I wrote a short piece for the Worldwatch Institute on climate change and systemic causation. Interested readers can find the piece HERE.
Here is a little excerpt:
“This phrase, “systemic causation,” should be repeated like a mantra in all forms of media—from mainstream news outlets to blogs, twitter accounts, and Facebook posts—until the phrase becomes part of our shared lexicon for thinking about ecological issues like human-caused climate change. Systemic causation requires that we, the concerned and ecologically knowledgeable, play our part in describing the complex nature of climate change so that we can move forward with policies that recognize the multivalent social, political, and material catastrophes that are heading our way.”
“We can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.” — Erik Pooley
A helpful piece that actually addresses Climate Change in the wake of Sandy. Sort of an insensitive title though, no? The full Bloomberg article HERE.
Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy has extended the deadline for submission of papers for a special issue on Climate Change. The new deadline for submissions is October 15, 2012.
There has been a great deal of work in the natural and social sciences on various aspects of climate change, and there is increasing acknowledgement in the literature that extreme weather events and ecological disasters tend to have greater negative impacts on women, girls, and those who lack economic and social power. Nonetheless, little attention has been given to the complex ways in which hegemonic conceptions of gender, race, nation, and knowledge are implicated within institutional frameworks of climate policy, media representations of scientific knowledge, and suggestions of planetary redemption through “eco-engineering,” carbon markets, or profit-generating green technologies.
We welcome new feminist scholarship on the scientific, ethical, epistemological, economic, and cultural dimensions of current global climate change, as well as work in applied philosophy that engages specific questions in particular contexts. In addition to essays developing feminist analyses of the science, ethics, and politics of global climate change, we encourage investigations of the power-laden frameworks which shape the discourses that influence various understandings of and responses to climate change.
In addition to critical case studies, some questions and issues that might be considered in this special issue include (but are not limited to) feminist analyses of the following topics:
Papers should be no more than 8000 words, inclusive of notes and bibliography, prepared for anonymous review, and accompanied by an abstract of no more than 200 words. For details please see Hypatia’s submission guidelines (http://depts.washington.edu/hypatia/submission_guidelines.html).
Please submit your paper to manuscript central (https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/hypa). When you submit, make sure to select “Climate Change” as your manuscript type, and also send an email to the guest editors indicating the title of the paper you have submitted: Chris Cuomo: firstname.lastname@example.org, Nancy Tuana: email@example.com.
Is the question of Science (with a capital “S”) indicative of a certain misrepresentation of knowledge, politics, and composition? The question is itself an orientalizing one since it fails to establish which science, who’s common practice, and what intellectual climate. Being a good critical thinker one might then transition “Science” to “sciences” in order to do better justice to a heterogeneous series of distributed experimental, technical, political, and intellectual practices. But is pluralizing the term enough? What work is actually done by pointing towards the multiplicity, contingency, entanglement, and fragility of scientific practices? Donna Haraway (who’s name in this context will no doubt evoke mixed feelings) was the first person I heard point out that objectivity—that rare and vaunted diamond of knowledge—was in fact a very scarce resource in scientific practices, highly sought after, rarely achieved, and far reaching in its consequences (how hard it is to undo something once labeled objective!)
I think Haraway is right on two fronts: 1) the kind of objectivity achieved by various practices of science is, in an ontological sense, a true achievement (i.e., it tells us something significant about stars, planets, helium, and lithospheres), and 2) objectivity is always a hard fought, and difficult thing to produce. But objectivity is one of those words that can leave philosophers stumbling to define. Part of this is comes from the word “objectivity” itself which, in its every invocation, already pits one kind of knowledge against all others. I’m particularly interested in how one might formulate an understanding of knowledge—including, but not limited to scientific knowledge—within what we can all Graham Harman’s “withdrawal thesis.” The charge might be made that, because no mode of being or knowledge reaches the core of Harman’s “real objects,” all knowledge claims become equally valid since all fail equally at arriving at true knowledge of a real object. Unruly waters here folks.
If—and it’s a big if—withdrawal necessitates an ontological relativism of all knowledge claims (a “flat epistemology,” to borrow a term from Terrence Blake) we would land in a shaky relativism, both in terms of the question of science and the development of knowledge in general. Clearly, this is not a desirable position to be in with regards to ethics, politics, and science. However, I think the answer to the question is, “No—withdrawal does not necessitate a flat epistemology.” To reach this conclusion I argue that Harman’s withdrawal thesis (and his metaphysics in general) cannot be understood without some working knowledge of one of Harman’s great inspirations—Bruno Latour —and that the process of adjudication between knowledge claims is explicitly arrived at (for Harman) from Latour. Latour’s criteria for knowledge, as we know, come from the applied notions of composition and political art. The epistemic and the political must be composed and the criteria for the composition is doubly political and aesthetic insofar as what gets taken up in composition must (a) resist the trials of strength put against the knowledge claim, and (b) represent the interests of the various actors in question (which, as we also know, can be human or nonhuman for Latour). The central problem of composition is then not just one of resistance to trials of strength (which are necessary to evaluate the claim) but of mediation and translation between actors (who are implicated in the process of knowledge production).
The prolonged engagement Harman has had with Latour (e.g., the published dialogue recounted in The Prince and the Wolf and in Harman’s overview in Prince of Networks) indicates that Harman is well aware of the implications his ontology has for the knowledge making practices of the sciences. In accord with Latour’s own method, Harman has chosen to follow the actors-themselves to arrive at his version of an object-oriented philosophy, and its controversial claim of withdrawal along with it. This reframing of the Latourian strife between actors and their mediations forms a substantial component of Harman’s metaphysical program, and this has implications for how we understand both knowledge and politics within an object-oriented philosophy.
Insofar as Harman has provided us with conceptual tools to understand the ontological foundations of the processes of mediation and translation, his ontology actually strengthens the work begun by Latour in understanding the functioning of different practices of science, and the ways in which knowledge comes to be. None of this implies that (a) science and philosophy do not make any historical progress, or (b) that all knowledge claims are equal. The problem put forth by withdrawal simply states: interactions between objects are always mediated by the qualities (sensual and real) of those objects (or set of objects), denying the claim that unmediated interaction is possible. Mediation here means not that all knowledge claims are equally valid, just that all knowledge claims are equally mediations. The quality of those mediations is determined by the criteria listed in the above paragraph, and those criteria are inherently unstable, contingent, and contestable (i.e., they are always already political). In other words, Harman’s metaphysics does not lead to a flat epistemology, but rather a worthwhile engagement with what I would describe as the ontology of knowing based in the aesthetics of causality where the aesthetic refers to the ways in which different actors interpret one another more-or-less-well, without some final arbiter capable of overseeing the whole process from above. We can see this process unfold using an example.
The example I want to use is climate change and the associated political and ethical considerations that emerge when tracking the ontology of the event itself, and the ontology of knowledge by which we come to understand the event. When we are talking about a globally distributed phenomena like climate change—whose “center” is nowhere but whose effects are everywhere—the groups that must be mobilized (the “public” which must be formed, in Latour’s sense) to respond will be stakeholders that may: (a) hold mutually exclusive positions, (b) be ontologically entangled within different local scenarios in diverse and/or incommensurable ways, (c) be situated alongside asymmetrical categories related to gender, class, and nation, and (d) not even be of the same species (climate change effects all species, after all). As anthropologists, political ecologists, social psychologists, and environmental activists of all stripes know, any issue emerging at the intersections of climate change, eco-social pollution, and political organizing can be organized in myriad ways. Yes, there is data, and yes there is science. But the knowledge regarding complex systems like climate and ecosystemic functioning—particularly when thought alongside of complex human social dynamics—rarely leads to straightforward conclusions about the future trajectory of those systems; in fact, it would be regressive to suggest that appeals to mathematics and physics could solve these problems alone. In other words, the knowledge must be mediated, composed, and translated on multiple levels of interaction in such a way so as to assemble the collective towards a complicated idea called “justice.”
Such practices of mediation are at the heart of what Latour means by political art (in close alliance with what Isabelle Stengers calls “cosmopolitics”). Here’s Harman in praise of Latour’s politics (and metaphysics):
All reality is political, but not all politics is human. Referring to the ‘cosmopolitics’ of his friend Isabelle Stengers, Latour speaks of a redefined political order that ‘brings together stars, prions, cows, heavens, and people, the task being to turn this collective into a “cosmos” rather than an “unruly shambles”’ (PH, p. 261). It is no accident that Latour’s book Politics of Nature is translated into German as Das Parlament der Dinge: ‘The Parliament of Things’. We must liberate politics from the narrowly human realm and allow prions and the ozone hole to speak as well. Whether babble is reduced by reason (Socrates) or by power (Callicles), in either case political mediators are eliminated. Latour’s position is not just more politically attractive than this, but more metaphysically acute (Prince of Networks, p. 89).
Harman’s object-oriented philosophy can thus be read as implicitly tied to a Latourian politics of composition (indeed, this seems to be precisely what is at issue when Harman links his metaphysics of the object to the aesthetics of causality). To my reasoning this sets up a renewed potential for thinking through complex epistemic, political, and aesthetic issues (surely intertwined categories) at just the time we need them. In this respect, I don’t think the obligation lies solely on Harman to sort out all of the implications and uses of an object-oriented philosophy, but rather falls on the rest of us who are committed to using philosophy as a tool to help arrange more livable collectives in a socio-ecologically troubled twenty-first century. Not everyone will be interested in such a task of course, but for those that are I think Harman provides valuable resources to do so.
It seems that James Lovelock has backed down from some of his more apocalyptic predictions regarding climate change. THIS story has the details. I remember reading Lovelock’s views on climate change — which more or less state that the able bodied few need to migrate to the north pole before the whole earth cooks — and thinking they were a bit extreme. However, this does not at all erase the fact that we don’t yet know what impacts climate change will have, and, despite Lovelock’s more conservative reappraisal, it’s not clear that his original claims won’t still be correct at the end of the day. Climate change and mass extinction are THE ecological issues of the twenty-first century and we need to give everyone working on these issues enough space and support to re-modulate their understanding of these complex dynamics as much as possible.
It seems that the United States has become a country run by dinosaurs, fueled by ancient dinosaur carcasses, and is heading the way of the, well, dinosaurs. Assuming we don’t do something about it of course. If you haven’t read Naomi Klein’s article “Capitalism vs. the Climate” go ahead and stop paying attention to whatever I’m about to say and click HERE to read her much better articulation of the climate issues. The whole account is sober, thorough, and should be startling to anyone who can find the strength to take it seriously. Below are some good sound bites.
First, on the decline of climate action in the US:
All of this means that the climate movement needs to have one hell of a comeback. For this to happen, the left is going to have to learn from the right. Denialists gained traction by making climate about economics: action will destroy capitalism, they have claimed, killing jobs and sending prices soaring. But at a time when a growing number of people agree with the protesters at Occupy Wall Street, many of whom argue that capitalism-as-usual is itself the cause of lost jobs and debt slavery, there is a unique opportunity to seize the economic terrain from the right. This would require making a persuasive case that the real solutions to the climate crisis are also our best hope of building a much more enlightened economic system—one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work and radically reins in corporate power. It would also require a shift away from the notion that climate action is just one issue on a laundry list of worthy causes vying for progressive attention. Just as climate denialism has become a core identity issue on the right, utterly entwined with defending current systems of power and wealth, the scientific reality of climate change must, for progressives, occupy a central place in a coherent narrative about the perils of unrestrained greed and the need for real alternatives.
Second, one on what responding to climate change actually means:
The fact that the earth’s atmosphere cannot safely absorb the amount of carbon we are pumping into it is a symptom of a much larger crisis, one born of the central fiction on which our economic model is based: that nature is limitless, that we will always be able to find more of what we need, and that if something runs out it can be seamlessly replaced by another resource that we can endlessly extract. But it is not just the atmosphere that we have exploited beyond its capacity to recover—we are doing the same to the oceans, to freshwater, to topsoil and to biodiversity. The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally. The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits, including the limits of human intelligence.
Third, a very relevant critique of the failure of individual action (kind of a symptom of the modern subjects double-bind anyway, isn’t it?) to have an impact:
After years of recycling, carbon offsetting and light bulb changing, it is obvious that individual action will never be an adequate response to the climate crisis. Climate change is a collective problem, and it demands collective action. One of the key areas in which this collective action must take place is big-ticket investments designed to reduce our emissions on a mass scale. That means subways, streetcars and light-rail systems that are not only everywhere but affordable to everyone; energy-efficient affordable housing along those transit lines; smart electrical grids carrying renewable energy; and a massive research effort to ensure that we are using the best methods possible.
Fourth, a great one for the workers! Even some of the liberal-left’s most clever ecological economists don’t quite get how severe the economic devastation would be for many people who work in the industries that need to be re-structured. This is not a side issue and must be a part of any plan to deal with climate change:
Climate change demands other forms of planning as well—particularly for workers whose jobs will become obsolete as we wean ourselves off fossil fuels. A few “green jobs” trainings aren’t enough. These workers need to know that real jobs will be waiting for them on the other side. That means bringing back the idea of planning our economies based on collective priorities rather than corporate profitability—giving laid-off employees of car plants and coal mines the tools and resources to create jobs, for example, with Cleveland’s worker-run green co-ops serving as a model.
And one final quote that is sure to upset just about everyone in this country, take it away Ms. Klein:
So let’s summarize. Responding to climate change requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at a minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law. In short, climate change supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every progressive demand on the books, binding them into a coherent agenda based on a clear scientific imperative.
Bruno Latour’s philosophy is fundamentally about coexistance. Its about understanding, coming to terms with, and negotiating the fact that each new entity that humans bring into being — styrofoam cups, batteries, thorium reactors, oil tankers, GMOs, flat screens — has its own autonomous existence and its own uncertain capacity to disrupt and create change in the world. What Latour understands best is that a central task (perhaps the central task) which face humans today lies in how to generate an institutional apparatus that understands how to interface human decision making with the reality of the nonhuman entities that populate our world.
It is common practice when discussing environmental ethics, particularly in popular contexts, to focus attention on key entities that can mobilize action and evoke sympathy from human beings. Most often these are entities that look something like ourselves, or at least hang on a nearby branch of the evolutionary rhizome. Polar bears, Lions, Bison, Dolphins, and Whales — these have become the spokesbeings for for an other wise silently suffering ecosphere. But for Latour the question of environmental ethics goes beyond understanding how it is we should protect endangered species — a worthy cause in and of itself — but rather enters into a much stranger ontological space of understanding and relating to the fact that humans are responsible for creating and linking together the wide variety of incommensurable beings that now populate the earth.
In order for the Earth to remain a viable place for life in general (and for most larger animals in particular) it has become necessary for the planet to be cordoned off into different sections that must not be permitted to touch. Oil tankers must sale across the ocean with reinforced steel hulls so that oil does not touch water; nuclear reactors must built inside massive concrete tombs so they can’t touch surrounding neighborhoods; skin must be protected with oils so UV rays cannot strike with their cancerous touch; GMOs are created to better handle pesticides; and wilderness areas are put behind fences to remain “untouched” by civilization. All of these walls require the linking of human beings with nonhuman substances and entities that, moreover, require political practices of law, ethics, and democratic decision making in order to maintain.
Humans are now constantly engaged in round after round of decision making, having not just opened a pandora’s box of wildly unpredictable agents, but actually living inside pandora’s box. As Kerry Whiteside notes in his excellent book Precautionary Politics: Principle and Practice in Confronting Environmental Risk, “Unable to predict all the effects of the processes it lets loose into the environment, contemporary science has, in effect, turned the world into a laboratory. Still, it is a laboratory that we all inhabit” (p. 102). It is in this sense that Latour and Whiteside both agree on some of the fundamental issues that arise on a planet where hydrogen bombs, the rainforest, and humans must all coexist.
No doubt scientific advancements in medicine, technology, and our understanding of evolution have given humans wondrous intellectual insights that have increased the human capacities for justice, healing, and innovation. But the generation of both medicines that enhance and toxic chemicals that destroy humans and their ecological systems has not led to a simultaneous generation of new political practices, of new public domains that understand the ecological (and ontological) implications of global technosciences. The emergence of the Anthropocene, supported by industrialization and achieved at the expense of millions of species, thus raises one of Whiteside’s most compelling questions, “Can we live together?–where ‘we’ is people and all the nonhuman phenomena with which they become entangled” (pp. 105-106).
Whiteside and Latour both argue for a precautionary politics that acknowledge that the complex entanglements forged between humans and nonhumans requires a new kind of politics not bifurcated between questions of nature and culture. These entanglements require a precautionary politics precisely because so many of these entities are simultaneously toxic to, whilst comingling with, one another. Such a precautionary politics also recognizes the properly autonomous agency of things. GMOs, for example, do not behave in controllable, predictable ways; the other species they come into contact with do not “choose” whether or not to become implicated in the evolutionary trajectory of a new, scientifically generated species any more than you or I “choose” to get burned by fire when sticking our hands too close to a flame.
The earth is quickly becoming a crowded place, not just because of the 7 billion people who now inhabit it, but because of the trillions upon trillions of new objects that humans create — each one an independent force unleashed in the ecosphere. When Latour emhpasizes the autonomy of things to interact, surprise, and disturb other things this should not in any way be construed as a denial of the deep structures of relationality that hold ecological worlds together; the autonomy of things is in fact a precondition for relationality, for relations to occur their must exists beings that can relate! Thus while the rest of the developed world has another go around at a lackluster attempt at democratically negotiating global climate change, I am somewhat heartened by the minds of people like Whiteside and Latour for reminding us that sanity is possible, that democracy is the most powerful tool we have, and that we live amidst a society both human and more than human. The precautionary politics Latour and Whiteside argue for represent the germ seed of a cosmopolitical vision that may lead humans into healthier relationship with the nonhuman. If you find any of the above ideas relavent to your own work, I strongly encourage you to pick up Whiteside’s book.
At the beginning of the 21st century, industrialized societies are beginning, inadequately, to understand the massive impact they are having on the Earth’s climatic and ecological systems. Following the industrial revolution — and the exponential growth in human numbers that came with it — it no longer makes sense to view industrial nation states as being factors simply located within the larger society of the earth community. Rather, through processes of globalization and technoscientific development, humans have constructed what Lewis Mumford called “the mega machine” — an industrial complex so vast and complicated that, in order for its ongoing maintenance to remain viable, human labor had to become a component part of, rather than a guiding hand to, a planetary network of technology and manufactured infrastructures that require constant maintenance, resources, and attention.
As Ulrich Beck argued in his work The Risk Society, the merger of science and technology produced knowledges and capacities that far outpace the human ability to calculate the social and ecological effects either might have. The emergence of new objects like the Fukushima reactor in Japan clearly illustrate that technoscience has unleashed a horde of new entities onto the face of the earth, the likes of which humans can scarcely control or understand. The deployment of these strange, new entities — vast antennae arrays, GM foods, and ghost cities to name a few — have all left their substantial mark on the earth’s systems. Indeed, this is what Bruno Latour calls our attention to in a short article he wrote entitled “The Year in Climate Controversy.”
Latour, with his always generous and clear tone, suggests that Climate change is a problem so unique in its scale and magnitude that “there is no single institution able to cover, oversee, dominate, manage, handle, or simply trace an issue of such shape and scope.” Climate change thus marks for us two realities, both of which we have briefly touched upon but can now state with further clarity: 1) Climate change signifies that industrial civilizations have become so influential in their impact on other earth systems that we might now call them a geological factor within the ecosphere. Akin in scale and scope to tectonic movements and volcanic eruptions, and developing their own autonomous trajectories outside of the power of human management, industrial societies are massively impacting the unfolding evolution of the ecosphere, causing dramatic changes in the trajectories of all ecosystems on the planet. 2) Climate Change is such an enormous phenomenon, experientially inaccessible to any one human, that even contemplating its reality in any thing like an empirical way (i.e., through sophisticated computer-modeling and long-term data collection) requires many of the same technoscientific networks that led to its emergence.
For Latour, climate change is a problem without a public; in other words, climate change’s slow ingress into the realm of experiential reality evades our ability to perceive and respond to it. Latour goes on to write:
Even a summit of all the nations of the earth, preceded by the most strident media campaigns, could not digest an issue so intractable and so enmeshed in contradictory interests as this one. We have a problem, but we don’t have the public that goes with it. And no wonder, for the climate crisis asks for nothing less than a radical revolution. Not a sudden upheaval-class against class-but myriad changes at all levels of existence, from cars to clothes, from architecture to industry, from agriculture to sewage. How could we imagine a global agreement amid so many entangled interests?
No institution is unfettered enough by political demands, no scientific think-tank is sophisticated enough, no one national government possess enough of the right resources, to address global climate change. It is a problem that, currently, does not have a public. The notion of the public in Latour’s thinking is not of some silent, previously-existing mass, waiting in an already formed state to address new problems. Rather, Latour’s public is one that must be composed again and again, drawn up within the entangled demands of a given scenario. In other words, the problem of climate change cannot be met through the application of any already existing state infrastructure or apparatus — it must be crafted anew in accordance with the demands of a world that is disturbingly alien to the one which gave rise to current institutions and collective systems of organization.
This new public is faced with the task of building an alliance, and negotiating a practice of living, that is attentive to both the more-than-human biological world and the radically nonhuman world of tectonic activity, de-glaciation, nuclear meltdown, and ozone depletion. When we think “ecology,” then, we must accept that what counts as an ecological agent now includes the whole spectrum of objects that populate the earth system: from bacteria to gamma rays, mountains to cell towers, ocean waves to gazelles. In other words, the public must become a public of the whole earth community, if I may wax so romantically. On the human end of this public we will need the participation of every creatively thinking and capable person available. “Without the diverse cooperation of artists, activists, and social and natural scientists” Latour writes “it is impossible to explore and retrace the unwanted consequences of our collective actions-and, most of all, to restore confidence in scientific institutions by making their work and, yes, their controversies fully visible.”
With the coordination of every facet of human creativity and passion, we may yet be able to create such a public.
A good friend of mine is studying island ecology, whilst discussing some of his research on climate change and social adaptation strategies, the island nation of Nauru came up – a truly dire situation and indicative of where we, as a planet, are headed. It seems that we are no longer talking about avoiding the devastating changes that are coming down the road, but rather adapting to them. You can read an article on the predicament in the NY Times HERE, from which I quote the following passage:
I FORGIVE you if you have never heard of my country.
At just 8 square miles, about a third of the size of Manhattan, and located in the southern Pacific Ocean, Nauru appears as merely a pinpoint on most maps — if it is not missing entirely in a vast expanse of blue.
But make no mistake; we are a sovereign nation, with our own language, customs and history dating back 3,000 years. Nauru is worth a quick Internet search, I assure you, for not only will you discover a fascinating country that is often overlooked, you will find an indispensible cautionary tale about life in a place with hard ecological limits.
Phosphate mining, first by foreign companies and later our own, cleared the lush tropical rainforest that once covered our island’s interior, scarring the land and leaving only a thin strip of coastline for us to live on. The legacy of exploitation left us with few economic alternatives and one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, and led previous governments to make unwise investments that ultimately squandered our country’s savings.
I am not looking for sympathy, but rather warning you what can happen when a country runs out of options. The world is headed down a similar path with the relentless burning of coal and oil, which is altering the planet’s climate, melting ice caps, making oceans more acidic and edging us ever closer to a day when no one will be able to take clean water, fertile soil or abundant food for granted.
Climate change also threatens the very existence of many countries in the Pacific, where the sea level is projected to rise three feet or more by the end of the century. Already, Nauru’s coast, the only habitable area, is steadily eroding, and communities in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands have been forced to flee their homes to escape record tides. The low-lying nations of Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands may vanish entirely within our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
So, on the one hand, we need to continue to implement the necessary structural, economic, political, and technological changes that will help our species to curb further climate disruption. On the other hand, we also need to begin thinking about how we are going to adapt to the changes, such as the one on Nauru, that are already underway. This includes the political and immigration challenges that will become increasingly difficult to navigate, particularly as more people are forced off their lands due to ecological and climatic changes, but it also includes coming to grips with the necessary psychological challenges that many people will be facing, whether they want to or not.
Solastalgia is a term coined by Glenn Albrecht to describe “a new concept developed to give greater meaning and clarity to environmentally induced distress. As opposed to nostalgia – the melancholia or homesickness experienced by individuals when separated from a loved home – solastalgia is the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment.” It is a condition that I suspect we are going to see a lot more of, both in places such as Nauru, and in other locations (such as the high altitude Himalaya mountains, where climate change is having a huge impact on the surrounding ice sheets, which play a crucial role not only in hydrological cycles and local agriculture, but also in cultural and spiritual value systems of local peoples).
What we need at this point, I think, is not just a policy of aversion, but also, a policy of adaptation that will allocate resources to the implementation of transition programs for peoples who are disproportionately effected by a global phenomenon. As usual, the burdens and benefits are not equally distributed, and, people such as those on Nauru Island, do not contribute to climate change in anywhere near the same proportion to which they suffer from its effects.
Sean Esbjorn-Hargens, co-author with Michael Zimmerman of the book Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World has a new article entitled AN ONTOLOGY OF CLIMATE CHANGE: Integral Pluralism and the Enactment of Multiple Objects. Here is the abstract from the article:
ABSTRACT Climate change is a complex phenomenon that is enacted by multiple methodologies from various disciplines. No single method by itself can see or reveal climate change in its entirety. This raises the issue of the ontological status of climate change and to what degree are the data from these methodological traditions pointing to a singular or multiple object. This article explores the ontology of climate change. First, the notion of ontological pluralism is introduced and linked to climate change. Next, the role of enactment and performativity is explored in the context of climate change. As a result of this analysis, climate change is presented as a multiple object with overlapping and divergent dimensions. Issues of hybridity and multiplicity are linked to climate change action. Lastly, a framework of Integral Pluralism is presented that addresses the relationship between epistemological distance (the Who), methodological variety (the How), and ontological complexity (the What). In conclusion, this article presents five reasons why it is advantageous- philosophically and pragmatically- to relate to climate change as an ontological plurality.
As a grad student at the California Institute of Integral Studies, I have been following the OOO-Integral theory connection from the beginnings of my introduction to OOO as a field of philosophy (others have also picked up on this connection). Ironically, I am more versed in actor-networks and science studies than I am in Esbjorn-Hargens’ (following Ken Wilber) AQAL method- though hanging out at CIIS will definitely give you a dose of it by osmosis. The article is very successful and, I think, provides a much needed gateway between ANT and the AQAL theorists.
Check it out.