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Chapter 32: Thinking like a Planet: Gaian Politics and the Transformation of the World Food System
32 Thinking like a planet: Gaian politics and the transformation of the world food system Karen Litfin Science influences culture not only through its contributions to technological development, but also through the concepts and metaphors it offers for enlivening social, political, economic, and ethical life. From the eighteenth century onward, the Newtonian world of atomistic bodies in motion was grafted onto a socio-political philosophy of possessive individualism.1 Beginning in the late nineteenth century, metaphors from Darwinian biology infiltrated social, political, and economic discourse. With the emergence of environmental awareness in the late twentieth century, the language of ecology quickly found its way into political discourse, and its metaphors of biologically rich networks and interdependence found a happy home in the budding field of environmental ethics. As early as 1949, Aldo Leopold, a prescient wildlife ecologist, established the discursive context for this new field when he made the radical shift from an anthropocentric to a biocentric ethics. According to his “land ethic,” “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”2 Leopold further advised his readers to “think like a mountain.” In other words, before acting, consider the web of relationships among organisms and their environing rock, soil, water, air, and sun that will be affected. Yet, however ancient and massive it might be, a mountain remains a local phenomenon, while many of our most pressing problems are global. “Think globally, act locally,” the...
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