Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 14, No. 10, October 2018
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
Home Page
Front Page


Envisioning a Post-Ecocidal Culture

Ruth Thomas-Pellicer

October 2018

"A society grows great when old people plant trees
under whose shade they will never sit."
— Greek Proverb


The characterization of the present day as the Age of Ecocide contrasts head-on with the way states present the ecological problematic: namely as the quest for sustainable development or, in its more widely accepted version, as the quest for sustainability. The Age of Ecocide overlaps with the Anthropocene -albeit I claim that the latter should be more precisely called ‘The White Androcene’ following the main role played by Western males in industrial and corporate capitalism. This article briefly broaches the mainstays of a post-ecocidal culture and timidly proposes a post-ecocidal metaphysics by opening up a philosophical space —extensible to the scientific realm— where the distinction is made between non-ecocidal elements –the loci standi— and ecocidal ones –the instrumenta movendi.

Age of Ecocide vs. Sustainability of Industrial Capitalism

Change in Western(ized) culture is very fast paced. No wonder that a number of trends or ages have come to converge in the present day. To name a few: the Age of Advanced Industrial and Corporate Capitalism, the Age of Techno-Science, the Age of Plastic, the Age of the Disposable, the Age of Climate Forcing, the Age of Biodiversity Loss, the Age of Melting Glaciers, you name it. A closer look helps us to realize that all these overlapping ages share a commonality, namely, a pronounced destructive might. They all render myriad non-human life forms —along with the attendant human lives that very sadly also go with them— extinct. These ages are lethal for the beautiful rocks lying along our seas and oceans; for the marine life that thrives in them; for rivers whose balanced flow is perturbed by either torrential rains that follow from climate forcing or man-made diversions; for polar bears as well as animals that roam freely in the rainforest whose habitat is steadily more reduced if they —as in the case of elephants and rhinos— are not furtively poached given the high exchange-value that their bodies —or parts thereof— enjoy in the black market. All these ages are indeed highly ecocidal. We may thus aptly say that we live in the Age of Ecocide.

The reader should note that the characterization of the present day as the Age of Ecocide contrasts head-on with the way states present the ecological problematic: namely as the quest for sustainable development or, in its more widely accepted version, as the quest for sustainability. Language conveys meanings and images in our minds. The term 'sustainability', and a fortiori the phrase 'sustainable development', send out the message that the Western(ized) part of the world may carry on with its business as usual. Only minor adjustments have to be introduced to our way of life. Often these adjustments boil down to more efficient ways of production so that the carrying capacity of a heterogeneous whole teeming with life —that is improperly deadened and homogenised into a passive receptacle called variously 'environment', ‘resources’ or ‘natural capital’— is not surpassed.

This is indeed how the non-human world is portrayed in Our Common Future (WCDE 1987), the report that coined the term ‘sustainable development’ and from which the subsequent concept of ‘sustainability’ has derived. This instrumental portrayal of the non-human world is reinstated in both the Millennium Development Goals (UN 2000) and in the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN 2015). The degree to which this passive characterization of the fauna, the flora and the mineral kingdom —indeed grouped together as 'environment', ‘resources’ or ‘natural capital’— is co-extensive with the Cartesian res extensa, is evident. The res extensa, as the reader may recall, downgrades all the elements and life forms that fall beyond the human mind. Similarly, the environment that appears in Our Common Future and the two subsequently related reports enjoys a second-rate category, subservient as the former is rendered to Western(ized) industrial needs ethnocentrically gauged as desirable for the entirety of the human species.

As a matter of fact, when we put the banner 'sustainable development' into historical perspective, we immediately realize that it conforms to an unproblematized reversal of industrial productivity. Unproblematized reversals occur when resistance is offered to the pressing necessity of altering a worldview. In these stressful situations, concepts that step in as only cosmetic modifications to the original outlook are popularized. This operation renders the original cosmology more palatable whilst its foundations and modus operandi are further encroached. Arguably, the concept of sustainable development is coined as a ruse to co-opt and sanitize the radical opposition with which the modern green movement met industrial and corporate capitalism. The ecological movement of post-war demanded root-and-branch alterations in the functioning of society. States appeased these demands with the promise of sustainable development (Sachs 1996; Rist 2001: Ch. 10, Thomas-Pellicer 2016, 2017: 21-25) while the political economic structures where left untouched and, as a result, neoliberalism has been making steady inroads.

In sharp contrast, by turning industrial and corporate capitalism into the protagonist of the Age of Ecocide, the dark green politics of the modern green movement are retrieved. To be sure, the banner 'Age of Ecocide' identifies current Western(ized) human action as irreconcilable with the integral survival of the fauna, flora, and the mineral world. Intellectual support to such a noxious Age doesn't lend itself to the advocacy of the sustainability of industrial production managed by multi-national corporations; rather, it calls for an utterly post-ecocidal culture.

From the White Androcene to a Yin-Oriented Global Polity

The Age of Ecocide, for its part, overlaps with the so-called Anthropocene. Or, to put it reversely, the Anthropocene's outstanding trait is its intrinsically lethal performance. The Anthropocene, as the reader may already know given the increasing ubiquity of this term among ecological circles, is the proposed label for the geological epoch starting with the grand-scale industrialization of the West in the latter part of the eighteenth century —almost coinciding with James Watt's invention of the steam engine in 1784. The proposal has been put forth by the Dutch scholars Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer. It is arguably a positive move to highlight the fact that human manipulation of the Earth at the scale done since the first Industrial Revolution is not at all free of far-reaching side effects.

However, to truly do justice to the nature of the catastrophe so that we can empower ourselves to take right action, we should be more accurate with the label. To this end, we should pay close heed to the work of ecofeminism. It has been Western males who have been filling the positions of management that have led to the industrialization of production. To be more precise, White Man has been the leader of industrial capitalism and remains the chief of present-day multi-national corporations. In consonance, it is my belief that the current geological age's apposite label should be 'White Androcene'. The coinage 'Anthropocene' is, at its best, imperialist as it assumes that white man is the sole inhabitant of the Earth. At its worst, the term 'Anthropocene' is unfairly misleading as it fails to discriminate benign forms of life such as those pursued by indigenous peoples and small-scale organic and agroecological farmers from the climate-destabilizing action proper to multi-national corporations and large agri-businesses.

Precision in the identification of the problematic must be certainly assessed as one step forward. However, it doesn't suffice. Our terminus is the successful overcoming of economic regimes that impede the reigning of love, peace and justice on Earth. We aim at a system that meets human needs free of geno-cum-eco-debacles. I shall briefly reassert the point advanced in the previous section. Post-ecocidal production is not synonymous with the sustainability of industrial capitalism. As a matter of fact, there is general consensus among radical quarters that both capitalism and grand-scale industrialization will have to come to an end if harm to the non-human world is to be successfully halted.

The British world-historian Arnold J. Toynbee is worth quoting at this juncture. His work was profusely dotted with environmental concerns. Toynbee (1976, 1977 [1972]), who was commendably erudite and had imbibed both Western and Eastern sources, predicted that, if the human species is to survive, the upcoming polity will be inexorably global and Yin-oriented. By Yin-oriented Toynbee meant that states would no longer exhibit Yang —read: assertive— traits and thus would abstain from waging wars to neighbouring states and from colonizing peripheral ones. Rather, peace would be the order of the day. This peaceful state of affairs would extend to the non-human world and thus ecocides would no longer be committed.

By attending to more recent literature, we can provide a more accurate characterization of such a Yin-oriented global polity. Population will have to be curbed so that human pressure upon the Earth can dramatically diminish. Human settlements won't occupy more than half of the Earth so that the other half can be rewilded (McKey 18/02/2018). Economies will no longer aim at growth but will pursue a steady state (Daly 1973). Human-centredness will be replaced with an ecocentric mind-set, where the needs for an Earth bristling with biodiversity will be given precedence to exclusively anthropocentric urges. To this end, a dark green ethic (Curry 2011: Ch. 8) will supersede shallow environmentalism —of which sustainability is a leading exponent— and radical lifestyle shifts will automatically follow. Anonymous urban sprawls will break down into interactive communities ruled by the cooperative principles of permaculture (Neiger 2016) and pacifist bioregionalism will take the place of the war-mongering states. Old and new religions, now tolerant of each other (Panikkar 2010), will fill the existential void imposed by secularism. As a result, formerly disenchanted Earthlings will undergo a process of re-enchantment (Curry 2016) and a celebrated sense of belonging to one's bioregion will replace the search for meaning in far-away 'exotic' destinations (Guha 2000 [1997]). Far less materially-intensive satisfaction of needs will also ensue.

Little by little all these innovations in relation to our currently senseless lifestyles —in case we are in time for the transition— will be captured in local, (bio)regional and international policies, or, if the human species keeps evolving, all these novelties in relation to current Western standards will be simply tacitly observed by all beings. However, it is hard to envision how the lead will be possibly taken by current structures of power as the connivance of mainstream politicians with the vested interests of the big corporations is more than apparent (Tudge 2018: 82-83). Rather, change is bound to follow from the pressure of an avant-garde made up of, among others, those most dramatically affected by the deleterious effects of global warming and climate forcing and those members of the altermondialiste movement that are already joining hands with the latter (Thomas-Pellicer 17/02/2003). That is, if any force at all, it will be a sense of responsibility that will shake up the status quo.

Drastic changes in the realm of cognition will also have to take place. And upon this rather underexplored terrain I would like to focus the rest of the article, not least since I consider that a second generation of eco-philosophers should audaciously dare set forth a post-ecocidal metaphysics. An endeavour of such calibre requires that we take first a revisionist approach of the post-modern condition.

Ecology as a Western Metaphysical Discourse

The post-modern condition has purged modern philosophy and science of its ontological and logocentric certainties. It has operated as an eye-opener as regards scientific truth. It has assisted us in realizing that claims to truth that circulate as objective are but partisan constructs that follow from provincial beliefs. In becoming mainstream and being presented devoid of their context, these claims manage to pass as universal in origin and scope. We have to hold onto the post-modern condition in this corrosive deconstructive facet.

Yet this repeated sounding of the alarm as to the value-laden constructs that pass as objectively universal along with the attendant defence of localized discourses has come at a high price. It has disabled us to confront the life-threatening neoliberal giant [1]. The post-modern condition has paralyzed us when it comes to making any progress in terms of erecting novel intellectual edifices in firm. Yet the very devastating dimensions of neoliberalism require that we position ourselves with analysis and solutions of global scope (Brennan 2000, Gare 2016, 2018 [2017]). The post-modern condition must be historicized in its facet of belittling and restricting the scope of our statements.

Ecophilosophers rush headlong and resort to ecology as the field of cognition that is to provide some ontological ground as well as scientific status to their intellectual bodies. As a result, there is now general consensus that the notion of interconnectedness that reigns in the field of ecology is a sine qua non in the ontic corpus of the ecophilosopher. This cognitive transfer or loan is, in my view, an exemplary instantiation of a fluent functioning of interdisciplinarity. Besides, ecology, along with human ecology, climate science, institutional and ecological economics, as opposed to, say, mainstream economics and biotechnology, conform to discourses that the scholar concerned with the future of the Planet is invited to explore. As Arran Gare (2018 [2017]: 177-178) contends following in the footsteps of the leading theoretical ecologist Robert Ulanowicz, ecology is the field that highlights the core problems —not least organized complexity and its emergence— that have to be grappled with to advance science in all fields.

On the other hand, the ecophilosopher —qua a philosopher— is called upon remaining alert to the intellectual bridges that they extend. For all its relative belated birth in relation to other fields of cognition such as biology or chemistry, ecology has been erected in Western metaphysical ground. This ground is infested with ecocidal traits. As the deconstructive work of Jacques Derrida and his entourage have stressed, Western metaphysics has been erected upon the basis of binary pairs. Above we drew the reader's attention to one such pair, namely, industrial production/sustainable development. As it was highlighted, it is the first term that opens up the semantic spatiality. The second, whilst presented as the radical opponent of the former ends up legitimizing and further encroaching the position of the first one. Both share “the economy of the same” as Jacques Derrida (1984 [1968]) puts it.

An additional hierarchizing splitting is the biotic/inert matter one. Standard ecology assumes that so-called inert matter is subservient to the more complex life forms. Gaia Theory, contrastingly, erases the distinction between the animate/inanimate divide by observing that nature “proceeds little by little from things lifeless to animal life in such a way that it is impossible to determine the exact line of demarcation” (Lynn Margulis quoted in Midgley 2001: 17).

Towards a Post-ecocidal Metaphysics: Loci Standi and instrumenta movendi

A metaphysics geared at overcoming ecocidal practices must side with Gaia Theory and overlook this —at heart— utterly anthropocentric division based upon the presence of a chemical element, namely carbon. This divide sets apart, say, the rock and the non-genetically modified seed and lumps together the genetically modified seed with the organic one. It fails, that is, to lend allegiance to all those elements that share a non-ecocidal modus operandi. In The Places of God in an Age of Re-Embodiments: What is Culture? (Thomas-Pellicer 2017: 136-144), I have argued in favour of opening up a philosophical space —extensible to the scientific realm— for all these pacific elements. I have proposed to call them 'places of secure stay' or in its Latin equivalent 'loci standi' since they secure the survival of biodiversity on the Planet. Against this definition, a non-genetically modified seed is a locus standi. So is the unpolluted fresh water of, say, a lake. The rocks that demarcate the boundaries of a cove must also be considered prominent loci standi. So must we regard the permafrost on the poles. Other instances of loci standi are the tectonic plates that sustain the surface of the Earth and the ozone layer that absorbs the Sun's ultraviolet radiation.

The fact that human history has contingently embraced metallurgy with the subsequently more recent industrial revolutions forces us to open up an antagonistic philosophical(-cum-scientific) space. This is the space where to register those elements that are responsible for the perpetration of ecocides. With an eye towards rendering apparent the dependence of these latter entities upon loci standi, I have proposed to call them ‘instrumenta movendi’ (ibid: 144-150). This Latin phrase can purposively translate as either 'tools of additional mobility' or 'instruments of agitation'. An instrumentum movendi such as a paved road, to be sure, facilitates additional possibilities to the paths used within the commons by villagers, hunter-gatherers and aboriginals. However, as Ivan Illich (1982) has noted —thereby exhibiting strong resonances with Heidegger's (2000) derogatory reading of technology— the infrastructure associated with roads turns 'environment as commons' into 'environment as resource'. This is equal to saying that the purported advantages of roadways are at the expense of the preservation of the commons. This is an example of the double-edged character of instrumenta movendi. Additional examples of instrumenta movendi are genetically-modified seeds; the nuclear tests underground that destabilize tectonic plates; the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that deplete the ozone layer; any architectonic work that requires the harnessing and massive transfer of stones and metals around the planet; an oil rig, a coal mine, a nuclear power station and fracking; cars, trucks, buses and airplanes.

The reader may wonder what the benefit is of a philosophical-cum-scientific category that lumps together, say, gratuitous nuclear tests run by some mindless political leaders with the car that helps a Westerner organize their lives. The former is a conspicuously harmful practice that could be relatively easily eliminated with some diplomatic intervention whereas the latter can be defended as highly beneficial and completely ingrained in Western and Westernized lifestyles. Precisely the addressing of this query brings to the fore the might of the loci standi-instrumenta movendi discrimination and sets apart the sustainability outlook from the post-ecocidal one. Calling both a nuclear test underground and a car instrumenta movendi assists us in growing aware of a number of assumptions that indeed the sustainability approach overlooks. To be sure, it is helpful in making us realize that cars are little nuclear tests that we dump upon Mother Nature. Within this context, we grow aware of the fact that however efficient we render all our technological devices, their development is at the expense of the survival of loci standi, or, what is equal to saying, biodiversity. Moreover, in classifying the majority of devices that have become part-and-parcel of Western(ized) lifestyles —buses, computers, mobile phones, dishwashers, washing machines— as noxious, the spatiality for critical inquiry is opened: to whose advantage but at whose expense is the climate being forced in the manufacturing and use of a car, a bus, a computer, a mobile phone, a dishwasher and a washing machine? Sustainable development or the march forward of Western metaphysics and its industrial and corporate capitalistic regime obscures the winners and losers —namely, the relations of power— of the grandiloquent ecocide that White Man is perpetrating upon Mother Earth.


[1] Which proves domestically protectionist, though!

Reference List

BRENNAN, Teresa, Exhausting Modernity: Grounds for a new Economy (London and New York: Routledge, 2000).

CURRY, Patrick, Ecological Ethics: An Introduction (Cambridge, UK and Malden, MA: Polity, 2011).

________________, ‘From Enlightenment to Enchantment: Changing the Question’ in Ruth Thomas-Pellicer et al, Law, Philosophy and Ecology: Exploring Re-Embodiments, (London and New York: Routledge, 2016) pp. 106-118.

DALY, Herman, Toward a Steady-State Economy (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1973), pp. 149-174.

DERRIDA, Jacques, “Différance”, in Margins of Philosophy, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984 [1968]; translated, with Additional Notes, by Alan Bass) pp. 1-27.

GARE, Arran, ‘Beyond Modernism and Postmodernism: the Narrative of the Age of Re-Embodimets’, Ruth Thomas-Pellicer et al, Law, Philosophy and Ecology: Exploring Re-Embodiments, (London and New York: Routledge, 2016) pp. 27-46.

________________, The Philosophical Foundations of Ecological Civilization: A Manifesto for the Future, (Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2018 [2017]).

GUHA, Ramachandra, “Mahatma Gandhi and the Environmental Movement” in Ramachandra Guha and Juan Martinez Alier, Varieties of Environmentalism, (London: Earthscan, 2000 [1997]), pp. 153-168.

HEIDEGGER, Martin, “The Question Concerning Technology”, in Basic Writings: Martin Heidegger, edited by David Farrell Krell, (London: Routledge, 2000 [1993]); pp. 311-341.

ILLICH, Ivan, “Silence is a Commons,” Asahi Symposium Science and Man – The computer-managed society,’ Tokyo, Japan, March 21 (1982), available online at Ivan Illich: writing on the web

MCKEY, Robert, ‘Should We Give up Half of the Earth to Wildlife?’, The Observer, 18th February 2018, available online at The Guardian

MIDGLEY, Mary, Gaia: the Next Big Idea (London: Demos, 2001).

NEIGER, Jono, The Permaculture Promise, (North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2016).

PANIKKAR, Raimon, Pluralisme i interculturalitat, Opera Omnia Raimon Panikkar, vol VI, tom I, (Barcelona: Fragmenta Editorial, 2010).

RIST, Gilbert, The History of Development: from Western Origins to Global Faith (London & New York: Zed Books, 2002; revised edition).

SACHS, Wolfgang, “Neo-Development: Global Ecological Management’’, in Jerry Mander and Edward GoldSmith, The Case Against the Global Economy: And for a Turn Toward the Local, (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), pp. 239-252.

THOMAS-PELLICER, Ruth, ‘Another World for Gaia and Her People’, OpenDemocracy, 17 February 2003 available online at Open Democracy.

________________, ‘Dystopian Contemporary Positions: Sustainable Development as a Manifest Instance of the Epistemological Disposition’ (Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, vol. 12, no. 1, 2016: pp. 309-335. Available online at Cosmos & History

________________(2017), The Places of God in an Age of Re-Embodiments: What is Culture?, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

________________, Mankind and Mother Earth: A Narrative History of the World, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976).

TOYNBEE, Arnold J., A Study of History (London: Oxford University Press and Thames and Hudson, 1977 [1972]).

TUDGE, Colin, ‘Lies, misconceptions and global agriculture’, The Ecological Citizen, 2: 77-85, 2018.

UN, Millennium Development Goals, 2000, published online at Millennium Goals.

________________, Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 2015 published online at UN Documents.

World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), Our Common Future (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).



Dr. Ruth Thomas-Pellicer is an independent scholar based in Catalonia (Spain) intending to effect a post-ecocidal turn in the fields of philosophy, science and religion. In The Places of God in an Age of Re-Embodiments: What is Culture? (2018), she proposes a post-ecocidal metaphysics after demonstrating that the promise of sustainable development, in being continuous with Western metaphysics, fails to be broad enough a perspective to overcome the global eco-debacle. In the edited collection Contributions to Law, Philosophy and Ecology: Exploring Re-Embodiments, an attempt is made to establish re-embodiments as a theoretical strand within legal and ecological theory, and philosophy.

"It takes a very unusual mind to
undertake analysis of the obvious."

Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)


Write to the Editor
Send email to Subscribe
Send email to Unsubscribe
Link to the Google Groups Website
Link to the PelicanWeb Home Page

Creative Commons License
ISSN 2165-9672

Page 6      



Subscribe to the
Mother Pelican Journal
via the Solidarity-Sustainability Group

Enter your email address: