We continue our journey down the rabbit hole that is the Anthropocene this week with Chapter 5 of Nigel Clark’s Inhuman Nature. Chapter 5 focuses on the issue of social justice as related to climate change. Any consideration of social justice inherently includes environmental justice, as they operate by the same economic rules. Clark notes Davis with an example of the injustice of climate change: 29 developing countries will lose 20% or more of farm input to global warming, while agriculture in north could see an 8% boost. (Davis,2008) Modern justice functions on a strict set of ideals, in which anything outside of the predetermined set is excluded, thus hindering any true justice. However, as Clark points out, Social justice does not operate solely on the predetermined rules but also on the realities of complex earth dynamics. In other words, our societies may have parameters for how social justice should play out, but the intricate workings of earth systems are by no means bound by these rules.
Clark places heavy emphasis on the economic system as a key player in social and environmental justice regarding climate change, noting that in accounting for the full cost not only present but also past human activity must be factored in. He refers to Flannery’s assertion of this importance “Never in the history of humanity has there been a cost benefit analysis that demands greater scrutiny” (Clark, 134). In the true spirit of market function, the powers that be have avoided climate change regarding social-economic justice and continued the irrational march towards never ending growth. In my humble opinion, the very nature of neo-classical economics is in brutal contention with the socio-economic realities of climate change. It can be argued that the market set up is itself largely responsible for the environmental crisis, therefore applying its rules to assuage the damage would be ludicrous. One major obstacle in full cost accounting in this realm is with consideration to scientific, economic and political implications, the notion of a singular unit of value to quantify climate effect change and responsibility is implausible. The enigma is further mired by the idea that without this consistency, environmental justice will crumble as reparations rely on the notion of a constant unit of value to attempt to right environmental wrongs.
Another area of contemplation Clark mulls over is the essence of the Anthropocene: what is the human role in all of this? Clark notes that the “Inherent instability of complex systems has implications for the way we conceive of human agency” (Clark, 119). From one vantage point, the undeniable human ability to alter climate and other ecological aspects puts us at the helm of agency. On the other hand, the specific role of the earth’s natural patterns of instability is uncertain. At the least, humans are a major player in the ever looming climate destruction phenomena. Which leads Clark to pose the question, will this agency lead to gradual or nonlinear change?
Clark rounds out the chapter considering the concept of gift giving in relation to environmental concerns. Both Nietzsche and Bataille are used as examples of this premise related to the gift of solar energy. Nietzsche notes this is the suns selfless offering of energy and Bataille’s social- theory is centered around the excess of solar energy as the mainstay and essence of society. Allen Stoekl goes on to relate this notion in the political realm by asserting that planetary survival depends on the gift giving through energy, a “politics” of giving. (132) Fundamentally, the basis of this idea would be a break from the rigid ineffective market based accounting for climate change to a generosity based altruistic accounting model. This bears a striking resemblance to the indigenous gift giving societies throughout the world. These cultures give as a way of maintain planetary oneness on a social level, even in the face of planetary upheaval on a physical one. Clark leaves us off with a real life example of the gift giving society in the real life example of Kiribati. Kiribati is facing the reality of being wiped off the map thanks to climate change. The sea levels surrounding these tiny islands are rising at an alarming rate. Even though their homeland is facing imminent eradication, Kiribati has vowed to protect the largest maritime area in the world to ensure biodiversity in this area. Clark notes that this gift to all peoples has come from one of the countries “least sick with wealth” (136) This leaves us with some food for thought regarding efficacy of market based consumer driven societies and our contributions and responsibilities to environmental degradation.