The planet is heating up, the habitability of the Earth for human beings and the rest of the species with which we live is at stake, but we prefer to look the other way. Part of this failure must be found in our anthropocentrism and in an economic and social model that, self-servingly, has interpreted and transferred Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to the social sphere, as if the only thing possible was ruthless competition, the survival of the fittest. In economic terms. But, in reality, life on Earth is not like that, as the American biologist Lynn Margulis demonstrated in her day. Life on Gaia is organized in a different way, it is more based on cooperation, symbiosis and interdependence than on annihilation. This is one of the ideas behind the latest essay by the poet and philosopher Jorge Riechmann, Symbioethics. Homo sapiens in the web of life (Plaza and Valdes). The Madrid thinker proposes in this work a new Gaian ethic that will help us survive in the Century of the Great Test.
After the last Climate Summit (COP27 in Sharm El Seij, Egypt) the objective of emissions not exceeding 1.5 degrees seems increasingly distant. Do we still have room for maneuver to avoid the worst of the worst?
It is not a distant goal, but rather an impossible one (but our societies delude themselves very intensely). James Hansen, whom we may jokingly – but without exaggeration – call Planet Earth’s Chief Climatologist, estimates It is probable that already in 2024 we will exceed the critical limit of 1.5ºC with respect to pre-industrial temperatures, unless the effect of El Niño (oscillation phenomenon in the South Pacific) is intense. Meanwhile, our societies continue to emit increasing amounts of greenhouse gases, destroying ecosystems, annihilating living beings and artificializing territories, while noble goals are promised for 2050. These two things are true: we are following a catastrophic course of ecosocial collapse; and on the other hand, we always have some room for maneuver (often more than we dare to perceive). You don’t have to stop fighting.
There is no longer time for gradual solutions, you insist. That moment has passed. And yet we don’t even embrace those piecemeal solutions. We are facing a collapse, but there are those, even within the environmental movement, who prefer to sweeten the message so as not to alarm people. You bet on speaking clearly, even if that means being called a catastrophist.
At this point, being called a catastrophist (from positions that deny reality) enters the salary, I would say. Environmental movements have been accused of pessimism and doomsday, almost routinely, for six decades, from positions on both the left and the political right. kill the messenger bearer of bad news (or at least stoned a little) is a common reaction among human animals. Certain anticollapse suggests that Antonio Turiel, Luis González Reyes, Marta Tafalla, Marga Mediavilla or Carlos de Castro should earn a living as Netflix writers, instead of being what they are: researchers who try to understand the real world with the best theoretical tools at your fingertips.
I have already recounted that encounter in a corridor at the University of Barcelona, around 1991. Two of my students were chatting animatedly with each other, without realizing that I was next to them, and at the end they said goodbye: “Okay, let’s go to the professor Riechmann’s catastrophism class”. catastrophism it was then – then, when it was still possible, perhaps, to avoid the catastrophe – to explain to them The Limits to Growth, the first of the reports to the Club of Rome (1972), and give them some tools to understand the world in which they lived (including the history of feminism, in that course on the crisis of civilization).
As you have already suggested in other books, for example in biomimicryalso in symbioethics You point out that almost all the answers to guide us at the crossroads in which we live can be found in nature itself.
symbioethics It can be summed up in a few words: we are holobionts on a symbiotic planet, and we should draw the appropriate ethical-political consequences from this situation. The contemporary ecological-social crisis is so deep that it invites us to reconsider the very foundations of ideologies and the dominant common sense. Will not the search for domination over nature be counterproductive in the end? Does it make sense to consider ourselves as individuals separated from their fellow men and from ecosystems? Isn’t anthropocentrism leading us astray a lot? Is it possible to say, at this point in human history, that we know how to inhabit the Earth? Perhaps we can move towards what could be called a symbioethics for terrestrial beings, for Homo sapiens that they really decide to assume the human condition in the biosphere of the third planet of the Solar System.
One of the intellectual figures that you claim is that of the biologist Lynn Margulis, who reinterpreted the theory of evolution. Rather than competition, life on Earth is dominated by cooperation and interdependence. Assuming this would help us find an ethical path to overcome the ecosocial crisis in which we find ourselves, right?
Margulis is one of the beacons of humanity, one of the brightest, as our long-awaited Paco Puche pointed out to us a long time ago. She showed that, although there are elements of competition and predation in the biosphere, life evolves and becomes complex, above all, thanks to phenomena of symbiosis (which in human terms we can certainly describe as cooperation). In this revision of evolutionary theory there is something of Kropotkin’s posthumous revenge on Darwin (although poor Darwin was not responsible for the atrocities that ‘social Darwinists’ dumped on his back): mutual aid is, in the end, more important than natural selection. And this provides foundations for a much better conception of the world than the one that prevails today (neoliberal ideology, after all, is in a certain way also a derivative of social Darwinism).
The only solution is to overcome capitalism, by an ethic decentered from the human and by degrowth. And you touch on a very thorny subject, that of human demography. With all the precautions that the issue deserves, do you think a decrease in the world population is inevitable? A few days ago the UN said that we have already exceeded 8,000 million people.
Eight billion are too many people, especially considering two big issues. First, in terms of consumption of energy and other resources, the inhabitants of the global North count, each and every one, for several dozen inhabitants of impoverished countries. Second, today we are building human bodies on the basis of fossil fuels and phosphate ore (through an unsustainable industrial agriculture dependent on synthetic fertilizers), the peaks of which we are close to reaching, if not already. It is enough to reason realistically about human nutrition to realize that yes, the world population will decrease. All our efforts must be aimed at preventing this reduction from taking the form of genocide. The best way to address it is to improve the position of women and girls in all societies. But all this requires a great deal of nuance, and for this reason I have dedicated a long chapter of symbioethics, the eighth.
I think you are a thinker who likes to build bridges between different currents. In the subtitle of symbioethicsFor example, you already tell us that your perspective is both environmentalist and animalist. But these two movements are often misunderstood. Within environmentalism, for example, it is not fully assumed that in order to stop climate change it is necessary to stop eating animals, at least in the rich world, let alone contemplating animals as individuals.
Animal rights movements have rendered humanity a great ethical service by identifying, analyzing, and fighting speciesism. Environmental movements should recognize this and incorporate antispeciesism into their own positions. And on the other hand, as you have pointed out yourself, factory farming and meat diets weigh unbearably on Earthand are incompatible with a real decarbonization of our economies.
The environmental movement is against macro-farms, but is committed to extensive farming. It is thought to be one of the solutions to what is called ’emptied Spain’. Also a solution to fires. Furthermore, in a world without energy resources, continuing to use animals for agricultural work would be necessary. What is your position on this?
The main mistake is to assume that, with extensive livestock farming, meat consumption could be maintained above a small fraction of what now seems normal in countries like ours. It is a complete illusion. On the other hand, the environmental movements and agroecology tend to exaggerate the beneficial ecological effects of extensive ranching. That said, it is true that it is difficult to imagine a “repeasantized” agriculture without work animals. Everything will depend on whether we will be able to maintain a certain (desirable) degree of mechanization in field work, and on what type of agrosystems will allow us to maintain the ongoing degradation of the biosphere.
Do you think he rewilding could be an alternative?
We need to recover functional ecosystems and populations of living beings: renature, in a word (I like “renature” better than the English term). I know that there are ecologists and biologists who view the rewilding and they prefer to speak, in more conventional terms, of ecological restoration (thinking of a more humanized landscape and dependent on our constant intervention than those who defend renaturation). It seems good to them, we would say, the traditional pasture recovering some lynx. I think we need to go further: reintroducing beavers or European bison into what were their former territories, with an eye toward self-managing nature (instead of thinking about managing it ourselves), is a good idea. A necessary idea. The difficulty of rewilding it is that it requires that human beings take a few steps back and place ourselves in a better way in the biosphere of the Earth, in Gaia. To “return to being terrestrial” (Bruno Latour) a 5R rule proposed by the colapsologists Pablo Servigne and Gauthier Chapelle: resilience, renunciation, regeneration, reconciliation and reverence (it would be nice to translate their recent little book into Spanish The collapse (and what follows) explained to our children… and to our parents).
From the side of animalism, you criticize some positions, such as positive intervention in nature. Where would be the limit of that intervention?
I believe that animalism and environmentalism have a broad common ground to meet: overcoming the anthropocentrism so strong in the dominant culture, going beyond a moral community made up only of Homo sapiens, to recognize -as Marta Tafalla often says- that nature is full of subjects whom we treat as objects (and this is unacceptable). A great danger for some sectors of animalism is the temptation of technolatry: the hubris to believe that a redemptive technology can eliminate suffering from the world. In this way, the defenders of positive intervention in nature end up close to ‘effective altruism’ and transhumanism, which seems to me to be the wrong way. It is a complex question that I address in chapter 9 of symbioethics (“A runaway ethical utopia”).