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  • Speculations on UnicityRearticulations of Urban Space and Theory during Global Crisis
  • Justin Read (bio)

The twenty-first century has begun in global crisis. Here I am not referring to 9/11, Iraq, or Afghanistan, since war—sadly—is the constant of human history.1 The crises now facing us are environmental (global climate change) and economic (global finance). Both have resulted from what we might call, for lack of a better term, structural shifts in world order. But are these crises parts of the same crisis? Is one crisis the cause or effect of the other? Such questions are beyond the scope of the present essay, which will provide no theory of "crisis" as such. Frankly, I am incapable of proving causal relationships between environmental systems and political-economic systems. Nevertheless I can say unequivocally that crisis in the twenty-first century—any crisis—is global. The structural shift I refer to is a move to global world order. "Global," however, is a word used indiscriminately—wantonly, we might say—without clear understanding of its meaning or implication for the world it describes. The purpose of the present essay, therefore, is not to critique crisis—neither to analyze root causes nor to propose solutions [End Page 109] in any comprehensive way. Rather, my purpose is to speculate on how to understand the "global," speculations that I will mediate through the concept of "Unicity."

The Anthropogenic World

The world has changed. Perhaps we have grown unaccustomed to such definitive statements, especially in the humanities. But the world has changed, and there is no point in debating whether it really has or has not. My statements here need only be measured by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.

(2007, 2)

The exact causes of global warming cannot yet be conclusively measured, but all evidence so far places responsibility on a specific source:

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG [Greenhouse Gas] concentrations. It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent (except Antarctica)…. Anthropogenic warming over the last three decades has likely had a discernible influence at the global scale on observed changes in many physical and biological systems.

(IPCC 2007, 5, 6; emphasis in the original)

To summarize that which is already widely known, the temperature of the earth's air and water—and hence the earth's land areas—have risen over the past century as a result of manmade (anthropogenic) causes.2 Over the course of the next century climate change will threaten the survival of all life on the planet. Furthermore, the IPCC provides only two options for the survival of the species (all species): adaptation and mitigation. That is, we either adapt [End Page 110] the lived environment to promote survival, and/or we mitigate the causes for climate change thus limiting the harmful effects of warming. Tellingly, there is no mention in the IPCC Summary referenced here to biological adaptation, mitigation, evolution. The response to global climate change, rather, must be economic and political.

This is quite a different view of the world than would have been expressed in the nineteenth century—200 years ago, a relative blip in the span of recorded human history. We could seek out any number of indices, but I will choose one from my own field of Latin American poetry. In his 1825 poem "Niágara," the exiled Cuban poet José María Heredia expresses a typically Romantic perspective on the state of nature:

¡Asombroso torrente!¡Cómo tu vista el ánimo enajenay de terror y admiración me llena!¿Dó tu origen está? ¿Quién fertilizapor tantos siglos tu inexhausta fuente?¿Qué poderosa manohace que al recibirte,no rebose en la tierra el océano?

[Frightful torrent!How your vision the spirit estrangesand with terror and admiration fills me...


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