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Jonathan Zawada for Noema Magazine:

"Globalization was about markets, information flows and technology crossing borders. The planetary is about borders crossing us, embedding and entangling human civilization in its habitat. That, in a nutshell, is the core thesis of a new paradigm-shifting book by Jonathan Blake and Nils Gilman titled “Children of a Modest Star: Planetary Thinking for the Age of Crises.”

The concept of planetarity describes a new condition in which humans recognize not only that we are not above and apart from “nature,” but that we are only beginning to understand the complexities of our interdependencies with planetary systems.

“If Copernicus’s heliocentrism represented the First Great Decentering, displacing the Earth from the center of the heavens, and Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection the Second Great Decentering, then the emergence of the concept of the Planetary represents the Third Great Decentering, and the one that hits closest to home, supplanting the figure of the human as the measure and master of all things,” Blake and Gilman write.

As further argued by the authors in a forthcoming Berggruen Press volume, “the Planetary as a scientific concept focuses on the Earth as an intricate web of ecosystems, with myriad layers of integration between various biogeochemical systems and living beings — both human and non-human. Drawing on earth system science and systems biology, this holistic understanding is being enabled by new planetary-scale technologies of perception – a rapidly maturing technosphere of sensors, networks, and supercomputers that collectively are rendering the planetary system increasingly visible, comprehensible and foreseeable. This recently-evolved smart exoskeleton — in essence a distributed sensory organ and cognitive layer — is fostering an unprecedented form of planetary sapience.”

(Noema, April 2024)


Planetary Subsidiarity

Jonathan Zawada:

"While grasping the new condition of planetarity may be a philosophical event that changes our way of seeing, it has not crossed the political and cultural threshold to the formation of a commensurate collective identity and the attendant legitimacy required for effective agency at the level it understands.

The primary contradiction as yet unreconciled is how to square the weighty centrifugal pull of tribalized identity with the centripetal imperative of binding planetary association.

Blake and Gilman address this conundrum through what they call “planetary subsidiarity” — a form of governance that seeks to accommodate both the diversity of plural jurisdictions and the necessity of joining together around common universal challenges.

In their multiscalar institutional approach, governance would be distributed, like natural systems themselves, reaching scale through networks, decentralized spatially in appropriate measure to the relevant action and empowered with authority at higher levels where necessary.

In essence, what can’t be handled at a lower level must be delegated to the next step up, while no higher authority should usurp what can be done at lower levels closer to the affected constituencies.

In practical terms, they thus envision, as is already emerging, “translocal networks” of cities and regions for everything from resource-efficient joint procurement policies to close coordination of climate or public health goals, not unlike military alliances such as NATO that seek seamless compatibility of force integration across nations.

Blake and Gilman also propose “planetary institutions for planetary issues.” As illustrative cases, they call for a “Planetary Atmospheric Steward” (PAS) and a “Planetary Pandemics Agency” (PPA)."

(Noema, April 2024)

Planetary Institutions

Jonathan Zawada:

"Blake and Gilman also propose “planetary institutions for planetary issues.” As illustrative cases, they call for a “Planetary Atmospheric Steward” (PAS) and a “Planetary Pandemics Agency” (PPA).

PAS would conjoin with and enhance the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s function of increasing knowledge of the climate, including by utilizing AI’s data processing capacity and fostering new monitory technologies and sensors, availing all national, regional and local levels of governance of the information they’ve gathered to stand behind its “authority to make and enforce decisions on limiting carbon emissions on the basis of what it knows.”

The authors make this controversial point clear: “The PAS would have the authority to set hard targets for net greenhouse gas emissions — not suggestions or aspirations, but enforceable rules. The PAS’s decisions on greenhouse gas emissions won’t be optional: they will have to be obeyed and implemented by governance institutions at all scales. The principle of planetary subsidiarity guides the allocation of decision rights: the planetary institution sets the targets, national states decide how to handle the political-economic implications, and localities decide on the implementation details.”

Like the PAS, the PPA’s first task would be information gathering, not unlike today’s World Health Organization. It would “monitor human/animal and human/wilderness interfaces everywhere, including sites of deforestation and habitat destruction, the trade in wildlife, and industrial livestock, as well as regions with heavy antibiotic usage.”

A second role for the PPA is to act on its knowledge by making decisions to reduce the risks of disease emergence among humans by preventing the spillover of pathogens from animals and the evolution of new antibiotic-resistant microbes. This, in the author’s design, “requires the planetary institution to adopt a holistic perspective on human health, taking action to promote the health of animals, ecosystems and the biosphere as a whole. Only by taking action upstream of human infection can the PPA prevent epidemics from happening in the first place.”

The PPA’s third and most contentious role would involve centralized decision-making and coordination in the event of a pandemic or possible pandemic. The institution’s remit would include not only the ability to declare a “planetary public health emergency,” but also “the authority to set standards for national and local pandemic defense plans and to mandate when sub-planetary institutions should invoke these plans.”

Beyond all this, the PPA would take the lead in developing, producing and distributing vaccines and therapeutics for worldwide use."

(Noema, April 2024)


Benjamin Bratton:

"For contemporary philosophy, the provocative concept of the planetary (and its corollary, “planetarity”) has been put forward as an alternative to “the global,” an expired notion that is static and flattened and Eurocentric. The term planetarity is said to have reappeared at the end of the last century, after a few decades of hibernation, through the work of the literary theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s. I extend and depart from Spivak’s connotation to focus on a planetarity that is, first, revealed as the precondition of any philosophy and, second, the name of the project before us as we contemplate how to preserve, curate and extend complex life.

So: There is an astronomical planetarity and a political-philosophical planetarity, and while they are different, each should inspire correspondence and mutual reinforcement. There is no workable political-philosophical planetarity that does not define itself through the disclosures of the astronomic understanding of what a planet is, where it goes and how a sapient species emerges from it. Together they annihilate the pre-Copernican, pre-Darwinian fantasies of humans as unique self-transparent subjects bound only by immanent signifiers, and both undermine political superstitions of place, horizon and ground that plague our modernities."


The Planetarity of Computation

Benjamin Bratton:

"The planetarity of computation forms what I have called an “accidental megastructure” comprised of overlapping functional layers. Quite literally, it is a stack extending down to the mines of central Africa through subterranean data centers and transoceanic cables to interlaced urban networks up to the glowing glass rectangles through which we view it and it views us. Planetary-scale computation is not virtual. It is a kind of terraforming of its host planet.

To measure the weight of planetary-scale computation includes a sober reckoning with the physical costs of its sprawling infrastructures, which includes differentiating essential purpose from the trivial, and ultimately pondering the price of intelligence itself. In the context that really matters most, the cultivation of synthetic intelligences capable of collaboration with our own most virtuous ambitious and virtuoso expressions is precious. The syntheses they portend are available only if we pursue them with resolve and clarity about their high costs.

Any refusal or acceptance of the costs of synthetic intelligence must also consider the price of natural intelligence. It was not only symbiotic social cooperation but also tumultuous mountains of gore that lead our common ancestors from Olduvai Gorge to Göbekli Tepe, and to the literate cultures of Mesopotamia, East Asia and Mesoamerica. The deepest values are at stake. Is the very long-term evolution of “intelligence” — human, animal, machine, hybrids — a fundamental purpose of the organization and complexification of life itself? If so, now that intelligence begins to migrate to the inorganic substrate of silicon, what planetarities does this portend?"