Dispatch from the Future: Science Fictioning (in) the Anthropocene

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In the essay “Da ficção” (“On Fiction”), Vilém Flusser (1966) posits that the world is “a fiction set and invented by us”. As Flusser points out, the world itself is not a fiction, but rather, our human explanations for the world are nothing but a series of fictions. Likewise, Deleuze and Guattari (1994) recognize the fictional character of those all-too-human regimes of representation that have come to think on our behalf, asserting philosophical thought itself should be read as “a kind of science fiction” that does not seek to imagine the future of philosophy, but rather aims to invent a philosophy of the future. Transposed to our “post-truth” moment, one defined by the full-on weaponization of nonsense and “alternative facts”, and in light of the Anthropocene, wherein the planet has receded from the image of the world’s givenness to human thought and analysis, this paper asks what role fiction might play in (re)inventing future realities.

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Stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI) has been receiving increasing attention as a possible option for climate engineering. Its direct cost is perceived to be low, which has implications for international governance of this emerging technology. Here, we critically synthesize previous estimates of the underlying parameters and examine the total costs of SAI. It is evident that there have been inconsistencies in some assumptions and the application of overly optimistic parameter values in previous studies, which have led to an overall underestimation of the cost of aircraft-based SAI with sulfate aerosols. The annual cost of SAI to achieve cooling of 2 W/m² could reach US$10 billion with newly designed aircraft, which contrasts with the oft-quoted estimate of “a few billion dollars.” If existing aircraft were used, the cost would be expected to increase further. An SAI operation would be a large-scale engineering undertaking, possibly requiring a fleet of approximately 1,000 aircraft, because of the required high altitude of the injection. Therefore, because of its significance, a more thorough investigation of the engineering aspects of SAI and the associated uncertainties is warranted.
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There is no question that anthropogenic processes have had planetary effects, in inter/intraaction with other processes and species, for as long as our species can be identified (a few tens of thousand years); and agriculture has been huge (a few thousand years). Of course, from the start the greatest planetary terraformers (and reformers) of all have been and still are bacteria and their kin, also in inter/intra-action of myriad kinds (including with people and their practices, technological and otherwise). 1 The spread of seed-dispersing plants millions of years before human agriculture was a planet-changing development, and so were many other revolutionary evolutionary ecological developmental historical events. People joined the bumptious fray early and dynamically, even before they/we were critters who were later named Homo sapiens. But I think the issues about naming relevant to the Anthropocene, Plantationocene, or Capitalocene have to do with scale, rate/speed, synchronicity, and complexity. The constant question when considering systemic phenomena has to be, when do changes in degree become changes in kind, and what are the effects of bioculturally, biotechnically, biopolitically, historically situated people (not Man) relative to, and combined with, the effects of other species assemblages and other biotic/abiotic forces? No species, not even our own arrogant one pretending to be good individuals in so-called modern Western scripts, acts alone; assemblages of organic species and of abiotic actors make history, the evolutionary kind and the other kinds too. But, is there an inflection point of consequence that changes the name of the “game” of life on earth for everybody and everything? It's more than climate change; it's also extraordinary burdens of toxic chemistry, mining, depletion of lakes and rivers under and above ground, ecosystem simplification, vast genocides of people and other critters, etc, etc, in systemically linked patterns that threaten major system collapse after major system collapse after major system collapse. Recursion can be a drag. Anna Tsing in a recent paper called “Feral Biologies” suggests that the inflection point between the Holocene and the Anthropocene might be the wiping out of most of the refugia from which diverse species assemblages (with or without people) can be reconstituted after major events (like desertification, or clear cutting, or, or, …). 2 This is kin to the World-Ecology
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This paper examines the recent proposal to christen our geological epoch “the Anthropocene.” The reasoning offered for this new name is that humanity’s enormous mark on the geological strata would be a discernible boundary to future geologists; therefore a change in nomenclature is called for to reflect our transition out of the Holocene (our epoch’s current formal name). I argue, however, that the pitch for the Anthropocene goes well beyond this rationale. The Anthropocene has morphed into a discourse that is organizing the perception of a world picture (past, present, and future) through a set of ideas and prescriptions that is tenaciously anthropocentric; indeed, the championed name itself—Anthropocene, or the age of Man—evokes the human-centeredness that is at the root of our ecological predicament. The main argument of this paper is that the discourse of the Anthropocene refuses to challenge human dominion, proposing instead technological and managerial approaches that would make human dominion sustainable. By the same token, the Anthropocene discourse blocks from consideration the possibility of abolishing a way of life founded on the domination of nature. In conclusion, I submit that while technological and managerial approaches have a place in addressing ecological problems, our predicament primarily calls for a drastic pulling back and scaling down of the human presence—welcoming limitations of our numbers, economies, forms of habitation, and uses of land and sea, so that humanity may flourish together with the entire breadth of Life.
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Fossil fuel burning releases about 25 Pg of CO2 per year into the atmosphere, which leads to global warming (Prentice et al. 2001). However, it also emits 55 Tg S as SO2 per year (Stern 2005), about half of which is converted to sub-micrometer size sulfate particles, the remainder being dry deposited. Recent research has shown that the warming of earth by the increasing concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is partially countered by some backscattering to space of solar radiation by the sulfate particles, which act as cloud condensation nuclei and thereby influence the micro-physical and optical properties of clouds, affecting regional precipitation patterns, and increasing cloud albedo (e.g., Rosenfeld 2000; Ramanathan et al. 2001; Ramaswamy et al. 2001).
“Anthropocene” defines a new era marking the impact of human activity on the Earth’s climate, yet its gaze tends to view the phenomenon as holistic rather than a sum of scientifically examinable parts. The resulting climate of anxiety is breeding resignation rather than resistance. Focusing on deep time and humanity’s fleeting existence, sections of the Left derive enjoyment from the prospect of extinction, as if by embracing our guilt we are somehow let off the hook when we stop trying. The end result is a diminished capacity for imagining human subjectivity, limiting individual involvement to observation, victimisation and survival, as opposed to perceiving complicity with the industrial machines speeding global warming. This chapter suggests that approaching climate change anamorphically may be the key to liberating us from an illusory anthropocenic whole, and move us towards collective action and strategic engagement with the effects of climate change.
Climate engineering -- which could slow the pace of global warming by injecting reflective particles into the upper atmosphere -- has emerged in recent years as an extremely controversial technology. And for good reason: it carries unknown risks and it may undermine commitments to conserving energy. Some critics also view it as an immoral human breach of the natural world. The latter objection, David Keith argues in A Scientist's Case for Climate Engineering, is groundless; we have been using technology to alter our environment for years. But he agrees that there are large issues at stake. A leading scientist long concerned about climate change, Keith offers no naïve proposal for an easy fix to what is perhaps the most challenging question of our time; climate engineering is no silver bullet. But he argues that after decades during which very little progress has been made in reducing carbon emissions we must put this technology on the table and consider it responsibly. That doesn't mean we will deploy it, and it doesn't mean that we can abandon efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But we must understand fully what research needs to be done and how the technology might be designed and used. This book provides a clear and accessible overview of what the costs and risks might be, and how climate engineering might fit into a larger program for managing climate change. © 2013 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.
This paper aims to further address what we regard as the detrimental influence that neoliberalism has had on any and all commitments to democratic ideals in educational settings. The argument is simply that a robust pluralism and cosmopolitanism in educational theory sits in tension with the neoliberalism of contemporary western mass-society. Our argument has two parts. First, we argue that the neoliberal hegemony of contemporary North American schooling is oppressive insofar as it negates and stifles any effort to enact democratic practices within classrooms settings, while simultaneously producing systemic inequities, dehumanization and instrumentalization of teachers and students in schools. We then argue for an educational ethic of subversion, an ethic that we see as warranted, justified and often necessary in the face of systems of schooling that are organized according to the logic of neoliberalism.
Having set global warming in irreversible motion, we are facing the possibility of ecological catastrophe. But the environmental emergency is also a crisis for our philosophical habits of thought, confronting us with a problem that seems to defy not only our control but also our understanding. Global warming is perhaps the most dramatic example of what Timothy Morton calls “hyperobjects”—entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that they defeat traditional ideas about what a thing is in the first place. In this book, Morton explains what hyperobjects are and their impact on how we think, how we coexist with one another and with nonhumans, and how we experience our politics, ethics, and art. Moving fluidly between philosophy, science, literature, visual and conceptual art, and popular culture, the book argues that hyperobjects show that the end of the world has already occurred in the sense that concepts such as world, nature, and even environment are no longer a meaningful horizon against which human events take place. Instead of inhabiting a world, we find ourselves inside a number of hyperobjects, such as climate, nuclear weapons, evolution, or relativity. Such objects put unbearable strains on our normal ways of reasoning. Insisting that we have to reinvent how we think to even begin to comprehend the world we now live in, Hyperobjects takes the first steps, outlining a genuinely postmodern ecological approach to thought and action.
Etude de la conception deleuzienne du recit conceptuel a travers la lecture de L'histoire d'autrui dans «Qu'est-ce que la philosophie?». Examinant la question de l'evenement, du concept et de la pensee qui se pose dans le domaine de la narration, l'A. montre que la conception symptomatologique de la litterature moderne developpee par Deleuze et Guattari repose sur la problematique leibnizienne des mondes possibles appliquee au cinema, d'une part, et sur une poetique du chaos, fondee sur le jeu de la difference et de la repetition, et influencee par Borges, d'autre part
The quality of web sources has been traditionally evaluated using exogenous signals such as the hyperlink structure of the graph. We propose a new approach that relies on endogenous signals, namely, the correctness of factual information provided by the source. A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy. The facts are automatically extracted from each source by information extraction methods commonly used to construct knowledge bases. We propose a way to distinguish errors made in the extraction process from factual errors in the web source per se, by using joint inference in a novel multi-layer probabilistic model. We call the trustworthiness score we computed Knowledge-Based Trust (KBT). On synthetic data, we show that our method can reliably compute the true trustworthiness levels of the sources. We then apply it to a database of 2.8B facts extracted from the web, and thereby estimate the trustworthiness of 119M webpages. Manual evaluation of a subset of the results confirms the effectiveness of the method.
In 1967, after a talk Deleuze gave to the Society of French Philosophy, Ferdinand Alquie expressed concern during the question and answer session that perhaps Deleuze was relying too heavily upon science and not giving adequate attention to questions and problems that Alquie took to be distinctively philosophical. Deleuze responded by agreeing with Alquie; moreover, he argued that his primary interest was precisely in the metaphysics science needs rather than in the science philosophy needs. This metaphysics, Deleuze argues, is to be done ‘in the style of Whitehead’ rather than the style of Kant, and in developing this metaphysics Deleuze draws heavily on Spinoza. The present essay examines this Deleuzian-Spinozist metaphysics done in the style of Whitehead, the ‘metaphysics science needs’, drawing on the writings of David Hume and Bruno Latour in the process. This discussion will in turn enable us to situate Deleuze's metaphysics in relation to contemporary debates concerning speculative realism and corr...
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