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2022 | OriginalPaper | Buchkapitel

3. Far Beyond the ‘Natural Environment’: Geography at the Crossroads of the Capitalocene

verfasst von : Marcelo Lopes de Souza

Erschienen in: Brazilian Geography

Verlag: Springer Nature Singapore

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Abstract

The ‘Anthropocene’ has become a fad: it is difficult these days, in the academic milieu, not to come across allusions to this new geological era in books, papers and conferences. However, as several authors have already acknowledged, it would be unfair and ideological to hold humanity as a whole (i.e. the anthropos) generally responsible for the ecological-social evils that the planet is increasingly suffering. It is necessary to recognise that capitalism, due to its very economic dynamics, is behind the ‘Great Acceleration’ in terms of consumption, the use of resources and environmental degradation that can be observed since the middle of the twentieth century. This is the reason why ‘Capitalocene’ has been suggested as a terminological alternative. As far as the crucial debate about the ‘Capitalocene’ and its challenges is concerned, geographers are still more ‘supporting actors’ than ‘protagonists.’ To a large extent, this has to do with the ‘epistemological purification’ strategy that many of us have pursued since the 1970s, in the wake of the discipline’s radical turn. The weakening of the discipline’s identity nucleus with regard to a commitment to the integration of natural and social knowledge led to a decrease in the ability to propose several types of reflections and research related to the ‘(ecological-)social metabolism,’ the planetary dilemmas and the contemporary ecosocial conflicts, as well as a whole series of specific issues and problems—all things that require, to a greater or lesser extent, the construction of hybrid epistemic objects. In the last fifteen years, the emergence of a certain environmental geography has increased the hope that many radical geographers have finally begun to understand that in order to preserve a high level of sophistication and coherence from the point of view of social research, it is not necessary to give up a genuine interest in geobiophysical knowledge.

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Fußnoten
1
Carlos Walter Porto-Gonçalves surely corresponds to an exception that proves the rule: apart from his several important contributions to what we might call a critical environmental geography (and at the same time to political ecology)—see e.g. Porto-Gonçalves 1984, 2006, 2013 and 2014–, few relevant works could be mentioned in this respect between the last decades of the 20th century and the beginning of the present century.
 
2
The uncomfortable connotation of ‘surroundings’ that is carried by the word ‘environment’ has accompanied the term from the very beginning, as attested by the etymology: environment derives from the verb ‘(to) environ,’ which is the same as to surround, to encircle, to encompass, originating in the old French environer. It is essential to face the uncomfortable ambiguity that arises from this original element, otherwise we will contribute to perpetuate a source of confusion and limitation: human beings are not only influenced by their environment, at the same time as they increasingly influence it; they are part of it, at all scale levels.
 
3
The objections against these two labels have already been explained in previous works, but it can be useful to repeat them here: ‘human geography’ is a designation that highlights an adjective—human—that refers to the epistemological realm of the biological species, not to the realm of society, which would be much more powerful and fruitful. As for expression ‘physical geography,’ it should be admitted that the adjective ‘physical sounds rather restrictive and poor today; it does not possess the same potentiality of the term ecological (or of the prefix eco), which refers, in a more direct way, to the totality of biotic and abiotic factors. (When Alexander von Humboldt subtitled his masterpiece, Kosmos, the formulation Outline of a physical description of the world [Entwurf einer physischen Weltbeschreibung], the meaning of the adjective ‘physical’ was very broad then; however, it is necessary to recognise that since the consolidation of the discipline called ‘physics,’ its scope has shrinked.)
 
4
See, on this, Walker (2005).
 
5
We could also mention the insistence on maintaining a label (‘physical geography’) that geographers like Carl Troll, with his landscape ecology/geoecology (Landschaftsökologie/Geoökologie), and Jean Tricart, with his ecogeography (éco-géographie) had already intuitively perceived as weak.
 
6
In the German original: “Das industriell entwickeltere Land zeigt dem minder entwickelten nur das Bild der eignen Zukunft”.
 
7
Compare e.g. Cano (2012) and Bonelli et al. (2013).
 
8
The picture is surely complex, as we are not always facing ‘ecofascism’ in a strong sense: it suffices to bear in mind Haraway’s (2016) ‘soft’ neo-Malthusianism, expressed by the acceptance of the slogan ‘Make Kin Not Babies’—in which ‘kin’ comprise humans and non-humans alike—, to see how certain academic circles in the ‘Global North’ (and those in the ‘Global South’ which import their agendas) are distant, both intellectually and psychologically, from the lives and the everyday life of most of the planet’s population. The fact that such a position is seen, often without reservations, as ‘progressive,’ is a proof of the political decay and the lowering of intellectual standards that characterise our time, despite the advances here and there (such as the willingness to refuse Eurocentrism, racism and sexism).
 
9
It has become fashionable, in academic and activist circles that discuss environmental ethics problems, to treat the term ‘anthropocentrism’ as an insult, as if all anthropocentrism shares the old ideals (typical of the old Christian mentality and the Enlightenment) of a ‘dominion over nature’ and a relative insensitivity to the suffering of animals and a devaluation of non-human life forms. It is not seen that between capitalist/instrumentalist anthropocentrism (which I have termed ‘provincial anthropocentrism’) and deep green ‘ecocentrism’ or ‘biocentrism,’ there are many shades of gray. For example, to assume the premise that the solidarity and empathy of Homo sapiens sapiens does not need and should not be in principle the same as that our own species devotes to other species (in fact, with gradations depending on the level of sentience and other factors) does not automatically imply that the fate, suffering and rights of other forms of life and entire ecosystems cannot be taken into account by humans!
 
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Metadaten
Titel
Far Beyond the ‘Natural Environment’: Geography at the Crossroads of the Capitalocene
verfasst von
Marcelo Lopes de Souza
Copyright-Jahr
2022
Verlag
Springer Nature Singapore
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-3704-0_3