Exacerbating Factors

Several considerations exacerbate the ecological storm in the climate case. The first is the deep and pervasive reach of human influence. Serious anthropogenic climate change looks likely to shape the basic conditions of life on the planet for the nonhuman world, profoundly affecting the lives, roles, and very existence of countless other creatures and ecosystems. It is one of the main drivers of what many now call the Anthropocene, a new geological era defined by human domination. This provides a large challenge for how to understand “independence” and “accommodation.” For instance, some claim that the onset of the Anthropocene implies that wild, independent nature will soon no longer exist. One issue is that, if this is a distinct source of value and climate change extinguishes it from the Earth, the ethical stakes are high. Another is what to say about the value of the nonhuman world that remains.

A second exacerbating factor is the radical expansion of human responsibility. The pervasive influence of humanity implies that “what happens” in nature is fast becoming what we do. If “with great power comes great responsibility,” the implications seem dramatic. Just as formerly “natural” disasters (such as superstorms, profound drought, flooding, etc.) can increasingly be seen as human-made disasters, so we are at risk of becoming increasingly implicated in the nonhuman world, including in its less savory aspects (such as extinction, predation, disease, and so on). For instance, if in the future polar bears go extinct through the lack of summer sea ice, or pine beetles shift their range southwards destroying the redwoods, these will be things that we have facilitated, and for which we share responsibility. Nature, previously acknowledged to be “red in tooth and claw” but no one’s fault, suddenly belongs to us.34

A third exacerbating factor is the possibility that this situation encourages a push toward further human

colonization of nature. For instance, if the nonhuman world is seen as having become thoroughly our responsibility, some will claim that it is now our job to clean it up, morally speaking (e.g., by “policing” interactions among nonhumans, to create a “sanitized” nature). While some view this as an obvious next step, others are horrified. Again, climate change amplifies serious questions about the human relationship to the nonhuman world.

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