Congratulations on deciding to visit our site. Or did you? Did you decide to pay us a visit? Or where you merely acting out some purely deterministic plan?
These are not the sorts of questions we are interested in here. Rather than consider whether individual’s possess free will, we instead explore the notion that humanity is part of a system which means that collectively we may have a surprisingly small degree of agency when it comes to certain important issues.
Perhaps the paradigmatic example is global climate change. Humans have known for decades that they need to radically reduce their emissions of green house gasses – most importantly carbon dioxide – if they are to avoid dangerous, potentially calamitous, climate change. Yet year after year global emissions do not decrease or even stabilise but instead inexorably march higher. The explanations to this phenomena are as varied a political and economic schools of thought.
An initially much simpler solution to this puzzle is that humans cannot in fact reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Or at least they find it extremely difficult to do so. Because they have much less control over their own actions than is typically assumed. We may collectively want to do something, but our ability to do it, our collective agency may be very limited if it is not what the Technosphere ‘wants’. And what the Technosphere seems to want, what the evidence points to, is more. More energy, more materials, more appropriation of biomass, more land. All fed into the ever larger maw of the sytem that is comprised on the geosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and humans – with all their artefacts, infrastructure, and interactions.
The Technosphere is some sense is the totality of the Earth system. The complete description of our home planet. A necessary addition to the ontologies that are used to study the third rock from the Sun. Because that vaneer of human civilisation has become a planetary force. Sufficient to engender a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene.
It is within this framing that we can approach the civilisation-scale challenge of climate change as not only a matter for humans, but the Technosphere within which they reside. The current motive force of the Technosphere is fossil fuel powered growth. That this growth may produce disaster at some point in the future does not change current energy gradients. The fact that the Technosphere is self-aware, that humans can be fully cognisant of the incomming perils if we do not rapidly change tack is, potentially, immaterial to what the Technosphere is going to do. Which currently appears to be to drive civilisation itself onto the rocks.
This blog attempt to engage with two questions related to this disturbing conclusion.
First, what are the dynamics of the Technosphere? Can important features of something as complex as a planetary civilisation be described using the language and concepts of bacterial reproduction? What evidence is there that the Technosphere is behaving in a deterministic manner, or perhaps more accurately, on a particular developmental trajectory?
Second, what are we to do about the Technosphere? Assuming we wish to avoid collapse, what are we humans – agents with potentially limited agency within The Technosphere – meant to do with this knowledge? Where is the off ramp? Do we have to build it? If so, how?