The first critical step in the etiology of the present disaster occurred some 60,000 years ago. The defining marker of ecocide was the development of language and an unprecedented expanded human capacity for culture. These novel features of Homo sapiens sapiens allowed for the rise of the conscious intentionality that humans bring to their projects. Reflected in the vastly improved capacity for language, conscious intentionality led to an explosion of innovation - manifest in a proliferation of artifacts - at the end of the Pleistocene era some 35,000 to 50,000 years ago. The emergence of conscious intentionality made possible the extension of human biological evolution by cultural means - including the species-specific capacity for conscious adaptive or maladaptive changes in social organization. By about 13,000 bce, this development path resulted in the human colonization of all continents with the grave consequence of the worldwide destruction of most of the existing megafauna.
The second critical step in the etiology of ecocide was the establishment of sedentary agriculture, culminating in the Neolithic revolution some 10,000 years ago. Anthropologist Mark Cohen explains it as an unintended consequence resulting from the extermination of megafauna, whereby mass extinction combined with climatic and demographic changes to produce the "food crisis in prehistory." It forced people to change their social organization wherever conditions such as a favorable climate, water, and fertile soil, and species that could be domesticated, were present.39 As Jean-Jacques Rousseau noted as early as 1755, the transition to agriculture gave rise to what has long since become a series of fateful assumptions: first, human life requires strict hierarchy, the extensive division of labor, and social inequality. Second, improved modes of organization and technological innovation are capable of addressing human needs and wants. Third, Homo sapiens sapiens is entitled to dominate the natural order and this dominance can be achieved without costs.40 These assumptions, stemming from the increasingly class-stratified and conflict-ridden social contexts of city-states emerging in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, and Mesoamerica remain very much part of modern consciousness.
The third critical step in the etiology of ecocide was the rise of modernity, characterized by three related features: the increasing division of labor, the capitalist mode of production, and the emergence of the modern nation-state. Individual enterprise and commercial competition were promoted as the beneficial engines of progress and enlightenment.41 Ideologically, this vision drew from Judeo-Christian interpretations of God giving the land to the industrious and rational in order to improve humanity. The "free market" was exalted as the natural and most efficient vehicle for the coordination of complex societies. The rational-legal nation-state was celebrated as the final form of political organization.42 The exploitation of nature was universalized and commodified. In the end, the imperatives of late modernity produced the global framework in which ecocidal tendencies greatly accelerated. The loss of biodiversity is particularly felt in the global South.
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