- Greening the Sphere:Towards an Eco-Ethics for the Local and Artificial
Today we can build space stations about two-hundred kilometers above the earth and so we already have a strong impression of operating in an anti-world milieu. Everything human beings need up there they have to take along with them, including the air they want to breathe…. This life-in-capsules has something trend-setting about it. In my view, the third millennium will be the world age of atmotechnics and of integral container technology. The space station is a key metaphor for the social architecture of the coming world age.—Peter Sloterdijk and Hans-Jürgen Heinrichs (2007, 214)
In our time of climatic crisis, this dark vision formulated by the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk to Hans-Jürgen Heinrichs in the conversation book Die Sonne und der Tod (Neither Sun nor Death) (2007) has an even more sinister ring than when formulated a decade ago. As the conditions for human existence deteriorate in numerous places on the planet due to anthropogenic climate change, the anti-world milieu that Sloterdijk talks about is, with increasing pace, becoming world. One could even say that one of the main psychological consequences of anthropogenic climate change is the meeting with what in German goes by the name of das Unheimliche, or the uncanny experience of the familiar becoming strange.1 On the other hand, the age of atmotechnics is already here and has been for some time. From the supermarket to the apartment, from the airport to the car, air is artificially produced to create a pleasant climate indoors. This production is so ordinary that we as consumers of air may easily forget that air-conditioning and the technological tempering of climate provide us with protection and comfort in an environment we might otherwise experience as hostile. Sloterdijk is, of course, well aware of this, as he has even devoted a trilogy of more than 2600 [End Page 137] pages to philosophical analysis of integral container technology or of spheres (Sphären).
In this essay, I will use Sloterdijk’s analysis to outline an environmental ethics that I place between two other eco-ethics: on the one hand, the local eco-ethics that can be found in Heidegger’s philosophy, and, on the other hand, a global eco-ethics proposed by Timothy Morton—though Morton’s ethics will be presented in less detail than those of Heidegger. The aim is to show that Sloterdijk’s conceptualization of the sphere can facilitate a much-needed shift in ecocriticism by turning the ecocritical imagination towards a space that it has until now neglected: the space of the local and artificial. Being either consistent with the advocacy for the shepherding of local nature that was strongly voiced in literary (eco)criticism from the early 1960s on to the late 1990s, or with the advocacies for a more global eco-ethics that have followed, the local and artificial has virtually been left unnoticed by ecocriticism (Heise 2008, 10). It seems simply to have fallen into an abyss between these two ways of imagining environmental engagement.
The current climate crisis makes it clear that ecocriticism can no longer afford to ignore the fact that all over the world more and more people are dwelling in a local environment that is highly artificial. As more and more people live in an urban climate, where they only experience nature as pastiche, an imaginative approach to environmental engagement is needed that takes its starting point in the place where people are actually located. For the majority of people who emit the most greenhouse gasses, this place is some kind of air-conditioned capsule, which is Sloterdijk’s favorite term for the modern apartment. Even though such an approach may instantly appear to apply only to the Western world or even be accused of inheriting a latent Eurocentrism in Sloterdijk’s thought, this is not the case. One must remember that the rise of the megacity is not only equivalent to the rise of the planet of slums, as suggested by the American urban theorist Mike Davis, but also implies an increasing “apartmentalization” (2007, 4...