Sugar Coated Extinction slides:
Sugar Coated Extinction slides:
This week’s reading relates to one of the many reasons why I entered a Food Studies program: the future of food. Individually, each article looks at the topic of food through a different lens but all come to the same conclusion: food, and how we produce it, plays an enormous role in the climate change conversation. Prior to enrolling in a Food Studies program I often found myself frustrated with the information available to the public regarding the story of our food. It is often limited to either a shallow fairytale-esque depiction of green pastures, happy animals and simple-minded, quaint farmers who embody the purity of time past or corporate greed, Monsanto and the factory farm. Working in the meat business in the Bay Area for a company that aims to straddle the divide between reality, ideals, and taste, I confirmed what I knew to be hiding beneath the marketing strategies and outraged Op-Eds: it is really fucking complicated. Furthermore, I become more confused about my own opinions on “how” the future of food should be addressed. Previously, I was apt to believe in the agrarian dream of “returning” to the way things had been done centuries ago. I am not alone in falling under this spell. But I knew that much of this had to do with the marketing I have been exposed and the things I chose to believe without the required knowledge to make a decision (as we all do).
These articles bring to light the inconvenient truths of our current food system: farming is an underfunded driving force of innovation, the environmental impact of healthy diets and the tastes we know are certainly not here to stay. As I jotted notes in the margins of my print-outs (not eco-friendly but I just can’t read on the screen and that is okay eco-warriors! I consider the environment before printing, as noted in your emails, but know thy self – I won’t comprehend it on a screen and I refuse to return to a state of limbo nervousness about my impact that paralyzes us to move forward if we think of every action we take as a slash at the environment!) I realized something in my mind was not translating to my margins: politics. But I know that politics are behind all of these complications. The Farm Bill is rigged to spend the majority of it’s budget on food stamps, the US Dietary Guidelines shot down the inclusion of environmental sustainability consideration in the 2016 guidelines and disregards taste and culture from it’s advice on healthy dietary patterns (we could learn from Brazil).
Policy has enormous implications for what these articles are talking about. I know this. Yet I don’t want to think about it because I don’t want to work in advocacy or policy. Again, I have no interest in sacrificing myself. It is the honest truth. Again, I am probably not alone in this, the same way I am not alone in having fallen prey to the back-t0-the-land-just-like-grandpa-did-it rhetoric surrounding the elitist, disconnected current farce of a Green Revolution. I do not mean to belittle the progress we have made, because change is evident if you look at food politics 30 years ago and today. But we seem to be stuck. Or maybe it is just the pace of politics. I don’t know, but I know for certain I want nothing to do with it, yet can see quite clearly that politics are what is in the way of substantive change. So how can we think about the future of food while ignoring the elephant in the room? It is uncomfortable. Similarly, this discomfort is something I am trying to achieve in my Sugar-Coated Extinction project, so I have much to think about.
It became clear to me after last week’s class that my civilization-esque game was a way for me to manage and entertain my thoughts on the topic rather than focus on one of the tangents I had begun to follow and turned away from. It seemed impossible to convey the entirety of the mass extinction event we are living in without including each and every one of them.
So I took the week off from thinking about the sixth extinction. I let my thoughts mellow in the back of my mind where they con work themselves out a bit without my agenda getting in the way. I found relief in the readings I did for class last night, and the connections started spewing out of my wrists like spiderman as soon as I made my serendipitous podcast selection this morning.
Art for the Anthropocene Era was a relief to read. It captured what I have been struggling with in our larger assignment and in turn the purpose of eco art in general – what is the point? Does this do anything? Why force viewers to think about things from uncomfortable perspectives if they do not care to on their own accord or feel capable of acting upon those feelings of desired change before or after viewing an artist’s work? I am not a designer/creator/tinkeror by trade, and struggle with the rudimentary purpose of art that practiced artists may have gotten past in their endeavors. Eleanor Heartney’s perspective drew me in when she pointed out the “Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art, 1775-2012,” as “evidence of artists working as documentarians, popularizers and educators to shape public perspectives of the environment.” This way of framing the purpose of art relates to how I would like to think about, and communicate, the sixth extinction.
Firstly, it relates to the formula of my podcast selection this morning: The TED Radio Hour, in which the host picks a general topic (i.e. “To Endure,” “7 Deadly Sins,” Believers and Doubters,” Why We Collaborate,” etc) and weaves together 3-5 TED talks that cover the topic from different perspectives. Through out the podcast, he re-interviews each featured TED talker to synthesizes their message with the overarching theme of the show and ask questions. This turns TED talks into conversations rather than rushed lectures. Just as the “Vanishing Ice” show features in Art for the Anthropocene takes individual works of art documenting the Alpine and Polar landscapes to draw larger conclusions on the erosion of the popular geographic regions, the Ted Radio Hour takes single talks and reformats them into conversations on larger themes.
In the particular episode I was listening to this week on endurance, Cosmologist Lord Martin Rees is featured to answer the question, “How Can We Ensure Our Survival As A Species?” In his answer, he discusses how dangers used to come from nature, but now the biggest threats come from humans. Science promises more, but the consequences of its discoveries are darker than ever. As humans, we are in denial about the likely science fiction-esque future we are facing, particularly in the coming century. He is a total pessimist, and yet his view on time, and ability to place humanity on a cosmological timescale, is elegant and beautiful.
Lord Martin Rees, not surprisingly, does a better job of synthesizing our existence than I do. Most particularly, he points out a crucial element of human as species: we are not done evolving. We are not a perfect homo sapien, and he, among others, believes in and hopes for a more evolved version of ourselves or a new species of hominid to carry on the legacy of humanity. In my project, I would like to create metaphors for the timescales we try to access when we think about the sixth extinction casually and when we think about it deeply.
I’ll update this post later. Here is the TED Radio Hour segment:
related material: The Sixth Extinction, Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene, When Should Scientists Kill?, Scientists Revive 30,000-Year-Old Giant Virus, Worry That Climate Change Will Eventually Do The Same, My Wish: Build the Encyclopedia of Life (E.O. Wilson Ted Talk), Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), Three ways to think about the sixth mass extinction, A Species Apart: Ideology, Science, and The End of Life, Extinction is a moral wrong but conservation is complicated, Lessons from the Land Present and Past Signs of Ecological Decay and the Overture to Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction, Why Is It So Hard To Care About Large Groups Of Animals?, How Will the Sixth Extinction Affect Evolution of Species?, What Does a Parrot Know About PTSD?, A Theory of Earth’s mass extinction (Peter Ward Ted Talk), Can we stop the sixth mass extinction?, The Death of Bees Explained, Message from Bees, Bill Nye’s Answer to the Fermi Paradox
This week I have struggling with the fact that we don’t know what the implications of the
sixth mass extinction will be, and how I feel as a member of a cancerous, weed-like, patriarchal, exploitative species. Since the beginning of the current mass extinction can be traced back to 100,000 years ago when humans first started to populate the planet, and the lessons to be learned regarding the effect of mass extinction are told on a geologic timescale, you can see why we have sheltered ourselves from thinking about such a topic. It’s too big. Yet despite the significance of our actions, the global biostratigraphical signature we will leave behind as humans will be as thick as a cigarette rolling paper and reveal a biostratigraphical signal of redistribution and loss of species on an enormous scale (Kolbert, 189). But something enormous on a rolling paper in geologic time is hard to wrap your head around. Perhaps we should feel…special? If there is any form of complex life to study our actions in millions and billions of years (unlikely – the planet will go back to the bacteria eventually – we exist in a sweet spot between two phases of bacterial dominance) we’ll be…interesting? fascinating? remembered? Our great philosophers, warriors, artists, biologist, wizards, bards, languages, cultures – even Beyoncé – cannot be preserved by the geologic record. So perhaps we are just doing as humans do and flying our flag in the stratigraphical record to let the universe know we are here. From a geologic perspective, the question shifts beyond saving life on earth to how obnoxious will our signature be?
I have filled my notebooks with notes, questions and sketches about how to frame this idea and began to feel overwhelmed by the topic at hand. How do you communicate the significance of mass extinction? What do you want people to feel about this? How can anyone grasp this from a visual experience created by a food studies graduate student with limited formal design skills? Here is a copy of the email I sent to Stefani when I realized how frozen I was on what direction to go.
Just in writing this email, I was able to identify/realize what I had been thinking about most in my scribblings: a Civilization-esque game where the player is in the drivers seat and causing mass extinction through their quest to conquer the world. The quote that I referenced in my email (“Man is a goal-seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.”) is from Aristotle and was a catalyst for realizing the importance of engaging a viewer/individual/player with a goal: create and survive the anthropocene. If we are to understand the sixth extinction, than we must experience on a large scale. This is possible in a game mode, and is a form of engagement we are culturally comfortable with. So much of what we experience is through a screen, and therefore a viable option for creating the type of design Buckminster Fuller talks about in his plan for Comprehensive Anticipatory Design. In this game, his theory is updated to consider our ability to exist in two realms: physical reality and virtual reality. Perhaps we can learn from playing a game to integrate ideas of how to live in/combat the sixth extinction from virtual reality and integrate them into our physical reality.
There is much to develop here, and if you read the above email, you can see that I am aware of my conflated sense of responsibility in conveying this message with a single project. The most important next step is to decide on the actual concept of the game. Currently I have lots of ideas about the game, but have no committed to a single concept. This alone is daunting, given my lack of experience in game making and the scope of the project I envision. But if the worst I can do is try, I’m okay with that.
The good news? I have an excuse to play Civilization and call it research.
Sample of Continued Thoughts/Notes for Game Features
related material: Are Psychedelic Drugs the Next Medical Breakthrough?, The Sixth Extinction, Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene, The Weight of the World, Racing Extinction, The Architect and The Painter, First Bite, When Should Scientists Kill?, You’re Worrying About the Wrong Bees
The readings for this week paired nicely with a Tim Ferris podcast I was listening to about the use of psychedelics in addiction treatment (and the general reemergence and gradual acceptance of the benefits of psychedelics in a therapeutic setting). The guests on the show are stepping outside of the typical constraints of traditional medicine and exploring what it means to be human in the context of our society, and how that becomes accessible through plant medicines that have been used for millennia. Similarly, the readings tackled the relationship between art and science and how, when paired together, they can release us from our traditional modes of thinking. The articles covered: The development of model-dependent realism in contrast to the objective reality of classical science (The Elusive Theory of Everything), the power of a social process of diffusion (i.e. people talking) over “turnkey tech solutions” in creating new norms, how Whitman’s “discovery” of the mind-body connection exemplifies how our society mistakes scientific theory for nature rather than tools for understanding our experiences (Proust Was a Neuroscientist) and the need for science in everyday story telling (Cosmic Queries: Art and Science). A few topics got me thinking about the anthropocene, the sixth extinction and this week’s readings while I was listening:
Nature – we are part of, rather than separate from nature; science does not explain nature; how do we reintroduce this concept to humanity? how do we stop being a weed to the rest of nature?
Existential crisis – how do we face a world coming to an end when our individual demise is too cumbersome for us to grasp? how does this become a visible problem when no solution is presented that encourages seamless change?
Mind-body connection – accessing through psychedelics what Whitman describes as the poem (if “we” are the poem that emerges from the unity of body and mind)
Feelings – the body loop (William James), how does art impact “the body loop” – can you evoke compassion and behavioral change with design? how can you integrate the body loop and the seven touches rule (Slow Ideas) to do both?
Pluralverse, perspective and M-theory – is there a perspective that exists, wherein the sixth extinction and the anthropocene are not problems but realities? Is there an M-theory for how to approach the anthropocene?
My first plan is to dose the water mains with ibogaine, sending every citizen on a soul searching trip from which they will emerge reconnected with their inner essence and conscious of their place within nature rather than separate from nature, and awoken to their responsibility to, at the very least, give a shit. As British hip-hop star The Streets once said, “Yo, they could settle wars with this // if only they will // imagine the world’s leaders on pills // And imagine the morning after.”
The Sixth Extinction is a feature of the Anthropocene, and has the potential to be the most devastating mass extinction in the history of the planet. Elizabeth Kolbert describes the mechanisms of extinction in her book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Kolbert uses examples from past extinctions and the present day to demonstrate the following mechanisms of extinction: invasive species, catastrophe, glaciation, ocean acidification, patch dynamic, habit fragmentation. From Kolbert and other sources, there is much debate on how to think about the sixth extinction and what the implications are. Some focus on a class divide and the greed of the 1%, while others embrace the notion that we are being faced with an existential, philosophical questions of what it means to be a human in the face of global collapse. These views focus more on the anthropocene as a whole, and there is a sense of glazing over the sixth extinction as a separate, relevant and vital topic in political, journalistic and non-environmental discourse. The following are a list of narratives, thoughts and concepts I have come across in my brief research of the Sixth Extinction: