Responsibility for the End of Nature or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Global Warming (=GW)
2. McKibben argues because of GW we are end of nature and leads to widespread feeling of deep anxiety
3. Can’t account for this anxiety by appeal simply to the consequences of global warming (including associated injustices)
4. Anxiety due to our recognition that we humans are now responsibility for (some?) of the basic conditions supporting all life on earth
5. It’s good to feel anxious as we assume this awesome responsibility
6. Nightmare of global warming offers a source of hope
7. SUMMARY OF MCKIBBEN’S ARGUMENT FOR END OF NATURE (AND HETTINGER CRITIQUE)
8. Because of anthropogenic climate change
9. Nature as autonomous or independent from humans is gone
a. I’d say much of nature is still autonomous (for autonomy is not incompatible with influence)
b. If to be independent means not influenced, then much of nature is not independent because much has been influenced
i. But not all!
10. “Nothing in natural world is as it would be w/o human activity”
a. What about geologic items like mountains or tides or earthquakes? Or beneath the earth’s surface (starting 10 miles down); or other planets/the moon,
11. “Everything has become an artifact (in a certain sense)
a. Not plausible to say the human touch makes something an artifact (like a table or chair)
b. “No part of natural env remains entirely non-artificial”
12. We live in a “post natural world”
a. Assumes (falsely) that for nature to be nature, it must be pristine, totally untouched/uninfluenced by humans.
13. Once humans alter basic conditions of global biosphere, everything within it becomes somewhat artificial, changing its fundamental mode of being
a. Why assume fundamental mode of nature is altered merely by human influence?
b. Perhaps significant human influence can do this, but is climate change that significant a type of influence?
14. VOGEL’S CRITICISMS OF MCKIBBEN
15. Nature has already ended before GW: Global warming can’t bring about end of nature (as non-artifact) because such a nature has failed to exist since humans began transforming nature
a. “The world we inhabit is always (?) already one transformed by human practices”
b. Worries: Ignores degrees of “transformation”; What about 1st humans, they were not in a world already transformed?
16. Epistemic problem: Can’t be sure any part of biological world is just as it would be independent of human activities
a. Note limitation to the “biological” world
b. Red cockaded woodpeckers depends on long-leaf pine forests, but native American’s burned those forests for better hunting so woodpeckers are influenced by human activities
c. Jamieson: “Do we really know what climate would be like were it not affected by humans”
i. Surely not exactly, but we know it would be cooler, for example.
d. “No good reason to think we have or could have a good idea of what world like if never had been humans
i. For many biological facts, I think this is mistaken
(1) Would have been birds w/o humans and so on
(2) Mountains, rivers, snow, glaciation, lots of species we can identify
17. Rejects idea of nature as the nonhuman:
a. Denies the existence of “nature” at least in the sense assumed by human/nature dichotomy
b. “Nature is exactly what is not human”
i. This is problematic because there is “human nature” and dimensions of people they have not manipulated or controlled
c. Human touch shifts ontological status from natural to artifact
i. This is perhaps Katz’s idea, but one can think the human nature distinction crucial without making this (highly implausible) claim
d. Humans outside of nature and thus supernatural
i. This equivocates on “nature”
ii. If nature = what is governed by scientific laws, and humans outside nature, then they are “supernatural” (which is absurd).
(1) Humans are subject to physical/biological/chemical laws like any other entity on the planet
(2) Humans evolved like other species
iii. But those who defend a distinction between humans and nature do not use “nature” in the sense
(1) Rather nature = not culture (or what is not significantly managed/controlled by humans)
(2) Humans can be natural (in sense of not supernatural) and yet cultural as well.
18. Social construction of nature idea
a. Post-structuralist “discovery that what counts as nature is sociologically and historically variable”
b. Does that mean “nature” is a human construction?
i. Physical construction versus conceptual construction
ii. One the concept is constructed, what it refers to was not constructed
19. Thompson says Vogel’s idea to get rid of idea of nature can’t help Thompson explain the horror in the idea of global warming ending nature
20. THOMPSON’S DISCUSSION OF HOW NATURE IS ESSENTIALLY WILD AND HUMANS PART OF NATURE SO NATURE CAN’T END
21. “Human domestication of the wild is not inconsistent with the continued existence of the wild”
22. GW can’t be end of wild nature
a. Because nature is essentially wild
23. Anthropogenic GW can’t bring about end of nature
a. Because humans are essentially part of wild nature
b. So for that reason we are incapable of destroying it
c. But we could destroy ourselves too?
24. MORAL HORROR (ANXIETY) OF GW REMAINS EVEN AFTER REALIZE IT CAN’T END NATURE
25. How explain the moral horror/anxiety we feel about GW?
26. Even though can’t end wild nature, there is moral horror that remains due to global warming.
a. It’s as if we did end nature
27. What is it? What’s so bad about it?
28. Not just the horrible affects on humans and nature
29. Claims that same results that GW will cause, if caused by other more conventional means, would not lead to this moral horror
a. Like it is worse to use nuclear weapons to achieve same results could by conventional weapons
30. PRESENT EQUILIBRIUM OF ATMOSPHERE (PEA) OF VALUE
31. Atmospheric equilibrium that has characterized env during history of humans has value
32. GW is the end of particular equilibrium of atmosphere (PEA)
a. Between amount of radiation earth receives form sun and amount of energy it radiates back into space (in terms of heat)
33. PEA not only instrumentally valuable
a. For then its loss would not lead to moral anxiety, because we don’t have the anxiety if consequences of loss of PEA are brought about some other way
34. PEA not of intrinsic value
a. In any of three senses: in non-relational sense (IV 3)–as its value is relation, objective value (IV 4)–as it is not goal directed, and valued as an end (IV-1)–as not like people we could value for own sake
b. You can skip the details here
35. So PEA not intrinsically nor instrumentally valuable; so why valuable?
36. SENSE OF PLACE ARGUMENT: PLACES ARE CONSTITUATIVE OF OUR IDENTITIES AND PLACES DEPEND ON PEA AND THAT’S WHY ITS VALUABLE
37. PEA has “constituative value” (sense of place value?)
a. PEA is background of world we know
b. Connected with our identity as individuals and members of cultures/species
c. Our identity (individual, member of culture, or species) is partly constituted by the particular places of the world we inhabit
d. Our world depends on PEA
e. Is this true?
38. Ideas supporting value of place to human identity
a. Individual identity, sense of who they are, is partly constituted by sense of belonging to particular places, whether natural (e.g., woodlands) or urban (city streets, parks)
b. Places matter to individual as they embody the history of their lives and their communities (embody their historical and cultural identities)
c. Peoples sense of who they are is partly constituted by their sense of belonging to particular places
d. People’s identities are not prior to or independent of attachment to place
e. Disappearance of places are real losses
f. Loss of places can be the loss of a way of life
39. So horror at GW due to loss of sense of place?
40. GW IS A SINGLE CAUSAL FACTOR (RATHER THAN DIFFUSE ONE) BRINGS HOME THE REALITY OF OUR COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY FOR ENDING PEA (THIS EXPLAINS ANXIETY)
a. Moral issues related to GW confusing as no one individual or even group is responsible for destruction of global env (diffuse causes and consequences)
b. But since cause of destruction can be framed under single description of GW, our ability to recognize that we are responsible is heightened and this leads to the anxiety (we are ending world)
41. WE ARE NOW RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FUNDAMENTAL CONDITIONS OF THE BIOSPHERE AND WE FEAR THIS AWESOME RESPONSIBILITY AND THIS IS GOOD
42. For all of human history natural world has set background conditions for life (something over which we had little or no control)
a. Meteorological events were acts of nature or God over which we had no influence or control
i. We were not responsible for their helpful/harmful nature
43. This has changed
44. We are now responsible for fundamental conditions of biosphere
45. A responsibility we had not bargained for and gives us existential anxiety
46. We valued not being responsible for conditions of natural env and we have lost what we valued
47. Lost our innocence
48. Fear not end of nature but fear responsibility for nature
49. No corner of globe, no feature of our biosphere, which escapes the influence of human activity
a. “Our activities play a significant role in determining basic conditions under which all terrestrial life carries on”
50. “Whether accept it or not humans now shoulder the responsibility of planetary management”
51. “Once our planet was larger than us, but it is no longer”
52. Worries: Extent of our influence and control over nature is much less than Thompson’s language indicates
a. Affecting climate is not to control it
b. Fffecting atmosphere has influence on some important env factors, but many others remain (genes of organisms, geological phenomenon and environmental influences)
53. Appropriate to feel anxious over our responsibility for global warming and conditions of nature
a. Like a parent should feel anxious over awesome responsibility of raising a child
54. Part of our trepidation over GW arises from unwelcome recognition that humanity now bears an awesome responsibility for the flourishing of life on earth
55. “Recognizing this anxiety bodes well for humanity”
a. And explains why he loves global warming
Questions for Thompson’s Responsibility for the End of Nature
1. Why does Thompson love global warming (or what positive does he see in it)?
2. What is McKibben’s argument for the “end of nature,” and what notion of “nature” is he presupposing? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
3. Is influencing something compatible with it retaining its autonomy? Explain using examples.
4. Why does Vogel think nature has already ended before Global Warming?
5. What is the “epistemic problem” about restoring to how the world would be independent of human activities?
6. How does the Red-Cockaded woopecker restoration example illustrate the epistemic problem?
7. Are humans “supernatural beings?” If one thinks that humans in important ways are not part of nature, but part of culture, does that entail they are “supernatural?”
8. Explain and evaluate the idea that nature is a social construction.
9. Explain the relationships that Thompson sees between the “present equilibrium of the atmosphere,” sense of place, and human identity. Do humans importantly identify themselves with places? How might global warming undermine a sense of place?
10. Is Thompson right that we are now responsible for the fundamental conditions of the biosphere?
11. What is it we fear about global warming according to Thompson?
12. Do you agree with Thompson that we now have the responsibility of planetary management? Do you agree that the planet is no longer larger than us? Do you agree that it is helpful to think of our relation to the planet as analogous to a parent’s relationship with a child?