All posts by johnkeir

I Don’t Want Your Apology

Youth at climate strike in Edinburgh, Scotland
Photo from Chicago Tribune

The environmental crisis will lead to a collapse of the infrastructure of civilization. In fact, the impact of climate change is most likely more horrific than we can possibly imagine. These are both facts stated in Allan Thompson’s article, “A World They Don’t Deserve: Moral failure and deep adaptation.” Thompson bases his argument on two main assumptions: first, that the future conditions of the natural world are “deeply uncertain”; and two that the members of the current generation have a moral responsibility to protect the livelihoods of future generations through the mitigation of anthropogenic climate change. I agree with both of these assumptions, however I think that he is discounting a few very important other assumptions in his argument. 

Thompson’s article is based entirely on an anthropocentric worldview, meaning that he considers that the value of ecosystems and the natural world is instrumental rather than intrinsic. It is essential to recognize the intrinsic value of nature, not just for the sake of recognition, but also because it plays an enormous role in awareness and support for conservation policy. This article would lose a significant amount of validity if considered from an ecocentric point of view; it is impossible to apply deep adaptation principles to something that no longer exists. In this light, Thomspon’s discussion about novel ecosystems is a justification for ecosystem destruction, and a way for humans to continue exploiting already overburdened natural systems.

The idea of Derek Parfit’s Non-Identity Problem is fascinating, but I think it is applied a bit out of context. The environmental crisis is not only a future problem, it is a current problem. The victims of climate change are not some unknown, arbitrary people; they are citizens of the global south, coastal cities and towns, indigenous communities, and your (future) children and grandchildren. While the Non-Identity Problem argues that it is not immoral to fail to act on behalf of future generations, current generations are being devastated and it is immoral to fail to act on behalf of them.

In response to the ecological crisis and the moral failure of our generation, Allan Thompson suggests an apology. After his discussion of institution-collapsing and horrific repercussions of inaction, this seems far from sufficient. Thompson elaborates on his idea of an apology, including the component of “real effort”. My contention with his apology deepens here; how successful will an effort to repair a damaged world be when it has already been accepted that the world is doomed? If we can’t find funding to take action now, where will the funding come from when there truly is no hope for improvement? Furthermore, Thompson argues that if we can improve social institutions it will help compensate for our lack of environmental actions. At the beginning of his paper Thompson makes the assumption that the future conditions of the natural world are “deeply uncertain”. Taking this assumption into account, how can we be sure that social institutions will function the same as they do today, or even remain intact? It seems as if the focus on social institutions is a distraction from environmental crises. 

This course of action is not enough. Responses to climate change and environmental injustices cannot wait until we realize that it is too late. The burdens of climate change will not fall on generations far into the future, they will fall on my generation. I don’t want to live in a world with novel ecosystems and a geoengineered atmosphere, and I don’t want your apology.

Geology is Written by the Victors?

Indian troops, Cyprus
Troops from Indian under British rule are forced to do manual labor (Getty Images)

In her book, “A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None”, Kathryn Yusoff argues that geology, particularly the new geologic era of the Anthropocene, normalizes historic marginalization of minority groups. While I agree that the propagation of western culture and globalization has disregarded numerous justice and equity issues, her analysis of geologic process and social injustices was too broad to have significant meaning. Yusoff’s comparisons between the extraction of slave labor and of coal and colonial violence and geophysics are analyzed from a perspective too far removed from the root of the problem. Her attempt to “naturalize” human actions and “humanize” geology is both offensive to those who she is talking about and to geologic science. Understanding and acknowledging our history of colonial violence and minority injustice is a crucial part to moving forward in society, but geology is not the mechanism to do so. 

As Yusoff notes “the Anthropocene proclaims the language of species life – anthropos – through a universalist geologic commons”, however she then goes on to explain how this “geologic commons” obscures historic racism in modern day society. There is nothing inherently incorrect in this statement, and I think that there is an ethical dilemma in placing blame on all humans for the environmental damage that we have caused when the majority of the damage originates from industrialized nations, however geology is inherently inhuman. The Anthropocene is characterized by human impact in rock formations and climactic patterns within our biosphere, not racial injustice, colonialism, nor slavery, nor should it be. 

However there are a variety of other fields dedicated to evaluating these human-nature interactions, including environmental justice, human geography, and most relevant to Yusoff’s book environmental determinism, which delves deep into how physical environments have supported colonialism and eurocentrism. These three fields of study along with social justice movements, the increase in vocalization by historically marginalized populations, and historical revisions to acknowledge of the horrors of colonization have had drastically higher benefits than abstract juxtapositions of social justice violations and geologic processes. 

Defining “Dominion”

“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

Dominion is defined as sovereignty or control. When translated literally in the context of Genesis 1:28 it gives rise to an interpretation of human superiority over Earth and her living creatures. In his analysis of the Catholic Church, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”, Lynn White assumes the literal definition of dominion, and therefore places the blame of the ecological crisis on the church and its followers. This dominion, he argues, stems from the removal of natural spirits within the context of religion causing devaluation and exploitation of the natural world. However, there are other interpretations of the creation story, giving special consideration to the significance of dominion. In the Laudato Si’, the Pope specifically clarifies the difference between “dominion” and “domination”, stating that the dominion over nature given to man by God is a responsibility to care for and protect, not to exploit. He points out that, unfortunately, the actions of man have led the definitions of dominion and domination to become blurred into one and that the need to redefine and reevaluate our actions based on God’s original meaning of dominion has never been more urgent than now. 

The current actions of humans are reflective of Lynn White’s article and interpretation of dominion; we are exploiting the earth for selfish benefit and without respect for natural processes. The Pope acknowledges our actions, but instead of placing the blame on the teachings of the Catholic Church, accuses man of misinterpreting God’s word. These differences in interpretation have significant impacts on political, religious, and cross cultural understanding. If both White and the Pope interpreted the meaning of dominion in the same manner White’s blame on the Catholic Church may have instead been directed onto the actions of man. This misunderstanding has larger implications; without the divide between the scientific community (White) and the Catholic Church (the Pope), there would exist cooperation, rather than conflict, while working towards the common goal of a sustainable and healthy planet.