Surviving Species

Cymene Howe

Whether the Sharp-shinned Hawk is killed by a turbine blade or befalls another fate should not pose a different moral conundrum than it did when humans first trapped wind to power machines in the first century AD. But it does. Our current demand to have energy at our disposal surfaces an equation between human desires (for power), human attempts to manage (the climate), and the vitality of all living entities. Projects of sustainable energy that aim to mitigate climate change exist, in part, because of the recognition that as a human species, we are also endangered. Building from ethnographic work on wind park developments in Mexico, this presentation takes ‘species’ as an ethical exercise that measures which kinds of life are to be defended from the energetic contingencies of the present and which will not. Dipesh Chakrabarty (2009) has advocated for ‘species thinking’—human history as coincident to the history of life on the planet. This presentation proposes a different inception, suggesting instead that we think with species. Thinking with species recognizes that the intellectual and pragmatic labor of ‘species’ is not only classificatory, but an ethical exercise that conditions the mutuality of survival and perishing among and between beings. Living in spasms of ecological and energetic change is an opportunity to pitch our human moral attunements differently: we (all living entities) are imperilled in ways that we were not before. Thus, while we (humans) may have always been (a) ‘species,’ we have only now come to know it.