Ian Hodder


On his book Where Are We Heading? The Evolution of Humans and Things

Cover Interview of September 25, 2019


I have wanted to make an intervention into current debates about issues of planetary concern, in particular the debates about global warming and environmental crisis. I have been very struck at how the focus is usually placed on human relationships with the environment and energy use. For example, in both Al Gore’s films An Inconvenient Truth and An Inconvenient Sequel the emphasis is on humans and their impact on the climate and the need for renewable energy. Neither film really probes at any great depth the reasons we are using so much energy. A part of the answer is undoubtedly our dependence on things. But we don’t look at that. Our dependence on things is so obvious that we take it for granted and try and find an answer outside ourselves in renewable energy. Or we have become so persuaded by high capitalism that our happiness depends on things that we cannot question that dependence. Increased use of renewable energy sources may contribute towards solving global warming, although the extent to which this is possible remains unclear given path dependency. But the fix also involves us in new entanglements such as lithium mining and complex energy saving and management systems. As an example, solar panels only last about 30 years, and there are projects worldwide to produce them in their millions such that toxic waste from used solar panels now poses a global environmental threat, with solar panels creating 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than nuclear power plants. (I am aware of the contention surrounding such estimates.) And some of the geoengineering solutions for dealing with CO2 emissions such as sulfur dispersion in the upper atmosphere involve enormous technological investment.

The primary response to global warming, and indeed to the other great scourge of our times, global inequality, is to find technological solutions to, for example, providing renewable energy or various forms of aid. We think we can fix things by using more things, as part of a complex set of multi-stranded responses. This is what we have always done, and the message from an ‘archaeological’ scrutiny of the long-term is that the result will be yet more entanglement and entrapment and inequality. People often blame the last 200 years of industrial capitalism, but the archaeological view is of a much longer term and deeper human propensity towards human-thing entanglement. Consumerism produces inequality and contributes to global warming and it derives from longer-term trends. Alternatives such as decluttering, sustainable shopping, minimalist living, seem important at the grass-roots level, while no-growth capitalism and stronger global governance seem worth exploring at the structural level. But the long-term view is of ever-increasing dependencies.

My contribution is to say that in our responses to global warming we are doing what we have always done. The likely result will be an ever-greater entanglement with things such that material things and technologies will become increasingly part of our lives, and we will become increasingly dependent on them and on the technological systems that run them. We will all increasingly be cyborgs lost in the machines we have made and that determine our direction.