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Valuing Naturalness in the “Anthropocene” Now More than Ever Ned Hettinger Philosophy Dept., College of Charleston March 2013.

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Presentation on theme: "Valuing Naturalness in the “Anthropocene” Now More than Ever Ned Hettinger Philosophy Dept., College of Charleston March 2013."— Presentation transcript:

1 Valuing Naturalness in the “Anthropocene” Now More than Ever Ned Hettinger Philosophy Dept., College of Charleston March 2013

2 “Age of Man Environmentalism” vs. traditional environmentalism “ Nature no longer runs the Earth. We do. It is our choice what happens from here ” (Mark Lynas, 2011). “Humans neither can nor ought to denature their planet... On larger planetary scales it is better to build our cultures in intelligent harmony with the way the world is already built, rather than take control and rebuild this promising planet by ourselves... We do not want a de-natured life on a de- natured planet” ( Holmes Rolston, 2012)

3 The “Anthropocene” Scientific Debate Have we left the Holocene (recent age began 10,000 years ago) and entered the Anthropocene? Some geologists are debating whether the human impact on the earth is significant enough to justify designating a new geological epoch named after us Conference announcement Geology Society of UK “In the blink of a geological eye, through our need for energy, food, water, minerals, for space in which to live and play, we have wrought changes to Earth’s environment and life that are as significant as any known in the geological record.”

4 Many are now using the term

5 Human impacts are massive Causing species extinction at 10 to 1000 times background rate Three Gorges Dam shifts earth’s axis about an inch Climate change likely to raise temperatures 2-5 degrees Celsius, affecting climates globally--and thus virtually all organisms Consume ½ earth’s surface fresh water & dam most of the earth’s rivers Use 35% net primary productivity of plants Fix more nitrogen than all other terrestrial sources Devastated sea life with over fishing Homogenize ecosystems with our exotics **Perhaps we are altering the planet on a scale justifying a new geologic epoch**

6 Anthropocene troubling as a new environmental philosophy (1) Exaggerates human influence and denigrates nature’s continuing fundamental role Promotes a problematic human/nature relationship Humans as indistinguishable from nature Humans as planetary managers, engineering earth according to our values and ideals Misconceives nature of human virtue and flourishing Humility, restraint, and gratitude for a gifted world, Replaced with Reconciliation about a lost world and celebration of our competence and control and of our responsibility for the new one we’ve created

7 Anthropocene troubling as rejects a key value of naturalness Argues that because the remaining naturalness is so tenuous Traditional environmental goal of preserving, restoring, valuing nature is a pipe-dream I argue that valuing the natural is more, rather than less, important in the Anthropocene

8 Naturalness and Nature Naturalness = Degree of freedom from human influence and/or control – Extent of lack of humanization – Autonomy from humanity Nature – That which is outside of human dominion/domination – The given, unbidden, gifted world Not necessarily: Pristine, virgin, nature “untouched by man”

9 Humans: Natural and unnatural While in many important ways humans are natural – We evolved on his planet as other species did, are subject to its laws, and are deeply dependent on its health Crucial to emphasize the ways humans are different from the rest of nature – We are social, political, economic, and technological – To understand humans, must understand the social as well as natural sciences Anthropocene boosters, typically insist that humans and their activities are thoroughly natural – One Anthropocene booster promotes “A deeper acceptance of our place on the planet, with all of our synthetic trappings, and our faults, as fundamentally natural” (Andrew Revkin, NY Times)

10 Humans as creating the earth “The age of man” is “well-deserved, given humanity’s enormous alteration of earth… This is the earth we have created” and hence we should “manage it with love and intelligence … designing ecosystems…” to instantiate “new glories” “Hope in the Age of Man” (Marris, Kareiva, Mascaro, and Ellis, NY Times, 2011)

11 A new name for our planet? Even McKibben thinks we need a new name for the planet

12 Geographer Erle Ellis: Humans as gods and nature’s creator “We are poised at an important time in human and Earth history.” “We can and are changing the way the entire planet functions.” “This is an amazing opportunity -- humanity has now made the leap to an entirely new level of planetary importance.” “As Stewart Brand said in 1968: ‘We are as gods and might as well get good at it’.” “We used to depend on nature to care for us.” “Now it's entirely the other way around.” “Will we be proud of the planet we create in the Anthropocene?”

13 Humans as fashioning the earth “One clear reality is that for a long time to come, Earth is what we choose to make of it, for better or worse.” – Andrew Revkin (N.Y. Times science reporter, & author of Earth is Us) Climate change has the “potential to shape totality of nature in a fashion quite unprecedented in human history” – Christopher Preston (Env Philosopher, Univ. of MT)

14 Humans as responsible for the earth “We now know that the fundamental conditions of the biosphere are something that, collectively, we are responsible for” Humans’ “awesome responsibility for the flourishing of life on earth” “Once the planet was larger than us, but it no longer is” Allen Thompson, Environmental Philosopher, Oregon State Univ.

15 To the contrary: Nature continues to be fundamentally responsible Nature--not humans—is responsible for the existence of sunlight, water, gravity, the chemical bonds, evolution, photosynthesis, and predation Nature—not humans—is responsible for the diversity of life and geology on the planet! Human causal influence does not begin to approach the combined causal contributions of the nonhuman geological, chemical, physical, and biological forces of the planet Anthropocene boosters talk as if humans had used chemistry, synthetic biology, and manufacturing technology to construct the entire planet

16 Humans’ new authority as planetary managers and nature’s parents? “ Whether we accept it or not, human beings now shoulder the responsibility of planetary management” (Thompson, 2009) Note the model for human relationship to earth: Not caretakers or restorers Not janitors charged with cleaning up our mess Not repenters making restitution for our destruction Nor healers of a wounded earth Instead we are managers of this place. Humans are boss. We are in charge. “Like adoptive parents” we need to “enable” the “flourishing” of life on earth (Thompson, 2009)

17 A better model of human relationship with nature Reject the conceit that earth needs us – Non-human world would be far better off without us Humans desperately need earth Rather than developing a new planet, we should develop our capacities for “gratitude, wonder, respect, and restraint” toward earth (Rolston, 2012) Our responsibility toward nature Is not mainly to enable nature, but to stop disabling it Is not to control the planet, but–at least in many ways--to loosen our control and impact Humans as admiring and thankful users rather than managers of nature

18 Human flourishing not= unlimited freedom & control over nature Controlling nature with our technology has been key to human progress But there are limits to this mode of being and we are pushing those limits now – Consider climate engineering and genetic engineering of our children Humans will not flourish w/o the presence of other, the given, the gifted world

19 Is naturalness gone and environmentalism based on it bankrupt?

20 Plenty of naturalness left to value Things can be natural (i.e., relatively autonomous from humans) and valued as such even when they are significantly influenced by humans Urban parks: Though significantly shaped by humans they are valuable in large part due to their remaining naturalness (the trees are not plastic and the birds are not genetically engineered) Natural dimensions of human nature : – Admire athletic talent not shaped by drugs or effort – Dimensions of our children we did not shape

21 False dichotomy: Nature is either pristine or humans created it “An interesting way to look at nature now in the Anthropocene is that nature is something that we create... There is really nothing around that has not been touched by us” (Erle Ellis, video interview). But naturalness comes in degrees Things can be natural w/o being pristine Nature does not cease to be natural once influenced by humans “There really is no such thing as nature untainted by people. Instead, ours is a world of nature domesticated, albeit to varying degrees, from national parks to high- rise megalopolises” (Kareiva 2007). The Anthropocene boosters follow McKibben in fallaciously arguing that widespread human influence means “we now live in a world of our own making” (McKibben, The End of Nature, 1989)

22 Is naturalness less valuable? “My analysis supports that idea that the environmentalism in the future... will hold a significantly diminished place for valuing the good of the autonomy in nature” Thompson, 2010 I urge the opposite conclusion The naturalness that persists in human- impacted nature is a seriously important object of valuation

23 Valuing diminished naturalness “When I think of the times I myself have come closest to experiencing what I might call the sacred in nature, I often find myself remembering wild places much closer to home. I think, for instance, of a small pond near my house where water bubbles up from limestone springs to feed a series of pools that rarely freeze in winter and so play home to waterfowl that stay here for the protective warmth even on the coldest of winter days, gliding silently through streaming mists as the snow falls from gray February skies. I think of a November evening long ago when I found myself on a Wisconsin hilltop in rain and dense fog, only to have the setting sun break through the clouds to cast an otherworldly golden light on the misty farms and woodlands below, a scene so unexpected and joyous that I lingered past dusk so as not to miss any part of the gift that had come my way” William Cronon (Env. Historian) “The Trouble with Wilderness” (1995)

24 Naturalness becomes more important the more rare and compromised it is While there is less of naturalness to value, what remains becomes more precious Rarity is a value enhancing property of things antecedently judged to be good The more nature’s autonomy is compromised by human control and domination, the more (not less) important it is to take steps to regain it and protect what remains

25 Naturalness can return Greater degrees of naturalness can return Humanization can flush out of human- impacted natural systems – By restoration, rewilding, or just letting naturalness come back on its own Nature need not return to its original state or trajectory for naturalness to be enhanced – Lessening of human influence is sufficient Even if there is “no going back,” path forward need not be a thoroughly managed future

26 Conclusion The “Age of Man Environmentalism” is the latest embodiment of human hubris – Ignores the profound role nonhuman nature continues to play on earth – Fails to appreciate a gifted nature – Arrogantly overvalues humanity’s role and authority – Misconstrues human flourishing as unlimited control over the world We should not get comfortable with or reconcile ourselves to the Anthropocene, but work to undermine it


28 “I suspect that unless a duty of respect for nature is widely recognized and acknowledged, there will be little hope of successfully addressing the problem of climate change” (Jamieson, 2010)

29 notes A slide on dif env policy implications – Palmer’s no duty to assist the wild is gone – Nussbaum’s response to predation is to advocate replacing natural with just – Exotic species be happy with non-native species should be accepted because they can play useful roles in the novel ecosystems emerging as a result of human-induced global change – wilderness preservation needs to be de- emphasized and Need quote of Shellenberger Problem of too much focus on humans: Antropocentrism

30 Slide on what is right in anthro boosters? Ellis: For better or for worse, the Earth system now functions in ways unpredictable without understanding how human systems function and how they interact with and control Earth system processes. Not clear to me what earth systems we control rather than influence – Human involvement in the Earth system has now gone far beyond mere interference with “natural” processes. Human systems have emerged as new primary Earth systems, not only by dramatically altering preexisting natural processes but also, more important, by introducing a host of new Earth system processes entirely novel to the Earth system. As a result, the classic paradigm of “Earth systems with humans disturbing them” is obsolete. Make the clear example in he paper of how restoration might not work when climate in local is different – Sandler’s lobsters in the Long Island sound historical versus blue crabs

31 Callicott on anthro USE####Fretting about the sixth mass extinction and global climate change? Get over it; welcome to the Anthropocene; get with the program. Next up, geo-engineering. Don’t worry about it; after all, this is the Anthropocene, humans are now the main geological force.

32 . Eileen Crist on anthropocene The Anthropocene...The seductiveness of the concept flows from its following features: it is catchy; on the surface it is empirically valid; it is being proposed by a cadre of vocal and influential scientists; and it contains that magic word anthropos, pulling the strings of humanity’s infatuation with its own self-image. Is it a productive concept? It is an extremely dangerous one....The concept of the Anthropocene communicates the message: bye-bye Holocene, we have left you behind. It says this: our collective goal is not to drastically scale back our overwhelming presence, but rather to inscribe it in the annals of geological time. It also says this: we are a “force of nature” on the planet and we accept the part, thereby turning the fated course of human history into human destiny. Those who are closely tracking the Anthropocene primary literature hear it saying this as well: we will use science and technology to manage the Earth system as a whole; yes, we need to do the research first, maybe even consult the humanists on the non-scientific dimensions, but if need be we will geoengineer, so that key planetary variables are kept within thresholds that can sustain the existence and march of human civilization as we know it. The “Anthropocene” is the worst news in years. It adds insult to the planet’s injury

33 Emma Harris on can’t avoid managing We can run it justly, dividing up natural resources evenly between the Earth’s people and leaving plenty for future generations. We can run it hospitably, making a place for all the species we haven’t yet managed to kill as the climate warms and ecosystems change. We can run it, in places, by not running it, by letting the weeds grow and species move and new ecosystems assemble themselves. We can manage Earth well. But we can also manage Earth badly..But why is not managing seen as managing? Its like if a husband could beat his wife into submission to his will but allows her to do his thing he is really running her life because he could!

34 Ability to control but choose not If humans refrain from manipulating the world in a certain respect (or to a very high degree), but can do this, does the independence of nature loose its power/value? What is lost from a relationship with nature where we can’t control it to one where we decided not to control it? Related here is if we have knowledge of how it will change if we don’t control it Also, problematic is if we don’t control it only in those cases were it goes in ways we like

35 cuts Replaced with competence, reconciliation, adaptation, and celebration of control and responsibilty Palmer: For instance, it might be argued that if we are already in the Anthropocene, further human impacts don’t matter, or won’t register; or that rather than aiming for more restraint, humans in the Anthropocene should aim at more and better control

36 “A New Goal for Nature: Healthy, but Not Pristine” – Scientific American (August 2012) by Ben Halpern “People are now fundamentally integrated (Ned: this suggest harmony, whereas much human involvement in ecosystems is damaging or domination) into every ecosystem on earth. As such nature not only includes people but must address the needs of those people” Radical departure from past goal of protecting or returning nature to a pristine state That goal is impossible Change our relationship with nature from trying to lock it away to using it sustainable way; “To be feasible, conservation has to let go of the ideal of “nature untouched by humans” and embrace an approach that focuses on sustainable use and management of nature.” “Management should be aimed to achieve sustainable delivery of nature’s benefits to people’ Defines “ocean health by the benefits it provided to people” –.****“Canada is under-harvesting fish stocks so its ocean health score was penalized” – Anthropocentrism big time

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