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Environmental catastrophe

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The destructive powers and vagaries of ‘nature’ have constantly reminded humans of the contingency of their lifeworld. Thunders and plagues descending from the sky. Waves surging from the seas. Tremors, smoke and magma surfacing from the earth’s deepest strata. Such cataclysms are recurring traumas in human history, inscribed in myth, religion, and politics (Clark, 2011; Ghosh, 2016; Hulme, 2009). But today ‘environmental catastrophe’ means also something else, as it alludes more to post-apocalyptic Mad Max-like scenarios than to biblical plagues. It casts a dystopic vista over the possibility, detected with the tools of modern science, of a human-induced planetary collapse. This is the case for all the catastrophes environmentalists have warned about and mobilized against (such as mass species extinction, nuclear contamination, the ozone hole, desertification, and more recently climate change). The fact that humans themselves are causing the very problem opens up an ethical dimension to the catastrophe, and poses divisive questions: Who exactly is to blame – can we really talk about humanity as a whole? And who should do (have done) what to avoid the materialization of the catastrophe, or at least to mitigate its fallout?
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2018

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