Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Rethinking the Limits of Ethics

Cosmocentric Ethics and Climate Chaos

It is the sheer complexity and potential for devastation of present and future impacts of global warming on global climate that drives the necessity for innovative transdisciplinary responses. In ethics, no less than other domains of research, new perspectives that go beyond or transcend previous ethical frameworks are urgently needed. Under the imperative of sustainability, there has been an expansion of the scope of ethics from purely anthropocentric to ecocentric concerns and values.

Global warming pushes the boundaries of ethical consideration even further into the atmoscentric and climacentric, where new approaches to ethics are being driven by changes to the atmosphere and climates of the planet. All human cultures, all sentient creatures and every type of ecosystem are being profoundly affected by cumulative climate change. The movement from self-interest to planetary interest culminates in cosmocentric ethics or ethical concern about the status of the whole earth.

The transdisciplinary nature of cosmocentric ethics is clear when it is observed that changes in scientific understandings have been the major driver of changes in values and ethics. From a theocentric ethic humans have progressively moved to new ethical dimensions. The issues of sentience were highlighted by the sciences of comparative anatomy and physiology, the temporal and spatial interconnections of living and non-living systems were discovered by evolutionary and ecological sciences and now, the understanding of complex relationships between biodiversity, terrestrial ecosystems, oceans, the atmosphere and climate is being delivered by sciences/studies that transcend traditional discipline boundaries.

Added to the knowledge base delivered by these sciences is the emergence of new transdisciplinary fields of knowledge such as complexity theory and sustainability science. Discipline-based scientific knowledge that is seeking interconnections with other related disciplines and the new transdisciplinary domains, provide a new foundation for ethics. Cosmological citizens, informed about ethics via transdisciplinary environmental education, are in the best position to act on the implications of impending climate chaos.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Solastalgia and Soundscapes

Solastalgia and Soundscapes

I have solastalgia at the fading of natural sounds in the environment ... our soundscape is changing. We are in fact experiencing an aural invasion … the sounds of the natural world are slowly being silenced by the noise pollution of industrial society. If it is not the cacophony of air conditioners, road and air traffic, it is the digital roar inside the earphones … cancelling out the symphony of nature.

Bernie Krause (Wild Soundscapes 2002) has created a division of soundscapes into Biophony, Geophony and Anthrophony. The term ‘biophony’ has been used to describe the noises produced by, for example, birds and insects in a natural environment. Perhaps we should add Ecophony (see Peter Russell Crowe) since the interrelationships of the physical (wind) and the biological (trees) in the total ecosystem is a source of sounds in a landscape). Geophony is the noise from natural landscape features such as moving water while Anthrophony is the total soundscape produced by human societies.

In the US people are recording the natural soundscape in parks in order to document it before it is completely lost to the Technophony or that part of Anthrophony that consists of the noises produced by human technology (see: ).

The now ubiquitous noises of modern technologies such as aircraft wipe out the possibility of listening to the natural world and its ecophony. I recently listened to a resident of Salt Spring Island (West coast of Canada) tell his story of life on Ganges Harbour being forever changed by the constant traffic of float planes into and out of the island. He came to SSI for its beauty, peace and serenity. Now he lives right next to a busy airport that was never planned and approved and he experiences acute solastalgia as the floatplanes roar past his home and cancel the sounds of gulls, loons, turkey vultures and the hum of the hummingbird.
I wonder how many other people lament the deafening of a once loved soundscape?

As an academic, I work on campuses that have become battlegrounds of technophony as each building competes with the one next door to overwhelm the environment with the noise of fans, compressors and pullies. It is a dull roar, but one that makes contemplation in quietude impossible. The irony is that one has to close a window and shut out fresh air and the ‘outside’ in order to have silence in a room! The birds and animals that inhabit the campus must have to yell at each other to be heard. The subtleties of territories and communication are trashed in a cacophony of competition from technosounds. I have read about how the noise of ships propellers, sonar and other technophony in the oceans has made communication for the creatures of the sea difficult, if not impossible (See: ).
The silence of the whales,
the deafness of the dolphins.
Drowning in an ocean of noise?

I am even beginning to find the hum of the refrigerator annoying … it is denying me access to that interior silence of night thoughts. Our heads are filling up with the subtle, but pervasive tinnitus technophony of hard drives that play digital tricks on our ears. A wall of noise hits us inside and out. Who knows what damage the earphone is causing to our aural sense? Excessive noise damages ecosystem and human health.
The warnings about deafness go unheard.
Sorry, I can’t hear you …

We must defeat negative technophony and overcome the solastalgia produced by fading soundscapes. As well as the loss of loved physical landscapes, we are losing their sounds. It is time to turn the I-Pod off and give voice to this loss.