The question concerning technology does not merely concern human artefacts, but it is also a question of ethos, of reverence, of gratitude. We forget to hold our phones as miraculous shrines that incapsulate sound from one side of the globe and transfer it to the other; to fly across countries realising we are merely mimicking the flight and composition of birds; to turn the lights on reminiscing the struggles of fumbling in the heart of the night, whilst the aid of sunlight is brought to life on command. Thanks to human brilliance, life is made easy by artifice. It is made easy, but not simple. Through technology, we have accommodated our needs and dangerously transformed them into necessity. The attitude of humanity remains stolid in the face of the wonders it has created.
In the words of Hannah Arendt, ‘’the more highly developed a civilisation […], the more it will resent everything it has not produced’’ (1951). Everything that humankind has not produced or created, but merely received as an element of its environment has increasingly become stigmatised within the contemporary construction of our reality, where technic has come to prevail as an absolute language. By distancing ourselves from our given environments, we have come to despise those things that are outwith human control, irreducible to technical solutions. This moment in time can be seen as a crisis of reality, where the lack of imaginative and creative power leads us to a view of our world that is sterile, disintegrating, unchangeable. We should never forget, on the other hand, that it is always in our power to reimagine and thus recreate alternative reality systems: renewing our cosmologies can radically give birth to new ways of conceiving of our individual existences, as well as organising our socio-political lives.
It is true that throughout our existence, we take place: we cross sites, navigate geographies, belong to expansions by ‘’taking place’’. Thus, by contributing, changing, affecting our environments. Every action, no matter how small, has an impact that never truly transcends its space: even a prayer for instance, remains rooted in the territory of its utterance or contemplation, which in turn becomes a sacred space. We make place, as we take it. The dangers of technology are that it gives us the illusion of transcendence, where space becomes meaningless as we create a global network of scientific, political, technological, administrative that are thought to address the environmental catastrophe we have created, as well as aid our survival in the world. However, we have yet to learn that a dynamic ‘system’ such as nature cannot be managed as if it were a machinery system: by translating all we know to the language of science and technology, we overlook the very needs of our biosphere. We must remember that nature, society and machines require different languages.
From here, the distinction between ‘complexity’ and ‘complication’. In the words of Kvaløy Setreng (2000), ‘complexity’ is the ‘’dynamic, irreversible, non-centrally steered, goal-directed, conflict-fertilised manifoldness of nature and the human mind/body entity’’. On the contrary, ‘complication’ is the ‘’static, reversible, externally and unicentrally steered, standardised structure-intricacy of the machine’’. Whilst complexity is merely a property of the natural world, where ecosystems are intertwined and co-dependent, different species and languages survive amongst each other, complication is the man-made construction of a reality where the standardisation of scientific and technological language is applied to all things. We expect to treat the brain as though it were a computer. We wish to solve homelessness by applying spikes to park benches. We cure depression with chemicals, rather than looking to the greater environment of reasons and causes within which this happens. If we limit ourselves to the complications we create, rather than recognising and accepting the potentially enriching complexity of our world, then we will constantly live in a world of edges and obduracy where technological-fixes become the only way of solving our problems, yet creating more on the long run.
Although we are systematically taught to accept the age of technologisation and computerisation as something intrinsically positive, we must not forget to balance its scientific and developmental advantages to its social, political, ecological risks. The way we ease a complicated world can shine light on the way we overlook the possibilities of the reality that surrounds us, helping us consider the political and social consequences of such devices and ‘augment’ our reality without resorting to digital means.
To be easy is not to be simple: sometimes the small rituals of cutting wood or lighting a fire to keep warm and cook food can help us feel awe at the magic of a mobile phone that can reach the opposite side of the globe. Our brains are not machines, and as such it remains in their deepest power to break through the language of our times and touch the flesh of another world.
In the last few days, we have been bombarded with photos of destroyed buildings looking onto the streets of Kyiv; footage of young Palestinian girls being violently attacked by the Israeli police force; stories of massacre and suffering as the future of an Ethiopian political community perishes; accounts of people with no home, people preparing to wage war, people waving their uncertain farewells as half their families have to rush onto a train leaving their men and streets behind. Hands waving, eyes tearing, hearts pounding in the face of the immediate imposition of the future, opening as a wound in their existence. People are the victims of war, not nations or ethnicities or religions. There is no segregation when it comes to such violence, no differentiation between cultures, no dissociation in terms of feelings. Amongst all the visions that have occurred to me in the last few days, one has remained with me particularly: a vision of ‘peace’, written in a Nigerian dead language on the breast of a friend. Perhaps the symbols of a dead language can keep us from despair, more than those prolific spiels of words that attempt to accuse, defend, justify what is happening around us in the public space. There is nothing but an exercise of humanity to be made to save us from capitulating into the pits of brutality.
For this reason, instead of providing the politics, the deliberations, the intentions of violence that have occupied the pulpits of government in the last weeks, however useful this study may be for understanding the reasons of many such occurrences, these present words are an emotional response to the circumstances. To attempt to legitimise the facts through their mere political explanation, is to legitimise the very logic of warfare. In this, I believe there is no logic. There is no sanity, no empathy; there is not love for one’s nation nor one’s people. There is strategy or tactic conducted in the name of power. The study of ‘warfare’ and ‘security’ can risk romanticising the issue or alienating people from the emotions of those who are affected by their consequences. It is good to be reminded, that the fact we are not currently surrounded by the blasting screams of warfare is a pure matter of luck. It could be us, our family, our homes torn to pieces by the decisions of men sitting around a table from their thrones of egoism.
War merely redefines spaces, powers, dialectics. The cost of this, however, is humanity, both physical and spiritual. There is no other prayer one should undergo in these times but the relentless commitment to kill the seeds of hatred and violence that may inevitably arise within us, and to defeat them by desperately searching for ways to communicate and compromise with the other. It is from this very choice that our survival may depend.
In such disheartening situations, it is important not to despair, and to remember that this is not the first nor last, nor only war that is tearing people and lands apart. As warfare is nothing but a performance of humanity at its worse, it seems appropriate to solely mention one of the greatest play writers of the last century. Thus, in the words of Bertolt Brecht, we must remember that in each war there will be losers and victors: amongst the losers, those who will suffer from hunger will always be the poor people; amongst the winners, those who will suffer will be the poor people. By realising that war is not a matter of power over an invisible ‘Other’, but an attitude towards how we treat human beings as a whole, we will be careful not to ‘’sit on the wrong side because all the other seats were taken".
Each place has a voice. No matter where we find ourselves, the search for the sacred has belonged to human culture since the beginning of time. Along with this search, the building of sacred places has been an essential part of the pursuit of religion. The rising of these physical idols, these dwellings of the divine, are what the ancient Greeks used to call ‘temenos’, meaning a piece of land dedicated to a god or sanctuary. Within this holy precinct, the land is allowed to sing, voicing its quiet hymns to reclaim the air itself. This momentum, defined by space rather than time, is what allow humans to enter into contact with a reality greater than themselves. In fact, it should not be regarded as a breach in the veil of reality but rather as a transversal distention that coincides with the land itself, that follows its gentle swellings and its grieved recesses. In the Western world, we have reached an age where religion, according to some, has been relocated. In this sense, ‘religion’ has not been lost: it has just changed its form to reach a state in which we do not recognise it as such anymore. The human search for sacredness, however, makes it impossible to abandon the need to transcend one’s self and rip open the burning hole at the heart of the ego.
Transcendence is a concept which has been recently developed by the Austrian philosopher Alfred Schutz. According to his phenomenological view, transcendence can be conceptualised as a multi-levelled mode of human experience, which reaches into a reality greater than its own. In this sense, transcendence should be envisioned as a span which is shifting from a greater to a smaller level in the modern world. Small transcendences, according to Schutz, are thus similar to the experience of forgetting a book in another room: this transcends us because we cannot reach it immediately, but it is within potential reach and the boundary is easily crossable. Intermediate transcendences, on the other hand, relate to other human beings whose experience we cannot know as our own, but whose understanding we can share through communication and sympathy. In our everyday experience, we constantly tread the path of otherness, by crossing the bridge to the other person’s experience. At last, great transcendences are defined as experiences which go beyond the everyday, such as art, myth or religion itself. These lead us to different states of consciousness beyond our usual, engaging us with realities bigger than those of the inner self.
In the mundane reality of our modern Western world, the primacy of the self has taken root. We no longer question our experience of reality nor the legitimacy of its pre-eminence, but we take this for granted. The triumph of the ego has killed some gods, the weakest and most human-like. Nonetheless, some others have learned to survive in a hostile world: nature, amongst other things perhaps, has collected their weight and significance to repropose them in a new light. The secular society that is being fostered today often pours its religiosity into various things: some hear the calling of art, others answer the thrills of nature. Everyone, however, is searching for the same thing: that is, for something that reaches beyond us, that gives meaning to the whole, the sacred thread that pulls reality together into sense.
The antipode of transcendence is immanence, which the history of humankind has left behind in a presumed march towards progress. With the rising of modernity, guided in particular by the Judeo-Christian notion of linear time, cultures have abandoned the primitive beliefs of magical immanence where the cosmos is interpreted as a fusional relationship between nature and its components, the divine is depicted through anthropomorphic and monistic features, and the monolith of society is unravelled as a myth. This recent ‘techno-spiritual monoculture of our species’, as defined by Viveiros de Castro et Danowski, has also neglected the notion of space, creating a multitude of ecological concerns as a consequence of such conception. Space has in fact been regarded as a pagan, hence unsound, dimension in se, incapsulated by Hegel’s claim that ‘’The truth of space is time’’. In this sense, time as a linear (not circular) conception has trumped all power that was given to space in the past, thus bringing forth the values of celerity, productivity, praxis. Time as a circular notion, brought forth by Buddhist or Taoist religions for example, has also been problematic and excluded from the metaphysics of modernity as this collapses time and eternity, thus violating the superiority of a god that exists in eternity, not in time. As a consequence, the finitude of these notions is in such a great opposition to eternity, that transcendence is not destined to the world we inhabit. Also the notion of spatiality, which is connected to different techno-spiritual values, has been severed in its entirety and put to rest by a general secularisation of social living.
This opposition of chronos and topos, kairos and chora, time and necessity, need not become a conflict: the urgency of space, however, must remind us of our place, of the here and now that we stand upon regardless of the time frames we envision. Space, in its material certainty and its visible body, grants us the touch of truth. Perhaps this may be why some of the most secular societies of the modern world have rendered the mountain their religion. May it be a church or a forest, we must learn to root our religion in the spaces we inhabit, where the divine is allowed to survive and flourish as the wild stalks that fight their way through the cracks in the cement of unquestioned existence.
Georg W. F. Hegel, 1972. Phänomenologie des Geistes. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1972.
Viveiros de Castro, E. and Danowski, D., 2020. The Past is Yet to Come. e-flux journal, 114.
Thurfjell, D., Rubow, C., Remmel, A. and Ohlsson, H., 2019. The Relocation of Transcendence. Nature and Culture, 14(2), pp.190-214.
Space is the foundation of life. The spaces we inhabit throughout our experience have however become a manuscript we are unlearning to decipher. Somehow, there is something more fundamental to the notion of space than there is to the self: we belong to the places that have forged us with the anvil of their soil, with their winds hammering us onto their hillsides or shores. Our feet take the shape of the ground we stand upon, melting like sand against the ancient necessity of having somewhere to be, somewhere to belong. Within this, when man begins to create stories of meaning for his places, rising walls and building fences, severing armies of forests and harbouring the wild sea, other things begin to happen. In these human spaces, the geometries of power begin to unfurl their shapes, and the horizontal bridges of cooperation begin to emerge. Our relationships to others, as well as ourselves, owe so much to the places we stand and dwell upon. With each step, we carry not only ourselves but also the environments that we cross and part with, the landscapes that begin to crush their waves against the little stone of identity that we wish to be defined by.
Space, as opposed to place, can be considered in a more objective, cartesian interpretation which has dominated the analytical imagination in the last centuries: in this sense, space is defined as an inertial frame of reference within which objects are distinguished by their dynamical properties. This is also combined with time, in order to measure uniform and accelerated motion of bodies. However, this definition is not able to contain the notion of an ever-changing space which is constantly moving with and transforming through its parts. The body of a mountain in fact, although living more unhurriedly than that of a human, is yet mutating each day. There is no such thing as a space that does not at least show the marks of change upon its surface, as it breathes and migrates away from itself.
Place can also be a controversial concept, representing a sense of collectivity, of belonging, of shared identity, but also a spirit of conflict, a wall of separation, a weapon of discrimination. To ‘belong’ can be as comforting as a roof, or as hostile as a barricade. It is not the place itself that takes on such nature, but what we decide to do with it, how we culturally decide to conceive of it. Our conceptualisation of space is implicit yet can lead to different consequences: the choice of viewing space as a surface transforms land questions into mere property issues, where the European coloniser is able to reach an unknown territory across the ocean and claim it as inferior, underdeveloped, thus his own to domesticate.
Even in the modern definitions of ‘underdeveloped’, ‘developing’ or ‘least developed’ countries, which are employed as technical idioms in the political sphere, such thoughts are implicit. When we are defining other places as such, we are fundamentally implying that they are short of what the ‘developed’ countries have defined as a successful journey of development, which each nation should aim for in its ripening. In this sense, they are backwards in a timely manner on the route towards progress, where space and time are merely conflated into one concept.
This lacking recognition of these ‘contemporaneous heterogeneities of space’, as Doreen Massey defines them, reflects a lack of attention and respect towards the multiplicity and diversity of trajectories that geography may take. This is a lack of political and spatial imagination. In the opening lines written above by the Gaelic poet Màiri Mhòr nan Òran, also known as ‘Big Mary of the Songs’, the land is seen as a contending space between the populace and the Highland landowners: the former cultivating meaning and ‘value’ upon it, the latter transforming it into a commodity through the ‘law’. Her poetic voice thus delivers not only a personal topography of her island Skye, but also the landscape of power relations at a time where the land reform movement was fermenting in Scotland. In this scene, two different interpretations inhabit the same land, at the same moment in time, and lead to two different outcomes: collective land ownership on the one hand, and private ownership on the other.
The need to reimagine space as a lived, but also living thing is crucial. Only through the recognition that land issues are not merely issues of property, but also wells of value, mountains of meaning, rivers of identity, we will be able to conceive of space as something beyond mere surface. We will be able to recognise alternative ways of employing our spatial imagination to create new moral and social landscapes, where in the words of Màiri Mhòr, ‘the truth will triumph, despite the ingenuity of the wicked’.
What is COP?
The COP that took place in Glasgow, in accordance with the pre-COP Summit and other preliminary events that took place in Italy, was postponed from 2020 after the Coronavirus pandemic broke out. According to COP26’s negotiation plans, the key goals were:
What does it mean?
What are the outcomes?
After two weeks dedicated to finding climate solutions in Glasgow, almost all countries have agreed to commitments in order to cut carbon emissions, phase out of coal and increase climate finance. Within this discussion, there has been a recognition of the role of the pandemic and the need to ensure a sustainable and resilient global recovery. Along with this, the need to address human rights such as those of indigenous communities, migrants, children, but also gender inequalities, the right to development and the right to a future for the coming generations have been acknowledged. Although this has been noted in the name of energy justice and science, the pact has proven to be insufficient for the world to remain on track and avoid global warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, as establish in the first binding agreement in Paris (2015), nonetheless some may argue this is a significant step on the way towards a more sustainable future.
Whatever the outcomes, in the words of the MSP Patrick Harvie, head of the Scottish Greens, it is essential to neither fall into complacency or abandon oneself to defeatism. If the outcome is deemed positive, one ought not to consider this pact as a solution, but as a first step towards a target that requires relentless effort and commitment. If the outcome, on the other hand, is regarded as detrimental, one ought not to be defeated either: whatever the case, the road is still long. Scotland has been the home of such essential debates and must now become the cradle of renewed hope. Now more than ever, we’ll have to grasp the thistle.
The Glesga Powerhouse
By the early XX century, the industrial revolution swept over Scotland. During these times, the Glaswegian population grew tenfold, following the surge of industry and welcoming many immigrants, particularly from Ireland (in fact, in 1851 20% of the population was of Irish birth), who helped fill the ranks of labour force in shipyards, factories and mines. Deindustrialisation was delayed by the Second World War, as the need to provide armies was fruitfully supporting the Scottish heavy industries. By the 1950s, the UK had consciously chosen to keep using steam locomotives rather than transitioning to electric and diesel, as in the rest of Europe, to maintain its railways. The economic predominance of the Clydeside was starting to decline, as it had remained unaltered in the face of worldwide changing technologies. Deindustrialisation was thus bringing forth a decline in production and profit, but also in employment, as the economy was becoming increasingly service and market-based. The distant administration of Thatcher’s government promoted an immorally unmanaged deindustrialisation, which was acutely felt by Scotland’s economy in particular as this was far more dependent on nationalised industrial jobs that the rest of the Kingdom. To this day, Glasgow still bears the scars of an industrial power which was never renovated in light of a changing economy. It’s industrial past remains the architect of its present, as the city was relatively small but crucial in driving major economic trends. The capitalist paradigm of production has thus had profound impacts on the local environment and public health (giving birth to the well-known phenomenon of the ‘Glasgow effect’, for instance), yet also created the space for a deep sense of collectiveness and solidarity.
Freedom Come All Ye!
This had a great impact on the thick layer of the working class which inhabited the banks of the river Clyde. As well as feeding into the rising economic machinery, workers were fervently active between 1910-1930 in a phenomenon which has been called the ‘Red Clydeside’: one of the most radical political movements in Scottish history. After protesting against the participation in the First World War, the long radical tradition of the land was exacerbated and brought back to its zenith by the Industrial Revolution and the struggle for workers’ rights. The deep poverty that inevitably follows from the unearthing of great economic wealth, was touching the political consciousness of Glaswegian inhabitants. As unions were betraying people’s trust, as the political class was distancing itself from its commitments, people were slowly moving away from the liberal government of the time and embracing socialist ideals. The success of industrialisation along the Clydeside led to declining working conditions and precariousness, intensifying the undying struggles of women and men who were leading protests and strike across the Central Belt, from Clydebank to Greenock, Paisley and Dumbarton. In 1915, the rent strikes were also led by women such as Mary Barbour and Helen Crawfurd, supported by the labour party (the first was in fact born in Scotland), by trade unions and by the suffragette movement.
The political and industrial identity of this city bears unmeasurable consequences on its shape today, as ‘the tears that made the Clyde’ incessantly flow across Glasgow with all their hope and impetus, ploughing the field for fresh seeds of change in the coming weeks.
In a time of deep uncertainty, where each person’s boundaries have been re-dimensioned, the mind of a child can be the clearest place to retreat to, in order to find some answers. As the pandemic restrictions have been moving between zones of different colour, from yellow to red (in Italy), this has profoundly impacted the relationship we regularly establish with our sense of space. In a child’s mind, this may translate into a secluded island of fear and danger that circumscribes one’s hometown, as the rest of the world basks in its usual wild freedom or perhaps remains safely on its tiptoes. Almost like an untouchable otherworld that lies at the opposite side of the borders, within which one identifies himself as the plagued. This dichotomy of confined and unrestricted, of stillness and motion, of the dreadfully known and the gladly unknown, creates a logical vocabulary of comfort in the imagined.
The distance, if allowed to breed, builds a dividing line of which we become the main interlocutors, softly pulling the strings of the marionettes responding to us in that language we ourselves have constructed. The perception of silence is not something that comes with life, where the rustle of touched skin resonates as loud as a pile of old leaves, where the murmur of a river can bring us the cleansing stories of someone else’s mud. There is blood in everything, but mostly in the silence.
As contained in the treatise of Rosinus:
‘’This stone is something which is fixed more in thee than elsewhere, created of God, and thou art its ore, and it is extracted form thee, and wheresoever thou art it remains inseparably with thee… And as man is made up of four elements, so also is the stone, and so it is dug out of man, and thou art its ore, namely by working; and from thee it is extracted, that is by division; and in thee it remains inseparably, namely by knowledge.’’
It appears that through this knowledge of the stone, implanted in man by God, man remains bound inseparably to the self, to the latent content of his unconsciousness.
In fact, if we did not have the knowledge of conscious concepts, according to Carl Jung, we would not be able to possibly conceive the unconscious. For this reason, he also believes that it is crucial to tell children fairy tales and legends, as these are symbols which can be used to shift the unconscious contents of the mind into consciousness, integrated into one’s being. The failure of this brings mental disturbances such as phobias, hypochondriac ideas and obsessions, as the already conscious contents become targeted with overflowing energy, thus giving attention to things that are not usually emphasised.
Within our very minds we create this geomancy, a ‘foresight by earth’, which contributes to shape the clay of our being. In this realm where human consciousness meets and dialogues with the spirit of the Earth, particularly in the times we are living, it is important to give space to the faerie world of our mythologies and feed our inner child in order not to fall prey of circumstances. By overthinking our idea of separateness, rather than oneness, we obtain an identity that stands on poor feet. The only ticket home we are allowed to get, in order to leave that place of isolated being, is the sacred touch of exchanged word, reaching us as a prayer. The sands of despair vanish in the grasp of shared existence and the stories that come with it.
In a time where the clouds seems to be sustaining our very grounds, all we can do is search for a mountain amongst them, shining the torch of faith until it hits a safe rock and hope it walks with us.
What are the origins of this? Private property is believed to have emerged in the state of nature. In ancient times, when the human population was driven by sheer necessity, by the brutal needs of its stomach and flesh, hunger was the driver of rivalry and violence. The natural desire for self-survival surpassed any premeditated evil that did not find fertile grounds in the famished mind. This was rather tempered by an equally natural sense of compassion, that enabled peaceful interaction amongst men and women. The noble savage stood on the edge, between the biological boundaries that tied him to the soil, and the empathetic instinct that slowly sedimented and allowed for the construction of civilisation as a whole.
According to some social contract thinkers, the origins of civility have perverted the wild flowers of the human sense of life, severing the innocence and humility of a young umbilical cord that connected these to the earth itself. In the words of Rousseau, “the first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him was the true founder of civil society'', and thus began the rushing motion towards inequality, bore by the need to abandon the whole. ''What miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared, had some one pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: "Do not listen to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one!” ''.
Private property was then brought into the world as civility developed with it. This human invention, more than all else, shapes a world which often seems to define success as a measure of what one possesses, rather than offers. Setting aside any plausible origins of private property, it is however implicit that this entails a separation, the drawing of a line, however symbolic, that lies between one man and another. Here, boundaries and limits rejoice in all their metaphysical power as they reshape the human understanding of the world. From this moment, the metamorphosis of our understanding also defines a new perception of space: the land is no longer an open plain of which we are part, but it becomes that which lies within established boundaries, carved by our imaginary lines as the markings of one's will on the ground.
The dangers of leaving these signs on the land, as it comes under the ownership of one person, have been at the root of history's unfolding, where the only unowned elements left in our natural reality are the open seas, as no country has jurisdiction over them. The Law of the Seas, in fact, was established as an international UN convention to essentially share responsibility for the world's oceans. As the approach on the land has taken a separate route, segregating rather than bringing together, history has brought forth much conflict over these invisible walls we have collectively built within the social mind. From the tragedy of the commons, to the ethnic removal of peoples from the land during the Highland Clearances, to the islands that today are struggling, as the ownership of properties is moving offshore and becoming unsustainable for local communities to survive: land expropriation keeps persisting and presenting itself as a quiet form of homelessness. We must retrieve and rediscover the idea that the removal of persons from their own land is as harmful and repugnant as the burning of a forest.
As the possession of a land by one person changes the situation of all others, the shifting of these imaginary boundaries also transforms the contours of freedom. Land and ethics, for this reason, can never come apart.
It is our turn to question all limits that surround us and upon which we build the structures of our lives. As well as this, it is our moral duty to make ourselves useful and contribute to refining the meaning of the human seed we let ferment upon our earth. In the words of Marilynne Robinson: "Say that we are a puff of warm breath in a very cold universe. By this kind of reckoning we are either immeasurably insignificant, or we are incalculably precious and interesting. I tend toward the second view. Scarcity is said to create value, after all.''
As we are told we are all debtors or sinners, lending what we can from this life, we must remember that, in truth, we are all free to give up the envy for our time. Only by doing so, we can cease to colonise the future and rather hand an unbroken earth, as one hands to the wind a timid bird who does not trust its wings, to those who are yet to be born. The point is not how long we still have to live, but how much is left to do as we find ourselves here having to deal with ourselves and with the lives of others. Rather than focusing on one's having, it is time to commit to one's gentle being.
The last polar bears are hiding in their grief, reef corals are dangerously under threat and sharks are being killed at the rate of 100 million per year. As scientists report five mass extinctions in geological history, it appears that we are approaching another. Extinction is a natural process, following the course of geological change; in fact, around 2-4% of species ever alive on this earth are believed to have survived to this day. Nonetheless, the rapid trends of the last centuries have been conditioned by human presence: today, habitat destruction, pollution, over-exploitation and global climate change are the major threats to biological diversity.
Biodiversity has been envisioned primarily in its aesthetical form, as the colourful range of feathers, skins and scales have enhanced external diversity. This idea of visual variety has persisted within the principles of racism or shallow environmentalism, for instance, where the colour or appearance of others have been taken into account before all else. However, biodiversity can and should be extended to a normative category, as a necessary taxonomy allowing for pluralism and democratic dialogue to survive. By recognising the physical, material diversity of other peoples, but also their societal, cultural and ethical distinctions we are able to add a further, enriching dimension to the concept. This is done by accepting not just the different forms of life, but also the different beliefs around how this live ought to be lived. This may come in the disparate forms that distinguish the Sami people in Sweden, the indigenous forest guardians of the Amazon or the traditional islanders in the Shetlands. However, this also comes in the very practices of daily life, in action and inaction, in the daunting void that separates opinions. Diversity, both between and within species, should become a bridge that links aesthetic to ethical acceptance of otherness. Only through the inclusion of this biocultural diversity, we will be able to enrich our moral landscapes and establish a social ecology of mutual listening and respect.
In this regard, the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the UN convention on Biological Diversity, known also as CBD, was planned for October 2020 but has been rescheduled to 2021, in Kunming, China. The convention was created in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro as an international treaty including 196 Parties, almost all nation-states. These have been further supplemented in 2003 by the Cartagena Protocol which seeks to protect biodiversity from genetically modified organisms due to modern biotechnology, and in 2014 by the Nagoya Protocol, on the fair access and benefit-sharing of genetic resources. The theme of the coming conference will be ‘Ecological Civilization: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth’, aiming to address issues such as gender as a contribution to biodiversity progress, sustainable food systems and greening the urban fabric.
The politics of biodiversity have often employed ‘offsetting’ as a strategy aimed to promote biodiversity gains in order to compensate for development impacts. However, this may become meaningless if not supplemented by a choice on behalf of institutions to reduce damage altogether and take on the responsibility that comes with the adoption of specific discourses. Where these deeper changes fail to happen, a ‘light green’ idea of ecosystems is possible and compatible with voracious development, rather than advancing a transformative vision of human needs and economy that serve to bind different sorts of lives, experiences and species together.
At last, in the words of Antonio Gramsci, ‘’culture is not merely a deposit of knowledge, but our mind’s capacity to comprehend life, the place we have, our relations with others. Culture belongs to those who are conscious of themselves and the whole, who feel their relation to all other beings.’’ In this sense, it is within everybody’s reach to be cultured and foster the seed of hope that lies at the heart of our humanity. It is a matter of choice, even to hold that belief.
It runs, it pours, it spills into every instance of life, flowing through the bodies of both the earth and sky, clenching the thirst of each and every creature: water is the collective denominator of all living things.
The cascade of cultural, social and environmental challenges linked to water expose how essential this is for our basic biological lives. It can be a driver of migration, conflict or change, enabling many to live with dignity and making others tremendously vulnerable. In the climate crisis characterised by increasingly more floods, more droughts, more refugees, water lies like an open wound which exacerbates the growing inequalities and contradictions of our time. As the instrument binding together economy and ecology, water should become the very reason for change on a global dimension in our course towards a brighter future.
Along with ocean acidification, sea level rise and water management, many of the effects of climate change are slowly but inevitably modifying entire ecosystems connected to the sea and even eroding islands, particularly in the tropics. Consequently, as the traditional knowledge of islanders is becoming outdated in terms of agriculture and food supply, many are forced to migrate from their flooded homes as ‘climate refugees’. Islanders are also becoming part of those who are obliged to leave their lands for environmental reasons, in spite of the fact the word ‘refugee’ has never legally lent itself to include this category before. Nonetheless, due to the fact that this phenomenon is not voluntary and is significantly increasing, the terminology is now also used to define those who have been disadvantaged by climatic variations.
Malé, in the Maldives, is already surrounded by a sea wall to protect it from surrounding water. Without traveling too far, the fate of Venice, kept afloat by hydraulic expedients combined with astronomical tides, is dramatically changing as proved by the most recent acque alte (high water). In order to confront the impacts of climate change on islands, there are discussions about some time-bound solutions, such as regularly raising the land or pushing human settlement increasingly towards the heart of the land, as well as more innovative and radical suggestions such as building floating islands on waves. Rather than run from it, we should be drawn to water and the possibilities that come with its relentless hydrologic patterns, in order to make it a resource rather than an ever-present enemy.
It is therefore crucial that we do not focus on designing short-term solutions, which may in the future reveal further problems in our landscapes, but rather learn to adapt and coexist with the waves of change on the long term.
In the last 100 years, 70% of the world’s natural wetland has been lost, along with its freshwater biodiversity (United Nations, 2018). Lake Urmia in Iran is slowly dying, and with it the populations of shrimps and flamingos that populated the hypersaline waters. On the other hand, the glens, lagoons, floating islands and savannas of Iberá Wetlands in Argentina are a great example of how water can become the guardian of an incredible amount of animal and plant species living together. This area, which is one of the largest freshwater reservoirs in the world, is bursting with life and represents the incredible capacity of water to maintain biodiversity. As well as programmes of wildlife protection and rewilding, the local communities round the Iberá Wetlands have been economically developed through the promotion of nature-tourism, which allows for a healthy human-nature relationship and an alternative activity for tourists who are able to access conservation areas and spread awareness of environmental issues on their return. Nature has become the main source of economic income and job opportunity in the area, effectively working and sweeling the ranks due to the careful fostering and deep respect for the local ecosystem.
As well as our negative impact as cohabitants, the positive actions we inflict on our environments can have a dangerous impact. For instance, over 80% of wastewater is poured back into the environment without appropriate treatment (UNESCO, 2017). Our culture of consumption, rather than usage, make us the only creatures alive who create non-disposable waste. Plastic, micro-plastics and chemicals, which often inhabit wastewater, are not easily digestible for the earth and can produce a chain of inexorable harms. However as well as the ecological aspect, our relations to water can also create social and economic challenges in the ways we relate to each other.
Today 1 in 3 people on planet Earth lack safe drinking water (WHO, 2019). In 2010, access to safe and clean water was recognised as a human right by the UN General Assembly and the Human Right Council. In spite of this however, it is predicted by the UNCCD (United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification) that in less than 10 years from now, in 2030, the issue of water scarcity will displace between 24-700 million people, causing them to flee from their lands.
Water is not only slowly reshaping and furrowing our environment, but also the social relations and values upon which we survive. The fact that young girls have no access to water in schools, for instance, obliges them to drop out school when having their period each month. This creates an inevitable disadvantage and an obstacle for female emancipation, which is essentially reliant upon education. When children are obliged to spend hours every day carrying water due to lack of sanitation and water access, they are sacrificing time that should be spent in schools and with their communities.
Finally, with water also comes freedom. Having access to basic health and hygiene may be one of the formal human rights, but we are still distant from its substantial realisation. In the midst of a climate crisis, where paradoxically the distribution of risks mostly affects the already vulnerable, investing in water becomes the best way to ensure some hopeful development for those who most need it and to instil resilience in the most precarious systems. Rather than focusing on our usual politics of now, we should be aiming to create a new notion of profit which extends into the future, although we may not directly see any immediate returns.
Merely reacting to reactions is not the solution: rather than focusing exclusively on climate change, we should address the greater scope of how we decide to interact and inhabit this world. Only by reshaping not just our outer chambers, but also our moral landscapes, we will be able to forge the new economics of sustainability, which not only reset our egotistic idea of success and achievement, but also propose resilience and new values as means to survive and, more importantly, coexist with nature. By embracing our infinitely creative power to adapt, we should aim to redefine the relationship between humans and water in a sensitive and evenly distributed manner. Investing in water is the fundamental way of closing the open wound of inequalities and washing it with the light of a sustainable future.
TO CARE IS A POLITICAL ACT!