The Sliver of Life

Latour in the Guardian:

The idea of the “critical zone” is useful because it gets you out of nature. Nature is very big. It covers everything from the big bang to microbes. Conceptually, that makes it a complete mess. The critical zone is limited. It is just a few kilometres thick – above and below the surface of the Earth. But all discovered life is within it. This brings us “inside” in a way that nature does not. It is very different from the way of thinking that makes people such as Elon Musk think they should go on a mission to Mars. That is escapist. But when you think in terms of a critical zone, you are locked in, you cannot escape. What does it mean for politics if we are locked in and not in the infinite cosmology opened by Galileo? It means we cannot behave in the same way. It means we cannot just endlessly extract resources and discard our waste. In the critical zone, we must maintain what we have because it is finite, it’s local, it’s at risk and it’s the object of conflict. 

[Lovelock and] Margulis spotted Gaia. Lovelock from space, taking the question as globally as possible; Margulis from bacteria, taking the question from the other end, both realising that Life, capital L, has managed to engineer its own conditions of existence. For me that is the greatest discovery of this period, though it is still not very much accepted by mainstream science. This may be because we do not yet have the tools to receive it. 

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