Excerpt from the Introduction, Technonatures: Environments, Technologies Spaces, and Places in the Twenty-first Century edited Damian F. White and Chris Wilbert
The expansion of mankind, both in numbers and per capita exploitation of
Earth’s resources, has been astounding. To give a few examples:
past three centuries human population increased tenfold to 6000
accompanied e.g. by a growth in cattle population to 1400 million
cow per average size family). Urbanisation has even increased
tenfold in the
past century. In a few generations mankind is exhausting the
fossil fuels that
were generated over several hundred million years. The release of
about 160 Tg/year to the atmosphere by coal and oil burning, is
two times larger than the sum of all natural emissions, occurring
marine dimethyl-sulfide from the ocean . . .Considering these and
major and still growing impacts of human activities on earth and
and at all, including global, scales, it seems to us more than
to emphasize the central role of mankind in geology and ecology
to use the term “anthropocene” for the current geological epoch.
Crutzen and Stoermer (2000)
Increasingly in future . . . the time will come, for example,
when massive programmes
will have to be set in train to regulate the relationship between
ozone, and carbon dioxide in the earths atmosphere. In this
environmental ecology could equally be re-named “machinic
ecology”, since both cosmic and human practice are nothing
if not machiniciindeed they
are machines of war, in so far as “Nature” has always been at war
Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (2000)
Political ecology, at least in its theories, has to let go of
nature. Indeed, nature
is the chief obstacle that has always hampered the development
Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature (2004)
...far from being dead and buried, nature is currently being
practiced anew ...
But that nature is not what we have imagined it to be, fixed
in its identity and
unrelated to society.
Steve Hinchliffe, Geographies of Nature (2008)
The Environmental Debate in Changing Times?
The current state of “the environmental debate” is in considerable flux at the beginning of the twenty-first century. From European Union countries to Argentina, from India to Canada, or China, Egypt, and beyond, diverse societies find themselves gripped by controversies, dilemmas, and disputes emerging from the incorporation and resistance of human and non-human bodies, ecologies and landscapes into circuits of commodification, property regulation, innovation, patenting, and enclosure. Disputes surrounding nanotechnology, biotechnology, and global warming, and concerns over biodiversity, water resources, and foodto name just a few acute issueslend credence to the perception that natures, societies, and technologies are being jointly made and remade at dizzying speeds (Braun and Castree 1998). According to many writers (Haraway 1991, 1998; Luke 1997, 1999; Guattari 2000; Braun and Castree 1998), a seemingly unbounded, technologically instilled, and ideologically renewed capitalism appears to be intensifying the creative destruction of diverse ecologies around the globe even as it lurches unsteadily from boom to bust. Yet the movements that have been at the centre of politicizing these processes of remakingnotably the diverse ecological and green social movements that exploded onto the political scene with so much force in the last quarter of the twentieth centuryseem politically and intellectually disorientated by such developments. Indeed, if we follow the thoughts of Bruno Latour, “the politics of nature” is increasingly marked by a degree of stagnation (2004, 1).
Latour is of course a leading provocateur whose work is defined by a penchant for the dramatic (see Castree 2006). Yet, at a time when the “environmental question&edquo; is at least rhetorically moving toward centre stage in the political world, the claim that there has concurrently been a loss of confidence, coherence, and vigour among certain manifestations of environmentalism is an assertion that has been reiterated recently by a much broader array of academic and activist voices, from different parts of the globe.
Some have pointed to the nervous and unsteady responses in Europe to the controversies raised by Bjorn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001) and the subsequent Lomborg affair.1 Others have suggested a certain plateauing of support can be detected in public opinion surveys for mainstream environmental organizations from the UK to Australia (MacNaghten 2003, 63; Davison in this volume). In the United States, it is Shellenberger and Nordhaus’s internal critique of the mighty US environmental movement “The Death of Environmentalism” (2005) that has most crystallized concerns.While maintaining that mainstream environmental movements in the US have made important regulatory gains over the last three decades in the fight for basic environmental protection, Shellenberger and Nordhaus have suggested over more recent decadesand with particular reference to global warmingthat little further progress has been made. The dominant US environmental groups, they contend, are failing to generate a credible vision of the future or the political alliances that could bring “progress” about. More recently, they have refined this critique (Nordhaus and Shellenberger 2007) to argue that the manner in which much conventional mainstream environmental critique has relied on a narrative which problematizes human agencies within the context of a static and a-historical image of “Nature” has lead to a “politics of limits” that itself has significantly constrained the imaginative capacities to rethink a productive, progressive politics of the environment.