With each passing month now, the signs become stronger and more immediate that climate change is accelerating. To many, the sensation of being personally effected is inching forward and becoming more immediate. But while the distance is narrowing between an intellectual grasp of the issue and a direct intrusion of a destabilized climate into our lives, climate disruption remains an abstraction for many. Even so, it is becoming more obvious that to remain distant from climate change is to remain utterly disembodied.
This article, Weathering:” Climate Change and the “Thick Time” of Transcorporeality by Astrida Neimanis and Rachel Loewen Walker (Hypatia, Vol. 29, no. 3, Summer, 2014) came across my view this week. The thesis is that our bodies, being in the natural world, are materialising just as the planet is materialising. The “weather” is not something happening “out there.” We are weathering each other. We are fully entangled with the natural world; the inner processes of our bodies are not separate from the outer conditions in which we grow and change.
…the weather and climate are not phenomena “in” which we live at all–where climate would be some natural backdrop to our separate human dramas–but are rather of us, in us, through us…
We are weathering climate change in our bodies, our psyches, expanding our view of how we are connected, realizing the trans-corporeal mind, the body that sees through its own skin to the migration patterns of fellow creatures, the crystallization of water on rock walls, the curling toes of climbing animals, the subterranean conversations of wild plants, the stories archived in the weathered rings of trees. All is recorded, the entire collectively shared experience of emergence, in our own bodies.
How is that so? What separates us as biological creatures, our skin, is far less solid and far more mutable than we normally imagine. The authors call us “viscous porosities,” neither solid nor liquid, no more than temporary aggregations of multiple life forms, structural elements (collagen), an energy interface (ATP), a replicative blueprint (DNA) and intra-communication networks, participating with the environment in the creation and exchange of sugars, temperature, moisture, evolution and extinction, even light transformed by chlorophyll. We are individual contractions of climate, “intra-acting” precariously with the planetary system, each according to our geography and culture, a fractal of a trans-corporeal “co-constitutive” reciprocal relationship between the macro-dynamics of planetary change, biology and the micro-relationships in which we live every day, relating to other life forms.
As trans-corporeal beings, we are each making the weather and the weather, created by our human and non-human partners, is making us. The externalised costs of climate change do not appear merely as respiratory disease, lost species or degraded atmosphere, but also as cellular deposits, tissue invasions, incipient mutations of our possible futures.
Weather has always been a fundamental factor of our relations. In industrialized societies as in much of the emerging world, we are mostly insulated from weather in our shingled, weather-resistant, secure, durable and isolated domiciles. We want to keep the weather out! Being able to retreat into our vented and layered temperature-controlled shelters provides an illusion of control. We are distanced, psychically and emotionally, from the realities of those who live much closer to and experience more directly the subtle and constant nuances of weather such that disruption of the larger cycles of climate is more apparent.
To remain distant from climate change is to remain distant from our own bodies. Yet, the notion of being a weather-maker, creating enhanced cyclones, drought and flooding as well as the internal consequences for others by our daily actions throws the ethics of personal responsibility into sharp relief. I don’t know about you, but I notice simultaneous hyper and hypo-affective responses of my own, at times feeling urgency and at others wanting to distance myself from awareness of the impact of my decisions–like air travel, especially– that are surely making others’ weather. At times I feel acutely responsible for all life and am thus aware of the minute decisions I make throughout any given day. At others I want no part of that burden.
Whether we want to know or care makes no difference. The ways we each create weather have, at micro and macro levels, an effect on everyone else’s weather. How do we negotiate or respond to the weathering we are receiving from others? Do we just insulate the attic? Turn up the AC? When the Philippines calls out Western nations for balking at compensation for cyclone damage, when the Third world demands compensation for the weather they are receiving or when the Marshall Islands are slowly subsumed into the Pacific, Western nations treat the equation more as an abstraction than a contemplation of direct (though delayed) responsibility for their losses –or even the loss of our own coastal real estate.
Likewise, the objectification of nature permits us to release toxic chemicals into the environment in the belief that they will either be sufficiently diluted or that significant time will pass before any meaningful contact with humans will occur. Neither of these views account for a trans-corporeal planet. This is a circumstance not unlike the way we view the linkage between environmental pollution and cancer rates. It is all couched in hyper-legalistic terms of denial that resist linear causality or the assignment of financial culpability. The political modelling we get–influenced by energy interests, of course– is that we can continue to create your weather while forgetting that it is also our own bodies that are changed by it. The ethic of individual responsibility is overrun by entitlement.
When Hurricane Sandy hits, a drilling platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico or parts of Bangladesh are submerged, it’s happening somewhere else to someone else. But when your house is consumed by a wildfire in California, all entitlement dissolves. It is no longer someone else’s problem. And you might become acutely aware of how your weather has been created by the collective action of your neighbours.
The line between “acts of God” and acts of men is increasingly blurred. When we ask “was that (climate catastrophe) caused by climate change,” we are weighing responsibility. On our trans-corporeal planet, how do we deal with knowing that as we retreat into our self-contained shelters and isolated thoughts, we are creating distant conditions that are driving others out of their own shelters? We are not doing well with this.
How do we accept eating pesticides, depositing pharmaceuticals into each others’ water supplies, causing extinction among creatures that cannot adapt as fast as conditions are demanding? It’s all well and good to attribute agency to nature and to imagine the ways in which we are impinged. But the capacity of nature to act is constrained by time. Nature does not act as quickly as humans act–which is a demand that we slow down.
Transcorporeality is a denial of denialism. Denialism denies both human agency, non-human agency, and the collectivism at the heart of legislative remedies. Propagating the idea of human intra-action is slow. Yet it should not obstruct focused efforts to influence policy, which is to design instruments–like a carbon fee and dividend–that materialise collective responsibility, broaden and hasten abatement of the uncounted damage. A steadily rising carbon tax, because it is universal, holds everyone accountable for the ways we act upon each other. Short of a universal adoption of transcorporeality, it is the best means of materialising an accounting that has so far been lacking.
A generative collective response to the weather dilemma does not depend on a single social or political approach. We need multiple measures, even if they arise from within the paradigm that still objectifies nature. Living and acting in both Old Story and New Story simultaneously is a necessary human way of being there while getting there. Ultimately, getting there will require much more than policy. We need a healing view that reflects the true nature of our entanglement with the world.