Zoek in de site...

English review - Call for Fundamental Change in Ecological Dark Times

René ten Bos, philosopher, former Dutch Denker des Vaderlands and writer of Extinctie, and Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers, professor Environmental Governance and Politics and co-author of the Global Assessment Report published by IPBES, spoke about the possible extinction of human kind. Both speakers of the School of Management of Radboud University reflected upon the accelerated extinction humankind is facing today, not only extinction of species in general, but also our very own. The main line of thought was about the different ways to think of extinction and how a societal and economical transition to a sustainable society might be realized. Anouta de Groot facilitated the discussion afterwards.

Everything must Change

Visseren-Hamakers started off with a short and strong message: “everything must change.” Her talk consisted of two parts: the IPBES-report and her own research. The IPBES is an research organization on climate and biodiversity topics, operating on the science/policy interface. Its main goal is to inform policymakers on the current state of affairs with regard to biodiversity and to provide scientific-based advice, hence the section ‘summary for policymakers’ in the report. A short summary of the report is according to Visseren-Hamakers: “the tissue of life on earth is falling apart.” All relevant indicators suggest a negative outlook. So in terms of IPBES’ concepts, the direct drivers increased massively this past age, which led to habitat loss, overfishing, deforestation. And the last fifty years we were not able to reverse these trends. Visseren-Hamakers points out this is due to neglecting the underlying factors: the indirect drivers, the societal factors, our values.


Visseren-Hamakers proceeded with the IPBES-report on the AIchi Biodiversity Targets and SDG’s. Almost none of the targets were achieved or on track for attaining the SDG’s. She observed we are good at making plans, but curtly put, bad at the execution. Visseren-Hamakers main point is that we are doing something fundamentally wrong with international environmental policy and we need a transformative change in the sense of focussing on indirect drivers. The new line of thought must be with sustainability as the norm, not the exception. The IPBES-report conceptualised different ways of reorganization: concepts like ‘lever’, ‘smart-policy mixes’ and ‘inclusiveness’ were mentioned. The insights from her own research was, that the individual animal is often forgotten in environmental policy, while in other literature on animal liberation, well-fare and rights this is not the case. Her goal is to integrate the individual animal in policy ‘realm’, a shift from an anthropocentric to an ecocentric perspective.

Tipping Point

René ten Bos wholeheartedly agreed with Visseren-Hamakers view on change. However, he stated, not everyone shares this idea. Ten Bos made clear we are facing a catastrophe and should be worried, but for the sake of displaying the divers landscape, he discussed several conflicting ideas. An example is a catholic person who visited one of Ten Bos’s talks, who thought the decline of wild life was good news since mankind’s task is to domesticate the world. And there are more people who think extinction is not that bad, like Bas Haring and the human extinction movement. It is remarkable these convictions are present while scientific warnings are given: we are beyond the tipping point, the planetary boundaries.


This led Ten Bos to rethink our situation: Why did it take so long for us to be thinking about these kinds of problems? Why are we not touched by extinction? Why are we not fully able to imagine ‘extinction’? We are oblivious with regard to extinction. First of all, as Ten Bos said: “most of the extinction is hidden from view,” we only know 10 billion species from approximately the 85 billion that are out there. Furthermore, we suffer from a ‘shifting baseline syndrom’: the lowering standards for what counts as nature. What young people regard now as nature, is actually a depreciated form of nature: it is not as is ought to be. Our grandparents knew a lot more about biodiversity and saw a lot more when walking. Ten Bos exemplified with his experience that his current students did not knew what a polecat (Dutch: bunzing) is. Therefore, Ten Bos claimed, intergenerational knowledge is important to understand how much nature has degenerated.

The End of Things

Still, we might not understand extinction but we are fascinated by ‘the end of things’. One only has to take a look at the apocalyptical sci-fi movies with zombie or alien invasions. René referred to Kant’s description of the Sublime as something that you cannot theoretically comprehend, to explain our fascination. We are fascinated with extinction because we cannot grasp it. René ended with a quote from Sloterdijk: “the catastrophe that will convince all of us, is the one no one survives.”


One thing has been made clear during this evening: there are no straightforward answers in discussing extinction, except that we are in danger. We must direct for fundamental change in our ways of perceiving the world, our behaviour and aims in relation to the environment, however, the exact direction is not clear yet. As Ten Bos paraphrased: “keep muddling along.”

This report was written by Emma Hissink Muller, as part of the Research Master Philosophy of the Radboud University.