Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping
Can we consider climate change as a symptom of Post-Extractivist Stress Disorder when we reject the term Athropocene in favour of the politically enabling descriptor of Captilocene? In this session, we will present our artist film and photographic works addressing Loss and Damage as Capitloscenery that provides us with evidence of the existence of a post extractivist stress disorder (PESD). Through our images and film, we will explore the visible stress exerted during the extraction of fossil fuels, the landfall of a hurricane or the burning of a wildfire, and approach an understanding of the less tangible traumas of displacement and Solastalgia (G.Albrecht). We will then go on to explore how the “memories of the future” offered to us through future scenarios based upon indigenous cosmologies attempt to holistically heal PESD, whilst ecomodernist technocratic future scenarios threaten to rub salt into the wound.
Since 2016, we have been working on an artist film and photography project called Future Scenarios which began whilst we were undertaking the Culture and Climate Change’s Future Scenarios networked residency.
The residency which was initiated by Prof. Renata Tyszczuk and Prof. Joe Smith, in recognition of the importance of communicating the urgency of climate change through art and culture, challenged us to become artist’s who were climate researchers by facilitating our collaboration with climate scientists, policy makers and researcher institutions within the UK and throughout the global south to explore the theme of future scenarios.
As artists we worked with the collaborative practices that lay at the root of scenarios thinking that had been employed by the actors who performed Commedia Dell’arte street theatre and by the futurist and military strategist Herman Khan (Renata Tyszczuk) to create palpable imaginings of both difficult and improving future scenarios in dialogue with the researchers and communities that we have visited during out Future Scenarios project.
Through the creation of speculative documentary film and photography, which we refer to as Capitloscenary, we worked to identify glimpses of the future within the lived experiences of those that are most vulnerable to climate change, with the intention of highlighting three important things:
1. How the crisis of climate change is for many not a future scenario but a disaster that is unfolding right now that is already causing Loss and Damage.
2. How the solution to the problem is already here and how this solution is being sabotaged by a number of the developed nations.
3. How much can be learnt from the political and moral leadership of the global south, the adaptation and resilience strategies being employed by indigenous peoples, impoverished communities and the inhabitants of the least developed nations who are already dealing with climate change on the ground.
During the project we investigated scenarios of climate induced migration and favourable protection environments, intensified natural disasters and disaster preparedness, sea level rise and adaptation strategies, energy sovereignty and privatised energy futures, conflict and conflict resolution, heat and water stress and food security and resilience in locations that are vulnerable to climate change such as Bangladesh, Lao PDR, Nepal and Uganda, and those which are historically responsible for climate change such as the UK and the USA.
First let us just take a minute to explain why we are choosing to reject the term Anthroposcenary and therefore the Anthropocene in favour of Capitloscenary.
We propose Capitloscenary as a way of referring to scenes that are descriptive of the circumstances that are typical to the condition of Capitalism and Neo Liberal Capitalism, which we hold responsible for Earth’s entry into our current geological epoch, the Capitalocene.
Note that while this new epoch may officially be referred to as the Athropocene, we feel that the term Captilocene, a phrase adopted by the likes of Donna Haraway, is a politically enabling geological descriptor (T.J Demos) that more aptly describes how the new epoch has come about through corporate globalisation, or more specifically the extractive practices of corporations in pursuit of capital, rather than through the actions of all humanity which the word Athropos (Greek:man) wrongly implies. This can be understood by looking at how the common “we” of the Anthropocene inappropriately suggests that indigenous peoples, marginalised communities and the inhabitants of the global south are equally responsible for such defining features of the epoch as climate change, when they are guilty of little to none of the extraction, subsidisation and consumption of things like the fossil fuels that are required to run Capitaloscene enterprises (T.J Demos).
Based upon our rejection of the Athropocene in favour of the Capitaloscene we would like to propose a neologism that could act as a descriptor for the stress exerted upon Earth’s systems and the psychology and bodies of its beings: Post Exstractivist Stress Disorder or PESD.
We have formulated the PESD neologism having recognised that there was an absence of adequate descriptors to communicate the stress exerted during the epoch of the Capitalocene by, but not limited to, such things as the hyperobjects of climate change and plastic, and the social problems of inequality, racism and ecocide that exist as a result of colonialism, capitalism and Neo-liberal capitalism.
We can describe Post Exstrativist Stress Disorder or PESD, as a physical and psychological disorder that is afflicting the Earth and its beings that has developed following the extraction of its resources (such as fossil fuels, minerals, timber, water, animals, vegetation and nutrients) and the extraction of value from its lifeforms ( such as through the exploitation of labour, meat, animal products, and the commodification of the body, emotions, shelter, education, food and water, health care, time, birth and death) by first colonialism, then capitalism and now Neo-Liberal Capitalism.
The disorder exerts stress upon Earth’s system in each of the four major subsystems or spheres. In the lithosphere (land) the disorder causes geological stress through such things as the melting of glaciers and the building of mega dams. In the hydrosphere (water) the disorder has caused stress upon the hydrologic cycle by increasing evaporation, transpiration and sublimation, through global warming, deforestation, damming, and the depletion of aquifers. In the biosphere (living things) the disorder causes environmental stress via such things as deforestation and bioaccumulation that can lead to ecocide (Adorno), genocide and mass migration. And in the atmosphere (air) the disorder has put stress upon the carbon cycle leading to global warming and to the Ozone Hole and to ocean acidification.
The disorder also exerts stress upon the psychology and bodies of Earth’s beings through direct forms of violence such as murder and genocide, structural violence, racism and speciesism and slow violence (Nixon) which includes such things as the bodily and phycological impacts of climate change and the bio-accumulation of toxins and radiation in bodies that in turn cause or exacerbate things such as death, suicide, the loss of limbs, cancers, auto immune diseases, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Solistalgia and Eco-anxiety.
The neologism was constructed by associating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event such as sexual assault or warfare, with the trauma caused by extractive practices. The post-, stress and disorder from PTSD have been retained, however the ontological meaning of the words have been expanded.
By using the word extractivist we are referring to extractivism: an unsustainable practice of extracting increasing amounts of resources from human and non-human sources to sustain profitability. As well as to an extractivist logic that prioritises extractive modes of resource management within the political economy and development planning that is associated with colonial and neo-colonial policies of appropriation (Acosta, 2013, EmmaWilsona and Florian Stammler 2015).
We intend the prefix post- to signify that the disorder has emerged since anthropogenic activities have become unsustainable, and that the disorder exerts stress upon the Earth’s systems and it beings long after extraction has taken place. We also wish the post- prefix to suggest that exstractivsm is in need of questioning and discontinuation as in the way post- is used in post-imperialism. Here we feel that it is important to acknowledge that the prefix post- in PESD, could wrongly imply the following: That extraction has entirely halted and is now a historic practice, of course we hope that this will happen one day and that post- may then additionally signify this. That no stress is exerted at the point of extraction, for example as a quarry is dug, or prior to extraction, as in when a war is waged to secure resources or a forest is cleared to access them. We hope that by associating PESD with other neologisms that have been devised to enable critical discourse such as post-colonialism we will avoid this pitfall. However it may be that it is too soon to deploy PESD as in the case of post-colonialism.
While we have attempted to define a limited number of the different forms of stress that the S in PESD stands for, at this time we do not wish to place limits on the stresses that may be associated with neologism. We wish any form of negative impact upon the Earth and its beings, relating to extraction to be considered a stress.
We also acknowledge that the task of defining stress in its various forms has been fraught with difficulties and ambiguities (Le Moal 2007; Romero et al. 2009; Koolhaas et al. 2011). It is also right to highlight that the psychological stress exerted by PESD need not be limited to sentient beings and may be extended to other beings such as trees and rocks, but at this time we have not yet explored this avenue.
We are using disorder, the D in PESD, to suggest three things.
1.That the post-extraction world is in a state of confusion or disorder.
2.That extraction has caused disorder in the systematic functioning of the Earth’s systems.
3. That extraction has caused a disorder, a disease or abnormal condition that negatively affects the structure and function of all or part of Earth’s systems and the psychology and bodies of its beings.
Note that disorders, unlike wounds, are not immediately discernible from an external injury (such as knife wound in a body, or the impact of an asteroid on a planet), but instead disorders are conditions that typically result from internal dysfunctions that cause stress within multiple areas of an organism's system. In this case, extraction exerts stress upon every sphere of Earth's system and within all of the lived experiences of its beings leaving them mentally and physically disordered.
What examples of PESD exerting stress upon Earth’s systems can we draw from our film and photography field work on Loss and Damage?
1. The stress exerted upon the carbon cycle and hydrologic cycle by emissions realised, and water used during the extraction of Oil from California’s midway sunset oil field.
2. The stress exerted upon the hydrologic cycle by the climate intensified California drought that exacerbated the 2018 Campfire which in turn levied stress upon the carbon cycle and the region's ecosystems by realising contaminants such as benzine as cars and homes were burnt in the ensuing firestorm.
3. The stress exerted by climate intensified Hurricane Michael on Florida’s ecosystems through the destruction of forests the has increased the likelihood of forest fires, incubated pests and diseases and clogged rivers and streams , the intrusion of salt into ground water and the spreading of contaminants such as plastics from destroyed building deep into forests and swamps.
4. The stress levied upon the geology of the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region by the melting of glaciers and he formation of moraine dammed lakes by global warming and the decreasing albedo of snow and ice due to the presence of dust and black carbon particulates that have been blown from sites of extraction in idea and china.
5. The extraction induced stress exerted on the wetlands of the Mississippi delta that is causing a football pitch of land to be lost an hour from the delta due to the dredging of 10,000 miles of canals by oil, gas and pipeline companies to access drilling sites and lay pipelines and the death of vegetation that has been caused by the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
6. The stress exerted upon the coastlines and river banks of Bangladesh by climate exacerbated sea level rise and increasing amounts of glacial melt water that enter its rivers as glaciers melt in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region.
7. The stress caused by Chinese Neo-colonial practices in Lao PDR, where deforestation is taking place to generate land that can be rented to Chinese corporations to grow cash crops such as melons.
What examples of PESD exerting stress upon the lived experience of earth beings can we draw from our film and photography field work on Loss and Damage?
1.The psychological and bodily stress exerted by the climate exacerbated conflict in South Sudan that caused the South Sudanese refugee crisis.
2. The psychological and bodily stresses exerted by cyclones, river bank and coastal erosion upon Bangladeshi’s that lead to rural urban-migration.
3. The psychological and bodily stresses exerted upon those that have migrated to urban centres to avoid such things as hurricanes, floods and drought through the difficult living conditions found in urban slums and the risks associated with dangerous jobs such as repetitive strains, falls and accidents and factory collapses.
4. The psychological and bodily stresses exerted upon those who lay in the path of climate intensified Hurricane Michael, which directly caused death and injury and solistalgia as indicated by a kind of homesickness that residents described that they were feeling while adjusting to living in their recently destroyed neighbourhoods.
5. The psychological and bodily stresses exerted upon those who endure climate exacerbated water, food and heat stress.
6. The psychological and bodily stresses exerted upon those who are marginalised by environmental racism which has exaggerated their exposure to things like toxins and flooding such as in the case of Mississippi’s Cancer Alley and New Orlean’s lower Ninth Ward.
7. The psychological and bodily stresses exerted upon residents of Paradise who endured the climate exacerbated Camp fire in 2018, many of who suffered from solistalgia and PTSD whilst continuing to be exposed to contaminants such as benzine that have been realised in to the water supply and environment by the burning of cars and buildings by the fires.
It is intended that the identification of PESD may help us to diagnose and overcome the Stockholm Syndrome that Neo-Liberal Capitalism has inflicted upon us. By enabling us to correctly identify that we are hostages that have developed positive feelings and affinity towards an economic and social form that is holding us captive and thus it may lead us to work towards ending our masochistic behaviours.
We also hope that the descriptor of PESD will help us see that our reality is deranged (Amitav Ghosh), that we have failed to grasp the scale of the violence of extraction. Even though the established ethical norms of our societies reject and forbid violence, the violence of extraction in all its forms (direct violence, structural violence and slow violence), it continues under the auspicious labels of growth and progress. This “ not
business but violence as usual” paradigm, a scenario trajectory that has been normalised and thus deemed acceptable, if not necessary by the select few who reap its rewards, is not only substantive proof of our derangement under the stresses of PESD but evidence that PESD is itself being harnessed by disaster capitalists to maintain the state of disorder in which Neo-liberal Capitalism thrives.
While there have been other attempts to alert us to this derangement in the past, such as the emotional statement of the much distressed Philippino negotiator Yeb Sano at COP19 (2013) in Warsaw that was made following the catastrophic landfall of the category 5 Typhoon Haiyan close to his hometown.
“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. Let’s end this madness here and now in Warsaw.”
We have not heeded any such warnings, instead we have continued to get madder while suffering from PESD and have further increasing our consumption of oil, opening of new coal mines and felling of forests as our children who are suffering from eco-anxiety have taken to the streets in protest of intergenerational inequality . While our only forum and best hope for the development of binding international climate policy, the UNFCCC COP has turned into a “ very costly and high-carbon group therapy session, a place for the representatives of the most vulnerable countries in the world to vent their grief and rage while low-level representatives of the nations largely responsible for their tragedies stare at their shoes.” that may be regarded as broken (Salemul Huq) due to its stagnation on key issues such as Loss and Damage.
We also intend the description of PSED which can be easily associated with, and understood as an extended form of planetary PTSD, to encourage research in the neglected fields (Helen Berry) of environmental psychology. A field of study that seeks to understand the links between such things as climate change and mental health that has yielded relatively few publications in the last 10 years.
The concept of PESD also presents an opportunity to further break down and extend empathy across the human-nonhuman divide by acknowledging that extraction impacts everything on Earth from a tectonic plate to a pangolin to a child in Dhaka. However we feel that it is important to acknowledge that all of Earth’s beings are not impacted equally or in the same way by PESD, nor are they equally responsible for the extraction that has caused it. In spite of this we are hopeful that PESD can perform as a politically enabling descriptor that will indicate this disparity in much the same way that the neologism Capitalocene does.
Additionally we believe that PESD may help us to acknowledge how extractivist logic acts as an earth-wide "resource curse” that stifles other ways of imagining the future, such as alternative social and economic arrangements based around ideas of de-growth and indigenous cosmologies as future scenarios.
Perhaps more than anything we hope that the provocation of PESD can encourage humanity to seek help to escape its Neo-Liberal captor and end its addiction to extraction.
In light of the diagnosis of such a disorder, humanity should turn towards ways of imagining the future that proposes de-growth or indigenous cosmologies as futures scenarios rather than to ecomodernist futures that are dependant on technocratic fixes and geoengineering, as a way of remedying PESD.
As Shell scenario’s team explains in their 2017 youtube video Navigating an Uncertain future, “scenarios can be considered memories of the future because thinking about the future uses the same part of the brain as thinking about the past or past memories.” because of this Shell believes that “thinking about the future is limited when we use past presidents to imagine it”.
In issuing this statement, Shell not only attempts to wash its hands of any responsibility for its contribution to the emergency of climate change and therefore PESD, it also dismisses the idea that anything can be learnt from past mistakes made during extraction and most worryingly that indigenous knowledge could help shape a habitable future.
While Shell tries to overcome the past and past presidents to profit in the future in new and unimaginable ways, indigenous communities reflect upon past lived experiences to suggest ways to overcome the stresses caused by the “
business violence as usual” that defines the Capitaloscene.
Indigenous “memories of the future” provide us with an intelligent and compassionate rejection or critique of the values traditionally linked to progress in light of the stress caused by PESD.
Such Indigenous futures do not necessarily require humanity to turn towards a form of neo-primitivism, technological-primitivism or logical-primitivism as is often wrongly assumed by ecomodernist but instead as Gene Ray explains, suggest ways of moving on from “social forms and logics that are unsustainable and based on terror and inappropriate technologies” towards forms and technologies that show us “that we can gain more, substantively, in relationships, balance, and happiness, than we will lose by refusing the stresses of modernity”, in short those that are sustainable and draw upon pre-extractivist ideas.
Two such examples include the Eco-Svaraj (Radical Ecological Democracy) practice of India and the Sumak Kawsay (good life) practice of Ecuador.
Both examples suggest an alternative approach to extractivism “that respects the limits of the Earth and the rights of other species and nature, while pursuing the core values of social justice and equity.” (Gene Ray). Both approaches do so by extending the ethics of responsibility to the rest of nature via stewardship and kinship and through self-restrained consumption and ethically just behaviour (Gene Ray).
These practices included such methods as : sustainable farming, fisheries and pastoralism; food and water sovereignty; decentralised energy production; direct local governance; community health initiatives; alternative learning and education structures; localisation of economies; gender and race and species justice; rights recognising nature (constitutionally), the differently abled and multiple sexualities; as well as many others methodologies. (Gene Ray) Most importantly both practices place collectives and communities at the centre of governance and economies instead of states and corporations (Gene Ray).
It is in this way that Degrowth and indigenous cosmology based futures can be understood as remedies for PESD by rejecting the extractivist logic that has caused the disorder.
Although Shell’s scenario team does go on to point out that “one way of challenging ourselves to imagine different scenarios is by becoming aware of, and understanding different and multiple perspectives”, the perspectives that Shell is referring to are limited to Eco-modernist futures full of technocratic fixes that reject the past and the indigenous as a possible sources of social forms and logics.
In its latest scenario Sky, Shell in its own somewhat skeptical words “illustrates a technically possible, but challenging pathway for society to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.” (Shell 2020) that is dependent upon a “goldilocks” combination of social and political will to perform an “eye-watering re-wiring of the global economy” (Jeramy Bentham, Shell Carbon Brief).
With the Sky scenario relying heavily on unproven negative emissions technologies (Carbon Brief) such as direct Carbon Capture Storage, Carbon Capture Use and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture Storage (BECCS) to suck excess CO2 from the atmosphere, the future according to Shell remains gripped by exstractivist logic and risks the moral hazard of assuming negative emissions will be possible (Carbon Brief).
While Shell’s Sky scenario illustrates a “technologically, industrially and economically possible” Paris -compatible future (Carbon Breif), it makes little attempt to illustrate a caring, just and inclusive future that considers the social, phycological, ecological and geological wellbeing of a future Earth.
Ethical and moral omissions from the Sky scenarios include such failings as the following two examples:
1.The Sky scenario does not recognise that meeting the mitigation goals of the Paris Agreement alone will not fulfil the requirements of article 8 of the Paris Agreement (The Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and Damage) and therefore the Sky scenario implicitly denies that adequate support is required (from Annex 1 countries) by the nations of the Global South (Annex 2) that will bear the brunt of the significant amount of Loss and Damage that will still take place at 1.5˚C of warming. Without support those living within climate vulnerable nations in such a future will merely continue to just survive rather than living meaningful and fulfilling existences.
2. That the deployment of Bio Energy Carbon Capture Storage which will require a significant proportion of the area currently devoted to arable and cropland which risks PESD by increasing stress upon biodiversity, food, water and energy security (nature) and by inducing solisaligia as land is given over to farming monoculture bio energy crops which will require the use of large amounts of insecticides and fertilisers.
Perhaps most alarmingly Shell’s Sky scenario shows us how the states and corporations that favour an Eco-Modernist worldview place themselves at the centre of governance and economies of their future scenarios as a way of ensuring that they are an essential part of any transition that will take place, while suppressing the voices of, and omitting the alternative forms of value and logic that could protect the communities, species, ecosystems and geological bodies that will be performing the labour, functioning within the societies and providing the resources for their futures, while absorbing the stresses of continuing PESD.
Ultimately we may consider that these Eco-Modernist memories of the future that perpetuate continued dominance of a state or corporation are colonising the future to ensure that the derangement within which neoliberal capitalism thrives will continue. As a result we should expect PESD to be prevalent in any such future.
To conclude, it is our intention that the definition of PESD will function as a politically enabled descriptor to aid in the communication of the negative impacts of the Capitalocene , one that extends empathy across the human-nonhuman divide and highlights the importance of critically accessing any scenario pathway for signs of exstractivist logic so that uninhabitable futures may be quickly identified and hopefully discarded.
This essay was presented at ANTHROPOCENES: Reworking of the Wound; European Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSAeu) in June 2020. Find it here: https://www.slsa-eu.org/conferences.html
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