Being a world citizen today is something completely different than it was for old-fashioned cosmopolitans, who felt that the whole world was their home. Today's world citizen must broaden his perspective: He must feel that the universe is his home, at least if we follow the thoughts of the Norwegian philosopher and writer Anders Dunk, who lives in Los Angeles. Man must take on the role of the earth's consciousness, interpret the planet's signals and the state of the biosphere. We must understand the significance of the environmental crisis for the future of the planet and civilization. It is a huge project that is barely underway. Still: Dunker pulls himself out.
But do we need more books on nature, the environment and the climate – isn't the market soon saturated? A translation into English of a book that came out in Norwegian in 2019, convinces me that, on the contrary, there is a need for more books that dig into the topic. At least when using Dunkers' method.
MODERN TIMES 'readers will recognize Dunker from book reviews and essays here in the newspaper, but also in Le Monde Diplomatique, Vagant and Samtiden. In 2019, Spartacus published Dunker's conversation book The rediscovery of the earth – 10 interviews with known and unknown voices in philosophical-political conversations about man's place in nature.
But Norwegian is a small language, and some took the consequence of it. For example, in 2015 Per Espen Stoknes published the book What We Think About – When We Try Not to Think – About Global Warming (Chelsea Green, 2015). It was a huge international success, with TED Talks and all. It was then translated into Norwegian by Tiden Norsk Forlag in 2017.
The radical publisher OR Books in New York has now translated Dunker's book into English. It's a feat in itself to have Bruno Latour, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Clive Hamilton, Jared Diamond and Bill McKibben for themselves in a dynamic conversation around their thinking and releases. Dunker is knowledgeable, and a good interviewer. Here there are no boring "breaks", the conversation flows seamlessly and in depth – an excellent summary of these social actors.
We are interested in soil, geophysics, insects and pollination.
As I interpret Dunker's project, it is about contributing to a change of perspective, where the humanities must change self-understanding. We need a "posthumanist perspective," as Dunker himself puts it, now that we have a nascent recognition that human activity on the face of the earth has created a lasting planetary footprint. Several scientists and thinkers call this a transition to a new geological era – anthropocene. According to Dunker, we are forced to think philosophically about what nature is and what man is. This will be a "part of a cultural change", as Dunker has said in an interview in Morgenbladet.
The climate crisis will be a learning process. Where we early thought of our planet as something unchangeable, today we see rapid geological and climatic processes that seemingly unstoppable. Therefore, more and more people understand that insight into ecology becomes part of a new form of survival art. This means, according to Dunker, that we are concerned with soil, geophysics, insects and pollination.
Urban ecology and biological diversity
There are many familiar voices Dunker interviews, but some were to me unknown and among the most exciting as well. Ursula Heise is one of them – German-born theorist and professor of English at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). Her main field is the environmental humanities – points of contact between science, political ecology and the humanities.
Certain parts of nature, such as mammals, are overrepresented in scientific research, says Heise. But fish are underrepresented. Insignificant organisms such as fungi and ferns are almost forgotten. How can we present their story in a way that stimulates us? Who can give hope? A crucial insight is that the fate of endangered species in nature is decided in the culture, by human attention and values.
Heise is also concerned with the new urban ecology that is forcing itself forward, in order to understand the environmental struggle as a cultural change and mentality change. Here we also have good Norwegian forces, such as insect researcher Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, with her good and popular books.
To understand nature as a safety net that carries us and sustains us.
Another interesting interviewee is Sandra Diaz. She is one of the world's foremost experts on biological diversity, and one of the contributors to the United Nations Organization for Biological Diversity (IPBES), which provides reports regularly and in parallel with the UN Climate Panel. In the book, Diaz talks about the web of life that allows us to understand nature as a safety net that carries us and sustains us. If you start making holes and pulling up threads, the weave will still stick together, if we do not go too far, because then it can suddenly shave completely.
Economic growth or agroculture?
The Indian historian Dipesh Chakrabarty mentions how millions of people want material progress – as in India.
The great liberation guru Mahatma Gandhi, on the other hand, believed that most diseases stem from greed. We overeat and we overconsume. But Gandhi was put out of action soon after independence in 1947. The elite did not want him as leader, even though he was respected. The country saw no alternatives to fertilizers and industrial agriculture and the rest of the modernity package.
People in India have voted for what Chakrabarty calls a semi-fascist leader. Not because they necessarily want him, but because Prime Minister Modi guarantees continued economic growth. Can we understand that?
But there are contradictions to this – in the book. Indian activist Vandana Shiva has worked for the concept of "agroecology" for a long time. It is a societal model based on smallholder farmers, diversity and local markets, as an alternative to industrial agriculture, monocultures and global free trade that invites both predation and injustice.
The philosopher Bernard Stiegler, for his part, claims that it is obvious that we can not stop living in the industrial society, but it must be reinvented, he claims in the book – with alternatives to alienating overproduction, unrestrained competition and automation.
With this stimulating conversation book, Dunker will be able to reach a large audience in English. Will his next release in English come first?