We live at a crossroads in the history of our species – and of planetary life. What comes next is unknowable with any certainty. But it is not looking good. Environmentalist theory and research tells us, today, just how bad it is. Mass extinction. Climate Change. Ocean acidification. To these planetary shifts, one can add countless regional stories – runaway toxic disasters on land and at sea; cancer clusters; frequent and severe droughts. Our collective sense of " environmental consequences " has never been greater. But consequences of what? Of humanity as a whole? Of population? Of industrial civilization? Of the West? Of capitalism? How we answer the question today will shape the conditions of life on Earth – for millennia to come. Once we begin to ask this question – What drives today's disastrous state of affairs? – we move from the consequences of environment-making to its conditions and causes. And once we begin to ask questions about human-initiated environment-making, a new set of connections appears. These are the connections between environment-making and relations of inequality, power, wealth, and work. We begin to ask new questions about the relationship between environmental change and whose work is valued – and whose lives matter. Class, race, gender, sexuality, nation – and much, much more – can be understood in terms of their relationship with the whole of nature, and how that nature has been radically remade over the past five centuries. Such questions unsettle the idea of Nature and Humanity in the uppercase: ecologies without humans, and human relations without ecologies. Far from merely a philosophical difference, the uppercase Nature and Humanity that dominant Anthropocene does something unintentional – but deeply violent. For the story of Humanity and Nature conceals a dirty secret of modern world history. That secret is how capitalism was built on excluding most humans from Humanity – indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans, nearly all women, and even many white-skinned men (Slavs, Jews, the Irish). From the perspective of imperial administrators, merchants, planters, and conquistadores, these humans were not Human at all. They were regarded as part of Nature, along with trees and soils and rivers – and treated accordingly. To register the bloody history of this Human/Nature binary is a moral protest. It is also an analytical protest. For capitalism does not thrive on violence and inequality alone. It is a prodigiously creative and productive system too – at least until recently. The symbolic, material, and bodily violence of this audacious separation – Humanity and Nature – performed a special kind of " work " for the modern world. Backed by imperial power and capitalist rationality, it mobilized the unpaid work and energy of humans – especially women, especially the enslaved – in service to transforming landscapes with a singular purpose: the endless accumulation of capital. Some of us have begun to call this way of thinking world-ecological (Moore, 2015a).
In book: Anthropocene or Capitalocene?, Publisher: PM Press, Editors: Jason W. Moore, pp.78-115
Moore, Jason W., "The Rise of Cheap Nature" (2016). Sociology Faculty Scholarship. 2.