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Bruno Latour Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime

This book by Bruno Latour was published in 2017 and, like the series of his other studies (Facing Gaia. Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime, Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy), it focuses on the ideas of Gaia or “the Terrestrial” as a new political agent. Introducing the concept of the New Climatic Regime in which we now live, he effectively links the three most pressing problems of our time - migration, pervasive social and economic inequality, and the climate crisis. Analyzing in detail contemporary political movements and their agendas and methods, he concludes that divisions into global and local, as well as divisions into left and right, are no longer productive or adequately descriptive, and therefore cannot work productively with our contemporary reality.

We are, at last, clearly in a situation of war, but it is a phony war, at once declared and latent. Some people see it everywhere; others ignore it entirely. 

Dramatizing somewhat extravagantly, let us call it a conflict between modern humans who believe they are alone in the Holocene, in flight toward the Global or in exodus toward the Local, and the terrestrials who know they are in Anthropocene and who seek to cohabit with other terrestrials under the authority of a power that as yet lacks any political institution…

We also avoid the trap of thinking that it would be possible to live in sympathy, in harmony, with the so-called “natural” agents. We are not seeking agreement among all these overlapping agents, but we are learning to be dependent on them...

It is this same contradiction that the term Anthropocene sums up, however disputed its date of origin and its definition may be: “The earth system reacts henceforth to your action in such a way that you no longer have a stable and indifferent framework in which to lodge your desires for modernization. Despite all  the criticisms to which the concept has been subjected, the prefix ‘Anthropos” applied to a geological period is indeed the symptom of repoliticization of all planetary questions. As if a label “Made by Humans” had been engraved on all the old natural resources...

For an excellent illustration of the contrast, let us compare a world made up of Galilean objects with that same world composed of agents that could be called Lovelockian, in honor of James Lovelock (the name is used here, like Galileo’s, to summarize a much longer line of scholars). 

For those who adhere to the sciences of nature-as-universe, there has been a major misunderstanding of the argument of biochemists such as Lovelock, according to whom it is necessary to consider, on Earth, living beings as agents participating fully in the processes of generating the chemical, and even, in part, the geological conditions of the Planet. If the composition of the air we breathe depends on living beings, the atmosphere is no longer simply the environment in which living beings are located and in which they evolve; it is, in part, a result of their actions...

We need a term that encompasses the stupefying originality (stupefying longevity) of this agent. Let us call it, for now, The Terrestrial, with capital T to emphasize that we are referring to a concept, and even specifying in advance where we are headed: the Terrestrial as a new political actor. The massive event that we need to sum up and absorb in fact concerns the power to act of this Terrestrial, which is no longer the milieu or the background of human action. People generally talk about geopolitics as if prefix “geo” merely designates framework in which political action occurs. Yet what is changing is that, henceforth, “geo” designates an agent that participates fully in public life. 

 

Photo: Sasha Kurmaz, My world is not real enough for the Apocalypse, Donetsk, 2011