Food system analyst Harriet Friedmann virtually joined the FS 501 Food, Environment, and Society course to conclude the semester by returning to the beginning of time for an overview on the development and demise of planetary life—ultimately concluding with a cautiously optimistic vision for the future. Friedmann brought complexity to the discussions on climate change and environmental degradation by contextualizing these themes within the framework of what she termed "The Very Long View", starting from delineating a history of Earth’s atmosphere. 


At the crux of Friedmann’s lecture emerged the idea of reframing conceptions of the Anthropocene in a more positive light, with a belief that humanity is capable of more than the destruction it has incited thus far, and the hope that humans can finally take responsibility to fostering mutualism and collaboration, instead of mere competition, with other species. She pulled on the philosophical concepts of the ethnosphere and noosphere as a means of achieving this higher version of a collective self through an awakened consciousness.

Friedmann looked at planetary and human evolution from an earth sciences perspective and referenced both geology and biology to explain the natural and socio-political phenomena that have occurred over the past 2,300 million years, starting from the Great Oxidation Event through the successive evolutions that have occurred up until the present day. In this perspective, climate destruction can be largely attributed to the concept of imbalance between living creatures. Humanity must seek "honor, relationships, reciprocity, and respect" between all beings rather than aiming to establish hierarchies and relationships of power. In this regard, Friedmann emphasized that the demise of the planet, along with humanity, began with the period of colonization—a time that coincided with the Orbis Spike in the 1600s, when carbon emissions dropped significantly due to the genocide of both people and land.

Yet, Friedmann complicated this idea by conditioning that the demonization of carbon as the sole cause of destruction proves too simplistic. The globalized system that developed out of colonization and the Columbian Exchange inherently destroyed the diversity which is needed to thrive—both biologically through the simplification of agriculture and monoculture cultivation, as well as interpersonally, in the destruction of peoples. The dispersion of English as a common global language epitomizes this omnipresent homogenization, currently threatening the biodiversity of all species.

As an unexpected source of inspiration, Friedmann called on Bruce Lee’s philosophy “be like water” to rethink systems, both figuratively and literally. Water helps us to see how to live in each place and across places. Water is both a regenerative source and, symbolically, a model that urges humanity to follow natural processes rather than attempt to contain them; to acknowledge the movement of all species (including but not restricted to humans); and, for humans, to recognize the inherent diversity of place-based cultures in order to survive.

----Report by Michaela Colangelo, Graduate Student Assistant

----Lecture held on Dec. 2, 2021