Too little, too late
A look at the state of our planet gives good reason to worry. The speed and size of the catastrophes looming over us with climate change, species extinction, extremes of weather, pollution and the overuse of land, air and water resources are unprecedented and as real as they are incomprehensible. The slow force of these disastrous developments has accelerated into a staccato of events. Many scientists are arguing that the destruction can no longer be stopped.
For this reason the new discussion series at HAU Hebbel am Ufer, “Burning Futures: On Ecologies of Existence” – initiated by Magarita Tsomou (HAU) and curated by Maximilian Haas – looks at the escalating and indeed apocalyptic discourses of the coming end against the background of a growing ecological crisis and asks about opportunities for action. How do we deal with it being too late to reverse this disastrous development? What would it mean to think back from the end and deal with the coming catastrophe responsibly? And what exactly is ending: the world, humankind, the variety of species, belief in our previous way of life? And is it in any way meaningful to talk of the end?
Talk of the end is informed by the biblical apocalypse, and provokes dramatic visions of downfall. As cultural history shows, people have always liked to imagine their own end. But this doesn’t mean that current observations and fears are mere effects of this way of seeing things, or that the discourse creates its own objects. And yet this apocalypse co-writes our perceptions of reality, and needs to be critically questioned. So what would be the appropriate language, the right tone, with which to describe the accelerating changes to our environment, without sounding the horn of those who long for a simple return to an apparent order of the past?
Whose catastrophe? Colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism
The fact is that the destruction won’t occur all at once, and that it appears very different from different perspectives – for example those of the south and north, poverty and wealth.
In the global south, the ecologies of human existence are already being destroyed through rising sea levels, hurricanes, floods, drought and fires. Those least responsible for the catastrophe are suffering the most. For it is primarily the lifestyle and production methods of the industrialised West that rely on the destructive exploitation of resources in order to reproduce themselves. The ecological question is therefore closely connected with the colonial establishment of economic inequality, and dependent on a critique of contemporary capitalism. Feminist voices also see links between ecological catastrophe and the capitalist belief in progress and growth, and their intervention in the debate is a warning that the largely female concern for people and the environment is still undervalued, although it will be indispensable for future “post-growth” perspectives.
Intersectional ecological thinking
For these reasons this discussion series is not intended as an expert debate about “nature”, but should instead take an intersectional perspective on ecological questions and make economic and cultural contexts explicit. The theoretical starting point of our concept is formed by Felix Guattari’s essay “The Three Ecologies”, from 1989. Here Guattari discusses the close relationship between questions of subjectivity, social relationships and the natural world, and how nothing is gained by not considering them together. The problems have become planetary, and can only be dealt with as such. Is it possible to conceive of a planetary commons, which equably restricts and distributes the world’s resources and doesn’t pit Guattari’s “three ecologies” – mental, social and environmental – against one another or neglect any one of them.
The aim is to navigate between concrete environmental struggles and speculative theory. The invited guests are thinkers who have made important international contributions to the issues and activists.
Opening, 04.11.19, #1 Facing Extinction
In the first event, on 4 November, Franco Berardi Bifo, critic of capitalism and theorist of the Italian Postoperaismo, Marcela Vecchione, professor at the Institute for Advanced Amazonian Studies in Brazil, and the feminist theorist Antonia Majaca (IZK, University of Graz) will discuss the subjective and social confrontation with extinction. Their starting point will be contemporary ideas about the future. Until now such ideas were primarily identified in the capitalist West with expansion and growth. Now, against the background of the exhaustion of natural resources, these projections are disappearing. Mass extinction, even, looms on the horizon of the accelerated world, according to Franco Berardi Bifo. What would it mean to perceive this stagnation, exhaustion and death of capitalism as a chance for the future? Whose extinction are we talking about? The catastrophe has many faces and speeds, depending on one’s perspective. For many individuals and species it has already been fatal. The Amazon expert Marcela Vecchione, whose university institute lies in the rain forest itself, will link the loss of species diversity with colonialism and the right-wing authoritarianism of Jair Bolsonaro. The feminist researcher Antonia Majaca will speak about the gender dimension of nature and technology, and develop a planetary perspective on the future. How can we learn to live with extinction and transform our future expectation of growth? How can we live and die together?