Rearranging Glaciers in the Anthropocene

The Rhone Glacier has been wrapped in blankets for the past 8 years by the Swiss (source: Quartz)

For the last 8 summers, Switzerland has been wrapping glaciers in blankets to stop them melting. These desperate strategies are increasingly becoming more common as our ecosystems unravel, ecotourism becomes threatened, and local people’s semiotic world falls apart. The Estonian philosopher Ivar Puura has coined the term “semiocide” to describe what happens to our familiar environmental scaffolding falls away. The violence of climate change is precisely that of diaspora, it is a destruction of continuity, of community, of memory, of what James Gibson calls our “affordances.”

Realism in climate change has always taken a back seat to sustaining the unsustainable, as Ingolfür Bluhdorn has pointed out. We have neglected taking action because we have failed to realize how delicately and intimately our fundamental humanness is tied up with this fluke of stable predictable climate and biodiversity. The industrialized western mind too quickly found it plausible to remain human while dehumanizing our historical environments. The pipe dream of infinite fungibility, attempting to conquer the irreversible arrow of time, has left us with no more capital in our pockets. We have converted life into digital bits, and our digital bits can never buy back life.

The modelling of exchange has dominated our miscalculations. Discounting has reigned as the controlling paradigm, when the few metrics ill-fitted for values beyond exchange monetary value have even entered the accounting process.

Thus, we find ourselves covering glaciers with blankets instead of simplifying life. The quixotic act serves only to further burlesque the limpness of international governance of runaway corporate fossil fuels industries.

There is not enough blankets in the world to cover the glaciers that will need covering. We now engage in these ridiculous fake-care situations, that are feel good, not efficacious. If those same Swiss citizens engaged in direct action to stop flying and driving, and returned Switzerland to a local, pre-fossil fuels economy, they would be much more effective in saving their charismatic glaciers than by these overdramatized overtures of love and dedication.

While covering glaciers may make for good Extinction Rebellion entertainment, the energy used to pop the popcorn to watch such a spectacle is not even worth the future warming to even enjoy anymore the stale popcorn.

We need to wake up to the elephants in the room – and stop immediately oil, coal, and gas drilling, for the rest of eternity.

Talk: Berkeley-Tartu biosemiotic summer seminar July 11 2019

After a successful 2019 Biosemiotics Gathering in Moscow, I’m happy to be sharing a deeper look at my project at the University of Tartu, in Estonia, giving a talk on Multi-level semiosis – and the impact of supernormal stimuli in the human superorganism and holobiont.

This is as part of the Berkeley-Tartu biosemiotic summer seminar in Tartu.

Part I: June 26, with Jeremy Sherman

Part II, July 11, with Yogi Hendlin

Part III: July 15, with Terrence Deacon.

Here is information about the part II.

On Thursday, July 11, at 14.15, Jakobi 2–336, Yogi H. Hendlin (University of California and Erasmus University of Rotterdam) will give a talk

Multi-level semiosis – and the impact of supernormal stimuli in the human superorganism and holobiont

Abstract. This talk draws on classic ethology and insights for humans as superorganisms living in artificial environments. It first describes the case for seeing the human body, and not just cultures, as itself a superorganism, but through the unconventional form of defining superorganism not as cells or individuals only of one species, but as inherently an interspecies phenomenon. Second, I describe how the holobiont view of the human organism helps make sense of this definition of the superorganism as interspecies. Finally, I’ll look at both classical and cognitive ethology to examine how even individuated human cells or other endosemiotic symbionts can also become affected by unfamiliar stimuli stronger than those their evolutionarily-geared heuristics are geared for. This overflow or flood of response to certain stimuli I see as a relevant form of supernormal stimuli, as Niko Tinbergen described this condition, even as I extend it to endosymbionts, beyond Tinbergen’s use of the concept specifically on the individual animal.

After a break, the meeting will continue at 6 p.m. at Vikerkaare 7–8. 

We also expect to discuss some new ideas from the recent Gathering in Biosemiotics that took place in Moscow.

Everybody very welcome!