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How to Stop the Sixth Extinction: A Critical Assessment of E. O. Wilson’s Half-Earth

By Kamran Nayeri - Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism, May 14, 2017

“The only solution to the ‘Sixth Extinction’ is to increase the area of inviolable natural reserves to half the surface of the Earth or greater.  This expansion is favored by unplanned consequences of ongoing human population growth and movement and evolution of the economy now driven by the digital revolution. But it also requires a fundamental shift in moral reasoning concerning our relation to the living environment.” (Wilson, 2016, p.167)

Introduction

The anthropogenic Sixth Extinction is an existential threat to much of life on Earth, including the human species.  In this essay, I critically examine the renowned entomologist, naturalist, and conservationist E. O. Wilson’s proposal in his recent book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (2016), to stop and reverse it.  In section I, I will outline what is meant by biodiversity and why it matters, and provide the basic facts about the Sixth Extinction and its salient causes.  In section II, I will outline Wilson’s proposal identifying tensions in his arguments for its efficacy.  In particular, I will show the tension between Wilson’s love for the natural world and his knowledge of biology and ecology on one hand and his inadequate understanding of human history, in particular, the capitalist civilization, which results in wishful thinking.  The Half-Earth proposal is necessary but not sufficient for stopping and reversing the Sixth Extinction. Finally, I conclude with a brief outline of what I consider to be necessary in order to make Wilson’s proposal effective.

Capitalism and species extinction

By Ian Rappel - International Socialism, Issue 147, June 24, 2015

Life on earth is arguably the most extraordinary phenomenon in the perceivable universe. And, among living things, 21st century humans are uniquely possessed with the means to appreciate this remarkable occurrence. Scientifically, for example, we can consider the sheer number and diversity of species in existence today. The Catalogue of Life1 project lists 1.58 million species identified to date, and the final tally looks likely to fall between 2 and 8 million.2 It is also worth considering that our geological moment holds the highest levels of species diversity in the Earth’s history, and that extant species probably represent only 1 percent of those that have ever lived on Earth—a total of between 200 and 800 million species.

This richness of life on Earth is described as biodiversity. At one level, this term applies to the number of species and genetic diversity within species. But it also includes the aggregated interactions of individual organisms and species through the multilayered food webs and trophic levels that we describe, in turn, as ecology and ecosystems. The outputs of these units and interactions of biodiversity define and reflect the world in which we live. Thus viewed, we can describe biodiversity as nothing less than living nature itself.

Beyond the numbers it is worth encountering some of the curious wonders of our planet’s biodiversity at the individual species level. Take Australia’s gastric-brooding frog Rheobatrachus silus. Discovered in the babbling brooks of south eastern Queensland in 1973, the female frog of this species has the unique ability to host its own offspring through all stages of metamorphosis—from egg spawn to tadpole to juvenile—within its own digestive system. It effectively turns its stomach into a brooding chamber and gives birth to its young through its mouth, returning the stomach to digestive duties a few days later. For another example, consider the Arctic cod Boreogadus saida. This fish lives at oceanic depths of 900 metres within 70 miles of the North Pole. The water temperatures within its habitat hover around 0°C—conditions that would ordinarily freeze the biological tissues and fluids of an organism. The Arctic cod survives these extreme temperatures by producing “antifreeze” proteins that reduce the freezing temperatures of its own body fluids. The physical, chemical and biological mechanisms necessary to undertake these functions, and the route through which these evolutionary strategies must have developed, are testimony to the creative force inherent within biological evolution.

Aside from the science, biodiversity also plays an inspirational role in our lives in other ways—through our culture, art, poetry and language, for example. Within our own individual consciousness, our fellow life forms are used as one of the tap-wells of human imagination, providing us with a rich seam of metaphors with which to explore our cognitive horizons, and sensory alternatives to contrast with our own human frailties. In our social context, connection with other living forms helps us a little to cope with alienation—whether this entails the keeping of pets and houseplants, or pausing to feed the pigeons on a lunch break.

From the perspective of human livelihoods, however, the most ­significant intersection between ourselves and wider biodiversity revolves around our dialectical interrelationship with life as the chief material means through which we feed, clothe and shelter ourselves.

The Vivisection of Oikeios - Beyond the Binary of Nature and Society

By Out of the Woods - Libcom.Org, September 25, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The common-sense distinction between nature and society was established through the bloody history of capitalist and colonial development, which brought about a real separation between the social and natural worlds.

What happens when the salmon people can no longer catch salmon in their rivers?

- Jeff Corntassel1

When I was a child I slept in a room at the back of my parent’s house. During the summer, the old wisteria would climb up the garden wall, over the window-sill and spill into my room. Great green crickets would crawl up the stems and find themselves suddenly inside, I can remember watching them pace my ceiling in the half-light before I fell asleep. I never thought it was strange that the wisteria, the crickets and I should share a room. It was the consequence of a simple arrangement, the wisteria shaded the house, and the house supported the wisteria, which in turn sheltered the crickets, who, admittedly, served no discernable purpose beyond distracting sleepless children.

There is a word in Greek which perfectly describes the old house and the straggling wisteria. Oikeios comes from oikia, home, it means; “that with which one is at home, it is one’s own.”2 The word does not mean “property” i.e an alienated thing made our own by some force, but that which we naturally inhabit, that which is favourable to our existence. It is a totality, a peaceful completeness.

Coming out of the Shadows: Human Rights and Animal Welfare in the Industrial Model of Agriculture

By Nancy L. Utesch - Organic Consumers Association, September 3, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The burgeoning problems that the industrial model of farming present warrant the necessity to bring these issues out into the spotlight for discussion.  These problems have been brought to our communities, not problems citizenry has gone looking for.  These issues, super sized, along with the mega farms, have reached a tipping point in communities that can no longer shoulder the burden of this industry, evolving from the mom and pop farms of 20, 50 or 100 cows-and growing in numbers in the thousands-3, 5, 10,000 animals in the last decade.

The social implications for placing huge animal factories amid the rural populous with huge cesspools of untreated waste, also spread in those communities, is devastating.  The touting of progress and innovation, often voiced by this industry and its promoters, seems to be lost in the dark abyss of manure pits now containing as much as 82 million gallons of untreated lagoon slurry at a single site, displacing families from their homes and leaving those remaining with plunging property values, quality of life issues, and contaminated air and water.

While there are many issues to discuss on this model of food production, there are a few that others will warn you not to broach.  The first time I heard the term "third rail politics" was while speaking to one of the agencies designed to protect citizenry and the environment in the state.  It was the first, of what would become many times, that I would be warned to stay away!  The third rail "used to power trains, carries hundreds of volts of electricity, likely resulting in death by electrocution for anyone who comes into direct contact with it".  While a political term, the hazards of the rail are not limited to the political arena. The controversial "shock" of the third rail is warning enough. Don't Touch!   Safe to bet, most stay away from the hazards of the third rail. 

Two of the issues that that ride the rails include immigrant workers and animal welfare.   There are vast land mines that exist while dancing amongst these two topics, including the political forces that reign, and the potential social stigma of taking a stand on these two controversial topics.

The Animalization of the Proletariat

By Percy Gauguin - Species and Class, August 29, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The animalization of the dispossessed has been the very process by which the dispossessed became dispossessed. To reduce another to a bestial status is the establishment of supremacy over that other.

The condition of animality is essentially the lacking of humanity. The human who is treated as inferior is not fully human, and therefore lies somewhere between humanity and animality. This hierarchical mechanism is a form of predatory relations constituted within society, or the relations of nature transferred into social relations- not the reproduction of nature on social terrain, but the institution of a separate nature within society. This humanized nature, originating from nature but diverging from it, imposed itself upon ‘original’ nature and made it indistinct from it, thereby conflating human social relations with the natural order spontaneously arising between life forms in an idealized form. Animalization has been one of its underlying historical processes that has established inferiority and superiority between people, which then condensed the signification ‘animality’ as a distinct concept in opposition to ‘humanity’. This continual reproduction of animality throughout time has perpetuated the divide between humans and other species because humans themselves are divided into ‘social species’, or classes.

And so the species-relations between humanity and its livestock appear as the reflection of inter-human relations, reproduced in a distilled manner. The imperative of capital is to relegate each individual to the status of a meatbag which will generate, or at least not be an impediment to, profit. In the mass concentration of animals into bestial death camps proletarianization is reproduced in a very raw manner: the hyperexploited animal is merely a disposable unit situated in the accumulation of alienation. The hamburger fuels and provides alienated pleasure (e.g. McDonald’s) to those whose labor fuels the accumulation of capital and the even greater alienated pleasures of the capitalist class. The idea that animals suffer greatly under the industrial farm system is still extremely alien to many people, and oftentimes a matter of complete indifference and contempt. How can the proletariat’s proletariat become an object of solidarity when workers have no conception of even themselves? The pivot on which capitalism hinges is the individual ego that disregards all life that is situated beyond its egotistical view. The destruction of the slaughterhouse can never be accomplished within capitalism because capitalism is by nature always a world where the predatory instinct is sanctified.

Don’t come to New York for the Peoples Climate March… Come to grow the Eco-Resistance!

Suggestions on how to chip away at the empire in the Empire State this September:

By Panagioti - Earth First! Newswire, August 22, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

As the days of action surrounding the UN climate talks in NYC get closer, the internal sparks are already starting to fly with debates over who is annoyingly liberal, who is fronting with empty militant rhetoric, who is affiliated with Zionism and who is pro-Palestinian, which unions might be down and which are most likely to sell out the planet for promise of a few jobs, etc…

This is a call to resist the temptation of spending long nights trolling the internet on the above topics in the following month. Rather than scroll through endless posts, tweets and comments, wracking your brain to aim your limited characters with precision*, why not occupy your thoughts with questions such as these:

With a month to go, now is the time to start figuring out meaningful participation that can build momentum beyond of a march-and-go-home scenario.

The Ideologue Who Tried to Make Environmentalism Mean Population Control

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, July 13, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Review of The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon and our gamble over Earth’s future, by Paul Sabin (Yale University Press, 2013).

It was the Indian food crisis of the mid 1960s that turned the biologist Paul Ehrlich from a field researcher on butterflies into one of the USA’s most vocal environmentalists and population control advocates.

Ehrlich published his best-seller The Population Bomb – which warned that “mankind will breed itself into oblivion” and called for “radical surgery” to excise the “cancer” of population growth – in the summer of 1968.

The American elite was receptive to Ehrlich’s “grim predictions about the future”, Paul Sabin writes in The Bet. That year, violent revolt swept through American cities; the USA was mired in the Vietnam war and faced opposition to it at home; and student and worker protests swept through the rich countries and culminated in the French general strike.

Ehrlich became a media superstar, doing more than 100 public lectures and 200 radio and TV shows in 1970 alone. The Population Bomb was reprinted 22 times in three years. In the introduction, Ehrlich explained that he had “understood the population explosion intellectually for a long time”, but that his tour of India in the summer of 1965 – during one of the subcontinent’s periodic food supply crises – had brought it home emotionally. One “stinking hot night”, he wrote,

My wife and daughter and I were returning to our hotel in an ancient taxi. The seats were hopping with fleas. The only functional gear was third. As we crawled through the city, we entered a crowded slum area. The temperature was well over 100 and the air was a haze of dust and smoke. The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people watching, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing and screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people.

Sabin argues that Ehrlich’s “revulsion” at India’s street life was “common for western visitors”. But his instinct to blame “the sheer number of people” reflected a shift in emphasis in western thinking (The Bet, p. 22).

Axes of Struggle in the Asia Pacific

By Sasha Reid Ross - Global Justice Ecology Project, July 3, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Climate change is a war waged against the people of the Global South by industrial powers. A historical epoch is descending, and the islands of the Pacific are drowning. Waters will rise three feet over the next 90 years in Micronesia, a devastating potential for those 607 islands. The small island of Kiribati is already evacuating; the UK purchased a swath of land in Fiji as a climate refugee camp for the fleeing, but Fiji, itself, is looking into the eye of climate change enhanced storms and droughts.

The pressure on Southeast Asian populations is also mounting. Among the strongest typhoons ever recorded, Typoon Haiyan left more than 6,000 dead in the Philippines alone. Aid plans are still the works, some eight months after the most deadly storm in that nation’s history. Two years after the Tōhoku earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit Fukushima Daiichi, a once-in-a-decade typhoon slammed into the country, killing 17 and causing more nuclear contamination. The condition of climate refugees is only going to put greater pressure on diplomatic relations in the region, as even the US Department of Defense has stated that its infrastructure is vulnerable to climate change in the region.

Far from promoting a way to escape climate change, the North Atlantic aims to extract fossil fuels from the contested energy-rich waters of the South China Sea by whatever means available. As the US turns its “pivot to Asia,” however, it is mirrored by Russia. Where the US uses the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to chip away at China’s hegemony in the region, Russia works closely with China. The two countries recently signed a gas infrastructure deal that develops a historic partnership. Rosneft just deployed the world’s largest offshore oil drilling platform off Sakhalin Island while mending ties to Japan after the Crimea polarizations, and China has pushed a second offshore oilrig into waters contested by Vietnam. A storm is brewing larger than a typhoon.

A United Front Against Climate Catastrophe

By Burkely Hermann - Z Blogs, June 13, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Aggressive militarism continues to emanate from the office of the presidency and the US government itself. With drone strikes in foreign countries, an “empire of drone bases” in Africa as the Washington Post once called it, and a continuing war in Afghanistan, you would think that there would be mass protests on the streets against these injustices. Instead, there have been noble and honorable protests against drones, the war in Afghanistan, Bush era war criminals, and so on, but they have been too limited. At the same time, protests calling for the coming climate catastrophe to be adequately addressed have been growing among indigenous people and concerned citizens in both the Global North and the Global South. This is despite a laser focus of the big environmental organizations, Gang Green, on stopping Keystone XL but not a focus on many other issues. This article outlines why the peace movement[1] and the environmental movement within the United States should join together as a united front against corporate power and global neoliberal capitalism.

The Brief Origins of May Day

By Eric Chase - Published on IWW.ORG, written ca.1993.

Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers' Day of May Day. For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union. Most Americans don't realize that May Day has its origins here in this country and is as "American" as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.

In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Jack London's The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860's, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn't until the late 1880's that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.

At this time, socialism was a new and attractive idea to working people, many of whom were drawn to its ideology of working class control over the production and distribution of all goods and services. Workers had seen first-hand that Capitalism benefited only their bosses, trading workers' lives for profit. Thousands of men, women and children were dying needlessly every year in the workplace, with life expectancy as low as their early twenties in some industries, and little hope but death of rising out of their destitution. Socialism offered another option.

A variety of socialist organizations sprung up throughout the later half of the 19th century, ranging from political parties to choir groups. In fact, many socialists were elected into governmental office by their constituency. But again, many of these socialists were ham-strung by the political process which was so evidently controlled by big business and the bi-partisan political machine. Tens of thousands of socialists broke ranks from their parties, rebuffed the entire political process, which was seen as nothing more than protection for the wealthy, and created anarchist groups throughout the country. Literally thousands of working people embraced the ideals of anarchism, which sought to put an end to all hierarchical structures (including government), emphasized worker controlled industry, and valued direct action over the bureaucratic political process. It is inaccurate to say that labor unions were "taken over" by anarchists and socialists, but rather anarchists and socialist made up the labor unions.

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