All posts by baslere

Past the Point of No Return

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The article “The Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” written by Steffen, et al. reiterates many of the statements made in previous articles we have discussed. For example, human activity is heavily contributing to climate change, most specifically in CO2 emissions, and that climate change will affect human health, economies, political stability, and governments. By making many of the same points that other authors have made,  Steffen, et al. reinforces the notion that climate change is real and a crisis. Steffen, et al. defines the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch, after the Holocene. This definition, in my mind, shows the strength of belief this team of researchers has in their work, and demonstrates the extreme changes that have occurred on Earth as a result of climate change and the Anthropocene. 

Steffen, et al. does not stick to making the same points as other authors and instead expands tremendously on the effects that climate change has on the Earth, as well as delaying and/ or solving climate change. First off, Steffan et al. brings up three integral concepts: limit cycles and planetary thresholds, biogeophysical feedbacks, and Tipping cascades. These concepts make this article on climate change unique and reveals the science behind definitions and predictions of climate change (this appeals to the science lover in me).

Steffen, et al. uses limit cycles and planetary thresholds to convey the fact that we are on the way towards a “Hothouse Earth” and that drastic changes need to be made to alter the trajectory that the Earth’s climate is going, and to bring back stability by reentering the an interglacial state. Steffen, et al. also uses limit cycles and planetary thresholds to lead into biogeophysical feedbacks. If the Earth is headed towards an interglacial state, and instead is headed towards a “Hothouse Earth,” once this limit is passed, biogeophysical feedbacks will become the more dominant controller over the future of the earth (which I find unsettling).The point here being that if a “Hothouse Earth” is not avoided, and instead the threshold is passed, humans may not be able to lessen the effects or solve climate change. Biogeophysical feedbacks can also lead to further changes on Earth (both unpredictable and often detrimental). This concept conveniently leads into the concept of tipping cascades, the idea that one event, such as the loss of the Greenland ice sheet, can cause changes all around the globe including a transition of the Atlantic ice sheet. Tipping cascades is similar in concept to dominos, one event occurs and causes another which causes another. 

I think the most striking fact that Steffen, et al. brings up is that we are heading towards an Earth (even with an increase of 1 or 2 degrees Celsius) that is hotter than any other time that modern humans have existed. We are heading into the unknown, and as Steffen, et al. brings up, out societies are going to have to build resilience. 

Can We Manipulate Individuals Into Caring About Climate Change?

“The Tamarisk Hunter” by Paolo Bacigalupi is hands down the most interesting and engaging piece we have read so far this term. I think that Paolo Bacigalupi presented climate change and the implications and effects in accessible, understandable, and relatable manner. The most effective pieces of literature are the ones that evoke emotion and provoke a reaction from the reader, and “The Tamarisk Hunter” did just that. By the end of the short, Cli-Fi story I felt sympathy for Lolo and Annie, which means that I understood the issues that they were facing. 

Often, it is easy to read articles or books about climate change and to think about it objectively. When reading an article about climate change, I understand the concept of climate change and I understand what climate change is going to bring (and how it is going to be absolutely awful), but I don’t take it to heart. I read the article, I process it, and I move on. And that is no way to approach this topic. As Bill McKibben mentioned in the introduction, it is hard to visualize and understand how climate change is going to affect us individually, and that can often lead to a lack of acknowledgement or care by some individuals. This fact is why I believe that “The Tamarisk Hunter” is so beneficial. When I read a book, and I really get into it, I begin to resonate with certain characters and begin to feel for them. I have opinions about what I want to happen to that character, and I feel anger or sadness when something happens to that character that I don’t like. Framing and incorporating the concept of climate change into a short story is an act of brilliance. By using literary techniques to get me to feel connected or invested in a character’s story, and then by implementing the negative, detrimental effects of climate change (and by having those negative effects affect the character in a negative manner), I recognize what climate change really is. I recognize how climate change was created, how it is going to affect the world, and most importantly what it will potentially feel like. That is a perfect way to get readers to care and understand climate change and want to combat it. 

Can We Listen to the Climate?

As I read through “Soundscape- The Tuning of the World,” by R. Murray Schafer, I had one primary question in mind: how does this topic relate to the Anthropocene and the climate crisis? By the end of the chapter, I feel that I was able to logically connect previous readings and the excerpt by R. Murray Schafer.

R. Murray Schafer describes a soundscape as “any acoustic field of study.” To elaborate further on a soundscape, R. Murray Schafer provides three examples of soundscapes: a musical composition, a radio program, or an acoustic environment. A soundscape is created as a result of the climate and the features and organisms within it. R. Murray Schafer also describes the function of a soundscape and its interaction with man and society. R. Murray Schafer describes the tone of the soundscape as being indicative of the “health” of the environment or government. For example, the grace and sophistication of the works of Mozart were created during the reign of Maria Teresa. Additionally, R. Murray Schafer relates this to tribalized and detribalized areas, where tribalized areas have structured music (community controlled), while detribalized areas often have individuals signing sentimental songs. 

R. Murray Schafer briefly touches on the importance of the ears versus the eyes. Before the Renaissance Era and the creation of the printing press, the ears were the most vital sense. Before the Renaissance Era, R. Murray Schafer describes God as heard, not seen. In most African communities, the ears are still the most dominant feature, yet this has changed for the developed world. In Western Europe and the United States, sight has become the most vital sense, where “seeing is believing.” Noises are often filtered out, with only warning signals creeping through. 

These descriptors of what a soundscape is, and how the soundscape interacts with man and society brought me to the conclusion as to why this excerpt from R. Murray Schafer was relevant and how it related to the Anthropocene and the climate crisis. As described above, the soundscape reflects the “health” of the environment and government and during Maria Teresa’s reign, Mozart was the most influential musician. The dominant genre or type of music isn’t classical, it’s hip hop, R&B, and rap (some would argue country as well). These songs often aren’t soothing, and many of the popular songs are written about death and tragedy and judgement. Today, the United States government is arguably falling apart, with resignations occurring weekly. The entirety of the United Kingdom is arguing about Brexit. And the world faces the threat of Islamic Extremism and terrorism. This both indicates a social/political and ecological crisis. When our governments aren’t healthy or productive (cohesive and working together), how are they supposed to combat the climate crisis and humanitarian issues? 

R. Murray Schafer brings up the concept of noise pollution, quite literally how construction and cars and other human made sounds cover up/ block the natural soundscape. Humans have also become skilled at filtering out noise, with sight being the most dominant of the five senses. Yet, even though humans in Western countries have become so good at ignoring sounds, we recognize noise pollution. And through it we recognize the failing health of our environment and the failing health of our government. Humans recognize the ecological crisis and have a desire to put an end to it. Humans (some) are listening to the planet and working to find a solution.

How Logical is the Band-Aid?

I have misunderstood the concept of geo-engineering. In previous meetings of this class, I had a question at the back of my mind: if our climate is in crisis, why not do geo-engineering? A few of the articles we read previously had briefly touched on the topic of geo-engineering, enough to incite curiosity (and almost hope) about geo-engineering, yet not enough to disregard. After reading the two chapters of “Earthmasters,” by Clive Hamilton and “Re-Engineering the Earth,” by Graeme Wood, I have come to the conclusion that geo-engineering is absolutely absurd. I had this perception that geo-engineering was a way to clean up the planet, rather than to further pollute it (and mask all the problems we currently face).

“Re-engineering the Earth,” by Graeme Wood describes a variety of geo-engineering techniques including using ships to churn up water to be carried by the wind and shooting frisbee-sized ceramic disks in space to block the sun. The most popular technique is what Wood describes as the “gas-the-planet strategy”- sulfur-aerosol injection. “Earthmasters,” by Clive Hamilton further describes these gep-engineering techniques further mentioning CCS, carbon capture and storage. Now, at this point in the reading, I had understood that geo-engineering was nothing that I had preconceived, the conclusion of absurdity had yet to come. 

In “Earthmasters,” Wood mentions an article titled “Human Engineering and Climate Change.” This article was written by three bioethicists, with the same intentions as Johnathan Swift. “Human Engineering and Climate Change” suggests that in order to solve/ refute the effects of climate change we need to genetically select children that are smaller, engineer human eyes to be like that of cats, cognitively enhance women, pharmaceutically enhance altruism and empathy, and create pills to make people vomit when they eat beef. I do not think geo-engineering is absurd because of these suggestions being feasible, but to the satirical point that Liao, Sandberg, and Roache are trying to make: climate change is a serious issue, yet here we are researching and creating illogical, potentially detrimental, and absurd solutions. Many individuals, many of those in power, are ignoring the true solution: mitigate emissions. Wood responds to this article in a way that I did not expect. Wood doesn’t liken “Human Engineering and Climate Change” to “A Modest Proposal” by Johnathan Swift, instead criticizes it. Wood believes that more so instead of satirizing the climate crisis and highlighting the irresponsibility and ridiculousness of our actions, that Liao, Sandberg, and Roache are proposing off the mark solutions. Like actual (obviously dumb) solutions. If Wood likens their “potential solutions” to that of geo-engineering, either their “potential solutions” aren’t that far off, or that geo-engineering is on a whole new level of irrational. 

A quote that quite nicely sums this up was said by Gardner and mentioned by Woods, “if the problem is social and political, why isn’t the solution social and political as well [and] if, as the reports asserts, we already have adequate scientific and technological solutions, why assume that research on alternative solutions will help?”

Sustainability, Who?

“Sustainability,” an article included in the series “Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen,” details the relationship between those responsible for climate change, and those who are going to be most impacted by it. “Sustainability” is written in part almost as an anecdote, detailing the effects of climate and health policy on Doña Marta’s life (as a resident of Guatemala). Climate policy at a national level has impacted her life personally, exemplified by the presence of “silver silos,” “goats for milk,” and “surplus corn flour, red beans, and a nutrient powder that came with a recipe for pancakes” brought by US Agency for International Development. This example brings up two major issues with climate policy: it is developed and written by those responsible for the majority of effects of climate change, and is simply pushed on those who are going to be hit the hardest. Additionally, climate and health policy is global (as led by the United Nations). In this capacity, climate and health policy is written as a one size fits all goal, when it is not. 

It would be illogical to assume that all countries follow the western ways of life, and speak the same language(s) found in the countries that do. While English may be the Lingua Franca, it is not the language of a large portion of the global population. By writing our policies in English, and by adapting them to fix what western living individuals do wrong, we are ignoring the languages and cultures of the world. We are ignoring the way other individuals live; how they sustain themselves, how they raise their children, and the values that they hold dear. We need to become a unified world, that has knowledge about cultures, and have respect and regard for every human. We need to take into consideration the opinions and possible solutions presented by the people who don’t have the western way of thinking, who have ideas to help their own communities and countries. One line in “Sustainability” reads, “Sustainability (and, we might add, becoming and emerging, since these terms often go hand-in-hand) may too easily connote the progressive transition of a singular, causal system, leading us toward the project of developing a better future that has long been modernity’s destructive lure.” We need to be inclusive, because one solution isn’t going to fix the variety of problems that have arisen due to climate change. And we need to help those who are going to be affected the most, the most. Because they have less time (they will feel the effects sooner) than we do.

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.