Item Link: Access the Resource
Media Type: Article - Foundational
Date of Publication: March 19
Year of Publication: 2021
Publication City: Lyon, France
Publisher: Medium - Ecole Urbaine de Lyon
Author(s): Berenice Gagne
Top photo – “The Beach”, Acrylique sur toile (detail ) (2018) © Hadrien de Corneillan
A monthly publication by Lyon Urban School (Université de Lyon, France) written by Berenice Gagne, dedicated to a better understanding of global change and the Anthropocene urban world: a selection of news in many fields of knowledge, which aims to grasp the world we live in and the world to come.
Urban School of Lyon – Watching over the Anthropocene Urban World & Global Change. Born in CO2 332ppm, my children 400 and 406
Check out the selection of Anthropocene Good Reads #2020: 60 books in many fields of knowledge to help understand what is happening and what is coming.
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This month a focus on energy ⚡️, among other Anthropocene news.
As we commemorate the sad anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, energy is more than ever a central issue of the Anthropocene. The energy crisis caused by the winter storm in Texas is a wake-up call for power grids around the world. However, their necessary transformation is slowed down by economic interests (The Energy Charter Treaty), the geopolitical context (especially with China) or by the disastrous ecological consequences of the need for natural resources from the mining industry.
“Frozen Landscapes” © Carol Graham
– A study of the mixtures of runoff and surface deposits in cities: these combinations of microorganisms “promote the emergence of microbiota shaped by pollution,” including the emergence of opportunistic human pathogens (such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, linked to lung infections and resistant to antibiotics) and plant pathogens (CNRS, 25/02/2021).
– Cities are sinking under their own weight: a study quantifies the phenomenon known as land subsidence in the Bay Area and in other cities, like Lagos (Nigeria) or Jakarta (Indonesia). The study highlights its simultaneity with the rise in sea levels. “While factors like groundwater pumping, erosion and the shifting of tectonic plates are often the major causes of subsidence”, the impact of the built environment is set to increase with the intensification of urbanization. A city like Lagos, for instance, whose population of 14 million is expected to double by 2050, is sinking by 2 to 87 millimeters per year. Jakarta, the Indonesian capital that is about to move, is the fastest sinking city in the world: 10 centimeters per year! (Bloomberg CityLab, 23/02/2021). A reading to be completed by another study: global human-made mass (concrete, roads, metals, etc.) exceeds all living biomass (including humans) (nature, 09/12/2020).
– In European cities emptied by the aftermath of the health crisis, the threat of lasting urban exodus is pushing city planners to finally address long-standing urban problems: “housing affordability, safe transportation and access to green space”. More globally, cities need to hear the demand for a reconnection with nature and with life (The New York Times, 11/02/2021).
– Urban soil and water pollution: you’d better wait before growing a vegetable garden in town! A study of the quality of soil and urban water in the downstream watershed of the Loire, from Angers to Nantes (France), highlights diffuse pollution caused by metals (copper, lead…), radioelements (uranium, tritium) or pesticides. This pollution comes from former landfills and agricultural or industrial wastelands that are possible sites for urban sprawl, with risks of use for a family vegetable garden. In Nantes, one third of the 1000 garden plots are contaminated with lead and sometimes arsenic. The same pollution is found in urban gardens in Nancy, Lille, Strasbourg, Paris and Marseille. Scientists study soil decontamination by phytoextraction: it uses the capacity of certain plants to absorb metals. However, this method takes between 3 and 50 years and it will not be possible to clean up all the soil. We must therefore live with it by adapting uses to the quality of each soil (for example, building a parking lot or a tertiary activity on polluted soil). Contrary to water or air quality, soil quality has only recently received attention and is not subject to any European directive to date (CNRS Le Journal, 03/02/2021).
– “Portraits of spaces”: a series of conversations with architects, geographers and artists from around the world, who talk about where they live and tell stories of “inhabited resiliencies” in the age of the pandemic. Guangzhou (China), Kabul (Afghanistan), New York (USA), Lagos (Nigeria), Barcelona (Spain), Carúpano (Venezuela) et Lyon (France) (A l’école de l’Anthropocène).
– The French organization “Pour un réveil écologique” (For an ecological awakening) has published a report on the consideration of ecological transition issues in higher education in France: a dynamic seems to be at work thanks to the growing demands of students, but the survey is biased by the increased participation of the most committed institutions. If the consideration of ecology is increasing, it often remains compartmentalized in elective courses, specialized courses or awareness-raising activities. A real reshaping of curricula is required and teaching should be much more transdisciplinary to promote a systemic vision by involving the entire educative community. Of course, a national plan on higher education transition would also boost the transformation of teaching and promote homogeneity and coherence among institutions. The article also highlights the commitment of students in French “grandes écoles” who are calling for ecological issues to be taken into account, not only in their curriculum but also in their future professional choices (The New York Times, 30/01/2021).
– “Teaching in the Anthropocene”, a conversation between teachers of various disciplines from North America and Europe. A reflection on the radical transformations that global change is imposing on teaching: abandoning the disciplinary, practicing a project-based pedagogy to make the ethical and political issues of the Anthropocene question sensitive and decentering of views and approaches (A l’école de l’Anthropocène, 25/01/2021).
“Habitat” (2012) © Till Nowak
AGRICULTURE & FOOD
– Brave new food system: An op-ed that praises the benefits of Agriculture 2.0 through 3 innovations supposed to solve deforestation and the hazards of the global food system: vertical, cellular and precision agriculture. The article also denigrates agro-ecology as unrealistic on a global scale and prefers to promote the dream (or nightmare?) of advanced robotics, animal-free meat and dairy products, and self-driving tractors to “produce any crop, anywhere, any time of year, eliminating the need for long, vulnerable, energy intensive supply chains”. The injunction to use the technologies is irrevocable: “we cannot achieve our climate and food security goals without also embracing agricultural technology” (The Conversation, 18/02/2021).
– “Digital Control: How Big Tech is turning to food and agriculture (and what it means)”. While Bill and Melinda Gates were ranked the largest private owners of farmland in the U.S., there is a growing interest by tech giants in agriculture and the food sector. “This development is leading to strong and powerful integration between companies that supply products to farmers (pesticides, tractors, drones, etc.) and those that control data flows and have access to consumers.” In addition, agribusiness is encouraging farmers to use mobile apps to access data and advice (GRAIN, 26/01/2021).
– Phosphorus — an essential element for our survival, which forms the scaffolding of DNA — ends up in the garbage, even though it is a powerful fertilizer for crops. The depletion of phosphorus mines has led scientists to look into recycling animal waste (including human waste: yes, I’m talking about pee & poo!), in particular by using wastewater to fertilize the soil (The Atlantic, 08/02/2021).
– A very complete focus in data and graphics on soy: its link with deforestation, the evolution of its production and its destination. 77% of the soy produced is used to feed livestock, only 6% is used directly in human food (Our world in data).
ARTS & CULTURES
– The effects of global change, including climate change, can be seen in the loss of language diversity in the world. 97% of the world’s 7,000 spoken languages represent no more than 4% of the world’s population. “In many regions of the world, living conditions threaten human societies and their languages. In the mountains, an area that is conducive to natural and cultural diversity, the melting of glaciers, the cycle of rainfall, and the increasing scarcity of water are affecting traditional subsistence activities, forcing the inhabitants to move down to the plains, where their languages are being lost to the dominant language. The same problem exists with deforestation in the Amazon. The disappearance of a language is not only a matter for a few romantic and regionalist linguists, it is a whole representation of the world that is being erased (France culture, 04/02/2021).
– The International Energy Agency is warning about the level of fossil fuels emissions: after a steady increase in the second half of 2020 and the implementation of stimulus plans at the global level, they were, in December, 2% higher than in December 2019. Yet after the sharpest drop in carbon emissions since the Second World War observed in the spring of 2020, hopes were raised that 2019 would represent a “carbon peak” (The Guardian, 02/03/2021).
– Gulf Stream: the ocean currents in the Atlantic, which play an essential role in regulating the climate system, are at their lowest level in a thousand years (nature geoscience, 25/02/2021). The foreseeable consequences of this slowdown: a significant drop in rainfall in the densely populated Sahel region of Africa, an increase in extreme climatic events (storms, heat waves, floods, etc.) and in sea levels in North America and Europe, and a drop in fisheries resources. With a very didactic and colorful infographic (The New York Times, 02/03/2021).
DECOLONIALISM & POSTCOLONIALISM
– “Hope, Risk and Reality: Perspectives from Indigenous Voices on our Relationship with Mother Earth”: a series of interviews with representatives of U.S. Native communities (MAHB, 09/02/2021, 16/02/2021, 23/02/2021, 02/03/2021).
– “The white people want to eat the world. And we are the world”: an interview with Brazilian indigenous leader Ailton Krenak, author of Idées pour retarder la fin du monde (Ideas to Delay the End of the World, Éditions Dehors, 2020), which celebrates the cosmovisions of indigenous peoples. “I poured into the text all those years of experience with these small human units that know how to worship life. They worship the land, the river, the forest, the food. Eating, in our place, is wonderful. I wanted to pay tribute to this life, the life that knows the rites, that knows the practices that delay the end of the world”. Ailton Krenak takes up the Yanomami notion of xawara, which links epidemics to the pathogenic action of white people on the environment. “The only way to produce life in front of this eroding world is to inhabit other cosmovisions. Without restricting ourselves to what we have received as ancestral heritage. A vision of the world in which materiality is stated by a poetics of existence and a link to life so powerful that it is the very continuity of the existence of other non-human beings” (Diacritik, 27/01/2021). Link to the original text in Portuguese (Brazil).
– “Tackling the roots of the exploitation of natural resources”: a seminar with academics and activists from the European, African and North American continents, which addresses three dimensions: food, extractivism and ecology. It focuses on the question of agriculture and food sovereignty, then on the question of colonial heritage in the management of resources and finally on the notion of green colonialism (A l’école de l’Anthropocène, 26–28/01/2021).
– “The Anthropocene : from north to south”: a conversation between Nnimmo Bassey (Nigeria), Alternative Nobel Prize (Right Livelihood Award 2010), Andri Snaer Magnason (Iceland), writer, and Valérie Disdier (France), Urban School of Lyon. What does the Anthropocene mean from the north and from the south? What are the words, the common grounds on which we could agree? (A l’école de l’Anthropocène, 25/01/2021).
– “Feeling-Thinking to Listen: Paths to Interculturality”, a 4-session seminar to create a space for horizontal dialogue with those who have been qualified as “the others” of modernity: indigenous peoples (A l’école de l’Anthropocène, 25–28/01/2021).
Shanxi (China), first coal producing region (2015) © Kevin Frayer
– Who’s deciding? An analysis of the far-reaching implications of the hegemony of artificial intelligence (AI) on the definition and perception of our humanity. Predictive algorithms are becoming increasingly sophisticated and scientists even claim that they could rid them of bias. What about our ability to make decisions? Not only do algorithms lock us into our past since they rely on our past choices and tastes to predict what we will choose (remember to clear your history!), but they also make humankind lose the unpredictability that characterizes it (The Conversation, 24/02/2021).
– “Decarbonizing the economy: the challenges of heavy industry”: in France, the objectives of the National Low Carbon Strategy require an 81% reduction in emissions from industry, ¾ of which are represented by heavy industry. The most energy-intensive industrial sectors are steel, aluminum, glass, cement, ethylene, chlorine, ammonia, paper/cardboard and sugar. However, the entire value chain must be considered: for example, there is no point in “relocating the pharmaceutical industry if the chemical industry remains abroad or if the latter is French but carbon intensive”. The first objective of a decarbonization strategy is sobriety: “produce less, from recycled materials and via more environmentally efficient processes”. Secondly, the energy mix must move away from fossil fuels. Heavy industry has placed great emphasis on carbon capture and storage techniques, which represent major technological and economic challenges. The decarbonization of industry requires voluntary support from public policies and “an alignment of strategies between Europe, the French government, the territories and companies” (The Conversation, 15/02/2021).
– Review of Philippe AGHION, Céline ANTONIN, Simon BUNEL, Le Pouvoir de la destruction créatrice. Innovation, croissance et avenir du capitalisme (the power of creative destruction. Innovation, growth and the future of capitalism; Odile Jacob, 2020). Against degrowth and the return to traditional technologies, economists argue that technological innovation, driven by a capitalism oriented and regulated by the State, is the answer to social and environmental issues. Based on the 20th century Austrian economist Schumpeter, the authors emphasize the “creative destruction” of capitalism: the principle of competition encourages continuous progress because it pushes to always surpass the existing and to impose innovations (products or processes). Against the prevailing “collapsology”, economists assert that the creativity that has led to destructive technologies can also generate green technologies. It must be stimulated by policies to support research and development and by a carbon tax (la vie des idées, 15/02/2021).
– 10 years after the Fukushima disaster, nuclear power remains a source of energy whose role to decarbonize remains controversial and highly divisive. This didactic article raises the challenges of the nuclear industry: beyond the already well-defined technological issues, the authors, members of the Project on Managing the Atom at John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, point out the need for a more inclusive governance (nature, 05/03/2021).
– A major report on clean energy industrial policy, trade, and supply chains that analyzes solar, wind, and electric vehicle batteries. The supply chains of these three sectors are interdependent with globalized materials and trade generating economic and geopolitical vulnerabilities, with China taking center stage, particularly for solar. The United States and Europe are more competitive in wind energy. The report also analyzes the industrial policy of clean energies, a sector largely subsidized by the States (CSIS, 24/02/2021).
– The journalist group Investigate Europe has investigated the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), which could slow down the European ecological transition. Signed in 1994 to secure the supply of fossil fuels from the former Soviet bloc to Europe, it was intended to protect companies taking the risk of investing in the necessary infrastructure. Today, the treaty allows a fossil fuel company to sue in a private arbitration tribunal a signatory state whose policy is perceived to be harmful to its commercial activities, thus bypassing national jurisdictions. Countries wishing to prohibit drilling or mining projects are then exposed to claims for compensation (Investigate Europe, 23/02/2021).
– “How extractive industries manage to carry on harming the planet” as awareness of ecological catastrophe grows? An article that unravels the “manufacture of consent” and the counter-insurgency tactics mobilized by the mining industry to continue operating: social investment and community relations (sponsoring local events or clinics etc.) or legislative work. For example, laws recognizing the right of indigenous peoples to consent to or reject mining projects in their territories generally promote the expansion of these projects. Since the 1990s, the major mining groups have also shown their commitment to a transition towards “sustainable mining” projects, to compensating for their activities and they are investing in solar and wind energy. The current energy transition is increasing the need for mining resources dramatically: lithium and cobalt production is expected to increase by 500% by 2050 compared to 2018 (The Conversation, 22/02/2021).
– Climate change is putting energy systems (electricity and gas) under severe strain: the power outages in Texas due to an unprecedented winter storm provide a glimpse into the challenges of power generation and distribution with extreme, unpredictable and more frequent weather events as a consequence of climate disruption. They expose power grids to conditions far beyond the historical conditions for which these systems were designed, resulting in catastrophic and costly failures. Yet cost is the argument used to delay improvement measures to make power systems more robust: for example, protecting power plants from extreme weather or increasing backup power sources. With the encouraged growth of electric cars and heating to decarbonize our societies, the economy will become increasingly dependent on the reliability of power grids and the cost of blackouts will become increasingly high. “In today’s world, especially with climate change, the past can no longer serve as our guide to the future. We need to do a much better job of preparing for the unpredictable” (The New York Times, 16/02/2021).
– The manufacture of low-carbon technologies (batteries, wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles, etc.) and the mining of the minerals used in these technologies require water resources that are certainly much less important than agriculture (especially livestock) but still exert pressure on water resources. However, “the dynamics of the global energy transition can only be achieved through the intensification of mining (lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper) throughout the world and therefore generate an increase in water consumption.” At the global level, water withdrawals have increased more than sevenfold between 1900 and 2010, while the population has increased 4.4 times. In many cases, “mining production or processing activities are carried out in countries where the pressure on water resources is already high”, which increases the threat of conflicts, particularly with indigenous populations. The mining sector is not only water-intensive but also pollutes rivers. A display of the water footprint would raise awareness: it corresponds to the quantity of water used in a territory to meet all the needs of a given population, integrating the water consumed at the tap but also the water used for the production of goods and services, both those produced on the national territory and those imported. The implementation of a circular economy recycling minerals would greatly reduce the pressure on resources. In the world, we are currently observing two opposite trends: a movement towards the commodification of water resources and, in reaction, a demand for water as a common good and a fundamental human right that must escape the market (The Conversation, 16/02/2021).
“The Beach”, Acrylique sur toile (2018) © Hadrien de Corneillan
– America’s first climate refugees: an investigation in Louisiana (USA), among the inhabitants of Isle de Jean Charles, which has lost 98% of its territory since the 1950s due to climate disruption and coastal erosion, particularly from oil exploitation (Radio Canada, 28/02/2021).
PHILOSOPHY, SOCIOLOGY, ANTHROPOLOGY & OPINION
– “How chicken bones became a geological marker”: an investigation of the “golden nail” of the Anthropocene, that reference point (or stratotype) in the Earth’s strata that indicates the boundary between two geological strata. The search for geological evidence of the footprint of human activities on the Earth leads, among other markers, to a pile of chicken bones in the process of fossilization as chicken consumption has intensified and homogenized since the 1950s. “Intensively farmed chickens are up to five times larger than in 1950, their skeletons are larger but less dense and suffer from bone deformation. Today, 90% of the world’s chickens raised for meat come from just three major companies.” The paper also explores other geological markers such as concrete and plastic (Heidi.news, 20/02/2021).
– The historian Laurent Vidal, author of Les hommes lents: résister à la modernité (XVe — XXe siècle) (The slow people: resisting modernity (15th — 20th century); Flammarion, 2020), weaves a link between the Great Anthropocene Acceleration and an ever closer world. He sees in the injunction to promptitude of Christian modernity from the 15th century, the philosophical elements preparatory to the Great Acceleration, born with industrialization after 1945: condemnation of laziness and waste of time. “Industrial capitalism has imposed the principle of acceleration as a social norm, and informational capitalism has imposed that of instantaneity” at the cost of immense destruction: “colonizations, Atlantic slavery, exploitation of natural resources…” The transportation revolution gives the illusion of a closer world by reducing travel time. However, in the West, “this opening up of the world has resulted in its exoticization, that is to say, the invention of an alterity in line with its own expectations. By becoming exotic, the distant was decontextualized and reduced to a simple periphery of the modern world.” The author calls poetry to help our world articulate the rhythms of ecosystems between the end of the month of “ordinary days” and the end of the world of the anthropocene (AOC, 03/02/2021).
– “The Anthropocene as a cosmological turn”, a lecture by Sverre Raffnsøe, professor of philosophy at Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School (Denmark) and Editor-in-Chief of Foucault Studies. “A previously unexperienced, intimate and precarious relationship between humankind and the Earth is established with the Anthropocene that implies a new conception of the order of the world and of the role of humans within it” (A l’école de l’Anthropocène, 31/01/2021).
– “Materiality of the Anthropocene”, a conversation with Pierre Charbonnier (France), philosopher, Jedediah Purdy (USA), professor of law, and Michel Lussault (France), geographer. A discussion on the material basis of capitalism, the impact of this ideology of extraction and exploitation on the planet and the perspectives for reorienting the links of political and economic actors and inhabitants to extracted materials (A l’école de l’Anthropocène, 27/01/2021).
– “Are we all vulnerable?”, a conversation with Frédéric Keck (France), philosopher and anthropologist, Eric Klinenberg (USA), sociologist, Joy Sorman (France), writer, and Jérémy Cheval, Urban School of Lyon, on human and non-human vulnerabilities, through urban life, poultry farms or psychiatry (A l’école de l’Anthropocène, 26/01/2021).
POLITICS & GEOPOLITICS
– Interview with Sandra Postel, Director of the Global Water Policy Project, who calls for the development of a reliable and sustainable global water policy, resilient to climate change, in order to ensure food and water security, but also social and political stability. It begins by recalling 3 fundamentals of water: it is the basis of life on Earth, it is renewable but not infinite and it has no substitute. Our water management often forgets these obvious facts. Many indicators show the decline of aquatic systems and water cycles are disrupted by human activities. 70% of the water consumed by humanity is used by agriculture. Sandra Postel invites us to manage water with nature rather than against it: for example, the vegetation cover in agriculture retains both carbon and water in the soil and is an effective way to fight against droughts and floods. Another example: countries along the Danube River are working to reconnect rivers to their floodplains to build resilience to flooding, replenish water tables and expand wildlife habitat (MAHB, 18/02/2021).
– An analysis of the irruption of climate issues in the UN Security Council and more broadly in international politics. The political scientist Lucile Maertens coined the concept of “climatization” to describe the expansion of climate policy, which has become the dominant framework for international relations and global security issues: we are now experiencing a climatization of international issues (International Politics, 04/02/2021).
– “What politics for the climate?”, a conversation with Mark Alizart (France), philosopher, Holly Jean Buck (United States), geographer, Yasmine Bouagga (France), sociologist, mayor of the 1st arrondissement of Lyon, and Fabrice Bardet (France), political scientist. Should ecology be a band-aid, an urgent action that attempts to repair, or the dawn of a true “new world”, which proposes global changes, encourages the development of new responsible technologies and puts progress at the service of new “green” innovations? (A l’école de l’Anthropocène, 30/01/2021).
– “Keeping trees in the ground where they are already growing is an effective low-tech way to slow climate change”. In contrast to the current trend of planting trees to fight climate change, keeping the trees already in the forests growing is more effective (but it does not provide the same relief to our guilty consumer conscience as the offset click). “Forests pull about one-third of all human-caused carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere each year.” They could take up twice as much carbon if deforestation were stopped and existing forests were allowed to grow. The authors (who are not without a sense of humor) advocate the creation of a strategic forest carbon reserve similar to the U.S. strategic oil reserve. They advocate “proforestation”, which consists in allowing existing forests to grow, especially since older forests are more resistant to climate change than young trees, which are more sensitive to drought and fire (The Conversation, 22/02/2021).
– “Prozac might need a new warning label: “Caution: This antidepressant may turn fish into zombies.”” Sewage treatment plants rarely filter out these chemicals, so they end up in the waterways and change the behavior of fish with a tendency to uniformity (Science, 09/02/2021).
– Humanity and cacophony: noise as the new hallmark of the Anthropocene. A study examines the impact of human-related noise on marine life. Many marine organisms are dependent on the production, transmission and reception of sound for essential aspects of their lives. However, the marine soundscape is being polluted by the increasing anthropogenic cacophony produced, for example, by shipping, resource exploration, or infrastructure construction. At the same time, biophony (sounds of biological origin) has been reduced by hunting, fishing and habitat damage. Anthropogenic noise acts as a stressor for marine animals, inducing physiological and behavioral changes. The authors advocate for national and international policies to mitigate marine noise and propose a series of solutions (Science, 05/02/2021).
– « Longing for space », a talk on the research cycle “Perseverance Valley”, an alternative exploration of Mars by artists Clément Postec and Pauline Julier, followed by a discussion with space archaeologist Alice Gorman (Australia) who addresses both the issue of space junk and the colonial and indigenous issues in space exploration (A l’école de l’Anthropocène, 31/01/2021).
– Work by the Polymers and Oceans research group (CNRS) sheds light on little-known effects of plastic pollution in the oceans. Of the 400 million tons of plastic produced each year, about 10 million end up in the oceans, of which 30 to 40% is packaging. “The Mediterranean Sea is the most polluted in the world, due to the large number of inhabitants, the fact that it is closed, the density of maritime traffic and the large rivers that flow into it”. Beyond the easily observable effects on macrofauna (entrapment, strangulation, injuries) and the presence of plastic (micro and nano) throughout the food chain, the research reveals the existence of a “plastisphere”, a new ecological niche that gathers “microorganisms living on plastic particles scattered throughout the oceans”. Since microplastics last a very long time, they can displace invasive and even pathogenic species. The plastisphere also contains bacteria that have developed resistance to many antibiotics and thus risk participating in the development of antibiotic resistance (Reporterre, 19/02/2021).