climate and planet

Anthropocene: conceiving regenerations of living things and people in society


The conference of the Université populaire de la Mairie du 2ème arrondissement de Paris took place on Tuesday, November 18 on the theme "INVISIBLE REVOLUTIONS: YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE /Limits of the Earth: Redefining our Needs and Priorities", in partnership with UP' Magazine and Sciences et Avenir.
Dorothée BrowaeysThe coordinator of the People's University, Ms. Klaus Khan, recalls that the aim of the People's University is to promote transitional initiatives with a view to the United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change in December 2015.  The first session was devoted to the limits we are facing (minerals, biodiversity, planet...). This second session is dedicated to our vulnerabilities.

The moment we're living in is referred to as the Anthropocene. This term refers to the rise of Man as the preponderant telluric force for the future of the biosphere. Our planet has tipped into a thermo-industrial, chemical, nuclear, urban, consumerist and unsustainable age. Consecrated by various scientific articles, this notion of Anthropocene leaves a doubt as to the power of Man who, by disrupting the system, no longer controls it. 
Faced with this observation, the postures are contrasted as illustrated by the visions of the three guests this evening: revolt, refuge, resistance, regeneration, reconciliation...

Intervention by Edith Heurgon, co-director of the International Cultural Centre of Cerisy-la-salle and in particular the author of "Le renouveau des jardins, clef pour un monde durable".

Edith Heurgon is a present-day prospector. Her job has led her to work with a wide range of players, such as RATP, the French Post Office, the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE) and a number of local authorities.

His work consists in overcoming the tensions between the professional spheres, by articulating scientific knowledge, that of practitioners, and that of those who interpret the world from their sensitive experiences - the artistic milieu. His method focuses on receiving the weak signals emitted by interested groups, and on stimulating collective intelligence, valuing the vitality of individuals rather than that of institutions prone to immobility. By betting on mobility at the interstices, the approach aims to be resolutely optimistic, creating unforeseen events and serendipity effects conducive to innovation. This basis is necessary for the co-construction of desirable scenarios by conjuring up hateful futures (as opposed to prospectivist scenarios determining abstract possibilities). It deliberately distances itself from quantification approaches because, according to Edith Heurgon, "numbers mask meaning".

To generate this dynamic in the face of a problem, Edith Heurgon always proposes to ask the questions "What if? or "How far should we go without...?" questions. "By shifting their point of view in this way, the actors are questioned about their capacity to imagine new coalescences to overcome their misunderstandings. For example, rejecting the 'category' of adolescents as a group at risk, we can envisage scenarios that focus on youth and value their creative capacities. Similarly, the older generations can be considered as reservoirs of experience.

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Since its origin in 1890, the centre in Cerisy (Pontigny 1910, Cerisy 1052), which Edith Heurgon runs alone since the death of her sister in 2006, has had at heart to put intellectuals at the service of society, and to promote meetings within it.
Edith Heurgon observes that the colloquia held at Cerisy are "getting darker and darker". For the past few years, she has been proposing physical approaches, carrying emotions, linked to walks and gardens. For her, "when you are in action, you are in optimism". Her latest meetings on "The renewal of gardens: keys to a sustainable world" or "Garden foods in urbanized societies" allow participants to experience a living together outside the boundaries of urban society: another way of cultivating independence of spirit.

Intervention by Kalina RaskinHe is in charge of the scientific development of the European Centre of Excellence in Biomimicry in Senlis (CEEBIOS).

Kalina Raskin begins by describing biomimicry, which is inspired by the phenomena of living things: open systems without waste that can replicate and regenerate themselves. It is different from the simplifying vision of a science at the service of design (bionics) or materials. It insists on the loss of consciousness of the interdependence between living beings, reflecting the profound disconnection of Homo Sapiens, a recent creature, with the rest of the living world to which he owes everything. We are surrounded by interacting living systems. A living system (a cell or an ecosystem) is a self-organized being that is traversed by various flows: material flows, energy flows, and information flows. Biomimicry allows us to focus on the cybernetic management of these flows, with a view to better pooling functions or recycling materials, and thus find innovative solutions to societal challenges.

The Senlis Biomimicry Centre is located in the premises of a former military barracks. It is made up of a scientific committee (chaired by Gilles Bœuf, director of the National Museum of Natural History) and an industrial committee that brings together companies from different sectors (construction, chemistry, cosmetics, etc.). In 2012, the Ministry of Ecology commissioned a report for the green economy and since then, the terminology of biomimicry has entered the vocabulary of public policy with a mention in the energy transition strategy. With the support of the Ministry of Ecology, the centre brings together previously uncoordinated actors and serves as an incubator for 80 projects. It develops alternative, responsible and frugal innovations.

Intervention by Dominique Bourg, philosopher at the Institute for Territorial Policies and the Human Environment in Lausanne, and vice-president of the Nicolas Hulot Foundation :
"Debates on ecology are locked in a lexical fatality that prevents us from grasping the seriousness of our situation. Numerous epistemological shifts contribute to reducing or even obscuring reality. Three words bear witness to this:

- The term pollution suggests that we can reduce the damage, and encourages our "western sin". The divorce between the function of production and the function of consumption shifts the focus to the profound intertwining of the issues. Concerning water, metal and fossil resources, the question should be asked in their interdependence. Thus, the focus on pollution problems prevents questioning the production models that cause them, which legitimizes the belief that technology can solve a given problem. On the contrary, let us admit that human activities are at the origin of excessive and all-azimuth material flows.

- The term Risk is also misused. There are only a minority of environmental risks in today's society, because pointing to a risk means pointing to a circumscribed phenomenon. The situation of the climate (potentially +4° at the end of the century according to the latest IPCC report) or the erosion of biodiversity (which is taking place at a rate 1,000 times higher than that of the last mass extinctions) are, on the contrary, presented as transcendental damage, in the sense that they are global and irrecoverable. Biodiversity would take 10 million years to recover, and the climate will be deregulated for thousands of years. The modern mind is unable to understand the logic of irreversible threshold effects.

- The designation of crisis to talk about the moment we are living through is also absurd. It suggests that this is a bad time to be going through. Yet we have been immersed in this destabilisation of the balance for a long time.

- The notion of sustainable development is also problematic. Valid 30 years ago, it is no longer credible. Because if we thought we were going to "still" deal with the problems that are happening to us, it is no longer possible to imagine a mobilization. We have gone beyond all the alerts and ultimatums. It no longer makes sense to tell ourselves that we can aim for sustainability.

The anthropocene era refers to the radical transformation of the conditions of habitability of the Earth. The cause of this transformation lies in a conception of nature as a simple "backdrop for the economic gesture". By drawing nonchalantly from the reservoir of resources, Man is confronted with limits that mark the end of modernity and inaugurate the anthropocene.
Two postures are possible. Paul Crutzen, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the initiator of the notion of anthropocene through various publications, considers that we will be able to store greenhouse gases. However, the infrastructure needed to capture carbon is expensive and cannot be generalised: we could only store a quarter of CO2 emissions. This vision is therefore an illusion that we must turn away from in order to avoid sinking into transhumanist absurdity.
The other approach is to believe that we can regenerate ourselves, recognizing that it is the return of nature to the buildings of our societies that is operating and can save us. We have believed that we can exist outside of nature or above ground. But now we need to decompartmentalize problems and free ourselves from quantitative mania. The emerging nightmare dispels the false dreams of modernity and thus becomes a vector of change. »

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Discussion :

Edith Heurgon Believes that ecological awareness is a history of the marginalisation of warnings: the dimensions of the anthropocene were clearly visible before the term was coined recently (see: C. Bonneuil and J. B. Fressoz, L'événement Anthropocène). There are many examples of deception with regard to the realities or the reduction of major trends (renewable energies, peri-urban transport).

Historically, the struggle against communism has undermined the critique of the consumer society: we are entangled in "a society of private joys, public misfortunes and planetary fears" (Jean Viard). It is necessary to make the alternative movements converge, and to avoid that they struggle among themselves to obtain the recognition of the power of the capitalist elite, which in any case is not trustworthy. Edith Heurgon considers that, through collective intelligence, the stimulation of reflexive capacities, the use of NICTs and actions of responsibility, a new future can emerge. We must try to see how to ensure that alerts and innovative initiatives are not prevented. It is essential to allow the conciliation between corporate and citizen experiences rather than thinking in terms of boycott .

Michel Blay (philosopher and great witness of the cycle of debates) goes back over the genesis of the term energy which is indebted to the laws of thermodynamics. Energy conservation comes from economists. As long as we are talking about energy, we will not get out of capitalism, which is always trying to make money from resources.
The idea of nature varies greatly from one people to another. That of our West is a setting and a dumping ground, in short an externality ...

Dorothée Browaeys questions the relevance of the discourse of reconciliation at a time when multinationals are becoming invested in the management of common goods.

Kalina Raskin Stresses that biomimicry is resolutely transdisciplinary and non-hierarchical. Its promoters can naturally incubate projects in response to societal issues.

A member of the audience pointed out that, from the point of view of the actors, activists are not necessarily in a climate of struggle, although there may still be a search for the visibility of a commitment.

The floor is given to the audience. Interventions pointed to the sometimes obscure and emotionally charged nature of words. On a semantic level, the notion of sustainable development accredits the idea that the environment (a term marked by anthropocentrism) replaces nature. A transgression, because the zoological species that is man is put in the foreground. Just as with the idea of anthropocene, for which alternative concepts such as thermocene, urbanocene or monumentocene can be suggested. In Spanish, Portuguese and English, the expression sustainable development is favoured. As for the term pollution, it has left the moral field (meaning 'dirty') to enter the economy, where it provides the alibi for compensation for damage (the polluter-pays principle).

Edith Heurgon praises the hidden virtues of gardens. The garden is a place of refuge, an anti-stress shelter. According to R. Harisson, it embodies a place of resistance, creativity and regeneration. The experience of the garden inspires virtues such as patience, humility, attention to biodiversity and consideration for future generations. In the gap between urban and rural space, the garden appears as a place of survival and quality of life.

According to Kalina Raskin, Biomimicry sometimes results in the development of complex systems, where taking into account the movement of plants, for example, optimizes the production of cuttings or grafts and thus makes it possible to substitute work with observation.
In France, CEEBIOS is a platform that maps the skills of the players to help innovative projects emerge.
In Germany, there is a real policy of structuring these approaches. 70 million euros have been allocated by the State to a technophile vision of biomimicry (robotics, photosynthesis, etc...).

For Dominique BourgThe concealment of global warming depends on several logics: we have never dealt with it before, it is generally not very accessible to the senses, and follows an exponential logic as to its effects. From a political point of view, the commitments are in demand for reciprocity, which creates an economic windfall effect - at a time when China is announcing that it intends to reach its emissions peak in 2030. To settle the semantic question, we must consider that the actors need to be able to play on the polysemies intrinsic to words. But when we talk about sustainable development, for example, we must specify the sustainability of the model: very weak sustainability when it comes to increasing productive capacities in the name of well-being, or very strong sustainability that strives to maintain the physical characteristics of environments and preserve biodiversity, to take only the extremes. Otherwise, we expose ourselves to a chain of deceit.

To conclude, Dorothée Browaeys asked the speakers: To what extent can we act in concert with divergent actors?

For Kalina RaskinThis raises the question of consensus, calling for reconciliation with industrialists. On the one hand, the attitude of industrialists is changing, because it is a question of image first and foremost, and of resources above all. The idea of responsibility is no longer seen as a burden but as a way of being creative to honour the reciprocity and interdependence of species.

According to Dominique BourgThe LETS (Local Exchange System) systems make it possible to federate existing initiatives and get rid of the constraints of financial institutions. By favouring interest-free loans, for example, hoarding is discouraged, and a non-capital-intensive development path.

Edith Heurgon The weak signals that society is sending out are concealed by macro-concepts that do not shed any light on existing initiatives. This provokes an avalanche of questions such as the recognition of goods without a market, the ownership of companies, or the domestication of money - all themes that were addressed in the framework of colloquia organised by the Cerisy centre.

Transcript Watch-out - Hadrien Kreiss 
The Watch-out Project is responsible for reporting on the range of innovative initiatives identified at the conferences taking place until May.

Next session: Climate and Energy, Generating Renewables and Autonomy, 21 January 2015

First session of "You Can Change Your Life". of October 14, 2014

Main photo: Sculpted by the wind, a Phoenician juniper. © A. Gioda, IRD.

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