Glacial Deaths, Geologic Extinction: my latest article now in Environmental Humanities

In my most recent article I examine what it might look like to think about extinction beyond species. I start with the increasing number of funerals for glaciers being held around the world. I started with the quite famous case of OK glacier in Iceland, but there have been others in Switzerland and, more recently, in Oregon in the United States.

The article is free to read here in Environmental Humanities. In it, I argue that grappling with the profound shifts of human impacts on the planet requires also not collapsing extinction to singular ideas of loss. This idea is not new to me, and many others have argued that prevailing notions of extinction (and corollary calls for species protection) don’t adequately account for other ways of reckoning loss, such as those of Indigenous peoples. What I do in the article is slightly different than just critiquing those accounts because I start out by reframining extinction itself not in biological, or species terms alone. Instead, I retrace some of the history of how extinction has always been referenced to a theory of the Earth (or geology) and that there is a way to think extinction about geological phenomenon (like glaciers) too. There could be many other cases as well–perhaps mountain top removal and the like–and I am thinking of how those might also be understood as I move forward with some of these ideas.

Here is the abstract:

In 2019 several funerals were held for glaciers. If enough glaciers die, could they go extinct? Is there geologic extinction? Yes. This article develops three arguments to support this claim. The first revisits Georges Cuvier’s original argument for extinction and its reliance on geology, especially glaciers. Retracing connections to glaciers and the narrowing of extinction to biological species in the nineteenth century, the author argues that anthropogenic forcing on how the Earth system functions—the Anthropocene—warrants rethinking extinction geologically. The second argument examines the specificity of ice loss and multiple practices responding to this loss: from art exhibits at United Nations climate change meetings to anticolonial claims for the right to be cold. The third argument consolidates a theme built across the article regarding how Isabelle Stengers’s notion of ecologies of practices provides an approach to geologic extinction that recognizes both relational and nonrelational loss.

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