J: We talk with Layla AbdelRahim. We’ve talked to a lot of anti-civ people and this has been my favorite conversation so far. I really like her perspective on everything and really liked talking with her. I don’t necessarily agree with her, but I love the idea, being that I romanticize the idea of primitivism a little too much, but I really like this conversation….
Fifth Estate # 391, Spring/Summer 2014 – Anarchy!
We are taught since early childhood that everything in the world exists in a food chain as a “resource” to be consumed by those higher up the chain and concurrently as the consumer of “resources” that are lower in this predatory hierarchy. We are also told that life in the wild is hungry, fraught with mortal danger and that civilization has spared us a short and brutish existence. As children, we thus come to believe that life in civilization is good for us, in fact even indispensable for our very survival.
Today’s civilization, namely the European/Western, owes its existence to the Agricultural Revolution, which was born in the Fertile Crescent with the domestication of emmer wheat in the Middle East around 17,000 B.P.–an event followed by the domestication of dogs in Southeast Asia around 12,000 B.P. and independent parallel civilizations in North America around 11,000 B.P.  Accordingly, a new conception of food fueled this socio-environmental praxis as it drove some humans to shift their subsistence strategies from those based on a conception of the environment as wild or existing for its own purpose supporting diversity of life to seeing the world as existing for human purposes, to be managed, owned, and consumed.
Thus, civilization began not simply as an agricultural revolution; rather, the revolution occurred in the ontological and monocultural conception of the world as existing for human use and consumption, thereby creating the need for such concepts as resource, hierarchy, and labour. Since civilization is rooted in the appropriation of food and “natural resources” as well as of slave labour (dogs, horses, cows, women, miners, farmers, et al), all of our institutions today inadvertently cater to these constructs and the needs that have been generated by this monocultural perspective. That is why every contemporary institution or company has a department of “human resources” and is thereby linked to managing, killing, and protecting the ownership of “natural” and other resources. 
Episode 199: We talk with Layla AbdelRahim; Vegan Anarcho-Primitivist, Comparatist Anthropologist and Author of Children’s Literature, Domestication, and Social Foundation: Narratives of Civilization and Wilderness and Wild Children – Domesticated Dreams: Civilization and the Birth of Education. Her work can be found at http://layla.miltsov.org/. We discuss anthropocentrism, animal liberation, rewilding and much more.
Human pressures on the environment are changing spatially and temporally, with profound implications for the planet’s biodiversity and human economies. Here we use recently available data on infrastructure, land cover and human access into natural areas to construct a globally standardized measure of the cumulative human footprint on the terrestrial environment at 1 km2 resolution from 1993 to 2009. We note that while the human population has increased by 23% and the world economy has grown 153%, the human footprint has increased by just 9%. Still, 75% the planet’s land surface is experiencing measurable human pressures. Moreover, pressures are perversely intense, widespread and rapidly intensifying in places with high biodiversity. Encouragingly, we discover decreases in environmental pressures in the wealthiest countries and those with strong control of corruption. Clearly the human footprint on Earth is changing, yet there are still opportunities for conservation gains.
Humanity and nature form a coupled system1. The ecological capital and ecosystem services provided by nature underpin our social and economic systems2, and we in turn apply pressure on these natural systems through our extraction of natural resources, the proliferation of our infrastructures and our conversion of natural habitats to production land uses3. There is mounting evidence that human demands on natural systems are accelerating and could be undermining the stability of these systems4. A pervasive failure to mitigate these impacts is now resulting in widespread biodiversity declines5,6 and reductions in the benefits humans receive from natural systems2.
Understanding the spatial and temporal patterns in human pressures on the environment provides a foundation for mitigating environmental damage in sensitive or ecologically valuable areas. Human pressures on the environment, commonly referred to as threats to biodiversity, are the actions taken by humans with the potential to harm nature7. Recent advances in remote sensing have allowed unprecedented advances in mapping human pressures from habitat conservation through time, especially for forested landscapes8. However, many forms of human pressure on the environment, such as our extensive roads and pasture lands, are harder to detect than outright habitat conversation, and often overlooked by space-borne satellites9. Cumulative threat mapping aims to surmount this limitation by including a range of human pressures within a framework that couples top-down remote sensing with data collected bottom-up via surveys10.
A range of cumulative threat maps have been developed at regional11 and global scales12,13. The Human Footprint, first released in 2002 based on data from the early 1990s (ref. 14), is unique for considering eight human pressures globally, making it the most complete and highest-resolution globally consistent terrestrial data set on cumulative human pressures on the environment.
Terrestrial maps of cumulative human pressures have proved to be better predictors of the range sizes of species than their biological traits, such as body size and trophic level15, and to be a strong predictor of modern range collapses16, the threat status of species17, site-scale species richness18, and species population size and dispersal ability19. Cumulative pressures are also associated with invasibility20. With calls for rapid action to prevent collapse of planetary ecological systems21, we need to better understand spatial and temporal trends in human pressures and their related consequences, so we can act accordingly.
Here we use the human footprint framework to compile remotely sensed and bottom-up survey information on eight variables measuring the direct and indirect human pressures on the environment in 1993 and 2009. We included data on the following: (1) extent of built environments; (2) crop land; (3) pasture land; (4) human population density; (5) night-time lights; (6) railways; (7) roads; and (8) navigable waterways. These pressures were weighted according to estimates of their relative levels of human pressure following Sanderson et al.14, and then summed together to create the standardized human footprint for all non-Antarctic land areas. The primary aims of this study are to update the original human footprint map to provide a contemporary view of human pressures, and to create the first temporally consistent maps of the human footprint, such that patterns of change over time can be analysed. In addition to these aims, we perform a number of preliminary analyses determinants of important spatial and temporal patterns in the human footprint, and we discuss a number of remaining unanswered questions for subsequent focused analyses. Broadly, our analyses reveal that the human footprint is widespread and rapidly increasing, especially in tropical ecoregions and other locations rich in biodiversity. Wealthy nations and those with strong control of corruption showed some signs of improvements, yet this is overshadowed by the fact that 71% of global ecoregions saw marked (>20%) increases in their human footprints.
The global human footprint
We find that in 2009, the world’s land areas had an area-weighted average human footprint score of 6.16 (out of a maximum of 50; Table 1), which is an increase of 9% from 1993 levels. These pressures show strong spatial variation. The highest pressure biomes include the temperate broadleaf forests of Western Europe, eastern United States and China, and the tropical dry forests of India and parts of Brazil, and parts of Southeast Asia’s tropical moist forest (Fig. 1a). Areas of no measureable human footprint (as mapped by our eight pressures) persisted over ∼27% of the world’s non-Antarctic land area in 1993. But these areas of intact habitats have decreased rapidly over the past two decades, with 23 million km2 (9.3%) experiencing an incursion of human pressures. The remaining pressure-free lands are concentrated in the boreal and tundra biomes, the Sahara, Gobi and Australian deserts, and the most remote moist tropical forests of the Amazon and Congo Basins.
Averaging over the 823 ecoregional boundaries provides an overview of change in the human footprint from 1993 to 2009 (Fig. 1b). Most ecoregions are undergoing increases in average footprint values (n=573), especially in tropical regions such as Southeast Asia and eastern Brazil, while some ecoregions appear to be improving (n=223), primarily in temperate zones such as North America and Western Europe. These patterns would indicate that change may be underway in divergent trajectories across space, with important ramifications for biodiversity.
Niche construction refers to the modification of selective environments by organisms. Theoretical and empirical studies of niche construction are increasing in importance as foci in evolutionary ecology. This special edition presents theoretical and empirical research that illustrates the significance of niche construction to the field. Here we set the scene for the following papers by (1) discussing the history of niche construction research, (2) providing clear definitions that distinguish niche construction from related concepts such as ecosystem engineering and the extended phenotype, (3) providing a brief summary of the findings of niche construction research, (4) discussing the contribution of niche construction and ecological inheritance to (a) expanded notions of inheritance, and (b) the extended evolutionary synthesis, and (5) briefly touching on some of the issues that underlie the controversies over niche construction.
Niche construction is the process whereby organisms actively modify their own and each other’s evolutionary niches (Odling-Smee et al. 2003). Examples include the building of nests, burrows, mounds, and other artifacts by animals; the alteration of physical and chemical conditions; the creation of shade, influencing wind speed; and the alteration of nutrient cycling by plants. When such modifications alter natural selection pressures, evolution by niche construction is a possible outcome.
I write this letter because in a recent episode of your show ‘Anarchy Radio’, you characterized me as an “anti-primitivist anarchist” with a “great antipathy” towards your views. You then proceeded to heavily misrepresent my views, blurring them out of all coherence, really. You even suggested that I was “postmodern”, which is possibly the most bizarre charge of all, given how strongly I share your disdain for that entire tradition.
I therefore want to remove any misunderstandings that may have led you to your comments. I want to do this because: I think it benefits me (by having my ideas better explained, they might be more effective); I think it benefits you (by engaging you in good faith, I hope to alert you to how severely you are misunderstanding critiques that come from sources that are not explicitly AP-centric); and I think it benefits anyone else that might read this exchange and learn a thing or two from it.
For the record, I did write to you before, and also wrote on an old blog (now discontinued) about your conversations on the topic of ‘ego vs. origins’ with Bellamy. In both cases, I never really got much of a response back from you. You name-dropped that blog for literally a matter of seconds on your radio show, and said it was “covering the debate”, but didn’t offer any thoughts of your own in response. So…since you responded to my comments on anarchistnews.org, I hope this means that you have opened up a channel through which we might finally discuss the relationship (and tension) between your ideas and mine. If am wrong, at least I will finally know for absolute certainty that you are totally disinterested in the dialogue you often go on about.
OPEN LETTER TO JZ !
I will also be speculating as to why, in the wider world of anti-civ ideas, misunderstandings such as these persist between people that I think really ought to have better connections, and certainly ought to have a better appreciation for each other’s ideas, given their overall high level of affinity. In other words, although you have positioned me as an ‘enemy of primitivism’, I am not, and I want to show you why I think you are frequently seeing enemies where none exist. Finally, since it is my main area of focus, and because I believe that it is truly relevant to this entire discussion, I will bring up the notion of society itself, and how I think that it is our perspectives on society that more than anything, defines the differences between you and I. So, in order to show you how I am neither “anti-primitivist”, nor an anarchist, and how our ideas are closer than you might realize, I will lay out my ideas according to a step-by-step structure.
What is civilization?