All posts by houdeshv

The Absence of Virtue in Climate Change

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In this week’s article, “Geographers and the Discourse of an Earth Transformed: Influencing the Intellectual Weather or Changing the Intellectual Climate?”, Noel Castree discusses how geographers can contribute to global climate research. Notably, Castree mentions the tendency of geoscientists to “repeatedly and severely underplay the implications of their analyses” (246). This prompted my own thoughts about the damage underplaying consequences can cause. By not portraying the full gravity of the situation, there is a distinct disservice being done to the intellectual community, and to the world at large, as there is “insufficient attention to non-academic audiences” (246). How is anyone supposed to have a full grasp of the situation at hand, when people are holding back? More important questions stem from this. What is holding them back? What are the benefits to not telling the world the full scope of what you have found? How do policies, governments, and personal beliefs factor in to these decisions?

Later in the article, Castree has a short discussion of the absence of virtue in the debate surrounding geosciences and the future of the Earth. I could not help but think of the lack of virtue in our past and present dealings with the Earth, as well as the underplaying of scientific findings described above. As we have discussed in this class, humans act as the masters of the Earth – there is very little virtue in how we have treated the Earth thus far. There is no virtue in the “uneven forms of social vulnerability to environmental change” (248). Many have continuously ignored the disproportionate impacts of climate change. The plight of climate change is the complete opposite of virtuous. But the interdisciplinary approach Castree stresses is the kind of virtue we need to incorporate in climate change solutions. We need to consider all stakeholders, all species, and all generations (present and future) when it comes to changing the climate.

Not A Teenaged Fantasy

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While reading the climate fiction piece, “The Tamarisk Hunter,” by Paolo Bacigalupi, I was reminded of all the dystopian young adult novels I read in middle school and high school – except this time there was a lot less teenage romance and an even greater sense of impending doom. It’s difficult to reflect on a piece like this that is labelled as fiction when it could not feel like a more real depiction of our future.

The piece also reinforces a recurring theme in our class – that people are disproportionately affected by climate change. There is always a group that is more severely affected by the consequences of climate change when they are not the ones solely responsible. In addition, there always seems to be a wealthy group of people that are hoarding all the resources and dictating what they can be used for. In “The Tamarisk Hunter,” this appears to be those in California who had the money and the power to win water rights lawsuits and were able to maintain the resource (water) for their own personal use, while others suffered (and were pushed off their land by the wealthy). Bacigalupi also depicts the water resource as something that those that are not so fortunate can see (and maybe steal from) but are not allowed to use. These parallel so many of the natural resources in less developed countries we see today. The residents can see the resources, are even the ones to extract it in some cases, but none of it benefits them personally. It all goes to those wealthier and those that are doing nothing to improve the overall situation.

The slow descent into the drought reminds me of the frog in a boiling pot analogy. It is clear from the text that the temperature and effects of climate change slowly got worse, until the residents were dying on their land.

The Beauty of Our Soundscape May Not Last Forever

“The general acoustic environment of a society can be read as an indicator of social conditions which produce it and may tell us much about the trending and evolution of that society” (Schafer, 7). As the acoustics of our environment change, it is clear that our society is trending towards destruction of the natural Earth. Because of our relentless extraction and depletion of the Earth’s resources, we are forcing landscapes and our environments to change in ways that have the potential to damage life beyond repair. The acoustic environment around us, may never be the same either. As Schafer puts it in The Tuning of the World, there may be no earwitnesses left who have borne witness to the sounds of nature untouched by humankind. Further, the powerful sounds of wind, water, forests and more result in a world that is distinctly impoverished (Shafer, 10). This is a convincing sentiment, but one that almost seems like a privileged thought when compared to the myriad of maladies climate change has and will cause.

Shafer’s discussion of the power of soundscapes bears similarity to, but also stark contrast, to that of Krause’s awe and fascination. As she puts it in chapter 2 of her book, The Great Animal Orchestra, the world is “abounding with life.” Krause discusses the animals of nature, “performing their unified chorus as they have each day and night since the beginning” (Krause, 11). Cynically, I can not help but think, ‘not for long.’ I could not help but grow saddened as Krause describes the inherent value found in wild sounds and how integral they are to life. If we aren’t careful, we might never understand this information before it’s gone. I think for too long, we have been hearing without truly listening. We can stand in awe of the power and beauty of the music of nature, yet we do nothing to understand, nor preserve.

A Small Tangent: while I deeply agree with the significance of wild sounds, I think some thought on this topic must be given for those who are deaf. This argument for the value of the sounds of nature is strong, to be sure, but how the value is imparted unto others should not be weighted the same. I do not think I have the tools to discuss this concept in full, but I wanted to bring awareness to a concept that I think is important.

Questions Around Geo-Engineering and Our Future

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Before this week’s readings, I had no idea that there was such a large body of discourse dedicated to the topic of geo-engineering, or even what geo-engineering was in general. The idea of using technology to intervene so forcefully with the Earth’s natural systems is an unnerving thought and prompts numerous questions. Is geo-engineering (or really any of our previous exploits of the Earth) moral? Is this going too far? Is it our last hope? Is this choosing between the lesser of two evils – geoengineering or doing nothing?

These questions and more interrupted my thoughts as I progressed through the readings. When thinking of the lesser of two evils, I came back to something we have discussed almost weekly in this class: how climate change disproportionately affects minorities. Wood’s article hits this on the head when he mentions that “6 billion people would benefit and 1 billion would be hurt;” that 1 billion composed mainly of those living in less developed countries. However, how does this compare to how many people would be affected if we stayed on our current path, with seemingly no intervention or meaningful reduction in emissions? I’m not sure if there is a consensus – or if there will ever be a consensus – on which option is “better.”

This brings to me to the question of whether geo-engineering is our last hope. As we become more pessimistic about the fight against climate change, the fall back of geo-engineering seems like a copout. So much work has been put into determining how to reduce our emissions, yet we see little large-scale political effort actually being done. If geo-engineering is feasible and as cheap as Wood states in his article, why wouldn’t our economic and political leaders choose it instead? This is a dangerous idea to consider as we grapple with the lack of action in response to protocols that state we are in our last decade to make necessary changes.

The last section of chapter seven of “Earthmasters” really gets to a key issue surrounding geo-engineering. The topic of playing God. In an earlier blog post, I referenced Dunlap’s World Views. The concept and practice of geo-engineering falls very clearly into the dominant western worldview and human exceptionalism paradigm – that humans are the masters of the own destiny and every problem can be solved through technological advancement. However, the natural and ecological laws in place cannot be broken. Attempting to circumvent the natural Earth feels far too risky and beyond the bounds of what humans should try and emulate. I fear that the feedback loops we have witnessed are only a handful of too many to count that we are unable to fathom. The idea of pursuing ideas that may have unintended consequences we cannot foresee seems far more dangerous than trying to mitigate the effects we have on the environment by changing our lifestyles.

Wood references “Blade Runner” many times in his discussion of geo-engineering. With all of these questions and the uncertainties surrounding geo-engineering, a dystopian future seems more and more certain.  

Listen and Learn

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The reading “Sustainability,” from Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen, reinforces a line of thought from many classes I have taken: we must engage everyone in discussion in order to create true solutions. And in order to engage all parties in discussion, we must be willing to learn the words and ways of other cultures. Cultures are not easily translated. It is something we have to continue to work at in order to grasp any sort of an understanding, and yet time and time again decisions that impact others are made by those who have not put any effort into understanding global and local cultures.

One line from the reading really stuck out to me, “Meanwhile, we might also pay attention to whose practices of time and space dominate the discussions and whose go ignored.” We have mentioned a few times in past classes how certain groups of people are disproportionately affected by climate change. Despite this, they are often the ones whose voices go ignored in discussions of sustainability. It is extremely important to listen to these groups and learn from what they are doing to maintain their lives. We must include the voices of those with first-hand experience in order to learn the true effects of the Anthropocene, as well as what solutions are feasible for them. I have seen so many band aid type solutions when it comes to climate change that are problematic in essence, but also fail to take into account the culture of an area. Just because something sounds great on paper does not mean it will be truly helpful for residents.

Not everyone shares the same experiences, nor do we all have the same ideas. This is where the issue of language comes in. In order to truly listen, we must work harder to understand the connotations and nuances surrounding language to better prepare for a future that we are fearful for.

The Need for Cultural Change

Thompson makes a very relevant point in his piece, “Radical Hope for Living Well in a Warmer World.” In order to truly live in a world that has had climate change forced upon it, we must make widespread cultural changes. In one swift thought, “impending environmental changes may spell the end for significant parts of our cultural perspective, including ways we are accustomed to conceiving of and valuing the natural environment and our received notions of responsibility” (Thompson, 6). While reading this piece, I was continually reminded of our previous readings. The above quotation feels as though it could have come from White or Yusoff. We must change the way we perceive nature, in Yusoff’s case this would involve rethinking how we articulate and write about the past and the natural environment, and in White’s case it involves revising this notion that we have dominion over the Earth. Thompson even echoes this thought when discussing Jamieson’s depictions of “human domination” over nature.

Throughout my understanding of the reading, I found myself agreeing with Thompson, that we cannot just rely on the possibility of technological innovation to get us out of this mess (or more accurately, prolong the inevitable), that we must actually change how we behave in relation to the Earth and the resources it provides. We must adapt to this new reality and face the consequences of our actions, not ignore our problems by coming up with band aid solutions. Thompson sates what many of us who know this reality face: “it seems that enough people simply will not voluntarily make the kind of changes in lifestyle or social organization required to effect significant mitigation” (Thomson, 9). “Yet we must not give up resistance and the struggle for change.” This is the basis of the idea of radical hope.

On page 10, Thomson discusses how easy it is to see someone else living outside of the necessary means, but it is much harder to admit that we personally live with the norm of excess consumption. A commitment to living without excess consumption and materiality necessitates radical hope and commitment. Popular culture is under the impression that we don’t have to live with less, yet every future generation will have to if we remain on the same track. Thomson relates heavily to the previous readings in his discourse of the necessary use of the Earth’s resources – that we are entirely reliant on the Earth for our livelihoods. He goes on to discuss the concept of how humans value nature, which I find connects to the concept of biophilia: the “idea that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life” (source). If we want to be able to continue to seek out connections with nature, we must alter our cultural expectations and behaviors so that this may remain a reality.

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Why Have “We” Written This Narrative into Geology and Greater Society?

In “A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None,” Yusoff details the marginalization of POC through their depictions and relations to materials, much as how “we” have treated the resources of the natural Earth. I liked Yusoff’s framing of “we” in this text. In one passage, Yusoff states, “This unmaking of subjects constitutes a warp of dispossession in the progressive narrative of collective accumulation or geologic commons in which “we” all share” (Yusoff, 16). The author makes it clear that “we” is not an all-inclusive term. POC have continuously and aggressively been excluded from this collective “we” and have instead been labelled as nonbeings, or inhuman. POC have had no input into the exploitation and dehumanization of their lands and lives.

Yusoff goes on to state, “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” (Yusoff, 17). POC have been seen, and quite frankly continue to be seen, as simply resources of the Earth for White Men to extract and use at their will to further their “innovation”. But this innovation has come with this price of corrupting not only the cultures of many groups, but also their land, or as “we” see it, territory to be expanded and pillaged. In the field of Geology, and in my opinion many others, Black and Brown People are referenced as simply property to be used to further ideation. They are used as simple tropes, tokens, or cherry-picked evidence of innocence or inspiration. In the words of Yusoff, “Why is it that the language of geology allows for the exchange of a person as a material object of property and properties” (Yusoff, 18). This line of questioning parallels the greater discussions surrounding why societal institutions have been built in such a way as to allow for racism to become institutionalized and permeable throughout society.

Yusoff makes a clear point that in order to truly examine this Anthropocene, we need to understand Geology’s origins and what made such exchanges of property that resulted the geological and societal crises possible. This needs to be uncovered while maintaining the thought that society today has constantly been profiting off the backs of POC communities – resulting in both innovations, and the degradation of the environment. Without the labor and resources of POC, our current era would not have come into being, yet time and time again they are treated as inhuman.

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The Dominant Worldviews of Christianity

While reading the writings of both Lynn White Jr. and the Pope, I could not help but be continuously reminded of the dominant worldviews each individual held, and how these views ultimately lead to what they have described as “ecological crisis.”

The Pope states, “The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth” (Francis, 48). The Pope’s encyclical letter makes it clear that the Earth does not solely belong to us, but every living creature inhabiting the planet. Humans have misinterpreted their dominion over Earth to mean much more than God has given us, in addition to acting selfishly with the gains we reap from tilling the Earth. The passages provided by both the Pope and White reminded me of the worldviews summarized by Dunlap: the Dominant Western Worldview, the Human Exceptionalism Paradigm, and the New Ecological Paradigm. White and the Pope suggest that most readers have interpreted the bible in a way that reinforces the Human Exceptionalism Paradigm. This model denotes humans being distinct and above all other creatures, as well as driving technology and being the master of the Earth.

This is where White’s discourse branches, as he does not believe Christianity’s teachings yield anything more than the thoughts of enslaving nature for our own personal gain (White, 1207). White emphasizes that in order to stop ecological collapse, we must reject Christian thought and arrogance, while the Pope details the “correct” interpretation of Christian texts. From the Pope’s words it is easy to gather that God intended for the New Ecological Paradigm to become dominant thought; that while humans are exceptional, they remain only one of many and are surrounded within the web of nature, creating unintended consequences while remaining dependent on the Earth for all resources. Further and from the Pope’s writings, is that in order to create solutions to solve the ecological crisis, all branches of human connection must be included.  Too often we seek out solutions that benefit our group, while leaving out others. In order to create lasting positive change, we must view the Earth as residents and not owners.  

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