Field Notes from the Anthropocene: Living in the Back Loop

Father of resilience theory C.S. Holling has a useful way of thinking about a time like this. He calls it a “back loop.”28 This concept refers to the adaptive cycle, the main heuristic used by resilience ecologists to describe the four phases of life experienced by all natural systems–a human being, a city, a society, a civilization, a swamp, a forest, a company. On one hand, the adaptive cycle contains a “front loop” of early rapid “growth,” leading to a “persistence” or “stability” phase dominated by a few species and characterized by rigidity and the capture of earlier energies. Those “stable” states are not permanent. Gradual or sharp disturbance can cause systems to slip into a “back loop,” marked by a “release” phase where energies and elements previously captured in conservation phases are set free, unexpected new combinations emerge, and wild, exuberant experimentation becomes the modus operandi. The most understudied aspect of ecological systems, back loops are also one of the most exciting. As observed in ecological systems, the back loop is the phase of life in which individual organisms or small groups of individual organisms interact across previously unbridgeable divides and in doing create something fundamentally original. In contrast to life in the regimes we are leaving behind, where innovation was stifled and influence limited to a few actors with the greatest power—the stability “trap”—in the back loop beings and things are released and open to new potentials.29 Although most back loops studied by ecologists have been regional in character, in 2004 Holling penned an essay suggesting that “we are at the time of a large-scale back loop,” a global situation in which “each of us must become aware that he or she is a participant.”30 I think Holling’s challenge is important; but it is also an apt description of a phenomenon already underway.

via Field Notes from the Anthropocene: Living in the Back Loop | The Brooklyn Rail

We are indebted to the Earth. Our gracious host has provided us with more than enough resources to live, grow and prosper over time. But throughout history, and especially in the modern capitalist era, some have let their desire for more become a perilous dedication to conquest. The urge to make other humans, wildlife and all parts of nature submit to the will of markets, nations and empires is the rule of the day. Today, anything associated with nature or a true respect for it is regarded as soft. That which is not vulturous like the destructive economics of the reigning system is steamrolled to pave the road to unhinged expansion.

This logic of expansion and conquest undoubtedly changes the relationship between humans and their environment. In this context, the “debate” over climate change actually becomes a matter of human survival. Those who entertain climate change as a question at all have already, maybe unknowingly, chosen a side. The fact is that climate change will create more refugees and forced human migrations; it will lead to the murder of environmental activists around the world and start new resource wars; it will spread disease and destabilize everything in its path — and more. Unless capitalism’s unquenchable thirst for natural resources and the fossil fuel combustion that powers it is abandoned, the Earth will be forced to do away with humans cancerously plundering the carbon energy it has stored over millions of years of natural history.

What is most unfortunate is that capitalism, which has multi-layered discriminations encoded within it — racism, sexism, classism, and so on — affects how thoroughly people are capable of bracing for the damages wrought by climate change. Though nature is indiscriminate in its wrath, the sustained ability to protect oneself from rising temperatures and natural disasters is a privilege not all can afford. Those who are already harmed under the pitiless whims of capital are doubly hurt by the lack of protection afforded to them for life in an increasingly turbulent environment. The Global South is much more likely to feel the brunt of climate change, despite contributing much less to causing it. But even in the world’s wealthiest nations, the poor and working classes are much more vulnerable to ecological devastation.

If the people who understand the gravity of the situation want this state of affairs to cease, then the system of capitalism and the egregious consumption of the so-called First World itself must cease. That which puts all of us at risk cannot be tolerated. The vast satisfactions in wealth hoarded by a few does not outweigh the needs of the many suffering the consequences every day, as the Earth deals with malignant human behavior. The systemic drive towards excess that is pushing the planet’s carrying capacity to the brink must be brought to a halt throughout the world, but especially in the empire that exemplifies excess best: the United States of America

via ROAR Magazine

For centuries, humans have been creating ever-more complicated systems, from the machines we live with to the informational systems and laws that keep our global civilisation stitched together. Technology continues its fantastic pace of accelerating complexity — offering efficiencies and benefits that previous generations could not have imagined — but with this increasing sophistication and interconnectedness come complicated and messy effects that we can’t always anticipate. It’s one thing to recognise that technology continues to grow more complex, making the task of the experts who build and maintain our systems more complicated still, but it’s quite another to recognise that many of these systems are actually no longer completely understandable.  We now live in a world filled with incomprehensible glitches and bugs. When we find a bug in a video game, it’s intriguing, but when we are surprised by the very infrastructure of our society, that should give us pause.

via Is technology making the world indecipherable? | Aeon Essays