Ci dessus la grande barriere de corail… en voie de disparition…
A l’heure de l’incertitude et de l’inquietude sur l’avenir de Notre Dame des Landes, je vous propose un texte écrit par Jairus Grove, chercheur à l’université de Hawai, et qui me semble faire le tour des points les plus importants de notre lutte pour la diversité, vegetale, animale, culturelle. Il consacre plusieurs paragraphe a ‘l’idéologie du mouvement’ qui n’est pas remise en question malgré son tres haut impact, et qui autorise la construction de toujours plus d’aeroports, quel qu’en soit le prix.
Je copie ici la premiere partie de ce texte que son auteur considere comme un brouillon. J’ai demandé son autorisation et j’attends toujours sa réponse. En tout etat de cause je pense qu’il faut que ce texte soit lu!
Jairus Grove, A Savage Ecology: Peak Humanity, Extinction Events, and the Great Homogenization.
“I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. And that’s my one fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new or interesting is ever going to happen again… the future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul.”
-J.G. Ballard (1)
“In a world that encourages uniformity, that judges values by their utility, perhaps these animals like so many of their kind, also, are doomed to disappear in favor of some more commercially useful species. Yet, I cannot avoid a bitter sense of loss that, we, born to a world that still held these creatures, are being robbed of a priceless inheritance, a life that welcomes diversity not sameness, that treasures astonishment and wonder instead of boredom.”
-Jacques Cousteau (2)
Everyday we are told things are worse than we thought. Sea level rise is happening faster than we thought, species are disappearing faster than we thought, the possibilities for reversal are slimmer and slimmer. And the proposals for survival gaining traction— geoengineering, the centrally managed super-cities of Stewart Brand’s Eco-Modernist manifesto, space colonization, becoming digital beings—resemble the wonder of thriving planetary life less and less (Brand, 2015). On April 20th, 2016 The Washington Post headline read “And then we wept.” The news was in and it wasnt good. The Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon rainforest of the world’s oceans, was 93 percent bleached. The coral foundation of its vast ecosystem is dead.(3) A year to the day before this announcement we were told that the northern white rhino was extinct.(4) The last white rhino, a male named Sudan, is now kept under guard 24 hours a day from poachers but no army or protection is sufficient for survival as there is no mate remaining. The young men carrying machine guns are Sudan’s only company as he waits to complete a task so thoroughly accelerated by human desires for a horn.
Each event, a global reef system in Australia, the loss of a singular species in central Kenya, a slow shift in ocean levels, exists in an interregnum between the brutal fact of existence that all things must pass and the fever pitch of our contemporary moment that the cycle of passing and renewal has been interrupted by the metabolic rift of modern human animals.(5) Which trajectory we are facing is unclear. Is the sixth great extinction upon us? The difficulty in classifying extinctions is differentiating something like a norm of speciation and disappearance against which to periodize ‘events’ of catastrophic and lethal acceleration. Even the five great extinctions took place over unfathomable periods of time.(6) In all of the great extinctions, ‘events’ are hundreds of thousands of years long. Furthermore, the incomplete nature of the fossil record makes population sampling very difficult. One has to figure out ways to reliably distinguish between whether the absence of evidence is indeed evidence or merely the absence of evidence. After extensive review of excavations worldwide over at least 150 years of research, one can estimate what is called the ‘background’ extinction rate. This is the expected rate of species loss over a given period of time. This rate is not definitive. At best, it is a kind of working rule of thumb. That being said, the academic debates over whether or not the current rate of extinction exceeds any version of the background rate is like two kids on the Empire State Building bickering over whether it is the fall that kills you or the certain impact at the bottom.(7) Even conservative estimates put the loss of species across the plant and animal kingdom at thousands of times the background rate from earlier human and pre-human eras. To put it another way, even if the most conservative estimates are right, we are in real trouble. Thanks to habitat loss and the chytrid fungus, the amphibian extinction rate is forty-five thousand times higher than the background rate. Amphibians survived four of the five great extinction events in the ‐(8) Earth’s history, yet one generation of human travel has spiked amphibian extinction rates above what was caused by multiple asteroid impacts, super volcanoes, cataclysmic climate oscillations, and a collision with a comet. In an irony only humans will appreciate, the current apocalypse is marked by a noticeable lack of raining frogs.
Amphibians are not alone in the race to extinction. As recounted by Elizabeth Kolbert, one-third of all reef-building corals, one-third of all freshwater mollusks, one-third of sharks and rays, one-fourth of all mammals, one-fifth of all reptiles, and one-sixth of all bird species are disappearing. What makes this particular era of disappearances unique is not just the rate of extinction but also the distribution. The entire ocean is facing unprecedented instability.(9) Furthermore, extinctions are occurring globally, even those areas spared by heavy industrialization and development.
While climate change is unlikely to help, the current amphibian apocalypse (10) is driven almost entirely by the human-induced movement of people and things around the planet. The chytrid fungus now affecting the majority of the planet deprives amphibians of oxygen causing heart attacks. So while climate change should certainly be on the agenda the already occurring sixth great extinction calls into question more than just the dependence on fossil fuels. From the perspective of those forms-of-life being wiped off the planet, the entire rhythm and circulation of globalization, one of the most defining characteristics of Homo sapiens sapiens, is threatening. In so far as an environmental agenda has gained political currency in the past two decades, no political party or significant constituency takes seriously the proposition that global travel should come to an end. Freedom of movement is almost unquestionably championed by liberal societies and those that do challenge it are often reactionaries and xenophobes—not environmentalists.
Since the first slow and then accelerating egress from Africa, humans have spread to every continent on the planet. That movement once resembled something like the linearity of osmosis but has reached, for some in the elite class, terminal velocity. There are now humans that live in constant motion on permanent residence cruise ships to avoid taxes, and there is a global class of anxious airport-hopping business elite that reside in no place in particular.(11) The latter are so allergic to friction that even in this age of security and checkpoints they have been granted special routes and forms of identification to avoid the coagulation of administration now managing planetary circuits.(12) This is just one example of how liberal practices come up against Ken Wark’s reworking of what Marx calls metabolic rift. There is no version of the contemporary order that can be egalitarian and sustainable. Disposable consumer based economies cannot scale for any length of time. So in some sense Wark and Marx are right. The cycles of the earth and much of its inhabitants are out of synch with humans and their love of labor. For Wark in particular this leaves little else to do but accept that any viable human project will have to embrace geoengineering and even space colonization and other efforts to a ‘post-scarcity society.’ However such concepts should, I think, be made more specific to the particular forms-of-life that are at odds or exceed multi-species ecological feedbacks. If humanity is to find itself in another dark age rather than a unified global project for environmental management there are many ways of living that could be sustained within the dynamic equilibrium of earth systems. But the point stands. If we remain within the currently restricted vision of the future of global culture—an America for everyone—-any adaptive character to even large systems like the hydrologic cycle will collapse or enter periods of extreme turbulence. To put this another way, the ought of the cosmopolitanism ‘good’ and the ecological are not consonant.
However you feel about transnational capitalism, it is indisputable that the uninterrupted movement of things and people around the planet comes at an extraordinarily high cost to human animals and non-human animals alike. This is at times difficult to discern as the human population steadily increases and the world seems suffuse with living things. Therefore the problem of the current crisis is not reducible solely to some aggregate of living biomass. What is being lost is the diversity of life that inspires wonder. Apocalypses are not primarily about extinction they are irreversible transformations.
The often misguided debates over climate change capture this problem quite acutely. In fact, despite how much I bristle at saying the deniers of anthropogenic climate change may be half right, they are correct that fluctuations are a normal part of the Earth’s history.(13) However, what sustains the conservative bent of this claim is the sense of providence that the full argument entails. Those who champion adaptation and ‘natural’ fluctuation trade on the presumption that the earth adapts and fluctuates for us. Fluctuations will occur and creatures will adapt but in the past that has meant everything from a world of only single- celled anaerobic bacteria to vast seas of virtually nothing but trilobites.
The Peril of Similarity or The Great H omogenization
In addition to extinction level events, the Earth has also experienced a number of monoculture events, that is epochs of great homogenization in which small slivers of the virtual ecology of what could be have dominated the biosphere. Whether by reptiles, plants, or humans, domination by one species has resulted in collapses and explosions in creature diversity. So it is not without precedent that one form-of-life could predominate and even spawn a new earthly order, for instance the Cambrian explosion, considered by most geologists as the most innovative period of evolution. Another example could be the great transformation of the planet by photosynthesis. However, the fecund terraforming accomplished by plants is not likely to be repeated by humans unless an incipient form of life that thrives in a carbon-rich, hot, radioactive, dioxin-saturated environment comes to take over the planet. And even then it is not just the warmer temperature or toxic nature of the Anthropocene that is dangerous to life. Periods of rapid warming and novel additions to the atmosphere have often caused violent feedbacks such as rapid cooling, or in some cases, ocean stagnation from the loss of ocean currents and upwelling. In such cases the cascading die-offs of creatures great and small can themselves tweak and shift vast planetary cycles in new directions of amplifying and intensifying destructiveness or creativity, depending on the inheritors of the new dynamic equilibrium.
The problem is also that humans are not, as dinosaurs once did, innovating or undergoing speciation to fill the gaps left by other forms-of-life. Diversity is collapsing within the human species as well. Most languages and most ways of life outside the narrow scope of Euro-America are disappearing at an accelerating rate. According to linguist David Harrison and a number of other linguists working at UNESCO, of the 6,912 languages currently spoken worldwide, less than half of them will survive the 21st century. 1‐ 4
Language extinction is not the loss of words. According to Harrison, each language contains a different cognitive map of the human brain. This claim cannot be overstated. In an example from Harrison’s research amongst the Urarina people of Peru, some languages, although very few, place the object of the sentence at the beginning. The action and subject are grammatically organized by the object. According to Harrison, Urarina places the direct object first, the verb second, and the subject last…Were it not for Urarina and a few other Amazonian languages, scientists might not even suspect it were possible. They would be free to hypothesize—falsely—that O-V-S word order was cognitively impossible, that the human brain could not process it. Each new grammar pattern we find sheds light on how the human brain creates language. The loss of even one language may forever close the door to a full understanding of human cognitive capacity.‐(15)
Given the bloody philosophical war that has been waged on the primacy of the subject for the entire history of recorded thought, linguistic worlds such as the Urarina represent possibilities that decades of critique may not be grammatically equipped to produce. Given how bound up our current political and ecological disasters are with the problem of objectification, or why we treat objects so badly, this might be important.
In order to consider Harrison’s provocation fully, we have to give up on the idea that there is some kind of formal isomorphism in the basement of all languages. There is no meta-language. Instead, Harrison says “languages are self-organizing systems that evolve complex nested structures and rules for how to put the parts of words or sentences together.”(16) Rather than think of language as the way that humans master the world Harrison says, it is language “that has colonized our brains.”(17) After a life spent trying to record and hold on to as many of the disappearing languages around the world as possible, Harrison argues every language is a singular “accretion of many centuries of human thinking about time, seasons, sea creatures, reindeer, flowers, mathematics, landscapes, myths, music, infinity, cyclicity, the unknown, and the everyday.”‐(18)
Furthermore, the loss of languages is not an issue of ‘multiculturalism.’ The loss is not just one of a way of life, like being a hipster, an activist, or an academic: it is the extinction of a form-of-life. With each language that dies we lose a glimpse of the cosmos never to be repeated. As Agamben has said of the form-of-life, it is a set of practices and conditions of being that is inseparable from being biologically alive.(19) Few cases capture the inextricable relationship between life and living like those groups that have survived five hundred years of colonial expansion intact in the forest of Brazil.(20) As they have successfully postponed the virulence of the European world of disease, exposure to “us” (global culture) will mean certain death. With no inherited immunity these groups will return to the soil with their cosmic perspective. The primary cause of the displacement of uncontacted peoples in Brazil is logging and drug violence, both part of globalization.
I should be clear about what I mean by perspective. A perspective is not a ‘point of view’ in the postmodern trivial sense, as if there is no truth and only an ‘opinion of the truth.’ This kind of Glenn Beck postmodernism is a dead end. By perspective, I mean what Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s calls radical perspectivism whereby the selves of a host of different entities—jaguars, rocks, uncontacted peoples, plants—all experience and theorize the world in heterogenous alliances not reducible to each other, much less as something like ideology or belief. According to Castro, what we find in comparative cosmologies are the possibilities of human-nature relations that are no less real or material than Western scientific observations, but that organize the world around feritas (“wildness”) rather than humanitas (“culture, humanity”).(21)
Given how self-destructive and inevitable Western anthropocentrism often feels in contemporary modern life, forms-of-life organized otherwise are more than just curiosities. Instead, other cosmologies and the languages that dwell in them offer the possibility of radical mutation. In the case of Tristan Garcia, a young French thinker, Castro has inspired an adventure in philosophy and metaphysics that refuses to accept the subject/object and human/non-human as inevitable problems of cognition. Instead, Garcia traces a neither/nor between self and relation where things rather than objects or subjects all exist in torsion. The primacy of either substance or connection is ditched to explore something else entirely.(22) Certainly Garcia’s work draws on a minor Continental tradition of philosophy but it is difficult to imagine the inspired escape from ‘the metaphysics of access’ in favor of the dignity of things without the cosmologies of Amerindians or without Castro’s role as a kind of inter-cosmology diplomat.(23) Consequently, as the linguistic and cosmological differences of the world flatten, it is not just ‘background’ loss or functional survival of the fittest that is taking place. Humans as the sole inheritors of the hominid legacy are experiencing catastrophic loss, a kind of internal hollowing out.
Whether poison dart frogs, sawfish, Navajo speakers, mpingo trees, blue fin tuna, isolated people of the Brazilian rain forest whose names belongs to them alone, or American artists and philosophers forced to abandon their creativity in favor of brain-dulling precarious labor, the destruction of perspectives leaves this world less interesting and less complex than it was before. With each loss of these forms-of-life we lose not just a diversity of opinions about the universe, but distinctive practices of tilling the earth, water management, creativity, revolutionary thinking, aquaculture, human-animal ecologies as well as political and ethical practices.(24) More than mere ‘points of view,’ forms-of-life carry with them means for inhabiting the Earth that in some cases far exceed the mono-technological thinking of contemporary global development. To be clear, these vital practices are not restricted to the human estate but also include the North American beaver’s river management practices and their ability to combat soil erosion (25), the duties of megafauna and apex predators to keep grazing creatures on the move and thus prevent overconsumption in prairie ecologies (26), and on and on. The expanse of possible alliances lost in the scoping singularity of our current apocalypse is unknowable in an unusual way. Each lost alliance or form of life means a future that can no longer come about. The global advance of homogenization is killing the futures as it strangles the present.
1 Vale, Vivian, and Andrea Juno. J.G. Ballard. San Francisco, Calif.; Enfield: V/Search Publications ; Airlift [distributor], 1984.
2 “Jacques Cousteau The Nile 2of6.avi,” YouTube video, 9:15, posted by “acoustic6strings,” May 4, 2011, http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q47ZVvOelak.
3 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/04/20/and-then-we-wept- scientists-say-93-percent-of-the-great-barrier-reef-now-bleached/
5 Wark, McKenzie. Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene. London: Verso, 2015.
6 Apocalypses are definitively what Timothy Morton calls hyberobjects. The events themselves defy the perceptive and experiential capabilities of humans. One of the shortcomings of the Anthropocene as a concept is the tone of novelty and presentism. Morton rightly points out that climate change and many of the features of the Anthropocene are likely thousands of years old. So the idea that things are “suddenly” weird is specious—none of us alive have ever lived in “normal” times. See Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World [Posthumanities 27] (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).
7 Johan Rockström, Will Steffen, Kevin Noone, Åsa Persson, F. Stuart Chapin, Eric F. Lambin, Timothy M. Lenton, et al., “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” Nature 461, no. 7,263 (September 24, 2009): 472–75, doi: 10.1038/461472a.
8 Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York: Henry Holt, 2014), 38.
9 John Roach, “Seafood May Be Gone by 2048, Study Says,” National Geographic News, November 2, 2006, http:// news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/11/061102-seafood-threat.html. Some scientists argue that these scenarios for collapse are reversible but that presumes unprecedented political action on a global scale. See Boris Worm, Edward B. Barbier, Nicola Beaumont, J. Emmett Duffy, Carl Folke, Benjamin S. Halpern, Jeremy B. C. Jackson, et al., “Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services,” Science 314, no. 5,800 (November 3, 2006): 787– 90, doi:10.1126/science.1132294.
10 I assume amphibians think of this as the human apocalypse given how much they predate our existence.
11 “‘The World’ Cruise Ship Departing Port Nelson, New Zealand at Night,” YouTube video, 2:56, posted by Nelson Bomber, April 26, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xhl51ygXyrE.
12 Mark B. Salter and Can E. Mutlu. “Psychoanalytic Theory and Border Security,” European Journal of Social Theory 15, no. 2 (May 1, 2012): 179–95, doi:10.1177/1368431011423594.
13 On how big lies require half-truths, see William E. Connolly, “The Contemporary Condition: The Return of the Big Lie,” posted December 3, 2011, http://contemporarycondition.blogspot.com/2011/12/return-of-big-lie.html.
14 K. David Harrison, When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
15 Ibid., 19.
16 Ibid., 249.
17 Ibid., 225
18 Ibid., viii
19 Giorgio Agamben, Means without End: Notes on Politics [Theory out of Bounds 20] (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 2000), 3–14.
20 Argentina Independent, “Brazil: Uncontacted Tribe Displaced by Amazon Logging,” July 4, 2014, http:// www.argentinaindependent.com/currentaffairs/newsfromlatinamerica/brazil-uncontacted-tribe-displaced-by- amazon-logging/
21 Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, From the Enemy’s Point of View: Humanity and Divinity in an Amazonian Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 29.
22 Tristan Garcia, Form and Object: A Treatise on Things. Speculative Realism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), 221–23.
23 For the importance of diplomats to bridge cosmological gaps in our current ecological debacle, see Bruno Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 17–19.
24 Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller and Noenoe K. Silva, “Sharks and Pigs: Animating Hawaiian Sovereignty against the Anthropological Machine,” South Atlantic Quarterly 110, no. 2 (April 1, 2011): 429–46, doi: 10.1215/00382876-1162525.
25 “Nature’s Engineers The Dam Beaver National Geographic Documentary,” YouTube video, 42:56, posted by Documentary Channel, June 16, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHBCQ_EQ0v0.
26 Richard Manning, Rewilding the West: Restoration in a Prairie Landscape (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009).