Where does wealth really come from ? in « Peak Metals, Minerals, Energy, Wealth, Food and Population; Urgent Policy Considerations for A Sustainable Society », see the Converge Project

I wish to start my first entry in English with the synthetic diagram above. I also wish to give it the following caption :

"(…) A new historical situation : the others are no longer outside; non-humans have to be brought back in the description in a more active capacity. Both of those features, naturally, mark the disappearance of older notions of nature and of its counterpart, namely culture ; disappearance, that is itself due to the fact that everybody — ethnographers as well as former informants — are pulled deeper and deeper into the same ecological maelstrom."[1]

With such a point of departure, can we really afford to hold onto the current decaying ontological grounds ? Grounds we have - by the way - sealed and paved ourselves ? Is there only one manner to continue to sustain the illusion ?

Yesterday as I was reading the above-mentioned report, I felt disenchanted beyond disenchantment. Facing the challenges the authors point in such a short period of time, there is so little I can contribute to that I spent the whole day wondering if my writing, research, commitment were worth anything. Yes it is one of those reports with alarming statements grounded on - apparently - serious considerations and calculations. Although I cannot double-check the data, I have the feeling that today there is a myriad of discourses that converge and in fact, as we approach the many deadlines, they converge at a very rapid rate to a point of non-return (i.e. the numerous peaks highlighted in the report), from where it will become extremely difficult (costly, painstakingly, etc…) to adapt.

What an uncomfortable situation. Who am I to express these thoughts when I cannot detach from that madness ? The aluminium laptop I am using to write these lines, together with the servers and the electricity that carry the information to the many nodes back and forth, isn't it part of the problem ? Can I make it part of the solution though ? But what distinguishes a problem and a solution in such a case ? Is there now something/someone to be named "solution" and "problem" in the wake of a new geological age, namely the Anthropocene ? Awkward yet legitimate, you may ask me why such metaphysical questions ? A problem is a problem that we solve with solutions we call solutions. End of the story. Here is my second thought. The solutions we propose as a response to a problem will have induced a feedback in a revised - and empirical - entropy principle. As we add a little more disorder to the whole system by elaborating solutions (some new thought, creative thinking in a way) to a given problem, we add complexity to the initial situation. I am myself adding noise with that entry. Economists have a rather clear taxonomy : these are externalities. Later on, arising problems will have to be comprehended in a hair more complex context. In short, clarifying the complex necessarily adds complexity. But today complexity itself behaves in such ways that we soon need another clarification (i.e. solving), etc… Unfathomable. That's what seems to characterize our stochastic world[2].

Here I do share the views the authors express in the report : this is a "causal loop"[3] where cause and effect are swapped, in fact there exists plenty of ways to get to one end or the other. Traditionally the former is in first position while the latter occupies the last one, somehow standing in an eternal integrity. Today an effect has a subsequent cause, every move we make toward a solution takes us closer to another problem (i.e. not to the initial problem), as we use technology to play it down. An echo to Michel Serres' :

"The slightest movement of any one on the planet has immediate effects on all the others, whose reactions act unhindered on the first."[4]

But technology has its own fall-outs, the little intricacies we stumble into after a period of time. They are dealt with another "cutting-edge" technology or technique, etc… This is an endless journey into the catchment of a funnel to its narrow stem, then from the narrow stem of a new one to a second open mouth, etc… With varying scopes, heights and widths, in a succession of tipping points but with no edge that cuts the story short at all. At the age of the Anthropocene, I wonder whether this solving technique is to maintain the illusion of reaching the core of something somewhere[5] or are we again being lured into technology's power. Seriously. Does this helps ? Remember ? "(…) Natural forces and human forces became intertwined, so that the fate of one determines the fate of the other (…)"[6] That's what we are in and funny enough, this time there's no outside as Latour states in the opening quote...

On a different level of discussion, I have a somewhat naive exemple. I came across a biker in the meandering streets of downtown Brussels, as I was walking to a supermarket to get a kilo of fresh flour (I do bake my own bread every two days). He had a poster on his bike "BURN FAT NOT OIL" capital letters (equivalent to a big shout in the Internet realm). Let's play the problem/solution game here. So the problem is obviously the OIL we BURN (I follow his fashion with the capital letters) to get to different locations. The solution is to burn FAT cycling so that we BURN less OIL. Case closed. Really ? So let's assume this man BURNs FAT riding his bike on a daily basis hopefully, even to the outermost parts of Brussels, the - very- hilly ones and with a cold, rainy, windy weather all included, no exception, inhaling the PM2.5 particles emitted by "modern" diesel engines in the combustion (i.e. the BURNing) of OIL. Sounds good, hum doesn't it ? Apart from cancer this man risks, he (and we) tend(s) to forget that for him to BURN his FAT, he needed to eat food to get FAT, the FAT in the food he absorbed and now disgracefully permeate his body, the food itself required plenty of energy to be produced, packed, shipped and often wasted. Moreover, his bike was designed in one country, assembled in another then finally shipped to his home nicely packed (sometimes damaged to a certain degree due to the inflexible shipping procedures of the no-delay-world and therefore shipped back with an angry note for reimbursement). At the end of the day, he needed to BURN a lot of OIL to display this SILENCE SHOUT as he passes through the city BURNing FAT on his bicycle. Also he doesn't have a clue where to throw the bike away once he will have BURNt enough FAT with it because, driving a car which BURNs OIL is, after all, much more comfortable. In such a network of causes and consequences, sliding through remote and local places, cycling ceases to be a stand-alone solution with its sustained integrity and own somewhat secluded value of truth to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. It certainly contribute to emit less greenhouse gases (I am myself a daily committed biker) but doesn't end like a breeze without creating plenty of other effects which, in turn, other men and women may want to tackle riding a bike to BURN FAT NOT OIL.

In French I have substantiated the zone where classical ontologies fail to be embraced as "entre", for a which an accurate translation is the simple "between". Though to transform the word into a concept, we could rely on : the "in-between", the "amidst", the "intermediate". But the list may well expend as I dig words up in the dictionary, the propositions aren't so convincing. Here the inspiration comes from sinologist and philosopher François Jullien who have been relentlessly trying to invent new concepts (derived from the Chinese thought), in order to think about processes and interstates (mental roads here). According to Jullien, there is no correct grammar to describe and therefore grasp the "continuation-modification" (what a great illustration of a neologism made of two contradicting words) in spatial and temporal terms.

As of today I think of landscape as such an interstate but it is too vague to coalesce the mixing of physical and phenomenological dimensions that the notion needs. And so today with the critical zone (CZ), I can pursue the research on firm grounds. From now I wish to apply the notion of CZ to the landscape, the landscape thought as a CZ in two major ways : the zone between the aging statuses of subject/object, nature/culture, ... And, not the least, a zone for a critical inquiry, a zone for a critique of these old positions therefore allowing to glide between, to make a movement happen between these two positions. In fact we shouldn't just say "we have found the in-between, there we are neither subject nor object, neither natural nor cultural, neither human nor non-human" and stay idle right on such a spot. The whole point here is to harness new streams of thought and practice, both convergent and divergent, to assemble a coherent philosophy of landscape. This is what I wish to undertake today onwards.


[1] Bruno Latour, « On selves, forms, and forces" (review of Eduardo Kohn's book How forest think) in Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4 (2), p.1–6, 2014. Full article here. Accessed November the 11th, 2014.

[2] That's a personal view : we have to come a stochastic world after going across a static and dynamic world. Here I wish to strengthen the assertion with proper historical research.

[3] Harald Ulrik Sverdrup, Deniz Koca and Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir, "Peak Metals, Minerals, Energy, Wealth, Food and Population; Urgent Policy Considerations for A Sustainable Society", full article here, accessed Nov. 11th 2014.

[4] Michel Serres, The Natural Contract (Translated by E. Macarthur and W. Paulson), The University of Michigan Press, 1995. p. 108-109.

[5] French philosopher Dominique Quesssada put in 2013 that there's no inside to excavate for a very simple reason : as you break in the "inside", you are creating some "outside" right away. So simple. With the light we shed on the inner structure, now open for us to see, the characteristics are made available to the outsider for subsequent study and description. See L'Inséparé. Essai sur un monde sans Autre, 2013.

[6] Paul Crutzen, Will Steffen, Mark Williams, Jan Zalasiewicz, "The New World of the Anthropocene", Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 44, n°7, 2010, p. 2231.