End of the Anthropocene

zondag 26 januari 2020 16:20

On January 29th of January at 6pm I speak about acceleration and collapse in the Anthropocene with Rudi Laermans and Laurent de Sutter, in the frame of the RITCS Research Week, FUTURES NARRATIVES. Here the text that will nourish our conversation. Welcome (and welcome to the Anthropocene)!


I (The Beginning of the Anthropocene)

We don’t know yet when the Anthropocene has begun, but we might be living its end. The beginning of the Anthropocene, the proposed geological epoch indicating a strong human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems, is the moment when ‘Man’  – we will come back to this – became the predominant species on the planet, determining it into its depths, into its geology. The term Anthropocene (originally coined by the Russian geologist Alexei Pavlov) was proposed by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000[1], but only in May 2019 the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy officially accepted the term. They are however still debating when to set the beginning of this geological era[2]. That is not easy to determine, and the discussion about this so called ‘golden spike’ is not yet closed (almost, but not quite yet). It might be the Agricultural Revolution, the Discovery of the America’s, the Industrial Revolution, or the Atomic bomb.

These possibilities are interesting and telling. Should it be the rise of agriculture, of ‘agrilogistics’, as Timothy Morton calls it[3]? It made the split between nature and culture that according to him (and many others – think of ecofeminism[4]) marks the beginning of the alienation from the conception of the environment as a ‘web of life’ of which humans are an integral part. It also paved the way for the exploitation of animals, as tools and livestock. Furthermore, it marked the beginning of monocultures, of domesticated vegetation (basically wheat crops). This nature-culture split came to explosion in modernity and is now hitting us in the face. However fundamental and somehow fatal, the odds of this being chosen as the golden spike were low from the start. For then, the Anthropocene would just be a new name blotting out the Holocene, the era that was exactly supplying the climatological stability that opened up the possibility of the agricultural revolution in the fertile crescent and subsequently elsewhere, and that we are now jeopardizing through anthropogenic ecological disasters. That doesn’t make sense, even if the Holocene contained anthropocentric and anthropogenic intervention in our habitat in an embryonic and paradigmatic form, as the ‘agrilogistics’ contain the blueprint for the agro-industry which is up to present day one of the basic engines of both global warming and loss of biodiversity. The beginning of the Anthropocene will exactly mark the end of the Holocene. The Holocene indicated climatological stability, the Anthropocene will be a epoch of utter instability.

Equally telling is the discovery of the America’s and the almost genocidal effects thereof on the indigenous peoples, going from 56 million to 6 million in a short span during the seventeenth century, causing a massive reforestation, being visible into the geological layers (because of increased carbon dioxide take up by trees)[5]. It is a painful, unknown, untold world historical event. This so called ‘Orbis Spike’(for the discovery of the America’s united the globe, the two histories became intermingled for the first time[6]), with the proposed date of 1610, will most probably not make it either, but it deserves to be remembered. Especially in the light of the Anthropocene, it also becomes an allegorical moment where the sharp decrease in humans (by the criminal exploitation, extermination and epidemic decimation – in short by colonization) becomes visible in the recovery of nature (reforestation): the decrease of the world population from 2050 onwards foretold in the first Report to The Club of Rome, Limits to Growth of 1972, might have a similar effect. This Orbis Spike, as marking the right of colonialism as a first wave of unequal globalization, also coincides with the beginning of capitalism. Colonialism and the enclosures of the commons[7] are fundamental and foundational to capitalism: primitive accumulation, as Marx called it in the monumental last chapter of the first volume of Capital, the appropriation, dispossession or theft of resources, slavery and forced labor starts the cycle of capitalism[8]. Hence a postcolonial gaze on the Anthropocene will be needed. One could go as far as to say that the Anthropocene is another word for colonialism[9]. In the global South this plunder of resources has destroyed landscapes and ecosystems. And original accumulation, the plunder of resources, is still ongoing in a major way. In a sense it is even intensifying as resources are getting scarce and demand is rocketing.

The Industrial Revolution, of course, might be the most self-evident start date to mark the beginning of the Anthropocene. The smoking chimneys of the factories in Northern England and Southern Belgium are iconic, engraved in our collective memory. It is a strong marker because it forms a historical constellation with the American and French Revolutions, Enlightenment, the invention of the idea of Progress and the breakthrough of modernity. The Industrial Revolution (with coal and soon petrol as fuels, the famous fossil fuels as its motor) marked the beginning of the ‘thermo-industrial civilization’ we are still living in. It ignited our addiction to petroleum, in seconds we consume sedimentations that took ages, millions of years to form. It also shows the breakthrough of ‘extractivism’ that profoundly marks our way of life. Extractivism is a term pointing towards the extraction of resources through mining, but it also points to the social injustice of this extraction, the exploitation of humans and the ecological destruction that comes along with it. In that respect, we have to become aware that mining is a fundamental base or infrastructure of the modern world, which is often hidden or forgotten when we discuss modernity. The term extractivism underscores this.

Strangely enough, the atomic bomb (more precisely the Trinity Test of 1945) might win it as golden spike for the beginning of the Anthropocene. This last date has been officially proposed by the Anthropocene Working Group in May 2019 [10]. This date might gain consensus because it coincides with the beginning of what has been called the Great Acceleration: the exponential growth of all imaginable parameters since the end of the second world war, with the typical and ominous steep graphs on all sort of topics: production, population, pollution, tourism, resource depletion, extinction of species, temperature rise, CO2 emissions, ocean acidification, etc. This acceleration is spinning out of control. It is the spinning out of control of all possible parameters, because of exponential growth and its consequences of depletion of resources, extinction, climate change, etc. These opposed graphs of growth and depletion showing the same steep slope indicates that we are heading for collapse[11]. The collapse of the ecosystem is not ahead of us, it is happening now. The sixth great extinction, also called Holocene or Anthropocene extinction, is the dying out of all sorts of species. It is one of the most significant extinction events in the history of the Earth. With the sharp fall of insect and bird populations in our regions since 2000, the sixth great extinction is coming very close to our back gardens. The Anthropocene is here.

One could go as far as to date the beginning of the Anthropocene with… Mowgly. Yes, one could propose to locate the golden spike in the taming of fire: it was our first technology maybe, and it somehow seems to be our last, as fossil fuels are a form of fossilized woods. Almost all our technology is based on burning, our weapons are spears of fire, fire power says it all. But also our cars are fire on wheels, and our planes are fire on wings. Our transport, our machines, even our digital technologies, all of it burns vast quantities of fossil fuels and keeps needing more (as we are all always online and on the move). Ever since the moment Mowgly, in spite of all our phenomenal technological progress, we basically get all of our energy from burning wood, albeit in the fossilized form of coal, petrol or gas. This is a very sobering realization for the technological optimists among us. The fact that this burning logic, despite all high tech innovations, has brought us and our environment to the brink of destruction, we could call ‘the Mowgly complex’. Of course, that is not acceptable as golden spike, as it would erase or overwrite quite a bit of geological eras and in a sense is older than Anthropos: the Neanderthals were the first to master fire, paleo-anthropologists claim. We/they started burning some million years ago, it might, as said, well be our first technology almost, even before language. (We started talking because of these long nights around the fire. Could well be.) In any case, as the Neanderthals already had fire, it is not a good start for the Anthropocene. The fact that the Mowgly complex is so persistent (and is crucial to understand agrilogistics: no bread without baking, no agriculture without cooking) shows how far back the technological vector in humanoid species goes, and how deep goes anthropogenic climate control.


II (Critiques of the Anthropocene)

Even if we don’t know yet when the Anthropocene has begun, we might be living its end: the moment when the logic of growth and acceleration is destroying the biosphere beyond repair. Capitalism and its technological vector has revealed itself as a self-destroying process. Hence Jason More and Donna Haraway have proposed the term ‘Capitalocene’, for it is naming the force that has brought us into this situation, without blaming all humanity for this[12]. They argue that many people are innocent to global warming, as their ecological footprint is low. The term Anthropocene would obscure this unequal responsibility, exactly by referring to Humankind as a species. We should therefore, according to  TJ Demos, be ‘against the Anthropocene’[13].

We should go beyond the Anthropocene. Ending of the Anthropocene begins with ending anthropocentrism. The term Anthropocene forces us to discuss anthropocentrism. We have to end the Anthropocene by opening a posthuman ecology, as claimed by ecofeminists like Rosi Braidotti (in Posthuman ecologies) and Donna Haraway (in Staying with the trouble). Haraway rejects the term Anthropocene because of its male anthropocentrism and proposes the term Chtulucene (a convoluted neologism based on chthonic (earth force) and some cosmic tentacular being). She is part of the ecofeminist tradition that goes back to the sixties[14], starting from the basic assumption that the exploitation and oppression of nature and the exploitation and oppression of women are linked. We can learn from the ecofeminist critique of western civilization, as it points to several major factors: the patriarchal, monotheistic split between male spirit/god/man/culture and female nature/matter/mater/matrix/mother; the mechanistic world view; the critique of enlightenment that was defending colonialism and finally the war against women that was the witch hunt. All these are fundamental factors in our world view and our practices: the theological and mechanistic reduction of ‘mother nature’ to soulless object has opened up the industrial abuse of animals and the ruthless exploitation of all nature as ‘resource’.

What is impressive about ecofeminism is that it is not only a theory but also a practice (as Benedikte Zitouni has pointed out[15]) : the attempt to do politics in a completely different way, from the occupations and protest camps of the eighties onwards: full of playful pagan rituals, empathy, remembering and reclaiming the witches, reinventing animisms[16]. Donna Haraway tries to open new ways of thinking and doing by stressing how we are part of the web of life, and are linked to other species, she even speaks about ‘multispecies love’. According to Anna Tsing, in her book the Mushroom at the end of the world, we have to, beyond apocalyptic thinking, learn to live with ‘contaminated diversity’, in degraded landscapes with displaced populations. In short, ecofeminists are theorizing and practicing ‘other ways of world making’.

Isabelle Stengers calls the Anthropocene a first history: his-story, the second history she calls her story. And she evokes Anthropos as a macho walking with big boots through History, through His-Story. She too squarely opposes the term Anthropocene: ‘Many peoples have nothing to do with the global destruction of what was called the Holocene, and which refers to an era with a quasi-stable climate. I have yet to meet this anthropos who claims to take in charge the Earth. I have only ever met people who take themselves for anthroposAnthropos is a western creation. Anthropocene is a name for the history as his story.’[17]

However true that modern history and capitalism are male driven and dominated up to the present day, the ecofeminist critique of the word Anthropocene is linguistically somewhat unjust. I retain the critique on anthropocentrism, and on the machismo and patriarchalism in most cultures, but the term itself cannot be blamed for this, the term is neutral, and I think we should embrace this neutral, reclaim the gender neutral Anthropos: (s)he who looks up. Anthropos (Human) is not Aner/ Andros (Man) in ancient Greek. A neutral word is needed, so we have one: Anthropos. For it is an unforgivable lack of English and French (and all Latin languages) that they have not a neutral word for the human species. Which in Dutch is the simplest, the first of words: de mens, in German Mensch. Philosophically speaking, the word Mensch or Anthropos should be introduced as this neutral term to make it possible to speak of our species as a whole.

On a deeper level, the ecofeminist critique of patriarchal western civilization and religion makes it very clear that the term Capitalocene will not do. The theological anthropocentrism as man as the king of creation is one of the fundamentals of our abusive attitude to most creatures, animals as given to us, goes much deeper and is a lot older than capitalism. Capitalism is a dark force and an irresponsible system, but the ills of our thermo-industrial civilization go deeper and further. Like patriarchy and the theological anthropocentrism, the technological vector is not to be reduced to capitalism, as the ancient Chinese, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, prove: all of them were for their time, very technological, and communist Russia was a non capitalist thermo-industrial society. Capitalism with its logic of growth is of course an phenomenal force driving us off limits, towards the abyss, but as said, when one looks for the deeper causes of our predicament capitalism is not the only factor, even if is the main culprit today.

Finally, colonialism has known its apogee or its full blooming under capitalism, or vice versa, capitalism bloomed due to colonialism, but colonialism is much older, as the Greek and Roman civilizations prove. So, putting all the blame on capitalism, to avoid putting the blame on all humanity, will not do. For similar reasons, other terms that have been suggested, like ‘Plantationocene’ and ‘Chtulucene’ might be inspiring and point to interesting constellations, but they will  not make it as alternatives to the controversial term Anthropocene. Even if indeed the colonial plantation was an important paradigm for the rise of the standardized exploitation of both plants and humans, in a sort of factory-like manner, by bringing alien crops and alien individuals, slaves, in an ordered, but artificial monocultural environment, and contained the embryo of ecological disaster as it killed both biodiversity and anthropological cultures[18] – the word is simply not suitable. Furthermore, the confusion between Latin and Greek makes most of the alternatives lexically and esthetically unbearable. The same goes for Haraway’s Chtulucene. She tries to point towards a sort of post-Anthropocene attitude, but by using such farfetched idiosyncratic terminology she risks ending up in theoretical rococo.


III (A philosophy of history for the Anthropocene?)

The term Anthropocene contains a strange constellation, that might make it somehow survive all criticism: it is at the same time very big, the scale of millennia and at the same time, it is the name for what is happening now. It is here: the anthropogenic climate change, the anthropogenic destruction of the biosphere. That makes the concept mind blowing. What I actually try to say: we need to embrace and hate the Anthropocene, debate, ponder over the term, for it confronts us in a totally freaking new way with all the big questions afresh: where do we come from? Where are we? What are we? Where do we go to? Or more sophisticated: has history a telos, a goal, a direction? And what is history then, only human? Or should we start to include nonhumans in our history? How to make sense of the Anthropocene, how to mold this into a new big story, a new grand narrative?

We need to try to face the challenge of the present and formulate a philosophy of history beyond modernity. How to think history after progress, how to think history without the idea of progress? Walter Benjamin was perhaps the first to point to progress as catastrophic[19], for him the idea of progress had to be seen as a catastrophe of exploitation. Lyotard’s famous postmodern condition was anchored in the end of this grand narrative of progress and emancipation[20]. He wrote beautiful pages on the necessity and our impossibility to think in terms of cosmological time[21]. This challenge has been taken up recently: we have to think in cosmological, geological, ecological time, the time of Gaia, facing Gaia, facing and composing with her intrusion, to speak in term of Stengers and Latour[22]. We have, claims Dipesh Chakrabarthy in a similar vein, long split history and nature: nature was the backdrop of human history, now we discover that nature and history are inextricably linked, as nature is entering history with a vengeance[23].

Fukuyama was right after all: we are living the end of history. But it is not the triumph of liberal democracy and the free market but a chaotic posthistory, the end of the linearity, the end of Progress as the arrow of time, the beginning of a nonlinear very slippery path, chaos theory in action. To think this new situation is one of the ultimate challenges of philosophy today: a new philosophy of history in a world where globalization and climate change are colliding. What is humanity as a geological force? Can we think this? Or does it obscure the doings of capitalism? Hence Capitalocene? How to think this new subject of history?[24]

All myths and religions contain a big story in which all other stories fit. One can call it a world view, it is as big as the cosmos itself, it explains space and time with all the trimmings and also frames the rituals of daily life. We could call this the great or transcendental meta-narrative. The myth tells about the origin and meaning of everything. Same goes for monotheistic religions, who gave up the animism and turned an oral tradition into a written tradition, but kept and reinforced the grand narrative. Judaism is based on a strong story: the whole history from creation till the end of the world, is one big story: paradise, fall, redemption (beginning, middle, end, so really a story, with many dramatic plot twists and subplots). Christianity took over that grand narrative (only the redemption was less collective, we go to heaven, and now we wait, without realizing it well, for the second coming of Christ, because, we are already saved, you would not have thought that). Islam also knows this messianic narrative and fundamentalism is an aggressive form of this messianism (just as the American fundamentalists believe that the end of the world is near). The moderns, since the Enlightenment, had a new big story: progress, with the advancement in science as a model. Universal history: humanity was on its way to perfection as a species. This belief also has its ecstatic variants: the Singularity is near, technology will supersede humans[25]. Transhumanism is a sort of techno messianism.

Lyotard had well seen that the narration of progress and that of myth have much in common, but while the myth finds its ground and legitimacy in the past, is a repeat of the primal past, progress finds its legitimacy in the future: the history is on its way to some sort of perfection (according to Kant). All those metanarratives are always curves or lines. That is interesting in itself. But the line or the curve seems to be taken away from us, we have lost the thread. What now? We are in a kind of complex, non-linear time, a liquid modernity (Baumam). The nonlinear exploded universal history as many local stories of the postmodern (as Lyotard and many others argued), the stories of the subaltern cultures, the postcolonial, all very interesting, but we will need a story for a global world, that is more interdependent and interconnected than ever: in a globalized world we will need some story to make a common world. Latour is sharply aware of this. So is Dipesh Chakrabarthy. Just a collection of local worldviews and local stories will not do. The epistemological challenge of the Anthropocene is to rethink history overcoming the split between natural history and human history, that was foundational for the modern conception of history.


IV (Acceleration versus Collapse)

We might be living the end of the Anthropocene, we said, even if we don’ know as yet when it has begun. The sixth great extension and climate change are two major ongoing disasters, but what we are witnessing is rather a chain of ecological disasters. That is the most unnerving side of our situation: the possible tipping points and the feedback loops that unlock as global temperature is rising, like the methane released if permafrost melts (from 4° rise onwards). But also the wars that come with the collapse of ecosystems, and the humanitarian disasters, as famines and shortage of drinking water will be devastating. The end of the Anthropocene is its fulfillment: total predominance meaning large scale destruction beyond the capacity of recovery, but it is also announcing somehow the end of this predominance of the human species. Humanity as a geological force will be forced to shrink its footprint, or just shrink. Indeed, even the end of the human species has become a possibility: by a temperature increase of 5° degrees the planet becomes too hot for most current life forms, this possibility has been recently called by scientists: ‘Hothouse Earth’[26].

However sober one tries to look at the forecasts of climatologists, overshoot and collapse (forecasted since Limits to growth, the Report to the club of Rome in 1972) seem inevitable. Collapsology is a new discipline in radical ecology, introduced in 2015 by Pablo Servigne (in his book Comment tout peut s’effondrer[27]). We cannot avoid or solve the ecological disasters that are coming, only try to avoid the worst. But what we really need to do, is learn how to deal with the collapse. Pablo Servigne and his co-authors also insist on the psychological preparations and mourning processes this entails, for it is most challenging to look this apocalypse based upon scientific evidence in the face (the wave of climate denialism is partly due to a psychological shutting out of this inconvenient thruths). However, collapsology it is not a pessimistic or even apocalyptic discipline, but a practical discipline for living and surviving in collapsing societies and ecosystems. It is not the end of the world but the beginning of something else, that will be hellish at moments maybe, but we will have to do with it, like people survive in war times, often by self organization and mutual help[28], by what since the resurgence of the commons has been called ‘commoning’[29].  As the global commons are under threat, we have become aware of the commons.

And that is some good news: the Anthropocene is also the revelation of a cosmic dimension. We have to become aware of the cosmic dimension of all that we do and not do. We have to get humans out of the center to give space and a voice to nonhumans (not only mammals, but also insects, oceans, rivers, the biosphere itself). The Anthropocene confronts us – whatever name you would give it (the term itself cannot be but an alibi) – with gigantic questions and unseen urgencies: how will we deal with water and food shortages in an overcrowded world exposed to ever more extreme weather events, desertification, flooding, and sharply decreasing biodiversity? And what unspeakable responsibility do we bear towards all the nonhumans we are destroying as a side effect of our great acceleration and our eternal logic of growth? What unspeakable responsibility. And yet we have to take it, even out of sheer sense of survival. That is maybe a flicker of hope: that we cannot save humanity without saving the biosphere and vice versa. Maybe collapse is our best bet. But it will most probably be rough. Self organization and back to basics, ransoming would be a solution, it will be most probably at some point. Like in war time. How to do that in a more or less democratic way? Many, too many questions.

Collapsology, as Pablo Servigne and his companions are well aware of, needs also a lot of skills in new ways of telling stories, new ways of world making (they took that gratefully from ecofeminism)[30]. Collapse can and will take a million shapes. The Anthropocene is the age of cyberpunk: a high tech society that is at the same time chaotic, disintegrating, capsular, even with risks of relapsing into states of nature, of lawlessness. The Bubble is part of the Matrix, the archipelago of capsular entities in our security driven militarized urban space[31]. After the end of history comes the relapse into the state of nature. The latent civil war is becoming the new postmodern, posthistorical condition. The collapse of the international legal order is one of the silent catastrophes of our time.

Our expansion has reached ridiculous levels in capitalism but is present in culture since the dawn of (Wo)Man, the rise of Anthropos as species: all technology is acceleration, every medium as extension of Man is speeding up, that is its essence (the law of McLuhan[32]). Many known ancient civilizations had the urge to grow and expand. Acceleration means urgency. The more you speed, the more you have to be aware of time to maneuver and anticipate. We are bad in anticipating, terribly bad. Diametrically opposed to collapsology is accelerationism. However appealing and spirited the accelerationist manifest of Nick Srnicek and Mike Williams[33], a leftist recapturing technology from capitalism, an ecological postcapitalist technology remains a dream, and maybe even a dangerous one, as it feeds all sort of political rather rightist optimism, like ‘ecomodernism’ or ‘ecorealism’.

The fact that the atom bomb test might be the golden spike for the beginning of the Anthropocene is not only interesting because it coincides with the Great Acceleration, but also because the debate about nuclear energy is coming back with a vengeance. Nuclear energy is a symbol of the impasse and impact of our technology and at the same time it might, given the urgency to cut greenhouse gas emissions, be our sole saving grace, at least according to some. In studying the philosophical premises of this debate, one might discover the dilemma of our epoch, which has been called, maybe wrongly, metamodernity (or even posthistory). In the debate on nuclear energy, accelerationism and the degrowth-movement collide frontally. It shows how divided and uncertain we are on the emergencies we are facing.

What we need is a cyberpunk philosophy for this cyberpunk age. The Anthropocene, the end of the Anthropocene, is the era of realized science fiction, the age of realized cyberpunk. The ‘solution’ is near impossible given our business as usual attitude on a macro and on a micro level. Yet, combining transition towards a zero carbon, circular economy with global equity is the ultimate brain breaker of our time. But as the time window for solutions is closing – more and more scientists agree that is has closed already – we have to prepare to survive in a chaotic world, an imploding polis and an unstable, catastrophic environment. If we still don’t know when the Anthropocene has begun exactly, we might be living its end. We should end the Anthropocene. Ending the Anthropocene is the almost impossible task of our era.


V (Ending the Anthropocene)

The Atomic tests that will most probably end up marking the beginning of the Anthropocene, coincided with the great acceleration, that somehow ironically enough was not driven by nuclear energy, but by fossil fuel. It is because of this ‘construction mistake’, or this ‘path-dependence’ of the thermo-industrial civilization, the unbreakable dominance and permanence of the combustion motor, with its enhanced, we could say even because of this pathological Mowgly Complex – that we are in such trouble. But in any case, the great acceleration is reaching its end. We go in overshoot and collapse. The downfall has begun.

‘The behavior of the world system under the business as usual model’, has indeed proved clearly that of ‘overshoot and collapse.’… to paraphrase the dry announcement of half a century ago in the report to the Club of Rome, Limits to Growth[34]. Now these words seem to have pointed to the necessity of collapsology all the way. The limits to growth are now becoming tangible. As Graham Turner, who with his team checked the report and found that is was correct in its predictions,  stated in his afterthought: instead of trying to avoid the collapse, we should start to prepare for  dealing with it[35]. This is a daunting challenge for all of us. Whether one adheres to collapsology or not.

We fear it is too late for ecorealism, ecomodernism, or accelerationism (a postcapitalist technology is not on the horizon). That is why the three other dates will always be in the running maybe not as competitors for the golden spike, but as milestones in the build up towards the great acceleration: the agricultural revolution (that was the embryo of the much later agro-industrial revolution, the so called ‘green revolution’), colonialism and/as the rise of capitalism and of course, the industrial revolution, opening up our thermo-industrial civilization – all these markers are now topical, relevant if not urgent, to think about, and even to live in and act against ‘the Anthropocene’.

This civilization is crumbling, civility will be needed. But it might fail us. What I termed ‘The Permanent Catastrophe’ in 2001[36], is now revealing itself in the possibility of collapse. The capsular civilization, I foretold in a book of that title in 2004, is coming: those who can will hide in capsular entities. And what I termed in Entropic Empire, the sequel of my projected millennium trilogy, ‘the relapse into the state of nature’, in the form of the black out, the latent universal civil war (with Beirut as model) or spreading lawlessness (many examples around the world), is the nightmare, we have to avoid at all costs[37], that is the ehico-political horizon of collapsology. Mutualism, mutual help, in terms of Pablo Servigne (and Kropotkin) , the ‘commoning’, in the discourse on the resurgence of the commons,  the common as political principle – all these practices could be a saving grace. In the Anthropocene, the ending epoch, an epoch of ending the world as we knew it, safe havens for others, newcomers, migrants, will be crucial[38].

The rise of populism, doesn’t help. Populism, as Latour has shown, is a sort of extraterrestrial solution: climate change is a hoax, and yes we can close borders,  and cut ourselves loose from the world. Globalization, the magic word of the turn of the century, is unwinding, we live in days of ‘deglobalization’: Brexit, new right, extreme right, xenophobia, climate negationism, fake news, alternative facts, etc… As Latour explains in his exemplar pamphlet on Trumpism: against the new attractor of the hors sol (the outlandish, extraterrestrial position of populisms) and beyond the local and the global axis of modernization, he pleads for the new attractor of the terrestrial[39]. We have to become terrestrials again. Cultiver son jardin, takes on a whole new meaning. Whether the terrestrials will win this war (as Latour calls it) against climate negationism and all the irresponsible, populist politics that comes with it, will depend on all of us, somehow. That is the existential challenge of collapsology, it seems.

And yes, all of us will have to work through this most awkward ‘posthistorical melancholy’[40], waking up to the reality of this cyberpunk age. Collective self organization and mutual help will be massively needed. Will our individualistic consumer attitude be up to it? May the Force of Swarm Intelligence be with us! And lots of Interspecies Love too. To learn and live with and within ‘contaminated diversity’, as Anna Tsing called it[41]. Uncivilisation is maybe what we need, as the Dark Mountain Project Manifesto has it[42]. Sweating our civilization, its dualisms and extractivisms. We will have to learn to survive in the wild, in the black out of our cities. In this urban chaos urbanity will be needed. Urban gardening will soon prove to be much more than an ecobobo hobby: it will become essential for survival, like in war periods before[43]. The punks were early with their slogan: ‘NO FUTURE’, but now it rings a bell. In this day and age the bells should ring, go off all at once. Extinction Rebellion does the right thing. Rebel Against Extinction We Must[44].





[1] Paul J. Crutzen & Eugene F. Stoermer, ‘The Anthropocene’, International Geosphere Biosphere Programme, Global Change Newsletter Nr. 41, May 2000, available online: http://www.igbp.net/download/18.316f18321323470177580001401/1376383088452/NL41.pdf. For a short account of the history of the term (which was in use before Crutzen), see the good introduction ‘welcome to the Anthropocene’, by T J Demos in Against Anthropocene, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2017.
[2] Meera Subramanian, ‘Anthropocene Now: influential panel votes for Earth’s new epoch’, in Nature https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01641-5 .
[3] Timothy Morton, Dark Ecology, Columbia             University Press,  New York, 2016.
[4] We think of authors like Donna Haraway, Starhawk, Anna Tsing, & Isabelle Stengers.  For an early overview and synthesis of the ecofeminism from the sixties to the early nineties, see the excellent article of Greta Gaard & Lori Gruen, ‘Ecofeminism. Towards  Global Justice and Planetary Health’, in: Society and Nature, 2, 1993, p.1-35.(available online: https://www.academia.edu/32438639/Ecofeminism_Toward_Global_Justice_and_Planetary_Health )
We will come back to ecofeminism.
[5]  For a chilling account on this event see: Eric Alliez et Mauricio Lazzarato, Guerre et capital, Editions Amsterdam, Paris, 2016 and also T J Demos, Against the Anthropocene, o.c.
[6] Michael Franco, ‘ “Orbis Spike” in 1610 marks date when humans fundamentally changed the planet’, C-Net,  online available”: https://www.cnet.com/news/orbis-spike-in-1610-marks-date-when-humans-fundamentally-changed-the-planet/
[7] For a brief account of the rediscovery of the commons, see my essay Utopia Revisited. De Cauter, Lieven.. “Utopia Revisited.” In A Truly Golden Handbook, The Scholarly Quest for Utopia, edited by Veerle Achten, Geert Bouckaert and Erik Schokkaert, Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2016, pp. 534-545.
[8] Karl Marx, Capital, available online : https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Capital-Volume-I.pdf
[9] Matthias De Groof,  ‘Congocene. The Anthropocene through Congolese Cinema’ in: Marina Gržinić & Sofie Uitz, Rethinking the Past for a New Future of Conviviality: opposing Colonialism, Anti-Semitism, Turbo-Nationalism, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Cambridge, 2019.
[10] Meera Subramanian, o.c .  https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01641-5.
[11] See the graphs in Will Steffen, Wendy Broadgate, Lisa Deutsch, Owen Gaffney and Cornelia Ludwig, ‘The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration’, in The Anthropocene Review of March 2015, free available online: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272418379_The_Trajectory_of_the_Anthropocene_The_Great_Acceleration
[12] Donna Haraway, Staying with the trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham & London: Duke University Press,  2016.
[13] TJ Demos, Against the Anthropocene, Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2017.
[14] See Gaard and Grun, o.c.
[15] Zitouni, Benedikte. Planetary destruction, ecofeminists and transformative politics in the early 1980s. In: Interface : a journal for and about social movements, Vol. 6, no.2, 2014, p. 244-270. (available online:
[16] On can think of the spiral dance of Starhawk and the erotisations of Nature by Annie Sprinkle.
[17] ‘Form history to her story, in four stories’, Isabelle Stengers in conversation with Lieven De Cauter, http://www.ny-web.be/transitzone/history-herstory-four-stories.html
[18]  See Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World, On the Possibility of Life in the Capitalist Ruins, Princeton University Pres, Princeton, 2015.
[19] The most clear criticism is contained in his theses on history, see Walter Benjamin, ‘Ueber den begriff der Geschicthe’, Gesammelte schriften, I, 2, Surkamp, Frankfurt am Main, 1974.  (also available in English online: https://folk.uib.no/hlils/TBLR-B/Benjamin-History.pdf) A more extensive and fragmented critique of progress in contained the Passagenwerk (or arcades project, available online: https://monoskop.org/images/e/e4/Benjamin_Walter_The_Arcades_Project.pdf
[20] Jean-François Lyotard, La condition postmoderne, Rapport sur le savoir, Minuit, Paris, 1979.
[21] Jean-François Lyotard, L’inhumain. Causeries sur le temps, Galilée, Paris, 1988.
[22] Isabelle Stenger, Au temps de catastrophes (available in English : Stengers, Isabelle. In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism. translated by Andrew Goffey. Open Humanities Press, 2015. Available online: http://openhumanitiespress.org/books/download/Stengers_2015_In-Catastrophic-Times.pdf
 Bruno Latour, Face à Gaia, Huit Conférences sur le Nouveau Régime Climatique. Paris: La Découverte, 2015.
[23] Dipesh Chakrabarthy, “The Climate of History: Four Theses.” Critical Inquiry 35.2 (Winter 2009): 197–222.
[24] Dipesh Chakrabarthy has done some attempts to spell out the difficulties of think humanity as a geological force as the subject of history in the article mentioned before and in “Postcolonial Studies and the Challenge of Climate Change.” New Literary History 43.1 (Winter 2012): 1-18.
[25] Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, When humans transcend biology,  Viking, London, New York, 2005.
[26] See the recent multi-authored  study ‘Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene’, in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), August 14, 2018 , available online  https://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252  (Pablo Servigne, one of the inventors of ‘collapsology’, explains this possibility of a hothouse Earth in a very clear way in one of his video’s, called ‘un monde sans pétrol’:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSVA5Q79Urc )
[27] Pablo Servigne & Raphael Stevens, Comment tout peut s’effondrer, Petit manuel de collapsologie à l’ursage des générations présentes, Seuil, Paris, 2015.
[28] Pablo Servigne Raphael Stevens and Gauthier Chappelle insist on this in Une autre fin du monde est possible, Seuil, Paris, 2018. Servigne has even co-written a whole book about this mutualism (with Gauthier Chappelle): L’entraide, l’autre loi de la jungle, Editions Les liens qui libèrent, Paris, 2017.
[29] This resurgence of the commons, makes for a bibliography in itself. Likewise commons initiatives have mushroomed around the world. (I cannot develop this here but see some of my articles – online available is this one: https://www.dewereldmorgen.be/community/common-places-preliminary-notes-on-the-spatial-commons/
[30] Pablo Servigne, Raphaël Stevens, Gauthier Chappelle, Une autre fin du monde est possible, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2018. Particularly the first part talks extensively about this mourning. See also my ‘Small anatomy of political melancholy’: http://crisiscritique.org/special09/cauter.pdf
[31] My book The capsular civilization. On the city in the age of fear (Nai010 publishers, 2004) was an attempt towards a cyberpunk philosophy of the future read within the present.
[32] Marschall McLuhan, Understanding Media. The extensions of Man, Pinguin, London, New York, 1964.
[33] Available online : http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/
[34] Available online : http://www.donellameadows.org/wp-content/userfiles/Limits-to-Growth-digital-scan-version.pdf (p. 125)
[35] Graham Turner, ‘A comparison of The Limits to Growth with 30 years of reality’. Global Environmental Change, 18, 397-411 (available online: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/223746986_A_comparison_of_The_Limits_to_Growth_with_30_years_of_reality_Global_Environmental_Change_18_397-411
[36] ‘The Permanent Catastrophy, published in my book The capsular civilization. On the City in the Age of Fear, Nai publishers, Rotterdam, 2004.
[37] See my book Entropic Empire. On the City of Man in the Age of Disaster, Nai010 Publishers, Rotterdam, 2015.
[38] See my text ‘Other Spaces for the Anthropocene: Heterotopia as Dis-Closure of the (Un)Common’, in Daan Wesselman ea, (eds), Interrupting Globalisation: Heterotopia in the Twenty-First Century , Routledge, London, 2020.
[39] Bruno Latour, Ou aterrir? , La Découverte, Paris, 2017.
[40] My ‘Small Anatomy of Political Melancholy’ is available online: http://crisiscritique.org/special09/cauter.pdf
[41] Anna Tsing, o.c.
[42] ‘The Dark Mountain Manifesto’, a must read: https://dark-mountain.net/about/manifesto/
[43] Pablo Servigne for instance shows how during the second world war urban farming was practiced on a large scale in the USA, even on the lawn of Capitol Hill: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSVA5Q79Urc
[44] Maybe the most concrete proposal for action, in the form of large scale civil disobedience, somehow a manifesto for an climate Rebellion in general, and for Extinction Rebellion in particular, see: Roger Hallam, Common Sense for the 21st century, available online: https://www.rogerhallam.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Common-Sense-for-the-21st-Century_by-Roger-Hallam-Download-version.pdf
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