The fourth chapter sets off from the point that, if the Anthropocene marks a time when the human becomes the most salient force in the geological record, then it is high time we took seriously our moral responsibility for geological processes and entities. It is argued that if we set aside human temporality and let go of anthropocentric ideas of integrity and persistence, then we can see the geologic as both interruptive and indifferent, and in both ways a challenge to the human projection into the world that demands careful navigation and responsible communication. This would mark the accession of the geologic to our moral universe. We would then not only assume responsibility for our footprint in the world but also take on the task of being for geology even though these precarious existences are unlike our own.
Before the book begins in earnest, it is established that our environmental catastrophe is marked by our masquerading in the present, refusing the future by refusing a responsibility for the other radical enough that it would reject the present and its deleterious conduct. There is then a brief encapsulation of the idea of moral gravity that will run throughout the book, as humility in the face of vulnerability and enthusiasm for lives that are precarious, as the graveness of existence and acceding to the pull of the other. An overview of chapters then gives the more concrete form of the argument to come for an environmentalism of precarious lives.
At the end of the book there is a brief if tentative conclusion that gives a summary of the work but that also makes the case that the real work of a revolution in morality is to be enacted in and with and for communities of precarious lives. There is then a final conceptual contribution, an elaboration of responsibility as an urgent patience. This is not a patience that is unhurried in the face of climate change, but rather an understanding that whatever we do now in response to environmental catastrophe cannot be done without the endlessly demanding work of listening to others and responding to others and saving the worlds of others before our own, with urgency but not without the patient work of responsibility.
The second chapter takes on calls by tech entrepreneurs to abandon the earth and move our lives to Mars or other extraterrestrial sites. It is argued that not only is this exodus congruent with the rapacious colonial logic that has left us here stricken in the first place, but also that it posits a lifeworld so alien to human experience, and with such little regard for human difference and non-human others, that the human simply would not survive the transplant. As such, it is concluded that we would be better off staying together here on earth rather than embarking on an exodus that is existential as much as it is planetary.
Between chapters there is a brief interruption to consider the need for a humanism of the other that can speak to the peculiarity of human responsibility in the world but that does not exclude non-human others from the moral universe. It is argued that we need an understanding of moral encounter that limits itself to the human encounter of others but that is fundamentally undiscriminating about what it encounters. This interruption then sets us on the path to an account of the moral gravity of animals as an interruptive and moving force.
Thinking about climate change can create a paralyzing sense of hopelessness. But what about the idea of a planetary exodus? Are high tech solutions like colonizing other planets just another distraction from taking real action?
This radical book unsettles how we think about taking responsibility for environmental catastrophe.
Going beyond both hopelessness and false hope in his development of a ‘sociology of the very worst’, Hill debunks the idea of a society that centres human beings and calls for us to take responsibility for sustaining a coexistence of animals, plants and minerals bound by one planet.
We would then find the centre of our moral gravity here together on earth.
The first chapter explores the use of pessimism about climate change, arguing that it need not be a fatalism or a nihilism but instead a responsible narcissism, a yearning for a community of precarious lives in anticipation of our collective death, a community founded on the humility of the individual and its enthusiasm for others. It is argued that in this confrontation with the very worst, the individual in its self-regard is undone and then remade in orientation towards the other, opening to a future that is habitable only because it is a radical break from the present. We can look at the catastrophe and think ‘we’re fucked’ but only if this ‘we’ situates the individual in a heterologous community that in turn situates our hopelessness in a precarious hope.
The third chapter begins from the position that we have more to save here on earth if we take more seriously the moral claims of non-human animals. While there is little we can say about the animal’s responsibility towards the human, it is argued that the encounter with the animal is a moral encounter insofar as it is an encounter with both excession and vulnerability, and that both these conditions are communicated by the animal in a way that demands human response. Ultimately, this animal vulnerability is only moving if it is taken seriously, demanding of the human an attentiveness to the suffering of animals, to approach a world it is heating and destroying with a responsibility to listen to the calls of precarious lives that are not analogous to our own.
Chapter 2 focuses on how waste becomes (or does not become) a public issue. Through a number of direct examples, this chapter shows that waste does not (necessarily or even most often) present itself as a self-evident problem. Indeed, it takes work to transform waste from a material object into a public issue and sustain public interest.
This chapter focuses on plastics waste to illustrate how oil and gas companies as well as governments frame plastics as both a vital part of contemporary society and plastics waste as manageable through a combination of technological innovation and individual behavioural change. Drawing on research on plastics production and waste, this chapter demonstrates that industry both disguises the origin of plastics (that is, oil) and plans to increase oil extraction and production through the increased production of plastics. The chapter also demonstrates that claims that plastics waste may be effectively managed through recycling are entirely false.