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Stephen graham Nature, Cities and the ‘Anthropocene’

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An analysis of what the idea of the 'Anthropocene' -- our latest Geological epoch marked by the human shaping of the Earth -- means for how we think about cities

An analysis of what the idea of the 'Anthropocene' -- our latest Geological epoch marked by the human shaping of the Earth -- means for how we think about cities

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  • 1. Nature, Cities and the ‘Anthropocene’Implications for the Climate Change Debate
    Stephen Graham
    Professor of Cities and Society
    Global Research Unit
    School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape
    Newcastle University
    Steve.graham@ncl.ac.uk
  • 2. “Agriculture, for eight thousand years the primary locus of human and animal labor, is now secondary to the immense, literally geological drama of urbanization”
    Mike Davis Dead Cities (emphasis added)
    “There is nothing unnatural about New York City” David Harvey
  • 3. Cities: Pivotal to Climate Change
    Over half of the entire population of humanity of 6.5 billion is now squeezed into cities which take up just 2.8% of the world’s land surface
    By 2025 there are likely to be 5 billion urban dwellers on Earth
    75% (of around 9.2 billion) are likely to live in cities by 2050
    Within just over four decades (by 2050) there are likely to be 7 billionurbanites, over 4 billion more than in 2007
  • 4.
  • 5. Already, cities consume 75% of world energy and produce 80% greenhouse gas emissions
    Use huge, geographically-stretched systems of infrastructure to metabolise enormous flows of food, water, energy & resources from distant sites through the city – and, indeed, its bodies -- within globalised and increasingly ‘neoliberal’ worlds of trade and exchange
    ‘Linear metabolism’
    Cities are also key sites of extreme vulnerability and mobilising responses
  • 6.
  • 7. Climate change raises huge challenges for how we think about the links betweens cities, technology and nature. In such a context I want to:
    (1) Argue that traditional concepts of nature, technology and the city are often unhelpful in understanding, and tackling, these crucial emerging realities;
    (2) Explore some of the latest concepts emerging, from geology to social and political theory; and
    (3) Tease out some of the implications of these for the debates about cities and climate change
  • 8. 1. Cities, Nature, Technology: Traditional Concepts
    Post-Enlightenment ideas based on imagining city as being separate, and opposed to, an externalised Nature
    Nature seen to be separated from the social, urban, human world
    Technological ‘progress’ a means to heroically master nature, geography and time: e.g. US “Manifest Destiny”
    ‘Built’ environments threaten to overcome and pollute ‘natural’ ones
    Deny social production of nature and total reliance of urbanisation on ecological transformations
    Humans and cities are not external to ecosystems (Harvey quote…)
  • 9. 2. New Concepts (i) Cyborg Urbanization‘Cyborg’ = =Cybernetic Organism
    Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory and control systems. Feedback loops, systems thinking
    ‘Cyborg’ term coined by NASA in 1960s
    Donna Haraway (1991)(top right) "a cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality"
    Cyborgs are "creatures simultaneously animal and machine, who populate worlds ambiguously natural and crafted”
    Reaction to failure to deal with technical agency in the social sciences: “Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert" (Haraway, 1991: 152),
    Breaches the borders dividing humans and animals, organisms and machines, and physical and non-physical (e.g. online) worlds
  • 10. (ii) ‘Actor-Networks’ and ‘Assemblages’
    Bruno Latour’s work rejects heroic modernist tale of the shaping of technology to triumph over Geography, Time and Nature
    Instead, a subjectification of objects, and the objectification of subjects
    Humans and Non-Humans linked together into heterogeneous and distanciated actor-networks (or Deleuzian assemblages) such as electricity, energy, water, or food production systems
    Again, the human/machine, human/animal, physical/non-physical, social/technological, social/natural binaries blur away
  • 11. “Cyborgs are not creatures of pristine Nature; they are the planned and unplanned offspring of manufactured environments, fusing into new organic compounds of naturalized matter and artificialized anti-matter”
    Tim Luke
    (Luke T W, 1997, "At the end of Nature: cyborgs, 'humachines', and environments in postmodernity" Environment and Planning A 29(8) 1367 – 1380 )
  • 12. (iii) Tim Luke: ‘Denature’
    “After two centuries of industrial revolution and three decades of informational revolution, Nature no longer can be assumed to be God-created (theogenic) or self-creating (autogenic). What is taken to be "nature" now is largely human-created (anthropogenic), not only in theory but also in practice. One need not wait for the science fiction of advanced space travel technologies to contact other "extra-terrestrial life forms," the science facts of altered atmospheric chemistry, rampant genetic engineering, and unchecked species extinctions suggest that urban industrial humanity is a race extra-terrestrial intelligent beings already intent upon imperializing the Earth in cyborg colonies with humachinic technologies. ”
    (Luke T W, 1997, "At the end of Nature: cyborgs, 'humachines', and environments in postmodernity" Environment and Planning A 29(8) 1367 – 1380 )
  • 13. “The entire planet now is increasingly a "built environment" or "planned habitat" as pollution modifies atmospheric chemistry, urbanization restructures weather events, biochemistry redesigns the genetics of existing biomass, and architecture accretes new biotic habitats inside of sprawling megacities.”
    (Luke T W, 1997, "At the end of Nature: cyborgs, 'humachines', and environments in postmodernity" Environment and Planning A 29(8) 1367 – 1380 )
  • 14. (iv) Matthew Gandy: Cyborg Urbanisation
    Cyborgian thinking suggests an important new way of thinking about cities as a whole
    The ‘social’, ‘technical’ and ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ aspects of cities blur and fuse together
    Helps create a new vocabulary for understanding what we mean by the ‘public realm’ against the vulnerability and inter-dependency of urban societies and the complex technological networks and organic and biospehric metabolisms, stretched across different geographical scales, that make them possible.
  • 15. (v) Political Ecology: ‘Socio-Ecological’ processes Eric Swyngedouw and Maria Kaika
    Metabolisation of water central to metabolism of cyborg cities
    ‘Socionatures’ based on distant sourcing, hydro-engineering of whole nations, and the circulation of water through the metabolic spaces of the body and the city
  • 16. Cyborg Urbanisation Revealed During Disruption of Infrastructures
    “Cyborgs, like us, are endlessly fascinated by machinic breakdowns, which would cause disruptions in, or denials of access to, their megatechnical sources of being.” (above NYC blackout, 2003)
    (Luke T W, 1997, "At the end of Nature: cyborgs, 'humachines', and environments in postmodernity" Environment and Planning A 29(8) 1367 – 1380 )
  • 17. Infrastructure disruptions reveal often taken for granted and normalised ‘infrastructures’ and cyborg assemblages especially blackoutsIn cyborg cities, they increasingly threaten life, not mere inconvenience
  • 18. But post-mortems for such events inevitably messy!
    “A distributive notion of agency does interfere with the project of blaming. But it does not thereby abandon the project of identifying [ ] the sources of harmful effects. To the contrary, such a notion broadens the range of places to look for sources. ”
    Must look at the “selfish intentions and energy policy that provides lucrative opportunities for energy trading while generating a tragedy of the commons”; at “the stubborn directionality of a high-consumption social infrastructure”; and at “the unstable power of electron flows, wildfires, ex-urban housing pressures, and the assemblages they form” Jane Bennett
    Jane Bennett, (2005) “The Agency of Assemblages and
    the North American Blackout,” Public Culture 17(3): 445–65. Pp. 463.
  • 19. Also unerringly reveal the often concealed politics of cyborganised urban life and nature
    e.g. Katrina in 2005 not a ‘natural disaster,’ ‘technical failure’ or ‘Act of God.’ Rather, the inevitable result of:
    Climate change accentuating hurricane
    Hitting a city denuded of natural protection and
    Very poorly covered by a levee network that was systematically racially biased over centuries of constructed socio-nature in context of
    A Neoconservative and racist Federal Government that had systematically skewed Emergency Planning towards terrorism for political ends
  • 20. Human and urban manufacture of ‘Nature’ – climates, biospheres, carbon cycles, hydrological and geomorphological systems, even organisms and ecosystems -- has reached such an extent since the Industrial revolution that we no longer inhabit the post-glacial Holocene
    Instead we live in the Anthropocene (term coined in 2000 by the Nobel Prize winning geologist, Paul Crutzen)
    Incredibly rapid growth and extension of cities central to this process
    Holocene-Anthropocenic boundaries can now be discerned in ocean sediments, ice sheet & pollen cores etc
    (vi) Geology: The‘Anthropocene’
  • 21.
  • 22.
  • 23. (vii) The ‘Cyborgian’Global City-System and the New Imperialism
    Neoliberalised global cities often have a parasitic relationship with near and distant hinterlands
    Global neoliberal urbanisation has led to ‘devastating disparities between the mobility of capital and labour that have produced new forms of economic serfdom in the global South’ Matthew Gandy
    Resource (food, water, energy) grabs organised and finance through the financial centres and technopoles of the North’s global finance capitals
    E.g. Daewoo (South Korean corporation) has just leased half of all the arable land in Madagascar to feed South Korean cities in the future
  • 24. Biopiracy and biofuels push (indigenous groups in Indonesia, protesting, above)
  • 25. 3. Implications:Cities and Climate Change
    Exposes ultimate costs of cyborg cities and natures within the Neoliberalised Anthropocene
    Rising sea levels, desertification, more extreme events and Arctic melting all symptoms of cyborg natures driven by urbanisation
  • 26. ‘Local’ efforts to address greenhouse gas emissions and build architectures, urban forms and urban lifestyles that are more resilient and ‘autonomous’ in the face of climate change are pivotal
  • 27. PoliticisingUrban Natures
    But these need to be combined with much bigger and multi-scaled social and political challenges to the social and environmental injustices perpetuated through globalised neoliberal urbanization
    Transnational social and environmental justice in context of hyper-urbanisation, rising inequalities, food, water and energy crises, desertification, more extreme events and sea-level rises
    ‘Resilience’ can not be allowed to be a camouflage for ‘more of the same’
    Dangers of ‘bourgeois environmentalism’ and ‘greenwash’ here e.g. some ‘eco towns’
    Real, retrofitted ‘transitions’ politically extremely intractable
  • 28. Also need to address the New Military Urbanism
  • 29. Politics of ‘security’ pivotal here
    Planetary urban security rather than a hypermilitarised ‘lock-down’ societybased on military ideas of ‘national security’
    Already many borders – e.g. India-Bangladesh – are being militarised to prevent movement of climate refugees
  • 30. Finally, we must be wary of ‘quick technical fix’ ideas of ‘Terraforming’, ‘Geoengineering’ and ‘Earth Systems Engineering’ in the Anthropocene. These depoliticisethe nature of climate change and deny the need to drastically cut emissions & and the risks of massive unintended side-effects