The movie I’m most looking forward to, as 2018 unfolds, is ANNIHILATION – Alex Garland’s adaptation for the screen of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. The books feature a woman known as The Biologist. Her field of study is transitional areas; liminal zones where one habitat merges with another, itself a kind of habitat or ecology. Returned from her adventure in the magical realist exclusion zone known as Area X, she’s found standing in a vacant lot. When she’s later held by the Authorities wanting answers to the nature of Area X, the talk by Christopher Brown this post is built around seems exactly the kind of material she’d take comfort in viewing… #thebiologisthasaposse
One of the thoughts that’s been ricocheting around my skull of late is that the problem isn’t initiating action on climate change, but radically changing its direction.
It was prompted by something Heather Davis said in her talk for the Dark Ecology conference, Plastic Geologies: The Problem of Universality. The point she made, almost in passing, was that climate change was the direct objective of western settler colonialism.
The world we live in today, careening toward complete ecological collapse and the total destruction of all planetary boundaries, has been the centuries long project of western industrial civilisation. It’s been so effective in erasing the previous ways of living on the lands it occupies that, for example, reconstructing how humans behaved as ecological actors before the European invasion of the Americas has proven to be a major intellectual (and physical) scavenger hunt.
It is this mindset, this ruling ideology, this unrelenting techno-socio-political-economic force that is in the process of adding the Moon, Mars and all of Space to its domain. This is the next, unrepentant stage of western settler colonialism and it will transport all its problems with it to new worlds. The techno-utopian plans to terraform Mars in the near-future to make it habitable (for us) – and remember, terraform means “to make Earth-like” – are the direct continuation of the same processes making Earth uninhabitable today.
What if there were other ways of living? Ways that favoured a positive, intentional engagement with the non-human world…
In The Art of Not Being Governed, James C. Scott talks about how those fleeing the omniscient power of the State have retreated to the places less legible to it. To the mountains and the swamps. To the jungles. To the wild.
It is, apparently, the nature of our ruling ideology that it creates various forms of zones of exclusion, places Bruce Sterling coined as being involuntary parks, places made uninhabitable to humans largely – but not exclusively – on environmental grounds.
Capitalism generates such areas not as an intentional by-product but, none-the-less, as a direct result of its mode of operation. Unplanned, unmanaged ecological preserves are the unintentional result of war, accident or disaster only because the needs of the non-human are illegible to western capitalism, filed under the generic category of Externalities.
These are the places you’ll find romanticised as a preview of the post-human era in books like Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us. The DMZs of Korea and Cyprus. The Nuclear Exclusion Zones of Chernobyl and Fukushima. The sacrifice zones. And at a smaller scale, the vacant suburban lots and abandoned industrial areas.
Waste objects of western industrial civilisation. Invaluable to a non-human world forced to the margins to cling on wherever it can and be free. The non-human world, after all, is equally uninterested in being governed.
These places are the seed – one way or another – of the world to come.
In Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, E.O. Wilson elaborates on his proposal to make the majority of the planet a wildlife conservation zone. He argues that only in doing so can we avert ecological catastrophe and our own resultant extinction.
I agree, but am left with questions as to just how this will unfold.
Will such places be intentionally created or the result of a humanity forced to retreat to the few remaining habitable zones, a victim of the success of its ruling ideology? A mind virus that made the whole planet an involuntary park, returned – surrendered – to the non-human by default. Where it’s us forced to cling to life at the margins.
Will Earth’s future be Planetary Park or World-Wide Exclusion Zone?
This is why I find Christopher Brown’s talk, Secrets of the Feral City, so meaningful.
He expounds on the virtues of the vacant lot, the abandoned industrial area and his own personal project of ecological restoration; patiently persevering in a quest to rewild and live with a place that had become almost invisible to the State.
Christopher Brown demonstrates the application of a mindset that could implement a bottom-up version of E.O. Wilson’s vision. That the vacant lot and the abandoned industrial area can be the seeds of a planetary park.
What if we prioritised the non-human and turned our cities into wildlife corridors, plot-by-plot? Cities we can still live in – increasingly living with the wild – instead of waiting for them to fall victim to climate change, becoming ruins in an exclusion zone reclaimed by whatever life forms are fortunate to survive on the world we’ve left in our wake.
Earth has already been terraformed; not by accident, but through ignorance. There is a way out, a way through this disaster we’ve brought upon ourselves, that leads to us not just avoiding extinction, but genuinely progressing both individually and as a species. That process starts with valuing the non-human.
The post-human world doesn’t have to be one without us, but it must be one that isn’t run exclusively for us.
“A Good Anthropocene is one where humans have learned to handle their immense collective power over the planet and all living and non-living things on Earth responsibly. That implies developing very different norms and ideas for our interactions with each other and the non-human world – basically inventing new models for societies, economies and cultures. That process begins with good ideas for alternative models – innovative ways of thinking, esp. thinking about time and values.” ~ Seeds of Good Anthropocenes.
By cultivating this mindset we can build a post-human civilisation. Work deliberately to change the direction of climate change. Consciously creating a Good Anthropocene. An Earth for everyone and everything on it, under it and above it.
Let’s intentionally terraform our planet this time!