Academic journal article New Formations

The Global Species

Academic journal article New Formations

The Global Species

Article excerpt

Postcolonial studies, as Philip Armstrong notes, (1) has shown little interest in the fate of the nonhuman animal. The same holds true for other postcolonial life forms, plants and microbes included. 'One reason,' writes Armstrong, 'might be the suspicion that pursuing an interest in the postcolonial animal risks trivializing the suffering of human beings under colonialism'. In this essay I will attempt to demonstrate that the historical process of globalisation--in the long term--can be outlined in terms of the expanding and eventually practically global range not only of our own species, but of several of our affiliated species as well. Human colonisation of planet Earth is essentially ecological not only due to the well-known side-effects it has had, but just as much owing to the schism of nature which we have instated - in part deliberately, in part inadvertently--between favoured and un-favoured species, our friends and our foes. While it is clear that we have been, and are, causing ecological havoc, it has so far not been generally acknowledged that our current ecological predicament is explained not solely by the sudden proliferation of our own species, but also, through our unremitting actions, by the (often forced) proliferation of our affiliated species.

Man is not the only animal that alters its environment--but it might be the first to emerge as a global species. Our world-changing inclinations have consequently had global effects long before global warming arose as a phenomenon. The reason why species do not normally have a global range is, first of all, that they tend to acclimatise and adapt to local circumstances. A species attaining global reach would diversify--unless, that is, its sustenance were provided, its reproduction were arranged, and its natural foes were constrained, by a global network of human settlements in a somewhat uniform manner. Adding, through geological eras, to the natural tendency towards homogenisation, is the constant reconfiguration of continents, a process of continental displacements which effectively merge and split land masses, thus not least modifying oceanic circulation and shifting ice masses. (2)

By establishing a global colonial organism of sorts--to borrow a notion from biology--we have installed an ecological empire, hierarchically organised with Homo sapiens on top and with crop species, pets and livestock in privileged positions. Thereby we have further provided global breeding grounds for other species that might not otherwise have been able to spread at a global scale--from rats and doves to bugs and microbes of various sorts. The flu virus, reports Time, (3) 'was a tenacious foe from the outset, but once humans invented farming and learned to cultivate animals, we made a bad situation much worse. All at once, chickens, ducks and pigs--which never had much to do with one another--began living cheek to jowl in high numbers and often unsanitary conditions'.

Besides its general ecological effects, this developing schism of nature has--no doubt inadvertently--had an effect on human mortality. HIV though not recognised as a life form or as a species--expected (through AIDS) to account for every tenth death globally by 2030 - might serve as an example. Malaria constitutes another. This disease, writes Newsweek,-4 'can be ascribed almost entirely to human acts of deforestation, which produces stagnant pools of water ... This intensifies the growth of algae and forms the perfect nursery for Anopheles mosquitoes, potent vectors for the malaria parasite. Anopheles barely had a foothold in the ecosystem in its former state'. As we see from this example, in addition to providing certain strings of life (whether benign or malign) with global breeding grounds by way of our bodies and our waste, or those of our affiliates, we have altered landscapes in a manner which has given rise to something akin to a global landscape type, thereby yet again facilitating the geographical spread of selected life forms. …

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