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Web of Life Quote from Chief Seattle


According to the tenets of Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – Man is the crown of God’s creation, with dominion over all living species on the Earth (Genesis 1: 26-31). Thus empowered, Man has transformed Earth’s ecosystems with devastating effects on forests, rivers, lakes, seas, oceans, and all the non-humans that live therein. With our factories belching carbon into the atmosphere, global warming has become our new reality. The course is set for an unknown state in human experience.

In 2000, the atmospheric chemist and Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen conceived the concept “Anthropocene” to denote a new geological time in which Man is a major geological force. But several geologists and environmentalists disagree with his word choice. Others believe we live in the age of capital, the “Capitalocene.”

Jason W. Moore, an environmental historian and historical geographer at Binghamton University, is one such social scientist. In his book, Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism (Kairos Books, 2016), he and six other contributors argue that Capitalocene is a much more appropriate alternative. Concepts matter, he reiterates in his “Introduction,” since we use them to make sense of our world.

“The kind of thinking that created today’s global turbulence is unlikely to help us solve it,” Moore notes.

In this article, the first of a series, I share the contribution “On the Poverty of Our Nomenclature” by Eileen Crist, a sociologist and professor at Virginia Tech.

Crist argues that the concept of the Anthropocene reinforces human dominion over Nature, “corralling the human mind into viewing our master identity as manifestly destined, quasi-natural, and sort of awesome.” We arrogantly perceive ourselves on par with the tremendous forces of Nature. Such mentality empowers “the human enterprise” to manage the planet for production of resources and, through technological engineering, to contain the risks and ecological disasters.

She observes that Man’s historical records do not record the non-human others who don’t speak and have no control over their destinies. The sixth mass extinction, resulting from destruction of their habitats for human expansion, becomes just a casualty of history. We accept as normal the humanization of Earth, at the expense of its non-human inhabitants.

“Where is the freedom of humanity to choose a different way of inhabiting Earth, to change our historical discourse,” Crist asks.

Crist calls for humankind to end our species-supremacist civilization and become integrated with the biosphere. This would require an end to viewing our planet as an assortment of “resources” or “natural capital,” “ecosystem services,” “working landscapes,” and the like. While she does not envisage an end to human technological innovation, the sociologist has no idea what such a world would look like. In deindustrializing our relationship with land, seas, and domestic animals, we-humans would have a better chance of reversing the takeover of Nature for our own needs and appetites.

“In making ourselves integral, and opening into our deepest gift of safeguarding the breadth of Life, the divine spirit of the human surfaces into the Light,” Crist concludes.