- Framing the End of the Species:Images without Bodies
There are three senses of extinction: the now widely discussed sixth great extinction event (which we can begin to imagine, witnessed by humans even if in anticipation); extinction by humans of other species (with the endangered species of the “red list” evidencing our destructive power); and self-extinction, or the capacity for us to destroy what makes us human. All three senses of extinction require a nuanced conception of climate. Climate is at once an enclosing notion, imagined as the bounded milieu that is unavoidably ours, and a disturbing figure, for it is with the recognition that there is climate that the human species in its dominant form is a being marked by a destructive power. (This is so much so that geologists are arriving at consensus regarding an “Anthropocene epoch” where man’s effect on the planet will supposedly be discernible as a geological strata readable well after man ceases to be, even if there are no geologists who will be present to undertake this imagined future reading [Crutzen 2000, 17-18]. Climate is not only, then, the surface or terrain upon which we find ourselves, but something that binds us to this time on the earth, with its own depletions and limits.)
There is, of course, the standard meteorological notion of climate which increasingly attracts our already over-taxed attention; but this concept of climate is only possible because of a broader thought-event where humans begin to imagine a deep time in which the human species emerges and withers away, and a finite space in which “we” are now all joined in a tragedy of the commons. I would suggest that just as Darwinian evolution altered the very modes of scientific and imaginative thinking, such that new forms of narrative and knowledge were required to think of man as a species emerging within time, so global climate change is similarly catastrophic for the human imaginary. It becomes possible to think of climate as the milieu that is necessary for our ongoing life, and as the fragile surface that holds us all together in one web of risked life, even if we cannot practically grasp or manage the dynamics of this totality (Gardiner 2006, 397-413). The concept of climate is also split between knowledge and denial: on the one hand, talk of climate draws all bodies (organic and otherwise) into a single, complex, multiply determined and dynamic whole; on the other hand, any brief glance at climate change [End Page 51] policy and politics evidences a near psychotic failure to acknowledge or perceive causal connections with dire consequences. In this respect, we need to embark on a notion of climate change that includes the radical alteration of knowledge and affect that accompanies the very possibility of climate. We can only think of climate change in the meteorological sense—as humans now bound to volatile ecologies that they are at once harming and ignoring—if we have already altered the ways in which we think about the relations between time, space, and species. This expansive sense of climate change encompasses a mutation of cognitive, political, disciplinary, media and social climates. The fact that we start to think about climate as a general condition that binds humans to an irreversible and destructive time means both that climate becomes an indispensable concept for thinking about the new modes of knowledge and feeling that mark the twenty-first century in terms of our growing sense of precarious attachment to a fragile planet, and that climate is an alibi. We talk about climate, ecology, globalism, and even environment (as that which environs) even though the experience of climate change reveals multiple and incongruent systems for which we do not have a point of view. We are at once thrown into a situation of urgent interconnectedness, aware that the smallest events contribute to global mutations, at the same time as we come up against a complex multiplicity of diverging forces and timelines that exceed any manageable point of view.
In a recent fable that allegorized the human relation to memory, destruction and the future of life, Nick Bostrom suggests that the...