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Is the pandemic causing an exodus from big cities?

Is the pandemic causing an exodus from big cities?

Thomas Homer-Dixon, the Canadian student of complex systems and author of The Upside of Down, wrote in his 2006 book that “September 11 and Katrina won’t be the last time we walk out of our cities.”

Today, many big-city dwellers appear to be seeking refuge in less crowded towns and rural landscapes. The wealthy, at least, are seeking “bugout” homes away from major cities as places to ride out the pandemic, the economic downturn and the civil unrest that are gripping the world. Beyond news reports, I’ve heard from friends that homes are being snapped up in eastern Washington state and New York’s Hudson Valley by coastal city dwellers looking for a refuge in turbulent times.

It’s not just residents who are leaving. The New York Times reports that retail restaurant and merchandise chains are exiting Manhattan because it is “unsustainable.” New York City no longer teams with tourists, and its office towers are largely empty. That makes for empty streets with few customers for the city’s many retail establishments. This story is being repeated in other major cities including AtlantaChicagoDenverHoustonLos AngelesSeattle, and St. Louis.

In an op-ed appearing in The Globe and Mail, Homer-Dixon explained the underlying structural problems that have opened our global society to increasing risk:

The relatively new science of complex systems shows that such tipping events are made more likely by the unprecedented connectivity in the networks that humanity has laid down in a dense web across Earth’s surface – air traffic, financial, energy, manufacturing, food distribution, shipping and communication networks, to name just a few.

This science also shows that until we manage this connectivity better – which could mean, among other changes, reducing our international travel, simplifying global supply chains and bringing some production processes closer to home – we’re likely to experience more frequent tipping events of ever-higher destructive force.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Going beyond the “ecological turn” in the humanities

Going beyond the “ecological turn” in the humanities

ecological turn

Photo by Aaron Vasintjan.

There’s a story about the time when Michel Foucault was accompanying his colleague, Jacqueline Verdeaux, on a car trip through the Italian Alps. As tourists do, they would often get out of the car at lookout points to observe some beautiful landscape. As biographer Didier Éribon tells it, the philosopher would then almost immediately walk back to the car, grumbling, “my back is turned to it”.

Whether this was just an example of Foucault’s cynical, dry humor or actually reflected his lack of concern for environmental issues is up for debate. Nevertheless, it’s almost impossible to imagine any major intellectual today “turning their back” to the environment. While such concerns often took a backseat in 19th and 20th century humanities, these days, even the most modest dinner-table political argument will carry an ecological thread.

Thomas Homer-Dixon’s prediction that “ecology will be the master science of the 21st century” is perhaps a bit excessive, but already carries some weight of truth. It may not be a “master”, but its influence in the humanities is now unavoidable—thinkers like Slavoj Zizek, Donna Haraway, and Bruno Latour are celebrated precisely because they are able to put environmental crises into thoughtful perspective. Today, it seems like every humanities conference call-out starts with the sentence “In the era of the Anthropocene…” and the dish isn’t complete without a few servings of “materiality”, “non-human”, “nature-culture”, and “oikos”.

This “ecological turn” in the humanities could be academic fashion—to be forgotten within a decade.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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