and Angie Morrill. “Decolonizing Feminism: Challenging Connections Between Settler Colonialism and Heteropatriarchy.” Feminist Formations 25, no. 1 (Spring 2013): 8-34.
  4. Haraway, Donna. Anthropocene or Capitalocene, Ch 2. “Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene” book in progress.
  5. Cohen, Tom, Clair Colebrook, and J. Hillis Miller. Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols. London: Open Humanities Press, 2016, “Preface,” pp. 7-19; Ch. 2, “What is the Anthropo- political?” pp. 81-89.
  6. Lorimer, Jamie. Wildlife in the Anthropocene: Conservation After Nature. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2015, “Introduction,” pp. 1-18.
  7. Clark, Nigel. Inhuman Nature: Sociable Life on a Dynamic Planet. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2011, “Introduction, pp. x-xxii; Ch. 6, “Hurricane Katrina and the Origins of Community,” pp. 136-162.
  8. Clark, Timothy. Ecocriticism on the Edge: The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept. Bloomsbury: AbeBooks, 2015, “Preface,” pp. x-xi; Ch. 1, “The Anthropocene: Questions of Definition,” pp. 1-28.

Weaving collective imaginaries in the anthropocene

This is the sixth in a series of posts in response to weekly readings from a seminar I am participating in called “The Fate of Nature in the Anthropocene,” a critical and interdisciplinary seminar exploring ideas about being human on a changing planet.

“The Fate of Nature in the Anthropocene Collaborative Research Seminar brings together faculty and graduate students from the humanities and environmental sciences to develop a theoretical framework for the environmental humanities and to examine possibilities for an integrated approach to the recent environmental turn in the humanities.”

Our connections within a multi-species web are what make us part of earth’s living ecology, and arguably what make us human. Strengthening these connections, and becoming integrated into the life and death cycles of nature seem to be key in ensuring the future of our ecosystems, by way of binding our human fates more closely to the fate of the nonhuman species of the planet. Yet the humans that are already the most bound within the multi-species web, often poor and rural populations, already feel ecological effects with disproportionate severity compared with those who have more of a buffer. Forging tighter multispecies connections may not need to entail becoming more vulnerable to ecological impacts, but it may mean that through collective imaginaries, we allow ourselves to become sensitive to existing vulnerabilities to the collective web that we exist within.

Jacob E. Lange, Flora agaricina danica, 1935–1940, Volume 1, Plate 7A,C from Tsing
From Tsing: Jacob E. Lange, Flora agaricina danica, 1935–1940, Volume 1, Plate 7A,C.

According to Tsing, her goal in writing about connections between human and non-human well-being is to open “new spaces in the public imagination”. What does this space do? This public or collective imaginary seems to be the birthing ground for the future. For example, Rose uses an example of the desire for destruction to also be a product of an imaginary e.g. without dingoes. According to the Australian aboriginals, their country (land) comes into being through dreaming creation. It is through this dreaming creation that connections are made across species boundaries. Rose’s implicit message is that these two imaginaries (that of death and destruction, compared with connection and creation) are antagonistic to one another. Furthermore, her assertion is that the imaginary of destruction creates a double death- as corpses pile up, connectivities in the web are destroyed, which takes away the ability for death to nurture new life. This process of double-death is demonstrated by the poisoning of dingoes in Australia (Rose) and of vultures in India (van Dooren).  In both of these cases, dead bodies which formerly offered nourishment to the ecosystem are transformed into further agents of death. In the case of India, these deathly effects ripple out into the human and social realms, with the societal function of the vultures no longer able to keep disease at bay. In this case, we see the interdependence between humans and the multi-species web, and also the disproportionate impacts that this ecosystem disruption has on the country’s poor and rural communities. We see a similar trend in Fiorella’s article about the fish-for-sex trading industry around Lake Victoria. In this case, the linkages between humans and fish is quite direct. We see declining fish populations not only disproportionately affecting the poor, but also women.

Conservation biologists offer an alternative imaginary, with rewilding projects. These propose to restore earth’s ecosystems through reintroducing animals to areas where they have been extirpated, or to introduce analogous animals to perform similar functions as extinct animals. Soulé and Noss assert that the greatest roadblock to these rewilding efforts actually happening is the “unwillingness to imagine it,” and that this might be able to “save nature”. Perhaps they are right, but I wonder whether potential unforeseen (and foreseen) consequences of rewilding would also disproportionately burden the poor populations in the regions where species are introduced. Quammen illustrates that one cannot remove one piece of the ecosystem without it fraying. I would extend his metaphor to caution that putting all the pieces back in one place does not necessarily reweave the web either. I would agree, however, that weaving this web of multi-species connections is work for the collective imaginary, and that making these connections visible and understood publicly will be necessary in order to live in the best way for the future humans and nonhumans of earth.

Works Cited:

  1. Tsing, Anna. “Arts of Inclusion, or, How to Love a Mushroom.” Australian Humanities Review, 50 (2011): 5-21.
  2. van Dooren, Thom. “Vultures and their People in India: Equity and Entanglement in a Time of Extinctions.” Australian Humanities Review, 50 (2011): 45-61.
  3. Rose, Deborah Bird. “What if the Angle of History were a Dog?” Cultural Studies Review, 12, no. 1 (Mar 2006): 67-78.
  4. Quammen, David. “Thirty-Six Persian Throw Rugs.” Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions. New York: Scribner, 1996.
  5. Soulé, Michael and Reed Noss. “Rewilding and Biodiversity: Complementary Goals for Complementary Conservation.” Wild Earth 8, no. 3 (Fall 1998): 19-28.
  6. Donlan, Josh et al. “Rewilding North America.” Nature 436 (18 Aug 2005): 1-2.
  7. Danielsen, Finna … Justin S. Brashares…, et al. “A Multicountry Assessment of Tropical Resource Monitoring by Local Communities.” Bioscience 64, no. 3 (Mar 2014): 236-251.
  8. Fiorella, Kathryn… Justin Brashares, et al. “Transactional Fish-for-Sex Relationships Amid Declining Fish Access in Kenya.” World Development 74 (2015): 323-332.