Eduardo Kohn–Anthropology as cosmic diplomacy: Toward an ecological ethics for the Anthropocene

Spring (northern hemisphere) Anthropocene books out now or soon…

A few recently released or soon to be released titles (not counting my own) on various aspects of the Anthropocene.

1509519742Clive Hamilton’s Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene (Polity)

Humans have become so powerful that we have disrupted the functioning of the Earth System as a whole, bringing on a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – one in which the serene and clement conditions that allowed civilisation to flourish are disappearing and we quail before ‘the wakened giant’.

The emergence of a conscious creature capable of using technology to bring about a rupture in the Earth’s geochronology is an event of monumental significance, on a par with the arrival of civilisation itself.

What does it mean to have arrived at this point, where human history and Earth history collide? Some interpret the Anthropocene as no more than a development of what they already know, obscuring and deflating its profound significance. But the Anthropocene demands that we rethink everything. The modern belief in the free, reflexive being making its own future by taking control of its environment – even to the point of geoengineering – is now impossible because we have rendered the Earth more unpredictable and less controllable, a disobedient planet.

At the same time, all attempts by progressives to cut humans down to size by attacking anthropocentrism come up against the insurmountable fact that human beings now possess enough power to change the Earth’s course. It’s too late to turn back the geological clock, and there is no going back to premodern ways of thinking.

We must face the fact that humans are at the centre of the world, even if we must give the idea that we can control the planet. These truths call for a new kind of anthropocentrism, a philosophy by which we might use our power responsibly and find a way to live on a defiant Earth.

Bruno Latour’s Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime (Polity)

0745684335The emergence of modern sciences in the seventeenth century profoundly renewed our understanding of Nature. For the last three centuries new ideas of Nature have been continuously developed by theology, politics, economics, and science, especially the sciences of the material world.

The situation is even more unstable today, now that we have entered an ecological mutation of unprecedented scale. Some call it the Anthropocene, but it is best described as a new climatic regime. And a new regime it certainly is, since the many unexpected connections between human activity and the natural world oblige every one of us to reopen the earlier notions of Nature and redistribute what had been packed inside. So the question now arises: what will replace the old ways of looking at Nature? This book explores a potential candidate proposed by James Lovelock when he chose the name “Gaia” for the fragile, complex system through which living phenomena modify the Earth. The fact that he was immediately misunderstood proves simply that his readers have tried to fit this new notion into an older frame, transforming Gaia into a single organism, a kind of giant thermostat, some sort of New Age goddess, or even divine Providence.

In this series of lectures on “natural religion”, Bruno Latour argues that the complex and ambiguous figure of Gaia offers, on the contrary, an ideal way to disentangle the ethical, political, theological, and scientific aspects of the now obsolete notion of Nature. He lays the groundwork for a future collaboration among scientists, theologians, activists, and artists as they, and we, begin to adjust to the new climatic regime.

Celia Deane-Drummond, Sigurd Bergmann, and Markus Vogt’s (Eds), Religion in the Anthropocene

9781498291910This book charts a new direction in humanities scholarship through serious engagement with the geopolitical concept of the Anthropocene. Drawing on religious studies, theology, social science, history and philosophy, and what can be broadly termed the environmental humanities, this collection represents a groundbreaking critical analysis of diverse narratives on the Anthropocene.

The contributors to this volume recognize that the Anthropocene began as a geological concept, the age of the humans, but that its implications are much wider than this.

Will the Anthropocene have good or bad ethical outcomes?

Does the Anthropocene idea challenge the possibility of a sacred Nature, which shores up many religious approaches to environmental ethics?

Or is the Anthropocene a secularized theological anthropology more properly dealt with through traditional concepts from Catholic social teaching on human ecology?

Do theological traditions, such as Christology, reinforce negative aspects of the Anthropocene?

Not all contributors in this volume agree with the answers to these different questions. Readers will be challenged, provoked, and stimulated by this book.

Religion and Environmentalism: Carl Sagan on Conservation, Ecology, Nature, Values, Ethics

A lecture from 1990 now available:

Fran Tonkiss: ecologies of inequality

Interiority Regained: Integral Ecology and Environmental Ethics

Michael Zimmerman’s lecture from a few years back, but still relevant given its comments on naturalism, facts, values and so forth…

Noam Chomsky: Ethics, ecology and anarchism

Paul Robbins on Ecological anxiety disorder: diagnosing the politics of the Anthropocene

Inequality, democracy & overwhelming speed

I attended an interesting roundtable last night on inequality versus democracy. It will be aired live on NPR today, I think at 11am and 7pm – but I’m not sure of all the local variations. Best to check here, on Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” program description. There you can also see who did the talking:

Chrystia Freeland, Liberal Party Candidate for Canadian Parliament, journalist and author of “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.” (@CaFreeland)

Martin Gilens, professor of Politics at Princeton University and author of “Affluence & Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America.”

Alex Keyssar, Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy.


If you have been following the discussion about the rise of inequality in wealth distribution you will be familiar with some of the main themes of the talk. If not, there is also a helpful introduction at the outset that links the rise in inequality to the decline in democratic responsiveness to the public. Either way, pretty informative.

One thing I had wished to hear, but did not, was a bit about how the complexity and speed of financial trading now goes beyond what we can even respond to. There is a very interesting article on this topic that came out a few weeks ago, and a good summary of it here. And if you want to see what I mean, watch the clip below. It is from a mere 10 seconds of trading for Blackberry stocks. I copied the description in below too, just because otherwise it is pretty hard to understand.

“October 2, 2013 – Blackberry rallies from $7.60 to $8.00. Watch the deluge of quotes from Nasdaq (pink at 12 o’clock) overwhelm the system when the price ticks to the next level. Quote rates approach 40,000 per second on a 25 millisecond basis.”

Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim receive Our Joint and Common Future Award

I always appreciate hearing more about the intersections of religion and ecology. Here are two of the leaders in the field, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, accepting the inaugural award in Our Joint and Common Future from UMass (details here).


Anthropocene, art, capital

ef183b46d2a32e1fc9dac9f7c6d9029eDuke University has a new exhibit entitled “Recording the Anthropocene” and it looks quite interesting (see pic!), I’d encourage you to check it out!

Also, Jason Moore has been offering some interesting thoughts on the anthropocene over at his blog. One of his contentions is that the idea brings humanity (the anthropos) together as an undifferentiated whole. This, to me, is a bit of an odd claim. You can get away with a much weaker one – certain forms of life have come to dominate planetary systems through their increased material throughput (i.e. massive consumption and expenditure of energy/waste).

Moore claims the anthropocene doesn’t ask us to think about the relationships of power, inequality or injustice that have beset us at all. And I completely disagree. Moore goes on to explain how the anthropocene obscures these existing relationships in some detail. He does so all the while working in a Marxian vein where he never explains the difference between a “species-being” (as Marx termed it) and the “anthropos” he sets up as the target of his criticisms. I’d be interested to know where the relevant differences lie for Moore.

I have a second query for Moore, which is why he decided to work out a critique of the anthropocene using the trope of “Nature” as a touchstone and the claimed “society-nature” relationship as a foil for the argument put forth. What about doing ecology without Nature, as Tim Morton has suggested?