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.

Great new book from Karine Gagné: Caring for Glaciers: Land, Animals, and Humanity in the Himalayas

This is a great looking new title from Karine Gagné at the University of Guelph.

Available here from University of Washington Press, where the blurb below is also from.

GAGASGRegional geopolitical processes have turned the Himalayan region of Ladakh, in northwest India, into a strategic border area with an increasing military presence that has decentered the traditional agropastoralist economy. This in turn has led to social fragmentation, the growing isolation of elders, and ethical dilemmas for those who strive to maintain traditional subsistence activities. Simultaneously, climate change is causing glaciers – a vital source of life in the region – to recede, which elders perceive as the consequence of a broken bond with the natural environment and the deities that inhabit the landscape.

Caring for Glaciers looks at the causes and consequences of ongoing social and cultural change in peoples’ relationship with the natural environment. It illuminates how relations of reciprocity – learned through everyday life and work in the mountains with the animals, glaciers, and deities that form Ladakh’s sacred geography – shape and nurture an ethics of care. Integrating contemporary studies of affect, landscape, and multispecies anthropology, Caring for Glaciers contributes to the anthropology of ethics by examining the moral order that develops through the embodied experience of life and work in the Himalayas.

Karine Gagné is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Guelph.

“The idea of morality serves as an axis for Gagné to bring together climate change, geopolitical tensions within and between nations, and the dilemmas of Indigenous peoples faced with the forces of nationalism and globalization.”
-Benjamin Orlove, anthropologist and professor of international and public affairs, Columbia University

“A timely and important foregrounding of the complex assemblage of human environmental relationships in the Himalayas.”
-Mona Bhan, coauthor of Climate without Nature: A Critical Anthropology of the Anthropocene

“Karine Gagné offers a perceptive and ethnographically rich monograph to the growing field of borderlands studies in high Asia and boosts our awareness of the Human-Nature bond on these margins.”
-Jean Michaud, coauthor of Frontier Livelihoods: Hmong in the Sino-Vietnamese Borderlands