Re: [xmca] Human footprint too big for nature

From: Jay Lemke (
Date: Tue Oct 24 2006 - 18:46:06 PDT

Well, does CHAT have anything to say about this?
i.e. about ways in which patterns of activity and
culture change historically? Certainly Mike Cole
and others have been interested in figuring out
some things about the sustainability of
institutions and activity patterns that
constitute institutions, and the
cultural-historical and marxist heritage of CHAT
also leans in the direction of informing us about macro-change.

The theory of the ecologists I mentioned before
(Holling et al.) is that we have to collapse
before we change ... or at least that this is
what happens in natural ecosystems. I have argued
for years that we live in a special kind of
ecosystem, one where meaning (culture) influences
actions above and beyond what material forces or
biological needs require. But it's still an
ecosystem (eco-social-semiotic system) for all that.

I am not much of an optimist about David's
question. But I will note, on the optimistic
side, that Bruno Latour's recent arguments about
the "thinness" of global economic-technological
networks and how much lies, somewhat invisibly,
outside them, may mean that the juggernauts we
imagine we have to tilt Quixote-wise against may
not be quite as big, or invincible as they seem and want to seem to be.

On the less-than-optimistic side, the easiest way
to stop a juggernaut in an over-bloated complex
system is to trigger a collapse, which you might
even do accidentally. "Resilience theory", which
grew out of "robustness" theory in ecology, has
evolved into something more of a theory of the
limits to resilience. It's a dangerous science,
since it identifies just how to sink the whole
system. I gave up a line of research two years
ago because I was too worried about this danger.
Juggernauts can be stopped, but can they be stopped safely?


At 03:24 PM 10/24/2006, you wrote:
>Here there are some facts about the WWF report.
>I might say that is pretty demoralizing for us, citizens of the
>developing world, to share the world with you guys, citizens of the
>developed world, but not to be able to have a real say about how its
>resources are wasted. We all know that the UN play a decorative role
>these days and that more can be done from the Oval office than from
>New York's UN headquarters about it.
>On the other hand, I guess that these graphs do not show within
>country differences. As a part of the middle/upper classes of the
>developing world, I might as well be an active polluter and not to be
>well aware of it because there are no data. Last but not least, I am
>sure that as my country runs to modernity we will join you very soon,
>given the predatory nature of most of our national fabric (forestry,
>fishing, mining).
>The simple ting is: What can be really done? Change our consume
>patterns? Yes. Protest? Yes. Educate? Yes. Will do anything of it do
>something about it? Not sure. Can we force the powers that be
>(corporate or political) to take appropriate action? Sign the Kyoto
>protocol, at least?! Shift to clean energies? Put the commons over
>the private interests?
>On Oct 24, 2006, at 3:37 PM, Jay Lemke wrote:
>>Gee, I thought this was going to be about the discovery of BigFoot!
>>And in a way, I guess it is, with the too-big-for-our-shoes
>>resource greed of the overdeveloped countries (led no doubt by my
>>own) marching profitably toward disaster.
>>I am comforted that I probably won't make it to 2050, miracles of
>>modern (also resource profligate) medicine, notwithstanding. On the
>>other hand, when I taught Environment Science at the university in
>>New York for a few years in the 1970s, the extrapolations from then
>>current data all indicated to me that the first
>>signs of global eco- tastrophe would be showing
>>up around 2020. Extrapolations are
>>tricky in these matters because of all the feedback loops, which
>>generally tend to make problems come sooner and be worse than
>>expected. (If you are not prone to nightmares, or eco-anxiety, have
>>a look at Holling & Gunderson, 2002,
>>_Panarchy_, or http://
>> under Thresholds. These people are among
>>the leading ecosystem theorists and researchers in the world.)
>>Do juggernauts ever have second thoughts?
>>At 11:15 AM 10/24/2006, you wrote:
>>>WWF’s 2006 Living Planet Report, the group’s biennial statement on
>>>the state of the natural world, says that on current projections
>>>humanity will be using two planets’ worth of natural resources by
>>>2050 — if those resources have not run out by then. It also confirms
>>>the trend of biodiversity loss seen in previous Living Planet
>>>Read the full report here:
>>>There is a ranking of countries' contribution to disaster there.
>>>Guess whom are topping the list.
>>>David Preiss, Ph.D.
>>>Profesor Auxiliar / Assistant Professor
>>>Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile
>>>Escuela de Psicología
>>>Av Vicuña Mackenna 4860
>>>Macul, Santiago
>>>Fono: 3544605
>>>Fax: 3544844
>>>web personal:
>>>web institucional:
>>>xmca mailing list
>>Jay Lemke
>>University of Michigan
>>School of Education
>>610 East University
>>Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>>Tel. 734-763-9276
>>Website. <>
>>xmca mailing list
>David Preiss, Ph.D.
>Profesor Auxiliar / Assistant Professor
>Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile
>Escuela de Psicología
>Av Vicuña Mackenna 4860
>Macul, Santiago
>Fono: 3544605
>Fax: 3544844
>web personal:
>web institucional:
>xmca mailing list

Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
Website. <>
xmca mailing list

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