The five chapters of this book explore the critical milestones and turning points in human social evolution and associated changes of society-nature relations that led to the loss of biodiversity and progressive ecocide.
The beginning of the book introduces the reader to the problem and the general historical and sociological approach taken to explain the etiology of ecocide and mass extinction of species. Chapter 1, titled "The Human Odyssey: From Biological to Cultural Evolution," explores the turning points in human evolution that led to the emergence of culture and language as the defining marker of our species. It argues that, in order to understand how human-caused ecocide and mass extinction of species occurred, it is necessary to understand how and when the genus Homo reached the sapiens stage of evolution. The first major recorded ecological impact of the human species is explored with reference to the worldwide megafauna mass extinction of the late Quaternary. This chapter aims to show that the unique combination of biological attributes possessed by our species does not necessarily determine human social behavior, except to lay the foundation genetically for virtually unlimited variations of human behavior. In other words, "human nature" - the sum of biological attributes of our species - is analytically distinct from human behavior - the sum of social and cultural attributes of our species.
Chapter 2, titled "Problematic Society-Nature Relations before the Modern Era," explores the impact of pre-modern societies on the environment. The Neolithic transition to sedentary agriculture some 10,000 years ago is presented as another major turning point and milestone in human society-nature relations. It is explored as an unintended consequence of the megafauna extinction and climatological changes during the late Pleistocene. The implications of sedentary food production and domestication are discussed, and particular attention is given to the economic boom and ecological bust cycles - "ecological blunders" - of select societies in antiquity. Case studies include China, Mesopotamia, the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Chaco Anasazi, the Mayas, and the Easter Islanders. The purpose of the study is to explore articulations of ecological depredations in pre-modern societies as precursors in the etiology of modern ecocide.
Chapter 3, titled "The Modern Assault on Nature: The Making of Ecocide," provides a historical and sociological overview of the etiology of ecocide and mass extinction of species in the early modern era. The emergence of capitalism, the associated rise of scientific and technological thinking, and the increasing commercial assault on species are traced as a worldwide phenomenon. Three case studies are presented to illustrate the unprecedented ecological impact of humans in this new global social context: the over-exploitation and destruction of fur animals due to the commercial fur trade; the mass slaughter and near extermination of the North American bison; and the overexploitation of marine species due to the rise of industrial whaling. The acceleration of biodiversity loss in the modern era is explored as a movement from commercial overexploitation of species in the early modern era to large-scale habitat destruction in more recent times. The aim of the chapter is to illustrate and explain the globalization of environmental degradation and making of ecocide in the early modern era.
Chapter 4, titled "The Planet as Sacrifice Zone," explores the sociological processes that I call the "juggernaut of modernity," reflecting developments in the modern industrial era. The chapter opens with a discussion of the ecological and social implications of the enclosure of the commons as a global phenomenon. Nature in this new context is progressively reduced to an assortment of exploitable resources, all negotiated in the open marketplace. The global enclosure movement is analyzed as a guiding metaphor for understanding conflicts and contradictions generated in the modern era. The massive loss of biodiversity and the heightening of environmental degradation progressively turned the planet into a species sacrifice zone. The chapter focuses in particular on the role of the modern industrial war economy and the huge increase in human populations as causal parts of the global ecocidal predicament.
Chapter 5, titled "Ecocide and Globalization," analyzes the social and historical processes that account for the accelerating mass extinction and progressively ecocidal nature of the post-World War II era. I pay special attention to corporate-driven neoliberal forms of globalization, structural adjustment programs, and the ideological and institutional mechanisms by which related practices continue to be reproduced on a global scale. The chapter then sketches some countercurrents to globalism, in particular the movements for ecological democracy and attempts to envision an equitable global commons. In my view, the creation of ecological democracy is a practical and ethical imperative for a more socially just and ecologically sustainable planet. The book concludes with a final observation about what it means to live in an age of ecocide.
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