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The Reliance On Radical Hope: The Ecological Crisis is Very, Very Bad

Image: GETTY

For my response, I decided to focus on the article “A World They Don’t Deserve,” by Allen Thompson. I wanted to use my response as an opportunity to highlight the aspects of this article that I found particularly interesting or hadn’t necessarily thought about.

Firstly, I was very intrigued by the idea of radical hope. In “A World They Don’t Deserve,” Thompson uses Johnathan Lear’s account, Plenty Coups, to define radical hope. Radical hope is defined as “courage to act in the face of devastation, with a commitment to the reemergence of the good in a form that is beyond one’s present ability to cognize or comprehend.” Radical hope can be analogous to having faith (not necessarily connected to religion). It is the idea that you may not know what the future holds, but you have faith that good will come out of the future. I thought that the incorporation of radical hope, and the connection to the displacement of indigenous populations was very interesting. Especially when this example is given, many more examples in history become clear. The goal, I believe, in incorporating the idea of radical hope was to show that no matter what the climate and ecology of the Earth becomes, humans will adapt and try to thrive because there is no other option. 

That brings me to the second point that I found interesting: making up for the ecological disaster that future generations will inherit. I will admit that I had adopted the mindset, or felt strongly about the idea that fixing the climate was the only option. I never contemplated that we had alternative options, even if they aren’t very good. The idea that humans will (or possibly will) exist in a world that has been degraded, and that if we can’t fix the ecological crisis we have created, we should make up for it in other ways. I found this idea to be very compelling. Thompson brings up the example of cancer. If we can’t solve out ecological problems, we might as well cure cancer to take one burden off of the future generations. Thompsen also mentioned access to healthcare and education as another one of these “gifts.”

The last idea that I felt that I needed to mention was the idea of geoengineering. Thompson gave examples of geoengineering in the article, mentioning solar radiation management and stratospheric sulfur injections- all of these being implemented instead of fixing the true problem. The true problem being carbon dioxide levels, which can be lowered in part by reforestation. This really reminded me of the pharmaceutical industry. We create treatment and drugs for every sort of problem that we can, but often they don’t fix what is broken or amiss, instead they work to cover up the problem. For example, if you have a headache an instinct reaction is to take a pain reliever such as advil or ibuprofen. But all these medications do is mask the problem. Your headache may have been caused by dehydration, but instead of rehydrating and resting you disregard the cause of the headache for a quick fix. This is analogous to ignoring the high carbon dioxide levels (the root of the problem) and trying to mask it with other actions.

I, overall, felt that the attitudes and ideas presented in this article were very much something Greta Thunberg would reference and preach- we are morally responsible for the climate crisis and assisting future generations.

All We Can do is Hope By: Kristen Adamec

Photo: Paolo Monti, 1969

Allen Thompson in his article “A World They Don’t Deserve: Moral Failure and Deep Adaption,” argues succinctly that we, as a human race, have a moral obligation to combat climate change. He firmly believes that we need to step up our efforts to combat the negative effects we are having on the planet in order to provide the best possible world for future generations to thrive in. Of course, as Thompson points out, all of this hinges on the continuation of the human race. Thompson provides strong evidence for the flexibility and perseverance of the human race, but believes that the best way for the current population to apologize to–and ensure the flourishing of–the next generation is by putting in marked effort to combating climate change. 

Reading this article, I found myself agreeing with Thompson’s arguments: apologizing and providing restitution to future generations is something we should focus more on, geoengineering is a very bad idea, and we have a moral obligation to provide the best possible world for those who come next. The morality of climate change is not something I had ever considered. Though I had previously considered that we need to address climate change to save the planet and future life, I had not considered it through the lens of morality.  All humans have the obligation to look out and provide for other humans. We, as a current population, have failed to provide for those coming after us, by focusing too much on the current needs of the population. Instead of being secure in the knowledge that the human race will continue on, we must, as Thompson argues, turn to stoicism and radical hope to believe that the human race will adapt to a warmth-ravaged planet. As Thompson puts it: “Hope is dead. Long live hope” (15). The hope that we can reverse or significantly slow climate change is gone, and a new hope must be kindled: the hope that whatever the consequences of climate change are, human can survive them. 

Make no omissions

Image: “White Cotton, Black Pickers” / Courtesy of the Library of Congress

For context, geology is defined as “the science that deals with the earth’s physical structure and substance, its history, and the processes that act on it” (Oxford Dictionary). What I find particularly enlightening about Kathryn Yusoff’s “A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None,” (particularly the chapter titled “Geology, Race, and Matter”) is the discussion of geology as a subject. Prior to reading this chapter, and subsequently researching to find the most accurate definition of geology, I was under the impression that geology solely dealt with the earth’s structure. I believed that geology simply dealt with topography and earth’s natural phenomenon. I wasn’t entirely incorrect, but I was omitting an entire topic focused on by geologists. So, as I’ve learned, geology not only deals with topography but it deals with the history of the earth and “the processes that act on it” (which can be expanded to include the actions of humans). Knowing the true definition of geology and having the entire picture allowed me to understand the article at a greater capacity and truly interact with its contents. 

In “A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None” Kathryn Yusoff argues that our concept of what the Anthropocene is is limited. The world’s view (or the majority of the world’s view) of the Anthropocene is lacking, just as my concept of the definition of geology was. Yusoff argues that this omission is harmful. Yusoff argues that the history of slavery is incredibly important to the idea of the Anthropocene. Europeans colonial desires (which displaced native peoples and fueled the destruction of the planet by humans) were enabled by slavery and that it must be discussed. The idea of an Anthropocene is incomplete without a reason as to why and how we started this ecological crisis. Additionally the effects of slavery can be seen today, especially in the modes that we use to destroy the earth. In the publication Yusoff wrote, “the complex histories of those afterlives of slavery continued in the chain gangs that laid the railroad and worked the coal mines through the establishment of new forms of energy, in which, Stephanie LeMenager (2014, 5) comments, ‘oil literally was concieved as a replacement for slave labor.’” Along with the idea of Europeans using slavery as a means to wreck havoc on nature, Yusoff argues that we must talk about the social side. We must acknowledge the effect that slavery has had on the Afircan American population and the “Antiblackness” that followed.

A section of the publication that I felt summarized that point (or at least part of it) that Yusoff was trying throughout to make clear is as follows: “ Rendering subjects as inhuman matter, not as persons, thereby facilitated and incorporated the historical fact of extraction of personhood as a quality of geology at its inception.”

“God didn’t say that”

“Historian Blames Christianity for Nature’s Downfall.” A quick summary (lacking depth) of the article “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” written by historian Lynn White, Jr, published in Science magazine. Upon discovering that in the near future I was going to read an article about the subject above I felt two dominant emotions: curiosity and confusion. The notion that Lynn White Jr was going to lay the blame for the ecological crisis was both confusing and intriguing. As I always do before reading, I brainstormed what the text could contain, and I came up empty handed. I honestly had no idea how Lynn White, Jr was going to present his argument (though this lack of ideas could have been due to my lack of knowledge of Christianity and the Bible). And so I read, and was thoroughly impressed. Lynn White, Jr. presented his argument as such: science resulting in technological development have given the people a means to disrespect nature and harm the Earth. Christianity has given society a motivation or a reason to do so. In “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Lynn White, Jr. focuses on a specific section of the Bible regarding how Christianity views the relationship between men and nature. White writes, “Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.” Lynn White, Jr. interprets the Bible as giving Christians permission to abuse the environment as they have dominion over it. Honestly, at the end of the article, I was impressed by Lynn White, Jr.’s main argument and his explanation. Lynn White, Jr. was thorough in providing evidence and examples. In the article, Lynn White, Jr. describes the invention of a plow that required eight oxen to pull. Lynn White, Jr. describes the relationship between man and nature as more harmonious before this invention. Man took only what he needed for subsistence from the land when he had to work harder for it. Now man could exploit nature because he had the means to do so. This technological innovation (among others) and Christian teachings and values is what Lynn White, Jr. argues caused this current ecological crisis. 

As instructed, I traded “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” by Lynn White for Laudato Si by Pope Francis. The relationship between the two pieces is solidified in the second chapter of Laudato Si, titled “The Gospel of Creation.” Pope Francis begins the chapter by contemplating why he has to discuss non-believers or those who criticize, but he ultimately comes to the conclusion that religion has an important place in society. Pope Francis argues that discussing religion and science together is beneficial. This chapter (in my opinion) seemed a little bit like an attempt to save face. While Pope Francis goes on to propose a somewhat valid argument, his writing seems circular as he always ends up in the same place (though this could be a tactic to reiterate his point). While Lynn White, Jr. argues that Christianity and its text are the cause of the ecological crisis  (or motivating factor for individuals to exploit nature), Pope Francis (surprisingly) argues the exact opposite. Pope Francis argues that Christian texts do not lead or encourage Christians to have “dominion” over nature. Instead Christian texts argue for a symbiotic relationship between man and nature. Men are supposed to get from nature what they need to survive. And in return for nature giving them what they need (not desire), man is supposed to give back to the earth and respect it. Pope Francis writes that God made all organisms on life equal and that they all deserve respect and life. When presented with the fact that some Christians do deviate from these values he explains that those who act in this manner have misinterpreted the Bibles teachings. Alienation or separation from God helped cause these behaviors. Pope Francis provides examples that the good Christians do, specifically when mentioning Sundays when everyone, even donkeys, get the day to rest. Pope Francis also describes times that must be taken off, when no one can reap harvest for profit, or pick all that has been grown. The leftovers go to the poor and the wanderers. 

It is Lynn White, Jr.’s interpretation of the Bible and Pope Francis’ interpretation of the Bible that lead these men to take these sides. This is where their argument stems. Lynn White, Jr reads the same text as Pope Francis and instead of coming to the conclusion that Christians and nature must work together, he comes to the conclusion that Christians are being encouraged to exploit nature. Ultimately, it is evident that both Lynn White, Jr and Pope Francis care about the ecological crisis, and both have kind words about Saint Francis of Assisi, who had great concern and respect for the environment. Both men realize that man can feel above nature, and that is a problem that needs to be fixed. It appears that the main difference lies in their interpretations of man’s motivation to exploit.