Ethics Beyond Anthropos: Climate Change and the Non-Human World

Authors: Connie Johnston*, DePaul University
Topics: Social Theory, Anthropocene, Animal Geographies
Keywords: anthropocene, climate change, microbes, post-humanism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 5:35 PM / 6:50 PM
Room: Tower Court D, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Second Floor Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper considers the impact of the broad-scale challenge of climate change on one of the smallest scale spaces—the animal gut. This impact can pose several ontological challenges, explored here through post-humanist and assemblage theories lenses. Flora inhabit the intestinal tracts of all animals and studies are showing that the effects of climate change may reach into these spaces. In 1996, the evolutionary biologist Gould highlighted the hubris in the name the “Age of Man”, stating that our planet has always been in the “Age of Bacteria”. A number of recent studies have indicated that human gut flora affect not only our overall health, but possibly our personalities and cognition as well, potentially contributing to a diminution of the status we accord ourselves and also conceptions of human singularity. Following Gould, our name “Anthropocene”, although accurate in terms of the scale of our species’ destructive capacities, can be seen to be another example of our human arrogance. Recent research has also indicated that the make-up and number of intestinal microbes of some species are being affected by climate change, potentially threatening the survival of those host individuals and their species more broadly. This newly discovered scale of climate change impact provides yet another area of concern for a multiplicity of species, but also challenges ideas about the constitution of an “individual”. Knowledge of the shared reliance on gut flora throughout animal species provides (even further) evidence of the inseparability of life forms.

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