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Monday, November 26, 2012

Climate Change Nihilism, Dominionist Hubris, And A Word About Radicalism

Earth Burns

Chris Hedges has another post on climate change up at truthdig, with the the appropriately wrought title "Stand Still for the Apocalypse." The substance of the article is familiar territory for me and readers of this blog ("We have already passed the tipping point..."), and yet it has spun me into reverie - critical thinker that I am - on humanism, nihilism, Dominionism, radicalism... I'm going to excerpt from the article here, focusing on the "nits" that I wish to pick - please keep in mind that I'm doing a fairly narrow criticism here, and this criticism, along with the excerpts that I select do fair violence to what is otherwise a fine article, so yes, please click through read the whole thing. Hedges (my emphases):
A planetwide temperature rise of 4 degrees C... will cause a precipitous drop in crop yields, along with the loss of many fish species, resulting in widespread hunger and starvation. Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to abandon their homes... There will be an explosion in diseases such as malaria, cholera and dengue fever. Devastating heat waves and droughts, as well as floods, especially in the tropics, will render parts of the Earth uninhabitable.... Numerous animal and plant species, many of which are vital to sustaining human populations, will become extinct. Monstrous storms will eradicate biodiversity, along with whole cities and communities. And as these extreme events begin to occur simultaneously in different regions of the world, the report finds, there will be “unprecedented stresses on human systems.” Global agricultural production will eventually not be able to compensate. Health and emergency systems, as well as institutions designed to maintain social cohesion and law and order, will crumble...

...The human species... will cross “critical social system thresholds,” and “existing institutions that would have supported adaptation actions would likely become much less effective or even collapse.” The “stresses on human health, such as heat waves, malnutrition, and decreasing quality of drinking water due to seawater intrusion, have the potential to overburden health-care systems to a point where adaptation is no longer possible, and dislocation is forced"...
As can be gathered by my selections, I am highlighting Chris' emphasis on human prosperity. Even sentences that encompass the broader ecological issue ("...[placing] short-term corporate profit and expediency before the protection of human life and the ecosystem." and "...even an increase of less than 2 degrees would result in serious damage to the environment and human populations.") tend to ascend the problem of humanity's survival over other denizens of the Earth (except as food source). I think it's fair to say that this is representative of the tenor of the overall piece.

Now, for rhetorical reasons alone this is entirely reasonable and defensible, and Hedges' humanism is laudable and without peer. Again, I am not criticizing this article, but I would like to call out the "survival of humanity" meme for reasons obvious and, perhaps, not so obvious.

In particular, Chris makes the statement:
The fossil fuel industry is permitted to determine our relationship to the natural world, dooming future generations.
This is correct as far as it goes. However (and let's ignore my beat-it-into-the-ground emphasis on dooming future generations), the fossil fuel [culture] is not the only thing determining "our relationship to the natural world."

What also determines it, is our reflexive Dominionist attitude that the "natural world" exists to feed and serve us.

We Are A Virus

The not-so-obvious bit in all of this is the common response of climate change nihilism, expressed with the "we are a virus on the face of the Earth and She is righteously shedding us" idea.

What I would like to remind any of you who take smug comfort in such a position is, that we are not the only species that will suffer decline and/or extinction as a consequence of our behavior, that these other species have a value beyond our sustenance or existence and, frankly, we - being equals to other life forms on Earth (not superior) - deserve the same tears for our own extinction that we reserve for polar bears and whales.

A Word About Radicalism

Chris Hedges is an avowed radical, as am I (or so I am so frequently accused.) Unavoidable, and laudable, in this crazy world, as I like to say. But beyond that, what the hell is it about "radicalism" that is so dismissible (much as the oft-maligned "anarchy")?

First of all, radicalism is basically morally neutral. There is the radicalism of "final solutions" that emerge from the fevered brains of control freaks that wish to order the world - your fascists. Then, there is the radicalism of the philosophy of Jesus Christ - which seeks to emphasize the practicality of living in actual love.

The point I'd like to make here is, that it is in radicalism that Truth is distilled, lain bare for us to see. All of the middling centrism of practicality, be it in politics or in food production*, only serves to muddy up the grappling we must do with our human-caused problems. Indeed, it is the tautology of the practicality of human thought that fuels the cosmic laughter which bathes us, if we can be so quiet as to bother to listen at all.

It's In Our Hands - Björk, Greatest Hits: Volumen 1993-2003


*I use "food production" advisedly. It is our head-in-the-sand pragmatism about "feeding the masses" that fuels the ongoing recklessness of agriculture, which in turns evokes the unnecessary moral dilemmas that Malthusian thinking seeks to address. Agriculture, this "bite of the apple," this manipulation of what Earth had previously provided in our unconscious creation and ascendance, is what presents us with the black contortionist dance that we do when contemplating ideas of "overpopulation," birth "control," and the "rationing" of resources.

This is a whole 'nother subject that perhaps will be fleshed out here at a later date.


  1. Mike, cal here. Re your
    The Archdruid is "on topic" today:
    The Border.
    In 84 a Mexican pal of mine said you know we are going to take it back. I said Hows that Gil.
    He said population.
    about a year ago I did a case in Cuervo NM. The Spaniard property owner told me that some Spaniards there are still sitting on Land grants from the queen of Spain. They dont run much stock on them as the frackers have depleted the ground water.

  2. You mean I can live in Mexico without having to move? Sweet.


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