From After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene by Jedediah Purdy

p. 16 “we have not advanced far towards Mill’s ideal of emancipated mastery over nature. Instead, the more we understand and the more our power increases, the more our control over nature seems a precarious fantasy.”

p. 17 The Anthropocene begins amid a threefold crisis  of ecology, economics, and politics. These are the three great modes in which humans make a home… The three crises share a starting point: the recognition that a system believed, or at least imagined and hoped, to be stable and self-correcting has turned out to be unstable and even prone to collapse.”

p. 18 “If we want self-sustaining world, social & natural, we must build it. Nothing inherent will produce that stability”

p. 18 “Th economists’ term ‘externality’ suggests an aberration, the incidental exception to a system that otherwise works – but here, that is the reverse of the truth. What economic analysis treats as an externality, what is invisible in market transactions, is the globe that houses all economic activity. Needless to say, everything is inside that ‘externality’. The harms that are invisible to the economy may overwhelm the system itself.”

p. 90 Thomas Paine saw the natural world as grounding a principle of economic equality. ‘Natural property was the inborn right of every person to an equal share of the unimproved world, which was the common inheritance of humanity, now artificially divided into private property. Paine’s ‘Letter on Agrarian Justice’ argued for a tax on wealth that would amount to ‘ground-rent’ paid to society by those who owned  the world, to compensate the dispossesed. The money should go to universal benefits: a payment to each person at birth, as a king of social inheritance to start them in life, plus pensions for the aged. Paine argued that this scheme would make the artificial institution of private property beneficial to all, whereas without his reforms it preserved both wealth and great poverty.”

p. 118 The Sierra Club’s “ideal was the personal encounter with nature … even as its activity was intensely social, even communal, to the point where one member described its encampments (with only the lightest irony) as short-lived socialist utopias. Club members relied on one another for comfort, survival and companionship in the high country. Even more, they relied on one another to confirm and amplify their quasi-mystical experience by hearing it and saying it back to them.”

p. 119 Thoreau reviewed a book that proposed a technological utopia. The work, by J.A. Etzler, was The Paradise Within the Reach of All Men, without Labor, by Means of Nature and Machinery, published in 1842. Etzler, a follower of the French social visionary Charles Fourier, argued that men could build a paradise on earth (and, he promised, within a decade) by harnessing what the 21st century calls renewable energy. Wind, tides, and the sun would replace human labor. … Thoreau agreed with Etzler that unused energy was plentiful:air surged and plunged over the earth: New England’s few windmills were a farcical tribute to its power. The waves and tides were even stronger, and the sun’s vast energy promised limitless power, if only people could capture it.”

p. 171 Gifford Pinchot “called on Americans to  ‘ make ourselves… responsible for [the country’s] future’. Conservation’s basic goal was well-being: it aimed to make ‘the difference between prosperity and poverty, health and sickness, ignorance and education, well-being and misery.’ Conservation’s success would be ‘patriotism in action’… conservation should teach each citizen devotion to the good of all.”

p. 195 John Muir “is probably best remembers for observing that one cannot tug on anything in nature without finding it connected to everything else -a folksy slogan of interdependence… part of a usable history for the age of ecology. .. We can love the world because it is intelligible, formed in an order that we can understand ever more richly. At the same time, it awes us because it is always older, stranger and more complex than we can grasp: in every dimension, it runs beyond our reach. … This was the new, ecological shape that wilderness advocates gave to the Romantic tradition of treating the politics of nature as the politics of consciousness. .. humility invited a homecoming – not to the sublime mountains, as Muir had urged, but to a sense of being entirely native to the planet at large. … Americans concerned with the natural world did nothing less in those years than invent something we now take for granted: the concept of the environment. .. In 1968, an urgent warning appeared in Time magazine: ‘The false assumption that nature exists only to serve man is at the root of an ecological crisis that ranges from the lowly litterbug to the lunacy of nuclear proliferation. At this hour, man’s only choice is to live in harmony with nature, not to conquer it.”

p. 109 “the seminal environmental standing case, Sierra Club v Morton. Here the Supreme Court considered whether the Sierra Club could sue to oppose development in California’s Mineral King Valley, and ruled that the group had standing to appear in court only if at least one of its members used the disputed area and would be personally affected by the proposed development. The case is most famous, though, for Justive William O Douglas’s animist-toned dissent, which adopted the language and spirit of proposals to recognise natural entities as legal actors. ‘The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it .. The voice of the inanimate object, therefore, should not be stilled.'”

p. 231 “as the Romantic strain of environmental imagination took hold, farmers, who animated James Wilson’s flourish American landscape, became figures of plodding, spiritless labor instead. Thoreau portrayed his neihgbors as slaves to their land, labors and conventional ideas. Emerson complained that he could not enjoy contemplating a landscape when farmers were working on it …Today a new appreciation is emerging for worked and inhabited landscapes, fertile terrains for responsible labor. This is the landscape of what one might call the food movement. It is not providential but ecological. Working  there converts ecological consciousness into concrete activity, as surely as John Muir’s walking guides did for Romantic ways of seeing. .. the physical labor of growing, gathering, and cooking food is a source of satisfaction, enriched by knowledge of the ecological, chemical and other processes that the work engages… As a cultural matter, the food movement offers a way to make abstract ecological values concretely one’s own. It poses an answer to a puzzle of post-1970 environmental thought, a puzzle presented in any effort to think ecologically. An environmental ethic that people can live by must tap into basic motives” Can either be done by tapping existing values e.g. patriotism with Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinochet, or a new identity – the settler ethic and the wild-lands pilgrimage of the Sierra Club.

p. 237-8 “Ecology is the only possible home for an economy .. neoliberal environmentalists today portray the world as ‘natural capital’ … it brings nature fully into political economy, but a specifically neoliberal political economy, committed to the perspective of capital… An alternative would be to think of nature not as providing capital but doing work, work in which human labor collaborates… work is not only industry, the prodictive  action that that transforms the world, but also reproduction, the work of remaking life with each year and generation . Seeing nature’s work in this light would align environmental politics with the key feminist insight that much socially necessary work is ignored or devalued as ‘caregiving’, a gendered afterthought to the real dynamos of the economy, when in reality no shared life could do without it. This approach would also have the potential to align environmental politics with a labor movement of caregivers i an economy where an increasing amount of the work done by human beings (rather than machines) is the work of social reproduction: nursing, teaching, parenting.”

p. 253 “One might imagine, then, learning to see the global atmospheric system, the interwoven patterns of currents and winds, seasons and climatic regions, as something beautiful. It makes a world suited for human life, a world in which we have learned to live… The question to ask about greenhouse gases, in this light … is …whether they tend to mar the beauty of a system that, for all its inherent perturbations, describes a set of rough balances that we have come to find beautiful. Alternatively but not incompatibly, the global atmosphere might come to seem sublime, a brooding, powerful source of threat, beyond our complete understanding, out of the scale of our control, able to disrupt familiar worlds and make us aware of human smallness and fragility… Both treasuring beauty and feeling awe at sublimity are ways of respecting an order of things, and of valuing motives to act so as to uphold it.”

p. 286 “taking responsibility for nature and taking responsibility for democracy come together. The democratic responsibility is the responsibility of making a world, a responsibility that for much of human experience has fallen to the imagined legislation of gods. This goes for both the political and the natural world. Always bound together in imagination, in the Anthropocene these two are inseparable in fact.”

p. 287 democracy is not just the stripping away of old hierarchies; it means making the world together, including taking responsibility for our mutually shaping interaction with nature.”

One comment

  • July 13, 2017 - 9:14 am | Permalink

    Interesting read.

    Those ‘externalities’ are being exploited by modern government. That globe that houses economic actions includes the social and moral side effects. Social collapse through withdrawal of a factory. Offshoring to get a lower wage deal. Pollution management. There is already a long list.

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