Third Phase Transition
solving the anthropocene crisis
Preface & Introduction
Are we now in the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch brought about by human impact? That matter is still an open question. We are in the Anthropocene crisis! Transition into a third phase of human natural history might be possible. General talk about a human geological epoch at Planet Earth, however, as if it were a completed result, is risky. It might turn into a meaningless play on words, a distraction from the necessary vigilance and energy needed in the Anthropocene crisis.
The effects of the Anthropocene crisis are bursting forth as a massively combined crisis in human society and in Earth’s life system. To understand this crisis, it needs to be analysed comprehensively. The term Anthropocene has been proposed, since a unique combination of social and natural history is globally interacting directly for the first time in the existence of Planet Earth. Earlier human impact had been assimilated into the changing earth system, by margins of redundancy inherent to the resiliency of its global ecology. Now, humanity makes inadvertent global change in the earth system. And this process is accelerating.
The present work is focusing the great deficiency so far, in analysing the Anthropocene crisis. How long can we afford discussing the advent of it, as a human-induced crisis in the biogeochemical system of the planet, without seriously treating the variable causing and driving it?
It does not help much to generally state that human impact is this independent variable. Nor will pragmatic detailing suffice any longer. Hence, it is not enough summing up measurements of effects, interpreting them and modelling specific kinds and cases. Such procedure details critical dependent variables. A problem is, however, that it still tends to lump together dependent variables of a natural character with those of a social character. The missing link is that no serious efforts have been undertaken to isolate and analyse the independent social variable of crisis aggravation.
Human impact is being studied by natural scientists, as separate effects from different activities. Earth system science has emerged and established itself as the synthesizing research program. Research done on human disturbance, interfering with ecological resilience in separate respects and at various scales, had by the millennium accumulated to a critical point, where the Anthropocene hypothesis resulted. A hypothesis that is rapidly establishing itself, as far as study of its critical initial conditions are concerned. Continuous research fills out the picture, providing additional evidence, motives for radical change and innovative inspiration. Nature’s dependent variables within the earth system, including climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, oceanic acidification, global eutrophication in nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, overexploitation of land and freshwater, chemical pollution, atmospheric aerosol loading, are under increasing scrutiny. The crucial one, in which all the others are compounded, is the incipient decline in biodiversity. Will we enter an Anthropocene epoch, or is the entire Cenozoic era – time of the mammals – coming to an end? That is how the question stands.
Reports on threatening climate change have entered the public debate. We now speak of the ‘climate crisis.’ That is a great step forward. An even greater one is the reports on mass extinction of species gaining common currency. This spreading of consciousness, as to the seriousness of the problem, calls for Anthropocene research to take the problem of the independent variable seriously.
The independent variable is not accounted for by citing statistics on global population growth, which has been common in the field so far. That variable has for decades been demonstrated to be a dependent one. It is not the one causing and driving the great acceleration of global change. By itself it is a social part within it. Prognoses already show a tendency of flattening out or waning. A rapid levelling of global resource distribution is what it takes for this tendency to get full impact.
As it comes to understanding what immediately drives human impact, however, we need to be much more precise than at present. Definition of this independent crisis-variable affects the possibility of approaching a solution that could match the problem. An inclusive analysis of twentieth century’s social development should provide an answer to the question of great acceleration’s immediate driver.
If this problem is not being tackled, political opportunism towards destructively and obstructively dominating social interests, together with divisive moralism towards the individual mass consumer, would continue confusing matters, shattering efforts, and paralysing community of purpose. The political left’s general references to capitalism and greed, or the pragmatic political tampering of the Greens, mostly contribute to benumbing moralism and already disqualified politics.
The human phase transition that we are in, of our metabolism within nature’s life system on Earth, can only succeed by becoming a phase transition in the earth system itself. And it can only be studied seriously by putting social and natural history in a common perspective. A few things can be stated immediately. The third human phase transition will be the first one consciously self-organized. It needs to be incomparably more rapid than the former two – out of the animal kingdom and into civilization, respectively.
The evolution of human society should be analysed as part of natural evolution. These two paths of development have interacted at an increasingly unequal speed and under tendentially rising tension. Now they coincide and collide. Human impact has been spreading in scope, but above all it has been historically accelerating.
As we deal with the fact that humanity is presently becoming the decisive part of the earth system, the question of human nature cannot be avoided. It concerns the independent variable of solving the Anthropocene crisis. What fundamental qualities of Homo sapiens has brought it from an endangered species, evidently consisting of no more than a few thousand individuals in its early history, to a dominant one today, altering the earth system at the magnitude of a global natural force? Only in answering that question, the problem of solving the Anthropocene crisis can be treated in a realistic way.
Now Homo sapiens is acutely endangered anew, but this time for the opposite reason than at its origin. The global impact of our kind is setting off the sixth mass extinction of species, threatening the result of the last 65 million years of bio-diversification. What was the main trajectory of the last 200,000 years of socio-natural co-evolution, that proved to end up here? Where exactly are we now along that path? The introduction to this work will outline these issues.
The present crisis is accelerating. That much is clear. But what is the relation between the great acceleration of global change in the earth system, which has occurred over the past decades, and globalization of human society during the same timeframe? How should this relation be understood, as a result of the last 200,000 years of socio-natural co-evolution?
How could this accelerating human force, still blindly funnelling in this combined crisis, be purposefully bending from aggravating the crisis to solving it? Where are the social interests most clearly, forcefully, and directly expressing that common need? How do they relate to the nature that human speciation has resulted in? How could such social forces be consciously uniting and focusing the challenge? By what means? For a challenge of unheard-of proportions, it is. There is no reason to believe that a social change of lesser scope is required, than our transition from a part of the animal kingdom to the first human phase of hunting and gathering, or from this first phase of harvesting metabolism to the second one of human civilization, with its linear metabolism.
The aim of the present work is to propose adequate concepts for this urgent situation. Third Phase Transition: Solving the Anthropocene Crisis will be the first text published by the independent think tank under formation, right2unite. This work will be divided in two parts.
The first part, Twentieth Century Results: The Anthropocene Crisis, intends proposing a conceptual framework for understanding the past century and how it produced the Anthropocene crisis. It will be divided in four separate books.
The second part, Third Millennium Prospects: Social Mutiny, spanning three books, will focus how human nature has developed to a point where scientific self-consciousness has become possible. This is precisely what is required to associate the crucial development features already massively progressing in human society. By generalizing them in a common self-organizing principle, corresponding to the present development level of human nature, the Anthropocene crisis might be solved.
The following introduction to these two parts focuses the general question of human nature. By introducing this work in such a long timeframe and referring to such fundamentals, briefly outlining human natural history, a sound foundation is hopefully laid for the more specific problems treated in the seven books of this two-part work.
Third Phase Transition is the result of two decades of preparation, collected in unpublished work papers and research notes. The present work started to take shape fourteen years ago. In extensive discussions with my wife, life companion, and collaborator, Susanne Westling, the core ideas started to develop. The introduction now published would hardly have been readable, were it not for her meticulous proofreading and suggested changes. Of course, remaining errors and shortcomings are my responsibility.
Anthropocene, as new geological epoch at Planet Earth, is no accomplished fact. I might only be achieved by solving the Anthropocene crisis. That requires a natural historic leap in self-evolving human nature – a third phase transition in socio-natural co-evolution. The first phase, harvesting metabolism of hunter-gatherers, had manifested cooperative survival skill, a first-order approximation to human nature. The second phase, linear metabolism of civilisation, had elevated and expanded self-organized right of association – the second-order approximation to human nature – to span the whole globe and the entire species. Survival of humanity, and of the Cenozoic life system, the independent variable of which Homo sapiens has become, now depends on rapid and consciously purpouseful re-integration of the two, as collective intelligence in the earth system. Such globally advanced circular metabolism, which requires generalized associationism and is incompatible with class society, would realize human nature by its third-order approximation – Anthropy. Taken down to Earth, from lofty cosmological speculation, the anthropic principle might be established as common principle of general scientific integration, and as socially organizing principle of completing the third phase transition, at one and the same time. Human agency has evolved to such a combined level. Social mutiny finds its range there.
Anthropocene research has revealed a planetary life crisis. One species had singled itself out within natural evolution. Firstly, this species had a unique propensity for cooperating. This feature had become decisive to its survival possibility. Secondly, its cooperative disposition gave capacity to unite on an ever-larger scale and at increasingly higher level. Humanity could start associating in collectively conscious labour. This capacity for taking the right to associate, in self-organizing survival struggle, contains the entire explanation for the unprecedented success of our species. Right of association had become a self-organizing quality. Precisely this quality has now reached a magnitude, which might be compared to a global natural force.
Hence, the cooperative survival skill, genetically selected for and starting out socio-natural co-evolution, is a first order approximation to human nature. It manifests itself in developing means of cooperation. Its second order approximation is the rising level of association, resulting from human self-organization.
The sixth mass extinction of living species has begun. Human impact is causing it. Humanity alone can solve the Anthropocene crisis progressively, escaping the earth system tilting over into an evolutionary relapse. Avoiding this requires an historic leap, in the development feature which made us so dominant. Only association, purposefully conscious, globally united, locally dense, and constitutionally self-organized in equality, could be powerful enough to achieve this.
The leap itself would be humanity re-integrating into nature’s circular metabolism, thereby advancing its own nature in accordance with its third metabolic phase. Our species has been progressively changing its nature by self-organization, throughout socio-natural co-evolution. The challenge of the crisis itself will act as a common scientific discipline.
However, such a path is still blocked by the disintegrating class society, causing and aggravating the Anthropocene crisis. Social mutiny is already underway. It is trickling out of massively accumulating human needs. These are starting to break through the monopolized resource control of class society. But social mutiny is still unconscious of its own common nature and of its inherent power yet untapped.
Habits, traditions, institutions, and the disciplines corresponding to them keep blinding, by wielding a tattered authority they no longer merit. The prevailing principle of association by class division, characteristic of the second phase of human metabolism, had been the powerhouse of civilization. Combining the motive forces of human cooperative development with the incentives of class society, channelling, amplifying, and extending this cooperative development, humanity had achieved to grow from local isolation and meagre material conditions to accelerating labour productivity and merging into global interconnectedness. Cooperative development and class division once were as synonyms, the latter expressing the former under unevenly scarce conditions. Now, however, they have become opposite and incompatible, as demonstrated by the Anthropocene crisis. Sorting these things out is the purpose of the first part of the present work.
The subject of the first book will be to isolate and describe the independent variable of self-liquidating capitalism, abstract capital, which is causing and driving the Anthropocene crisis. Capital abstraction and industrial repulsion is demonstrated as general form of class society’s associating disintegration.
Books two, three, and four, will analyse the political and social consequences of class society’s destructive perpetuation, beyond its social and natural sustainability. These consequences are demonstrated to be dependent crisis variables. But they also contain the elements potentially forming the independent variable of crisis solution, by their acceleratingly developing means of cooperation.
The second part will focus the latter aspect. It will treat the subject of crisis solution. Now there exist abundantly accumulating human motive forces and means of cooperation, potentially capable of solving the Anthropocene crisis, if only liberating themselves from obsolete class society’s destructive interference. Such a completion of the third phase transition has got the quality of one uninterrupted, self-disseminating and accelerating process – social mutiny – corresponding to the species completing its self-organizing nature.
Twentieth century history provides ample demonstration of social mutinies breaking out. It also demonstrates how social mutiny, when aborted through political substitution, and lacking awareness of its own self-organizing principle, necessarily has produced violently reactionary results. Some of the most important events and processes, illustrating the motive forces of social mutiny, and the potentialities inherent to it, will be invoked as examples in the first book of the second part. Social mutiny as an expression of human nature under the conditions of class society explains its latent or potent presence as an integral part of civilization – indeed its transformative force.
The second part will proceed, in a second book, through investigating the right of association as scientific principle of human evolution and how this principle of emerging human nature is presently confronted by the possibility of re-integrating into the planetary life system. Several concrete principles, corresponding to emerging massive development features of society, will be demonstrated as both conductive to and deductive from this general principle.
The third and concluding book of the second part will attempt synthesizing and concretising concepts of humanity transcending into globally advanced circular metabolism, as independent variable of a progressively stabilizing earth system – the anthropic principle as scientifically testable concept. Above all, it will focus the concrete principles, methods, and standards involved.
The disposition and publication plan of the present work is published together with this introduction, including abstract of the first book under preparation. The first part will focus twentieth century history, tracing the emergence of the Anthropocene crisis. The second one will detect global social mutiny as the road to progressively completing the third phase transition. It will base this conclusion in the overall scientific principle of human evolution – the right of association. And it will tackle the concrete prospects of sustainably re-integrating humanity into the earth system.
Thereby, a third order approximation of human nature is formulated. The first order approximation – cooperativity – corresponded to what had evolved out of human self-organization within nature. It had resulted in the first phase of human metabolism – harvesting metabolism. The second order approximation – segregated associationism – corresponded to the second phase of human metabolism – linear or exploitative metabolism. The third order approximation – integrative associationism – corresponds to what might be achieved within a third phase of human metabolism – globally advanced circular metabolism. That means humanity reintegrating within itself, and within the naturally evolving earth system.
The two-part work will focus twentieth century results and third millennium prospects. This introduction, however, moves in the other direction. It starts out by evolutionary retrospect, by focusing some basic conceptualizations on human nature, in order to frame the problem broadly enough.
Three phases of human metabolism
‘Metabolism’ is a concept borrowed from biology. The term is not here used as a simple metaphor. That seems to have been the usual practice when applied to social analyses. Here it is rather utilised as a distinct re-conceptualisation, transferred to society. Neither is it applied to concrete processes at the shorter timescale. It is utilised as an overall concept for a distinct type of human interaction within the circular processes of Earth’s biogeochemical life system, characteristic of a separate period in human evolution. Evolution has gone through two metabolic phases: harvesting metabolism and linear metabolism. A third phase is now possible: globally advanced circular metabolism.
‘Phase’ is here utilised as a concept for determining separate forms of human-ecological metabolism, at a planetary range, and at a timescale of socio-natural co-evolution. ‘Phase transition’ refers to socio-natural critical conditions leading from one metabolic phase, which had depleted its potential, into the achievement and stabilization of an entirely new and different phase, proving its sustainability in a natural as well as a social historic meaning.
As revealed by the Anthropocene crisis, an acute need has appeared of conceptualizing the metabolic modes of socio-natural co-evolution, that human speciation had produced. Interaction between Homo sapiens and the earth system has entered a critical state – a third phase transition. We need a phase concept for understanding what this phase transition is. What are the limits of the phase we are leaving? What is the phase we are entering? What has the present phase transition resulted in so far? What are the conditions, dimensions, and prospects for successfully completing it, for humanity transcending into a sustainable future? All the great questions of our time require a scientific concept for periodizing socio-natural co-evolution.
Together, the first two metabolic phases have expressed a natural historic evolutionary process of human cooperation, the distinguishing survival fitness of our species. However, they mark entirely separate rates in developing means of cooperation. These, in turn, correspond to separate levels of human association. Such qualitative distinctions are of course also applicable to a possible third phase of human metabolism.
In fact, with modern humans, it has not been genetically driven development of the species, but rather the dialectics between changes in the earth system and homo sapiens’s social evolution of combined responses, that has led its advancement in socio-natural co-evolution.
The phase concept here proposed should not be understood as a straight line within social history. The simplification of linear historiography has been devastating, denying intercultural cross-fertilisation, the prime force of human cooperative evolution. The linear conception of history is also hierarchic. This feature reflects class society’s outlook on mankind, today representing the chief obstacle to seeing the solution of the Anthropocene crisis. Intercultural cross-fertilisation between remaining unevenness in social evolution will be transformed into a decisive asset of crisis solution. This will be briefly dealt with below, in the section on circular metabolism.
The phase concept should not be interpreted mechanically (determinism). Nor as something predetermined (teleology). It should be determined as a tool for evaluating the uneven and combined results within the earth system of human speciation, and of the natural historic shifts in human cooperation produced under pressure of environmental feedback. The present state within humanity and within the earth system – the Anthropocene crisis – necessitates a phase concept in such a natural historic meaning.
Understanding the intimate interconnectedness of natural and social exploitation, characteristic of the entire second phase of human metabolism within the earth system, will prove completely decisive for approaching, apprehending, analysing and acting effectively within the present phase transition out of linear metabolism, culminating in the Anthropocene crisis.
Of course, the Anthropocene hypothesis, forecasting a new human-centred geological epoch at Planet Earth, needs to be distinguished from the Anthropocene crisis, the ongoing phase transition discussed in this work. The Anthropocene crisis is a fact. This does not apply to the Anthropocene. The possibility of an Anthropocene epoch, with humanity perpetuating the Cenozoic era (the evolutionary time of mammal speciation), depends entirely upon the solution or non-solution of the Anthropocene crisis. Whatever the proposal of the Anthropocene Working Group within the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy eventually will be, it is not at that academic level that the issue will get settled. Any other conceivable timing of an Anthropocene onset, than that possibly evolving out of the Anthropocene crisis itself, would prove untenable. The associated actions of billions of people within the near future will decide.
The first phase – harvesting metabolism
The first phase should be termed harvesting metabolism. The early beginnings of hunting and gathering might be traced a few million years back. That is if we include the first hominins, the ancestry which was to be progressively characterized by features like upright walk, handicraft, control of fire, development of language, collective accumulation and transmission of knowledge and practices through generations. But Homo would prove to be the successful genus and sapiens its only surviving species. Eventually it would become globally dominating. Therefore, the entire evolution of hominins up to sapiens should be conceptually determined as a first phase transition. In retrospect it can be conceived of as leading out of the animal kingdom and into self-organizing and collectively self-evolving human society.
Restricting the phase concept to Homo sapiens, and to several contemporary and closely related species now gone extinct, the phase of harvesting metabolism spans a few hundred thousand years. The exact dating, socio-genetic causation chain, crossbreeding of species, socio-ecological feedback loops, indicative set of species-specific features, cultural breakthroughs, et cetera, remain open to conflicting interpretations, which in turn have varied over time. These issues, however, are not essential to the basic conceptualizations proposed here. The period from the emergence of modern humans and up until the Holocene, which roughly corresponds to the Penultimate and Last Glacial Periods, would then be considered the phase of human harvesting metabolism.
The nomadic mode of living, and the migrating tendency, bear witness to human developments still being a restlessly embedded part within natural evolution and, at the same time, its tendency to increasingly segregate through cooperation. The hunters and gatherers were still following the food to harvest, fleeing unhospitable conditions of rapid and radical climate change and more short-term natural devastation, et cetera, just like during the first phase transition. In this respect, the humans of the first phase might be perceived as still bearing some external resemblance to foraging and hunting animals. But in their internally combined type of struggle for survival they had become radically different. Natural evolutionary they were already our equals, although still socially hindered by more scarce means of cooperation.
Natural selection had manifested itself, to a rising degree throughout the first phase transition, in mental capacities substituting for and atrophying those of physical force. This because the survival fitness of our pre-speciation had been drifting increasingly from individual features towards those favouring socially organic combination. A distinctively collective speciation had emerged. Our species had eventually resulted from genetical selection for cooperative qualities. And cooperation itself had increasingly been driving and boosting this selection, up until the occurence and success of modern humans.
The organizing principle in primordial accumulation of knowledge had reflected humanity’s progressing alienation from the tendencies of natural evolution. The natural surrounding could consequently only be perceived by humans as forces cooperating with or against humanity. The first self-insight into human nature had necessarily been inverted, into animating nature (animism). Human cooperation had intuitively been projected everywhere. Religion sprang out of this speciation’s alienation from natural ecology. It became the original substitute for science. It had been echoing a human cooperation, that had not yet reached a rate sufficient for systematic cultivation of, and enquiry into, the regularities of nature. It had also reflected that human impression of its own species-specific cooperation had already become overwhelming. It was for the love of cooperation that human culture had been evolving. A culture which, in turn, had been perpetuating and enhancing cooperation. And humanity had rationalised this socio-natural dialectic, through setting its own evolutionarily achieved right of association as a constituting principle of not only itself, but of entire nature.
For most part of this first phase, an unknown number of hominin species had coexisted evolutionarily. Recent findings show that Neanderthals, Denisovans, and others were to partially become assimilated into Homo sapiens through interbreeding. Gene sequencing has also shown that all humans living today have their common dominant genetic ancestry in a small endangered population. The epic drama of our species seems to have started out by a near extinction-experience, at the continent where twenty-first century phase transition will have its epicentre – Africa. Once more, most vital in human and natural resources, the fate of the continent will be decisive. Spiral closing.
How come only sapiens made it? And why did this critically small population of Homo sapiens reach such unparalleled evolutionary success? It would be far-fetched to seek any other explanation, than its natural selection conductive to a uniquely supreme cooperative survival skill.
At the interface of humans and surrounding nature, sapiens, as well as other human species, had conquered one decisive natural force – the control of fire. After the human fire regime had moved from preserving embers from wildfire to proper making of fire, an artificial regularity had been introduced into the circular processes of natural ecology. Human society’s fire regime had become an ecocycle in the earth system. Human needs for shelter, hunting, cooking, and clearing of ground, had benefitted plant and animal species adapting to regular fires. Savanna had spread, and with it the grass eating mammals suitable as human prey. Thus, human cooperativity had begun changing the ecology of Planet Earth. Finally burn beating would become a forerunner of agriculture.
Preparation of meat and plants had brought with it a radical reduction in energy required for human digestion. It had shrunk to a fraction of what was needed by animals. Increasing size and energy consumption of the human brain had been provided for by harnessing fire. This had further increased the power of cooperation. Cooperation and fire had become a self-reinforcing evolutionary spiral, leading up to modern humans. Human use of the unique consumption power of fire had amplified that of harvesting metabolism. The original human fire regime had ignited a take-off, in socio-natural co-evolution.
However, according to present state of the art, it does not seem like this singular conquest of natural force would have played a principle part in driving the successful harvesting metabolism into crisis. It seems like the very general success of the species had had a more decisive significance. At the beginning of the Holocene, around 11,000 years ago, the cooperative skill had not only spread our species to the entire planet. It had brought it to a popular density, where the consumption power of harvesting metabolism had threatened to turn into a destructive power.
Sticking to harvesting metabolism would have tended to lead to a general plunder crisis. Sudden climate change, in combination with human overkill, had led to extinction of megafauna in entire regions and even continents. How much of this ecological crisis that had been caused by natural climate change, and how much by human consumption stress, we might never really get to know. Regardless, the socially prehistoric challenge posed to human cooperativity, and its capacity to meet it through the Neolithic revolution, should inspire us today.
The second phase – linear metabolism
This threatening plunder crisis was solved by human cooperativity undergoing a fundamental revolution, facilitated by the uniquely stable and hospitable interglacial conditions of the new geological epoch. Early Holocene formed a phase transition in the interaction between human cooperation and surrounding nature. Its breakthrough is commonly known as the Neolithic revolution, or the First Agricultural Revolution. Harvesting metabolism was giving way to the beginnings of linear metabolism. Sedentary development of human society was self-organized through co-domestication and cultivation of successively selected plants and animals. The horticultural glades of late harvesting metabolism were extended into virtual fields of agriculture. The resilience of ecosystems would prove to be robust enough to allow for such systematic human exploitation of the soil.
Cooperation was refined by functionally dividing itself, in the form of human labour. Peasant agriculture formed the first human mode of production. Human labour and its tools, together with the natural forces of settled areas, were transformed into forces of production. Henceforth, development of productive forces became the general self-organizing principle of humanity, successively selecting for production relations conductive to furthering this development.
Science as such is a human category, which became possible to apply to surrounding nature, by human cooperation refining itself into social labour, a permanently self-evolving, systematic, and specialised belabouring of nature’s regularities. Within the cooperation of the human mind, such scientific inquiry and discoveries began to infiltrate the religious superstition inherited from the first metabolic mode.
‘Principle,’ as utilised in this work, when not explicitly referring to scientific principles of natural sciences, should be understood as a scientific approximation of socio-natural co-evolution, the organic interaction of human cooperation and natural evolution at Planet Earth. ‘Principle,’ ‘organizing principle,’ or ‘self-organizing principle’ are used for conceptualizing human cooperative evolution and its historic development forms, advancing the phase of socio-evolutionary metabolism in which they exist. Hence, developing productive forces through human production relations, did emerge as the general self-organizing principle of linear metabolism.
A denser and larger human population could be fed in an area sized a fraction of former hunting grounds, albeit at the cost of a more unbalanced and nutrient-poor diet, dominated by cereal staples. Produced necessities could be stored as social reserves, buffering seasonal shifts and potential devastation brought by drought, flooding, pests, et cetera.
Exchange of such accumulated surplus re-invigorated variation in diet. This, however, brought with it even more important things. Interchange in mating counteracted deleterious inbreeding. Exchange of accumulated knowledge set out intercultural crossbreeding. Human needs were diversified. The scale and density of human cooperation increased exponentially. Handicraft and trade formed the organizing principle of urbanization, a general tendency of intensifying association that was to accompany the entire development of civilization.
Families, gathered in clans, would associate in tribes, that in turn federated, transforming into chiefdoms and proto monarchies. Conglomerates of various ethnicities and socially differentiated populations, spanning vast areas, were to give rise to politics as mighty groups’ meta form of cooperation.
The second phase transition was to end, and the beginnings of the second phase was to start, with the advent of class society. How? Why? In an immediate sense, class society had arguably been unavoidable in stabilizing human civilization and escaping violently chaotic disintegration of human cooperation. For during the phase transition from harvesting metabolism to linear metabolism – proto history – the practices of hunting and gathering had been turning upon humanity itself. Self-segregating tribal aristocracies had been self-organizing in exploiting their powerful social position. The human right of association had started to become monopolized. Rich and powerful men, at the head of dominant clans and tribes, had fortified their kinship into dynasty. They had been thriving through wars of plunder. In its most absolute form, it had been represented by the warrior tribe, like Sparta. A few cattle-breeding tribes had formed a specific form of cooperation in civilisation’s proto history, advantaged through high-grade nutrition and rapid mobility, predisposing them as successful warriors. Such lines of development would culminate in the form of early empires.
Honour culture of proto history had been idolizing brutal force. Torture, manslaughter, rape, and enslavement of foreigners and internal competitors had been upheld as heroic virtue, as displayed in for example the classical Greek drama, or in the Icelandic Eddas. Productive agricultural labour had been stigmatised as a despicable characteristic of poor people, slaves, and draught animals. Such traditions had not only been nonconductive to development of productive forces, except for those directly applicable to armament, mobilization logistics, amassing of wealth, and celebration of Emperor cults. They had also been threatening to degenerate into society’s dissolution in unbounded criminality and civil war. Especially the practice of enslaving a failing debtor had been a threat constantly looming over labour.
The labouring peasant majority, subjected to societies’ recurring plunder crises, had tended to rise in social mutinies against the warlords. Populations of ravaged and threatened cities had been teeming with sympathy for social mutiny. Large concentrations of slave labour had formed a latent explosiveness of social mutiny.
Another, more subtle, countervailing force to the endemic plunder crisis of proto history had been the cooperative force of transcultural cross-fertilisation, possibly transforming warrior culture of conquerors by assimilating more complex associative culture of the conquered. Sophisticated handicraft, trade, civil administration, and pacifying rituals had been perforating the warrior cultures.
Class society arose and constituted itself under the pressure from labour’s social mutiny against the rule of robbers. The system appeared as an historical solution to this active or latent plunder crisis within humanity. It had been emerging as massive development features, until finally finding its self-organizing principle: development of productive forces through production relations among social classes. Put in metabolic terms, this formula corresponds to exploitation of nature by exploitation of human labour.
On the one hand, progressing division of labour, increased migration, trade networks, and spreading urbanization, had been fragmenting and dissolving clans and tribes. On the other hand, the tribal systems were to be substituted by a more powerful force. The new civilized mode of cooperation was to be regulated at a more permanent footing, as well as a larger scale. It made itself binding to relatives as well as to strangers. The new order substituted private property in land and the territorial state for tribalism. These more robust, durable, and inclusive forms of association were to prove their force of social cohesion. Linear metabolism had reached its characteristic level in right of association – class society.
In this type of order, the labouring classes received limited legal protection, in return for regularly being subjected to systematic exploitation by the ruling classes. The latter now monopolized, simply by legislation, the large-scale right of association through state and property. The former looting or tributes paid for tribal protection rackets, had been substituted by taxes and labour rents. Monotheistic hierarchies of state religion would contribute to the social cohesion of class society.
The territorial sovereignty principle of the state was to culminate in European absolute monarchies or empire-states like China. The principle of appropriating nature was to be even more enduring. Eventually the property principle would be subordinating the state principle. Through enclosure of private property by a minority, modern society was to be constituted – ‘the rule of law.’
Trade had coevolved as a more civilized, secure, permanent, and self-organizing way of procurement, parallel to the proto-historic protection rackets and wars of conquest and plunder. In fact, it had had its predecessor even in the harvesting phase, as friendly exchange of gifts in building alliances, avoiding recurring wars over hunting grounds. In the emergence of linear metabolism, trade, together with the trust building practice of credit, had evolved as an organizing principle, leading towards class society. With class society established, cities as handicraft centres and trade hubs were to increasingly develop into self-organized semi-autonomy within agricultural societies, that were still dominated by inherited aristocracies and monarchies.
With urban entrepreneurial logics entering agriculture, a rapid increase in its productivity would result. This, in turn, would lead to accelerating population growth, with surplus rural labour power migrating into the slums of growing cities. As the development of productive forces had reached a level that made large-scale industrial production possible, dissolving the monopolistic fraternities of craft guilds, class society was entering its last mode of production, the capitalist one. It was to perpetuate a revolution in productive forces, in turn needing and breeding a general surplus in material provision and in means of cooperation. Thereby new needs were to be awoken among humans at an increasing pace, and development of modern society would take off.
Definition of agricultural society’s original linear metabolism should be exploitation of the soil through exploitation of human labour. Emergence of this type of metabolism could be counted by thousands of years. Linear metabolism would culminate in a much more rapid tempo. It has now endured for a few hundred years, by geological exploitation of Planet Earth. This fossil regime of resource extraction signified a culmination in exploitation of human labour by machinery. The industrial revolution of capitalism marks the end of the linear phase.
During this entire phase, class society had proven itself to be a superior form of association, in developing productive forces. It had brought human evolution from self-subsistent small-scale production into associated integration in the modern industrial society. Its levelling up of human association has exerted an irresistibly attractive force. In the light of the Anthropocene crisis, this phase of linear metabolism can be evaluated as a completed natural historic experience. Development of productive forces, as the general principle of exploitation, is depleted.
In the context of evaluating the general characteristics of the second metabolic phase, class society should be essentially abstracted from its different historical forms over time and geographically. Likewise, in precisely this general aspect, we should disregard the uneven combination of civilization and wars of conquest, culminating in global colonialism, despite the fact that half a thousand years of such barbaric imperialism had set the very conditions of modern bourgeois class society. Even the capitalist relation of exploitation is unnecessary to delve on, in analysing the most general social characteristics of linear metabolism.
On the one hand, these general characteristics might be socially reduced to human labour’s capacity to produce a surplus of consumption articles, enough for a minority to live in material abundance. On the other hand, these general conditions might be reduced to social means of cooperation still remaining too underdeveloped, to satisfy the core human need of cultivating human relations abundantly. These two opposing variables have now reached their limits. The conditions have radically changed. On the one hand, human labour has reached capacity to produce generally secure material provision, while proving material revelry for all as a devastating utopia. On the other hand, the means of human cooperation are becoming potentially abundant for all. But they are still being dominated, manipulated, and castrated by the socially dominant forces now becoming purely destructive. These same interests crave the restricting and channelling of human needs back into its secondary and more primitive form, boundlessly growing material consumption.
This same destructivity is displayed at the interface of human society and exploited nature. There, the finite limit can be reduced to the fact that the fossil regime of capitalism has gone berserk, far beyond the vital force of capitalism itself. The capitalist mode of production’s dependence on maximizing extraction of fossil minerals and fuels for exponentially developing labour productivity is no longer the main driving force. Rather it has turned into primarily whipping up aggregate consumption power. This in order to supply the parasitic rent seeking of abstract capital.
By depleting minerals, together with fossil and ground water, and by indiscriminately discharging waste from large scale production and consumption, the possibility of linear metabolism is being depleted. Carbon is being instantly released, that had been sequestered from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and chemically stored in the underground by tectonic movements of the continents for hundreds of millions of years. Depletion of soil ecology accumulated over thousands of years, through deforestation and petroleum-based agriculture, adds to the critical natural conditions of the present phase transition. Consumption of and pollution from a broad variety of minerals is driving the biogeochemical system of the planet towards irreversible tipping points. The chain of human fire regimes is culminating in an unsustainable regime of fossil depletion, heating, poisoning, and disturbing the entire planet. This culmination means the end of linear metabolism. It spells the end of systematic exploitation as the human life form. Class society has reached its definitive limit.
The third phase – globally advanced circular metabolism
All scientific evidence today points towards the conclusion that we have come full spiral. Linear metabolism is causing havoc. It is threatening to deplete not only natural resilience and resources, but also the social cohesion of humanity as a self-associating species. It is risking society’s relapse into disintegrating barbaric forms. This, in turn, would mean incapacitating us in front of the sixth mass extinction, becoming its helpless victim and executioner at one and the same time.
Linear and circular metabolism have become globally incompatible. Then, continuing to seek solutions within linear metabolism, only points towards catastrophe. Polarization between ‘growth ideology’ and the ideology of ‘zero growth’ is misleading, as it moves within the GDP statistics of linear metabolism. Narrowing down to this measure of consumption power, places the possible phase transition to advanced circular metabolism beyond the field of vision. Such hopelessness displays itself in two extremes. The technique fetishist tendency of ‘eternal growth’ proclaims the ‘death of nature.’ The most dogmatic and authoritarian environmental ideology proclaims humanity as a ‘malign infestation.’ These false extremes both point towards a catastrophic failure of the third phase transition. Beneath this unrealistic ideological polarization, lies a real social rift, where the true preconditions of solving the Anthropocene crisis are maturing.
Depletion of social cohesion and depletion of earth system’s resilience are intimately linked. Mixing these two up, however, like present sustainability research routinely does, by corrupting the term ‘resilience,’ can only contribute to a catastrophic outcome. Resilience has been and will remain a scientifically sound ecological concept. Lending itself to, just as well, signifying the dangerous utopia that stabilizing and fortifying social status quo would be possible, in face of continuously accelerating global change of ecology, becomes the most treacherous kind of conceptual corruption. ‘Environmental champions’ smile in the spotlight, together with ‘green’ multibillionaires. Can you imagine something more dishonest and confusing, than selling out ‘resilience’ to those destroying it? The ‘sustainability’ establishment thereby tends to transform itself, from a part of the solution to a part of the problem. You cannot take one single step towards a solution if you start by falling flat to linear metabolism as your own horizon.
It is true that Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore did not present any alterantive in the movie Planet of the Humans, but they did take on the unwholy alliance of the ‘sustainability’ establishment and the fake ‘resilience’ branding of abstract capital. That is why this alliance took every opportunity to shut the movie down from all channels of distribution.
The presently attained human level of social integration, which has been facilitated by globalization, is not nearly enough. Much more will be necessitated by the Anthropocene crisis. But the processes emerging within globalization form the given starting point. We have already gone far into the third phase transition. Advanced circular metabolism has become an acute necessity globally. And this is presently starting to penetrate common sense.
Human society needs to embed itself anew into global ecology and its circular metabolism. This restoration of natural metabolism cannot be done by humanity ‘returning to nature,’ however, reversing civilization’s Holocene-spanning urbanization trend. Nor can it be produced through generalizing unaltered copying of practices from earlier metabolic practices. Even less can it be achieved by disregarding the natural resilience of the earth system, bulldozing it by mindless projects of unilateral, uncontrollable, and unbounded technological mock fixes of so-called ecological engineering. On the contrary. One single social organizing principle will be needed, which is ecologically divisible into three different concrete principles and three distinct global zones, corresponding to Planet Earth’s and society’s co-evolutionary result.
Metabolic zones – Evoluzone, Holozone, and Anthropozone
Firstly: The preservationist principle is based in saving and restoring wildlife in the Evoluzone. It should be organized by labour devoted to preserving biodiversity and ecology produced by pre-anthropic natural evolution, which has resisted tendencies to ecological collapse. Marginal effects by indigenous populations belong to this principle. The most important part of the planet’s biogeochemical life system might be saved, by large areas of landmass, lakes, rivers, and oceans stretching out in an associated system of preservationist nature reserves. Restoration of such ecologies should be undertaken, in dimensions found to be necessary for turning the tide of mass extinction and keeping aggregate earth system within a safe operating space. Cooperation, voluntarily integrating surviving knowledge, cooperative versatility, and nature valuation of indigenous populations, with the research field earth system science and all its subdisciplines, into one singular, common, and socially equitable association, should form the basis in a global social treaty of natural right in zone management.
Secondly: The conservationist principle should, first of all, be based in optimal restoration of Holocene’s pre-fossil cultural landscape in the Holozone. But it must aim higher than that. Vast volumes of already emitted carbon must be re-sequestered. High-technological regenerative precision agriculture, together with reforestation, should focus on a recovery of soil that had been impoverished by fossil agribusiness, in the most rapid manner possible. Even larger areas of the world oceans should be covered with marine permaculture (seaweed farms), contributing to rapidly turning the oceans and the atmosphere from rising to sinking CO2 levels. Saving and restoring biodiversity and carbon sinks, by rehabilitation of topsoil, woods and dungeons, wetlands, streams, dams, marine ecology, et cetera, becomes top priority within the rural landscapes produced by civilization during the Holocene. This principle should include conservation of culturally valuable sites, reflecting the history of human civilization, thus including also ancient, premodern, and early modern urban areas. Equitably associated competence, between agricultural and tradition bearing rural populations and the ecosystem service of cities, for restoration of a sustainable Holozone, should found zone management’s global treaty of its particular natural right.
Thirdly: Urbanization should be completed in the Anthropozone, as a closed system of simplified ecologies. Within this segregate human right – the anthropo-centric principle – everything will evolve around human life and human metabolism. Optimally compressed food chains (for example high-grade protein, produced by bacteria or fungi) in contained, circular, oligo-tropically optimized cultivation (few species), could exponentially raise the rate of nutritional yield to resource use. Professionally associated production, cooking, serving, and recycling of healthy, tasty, and varied food, closed flows of circulating water and materials, with construction applying urban mining design, and production organized in symbiotic industrial parks, should provide for reducing rural resource mining (agricultural produce, logging, mining minerals, et cetera) to dimensions balanced by reciprocation and restoration. Monitoring and balancing of the species gradually adapting to urbanized areas, should complete this segregate type of human ecology, proving its achieved anthropocentric form of circular metabolism by not discharging any unintended waste. Successfully providing subsistence to inhabitants, and producing surplus labour power, within this Anthropozone, becomes a direct precondition for managing to provide eco system service to Evoluzone and Holozone. By its hyper-productive ecological enclosure, and its global eco system service, Anthropozone can conform to planetary natural right.
Then, what happens to the human fire regimes? On the one hand, remnants of the carbon-based human fire regimes should be turned into ecosystem services, like controlled fires, optimizing the resilience of the Evoluzone and the Holozone, or production of biochar for combined carbon sink and soil improvement, et cetera. On the other hand, the human fire regime of energy production should be decarbonised. By converting to producing, storing, and burning non-polluting fuel – hydrogen – it would contribute as one of various balance and backup methods for irregularities in flowing energy sources.
A zonal segregation of the planet will be needed, for transcending into global sustainability. It could only be achieved by entire humanity self-organizing in association, around its reintegration as advanced circular metabolism within the earth system. This prospect is based in the uneven outcome of 200,000 years of socio-natural co-evolution, proceeding through two metabolic phases. Now transition into a third phase has become the global survival issue.
The mapping of these three zones are all but random. They should depart from the actual results of socio-natural co-evolution, at the outbreak of the Anthropocene crisis. Such a human ecological and social reintegration, through territorial segregation, could therefore not be described as a matter of armchair strategy. In that respect, it must be the absolute opposite of the cartography that the colonial powers applied when they were encroaching in Africa, the Middle East, and further parts of the Global South, more than a century ago, as linear metabolism culminated. Anthropic zonal patterns, on the contrary, could become flexible and intersecting, in smaller or greater scales, based in state-of-the-art ecological science integrating in equitably associative resource control. For a number of reasons, natural as well as social ones, Africa will be able to head this human phase transition: Richest in yet untapped human force (young population, ready to study and work) and flow of natural resources; least overloaded with linear metabolic infrastructure. Strongest motive for countering the ravages of the Anthropocene crisis.
This phase transition could be described from nature to humans: Zonally separating remaining or restorable wildlife of the Evoluzone, as well as biodiversity in existing and restorable cultural landscapes of the Holozone, becomes dependent on constitutionally establishing the natural rights of these two evolutionary zones in relation to cities and their sprawl of infrastructure. Obviously, this has become the scientific meaning of natural right. Natural right is the right of Cenozoic life, to continue its natural history of biodiversification.
It would signify transformation of urban centra, from destructive forces in exploiting Planet Earth, into an Anthropozone primarily reproducing its own autonomous conditions. In binding and unbreakable contracts and balances, it would treat the output from conservationist rural agri- and horticulture, sustainable fossil extraction, as well as exclusivities from wildlife, as the supplementary luxury of natural gifts, in return for urban surplus labour contributing to equitable social services, to technology transfer, and to ecological monitoring, research, and restoration, in the two zones of natural rights. Migration and touring between the zones should be free, within the framework that equitable resource balances permit. Only by such natural historic segregation of earth system’s circular metabolism in three zones, can humanity sustainably reintegrate within nature and within itself.
The third phase transition might just as well be put the other way around, starting with humanity’s need of abundant association. From such a departing point, co-working forces between human labour power and sun-powered biogeochemical work of the earth system could be developed. Ecosystem services might thus be scientifically determined as the principle of surplus human labour power devoted to ecosystem monitoring, research, maintenance, and restoration. The corrupt meaning today put into the term ‘ecosystem service,’ will prove untenable. Capitalizing parts of ecology, for the rent seeking of financial markets, is neither service performed by eco systems, nor supplied to them. It is a destructive force. By the third phase transition, Anthropy as the human-earth system, will follow civilization.
The term ‘anthropic principle’ might probably be readily appropriated, without any semantic transfer necessitated. Presently it appears to be no more than a shaky proposal for concept of speculative cosmology. It should therefore be free for forming a scientific concept, taken down to Earth. The anthropic principle should be conceptualized, as the expression of human metabolism re-integrating within the circulating metabolism of the planetary life system, generating the third phase of socio-natural co-evolution. Through a successful third phase transition, the entire earth system becomes dependent on the path taken by human metabolism in this third phase.
Anthropocene as a new geological epoch can only be realized, by simultaneously being a phase transition in human global metabolism and in the earth system’s anthropic re-stabilization. Therefore, this anthropic principle should be conceptualized as associating in managing the life-sustaining interdependence of humanity and the biogeochemical earth system. The progressive result of this self-organizing principle should be conceptualized as Anthropy – a sustainable earth system manifested, monitored, and managed through development of collective human intelligence. This anthropic principle forms the third order approximation to human nature.
This time it is a phase transition that cannot take millions of years, like the first one did, nor thousands of years, as the second one did. It must be completed within decades. There are four great advantages now. First, we are rapidly becoming aware of this window of opportunity and its limited dimension. Second, the technological and social means of generally and sustainably satisfying basic material needs – sufficiency – are already at hand. Thirdly, the means of cooperation have been approaching abundance. This makes global association possible. Humanity’s development of needs might then focus on abundantly enriching cooperative relations. This is the essential feature of the human condition. It is also an unconditional requirement for succeeding in the phase transition. Fourthly, the rapidity in the great acceleration of global change could be turned into a planetary asset. If humanity’s concerted effort gets self-mobilized in completing the necessary phase transition, it gets possible.
The myth of ‘circular economy’
This introduction is not the right place to positively analyse the emerging features of advanced circular metabolism, in need of rapid and united global integration and upscaling. The last book of the present work will focus that issue. Suffice it here to make one negative determination of the concept. Circular metabolism is not the same thing as ‘circular economy,’ but its opposite. ‘Circular economy’ is a corrupted concept. It is a contradiction in terms. It should not be confounded with globally advanced circular metabolism. ‘Circular economy’ is being marketed as a business model, claiming to represent sustainable economy. But it actually expresses a reactionary and artificial prolongation of linear metabolism’s commercial obstacles to circular metabolism.
We have ‘dematerialization of commodities,’ or ‘commodities turned services,’ the story goes, in narrow market analysis of the tendency represented by globally dominant IT corporations. This also, is a contradiction in terms. Already produced information, available within virtual means of cooperation, which actually can be infinitely reproduced, without any additional cost than the energy required for storage and transmission, is being locked in judicially and functionally, as ‘immaterial rights’ and ‘intellectual property.’
This has turned into an ever harsher and more destructive struggle, trying to arrest the generally accelerating historical tendency of property liquidation. Instead, progressively completing this irresistible tendency, as general depropriation (dissolution of property), will be a necessary part of globally advanced circular metabolism. Such a depropriation becomes a fundamental precondition, for liberated natural right, as well as for equitable human right of abundant association.
To the extent that such reactions get successful, in trying to commercialize the need of circular metabolism, they turn into obstacles to systematisation, upscaling, and integration of innovations in sustainability. Instead such innovations become exploited selectively, unilaterally, and unbalanced, in such a way that they force up surrounding linear metabolism even more. They get implemented, only in forms and to the extent that they prove compatible with safeguarding and strengthening abstract capital’s accelerating demands for increasing rents.
In the past few decades, the virtual means of cooperation have found their perverse business model: Giving free access to social media, in exchange for a global systematic identity theft. They go on by auctioning collected data about us to interested bidders. Through Big Data, they centralize cognitive surveillance, control, and manipulation of the users, guiding their senses towards aggravation of globally unsustainable material overconsumption.
‘Circular economy’ wants to give these same commercial interests total control over all material resources of Earth, including monopolized ownership throughout the entire consumption process. This doctrine wishes to complete ‘commodities turning into services,’ so that we consumers never would buy anything, but instead lease all that we use. Global corporations would own and mine resources, produce, rent out, take back, and recirculate all the products. We consumers are told to trust that they would be interested in using this total power sustainably. But for crass economic reasons, the real results would be aggravation of products’ planned obsolescence, deepening of the rift in wealth, powerlessness and growing frustration of human needs. The Anthropocene crisis would move towards catastrophe, instead of getting solved.
The fact that the phase transition to globally advanced circular metabolism neither can take place at an individual, separate, or national level of resource control, but only globally, is by the proponents of ‘circular economy’ utilised for demanding globally amplified power and wealth to a few billionaires. Their conclusion becomes the opposite of globally generalized right of association, which will be needed for a real transition to advanced circular metabolism. Monopolized ‘cradle-to-grave’ resource control to this associated rent-seeking abstract capital, would mean linear metabolism being transformed into a global totalitarian vicious circle of unbounded parasitism. What a nightmare! This is the wet dream of abstract capital. A vision never to be materialized. But in a worst-case scenario, it might prove forceful enough to distract sufficiently, to result in sabotage of a successful phase transition.
Abstract capital’s self-confusing collision, collusion and delusion, is trying in vain to fumble with the necessary phase transition to globally advanced circular metabolism on its own conditions. By this brief digression, touching upon the destructive force driving and aggravating the Anthropocene crisis, we should leave that subject for now. The first book will treat that destructive force. The subject of the seventh and concluding book will be the concrete possibilities of progressively completing the phase transition out of this destructive force.