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Towards an era, free from borders, free from fossil fuels, free from neocolonial extractivism

While fossil fuel based industries continue their attempts to colonise other planets, the air, this common interface of terrestrial life, continues to be compromised: carbon emissions fill the air, particulate matter floats inside our lungs while electromagnetic radiation envelops the earth, dictating the tempo of surveillance capitalism. This control held by the few enacts the suffering of the multi-species many in the current era of ecological crisis. This neocolonial extractivist logic now extends to the energy transition. In a cruel irony, the ‘green rush’ to mine lithium for batteries is polluting and reducing one of the Earth’s most crucial elements: water. In the 21st century, lithium has become the new frontier of capitalist expansion.

A different era is needed, one which radically upturns fossil narratives of materiality, and re-examines the inscribed notions of property and properties, human and inhuman, of production and subjection. How would breathing feel in a post fossil fuel era? How can we challenge the dominance of dispossessing geopolitical forces, and overcome the extractive approach to Earth and the wealth of life it provides for? Together, we call for a new era: Aerocene.

Aerocene is a proposal—a scene in, on, for, and with the air—towards a reciprocal alliance with the elements capable of restoring the air to a commonwealth of life.

Aerocene imagines space as a commons, a physical and imaginative place subtracted from corporate control and government surveillance.

Aerocene promotes de-securitized, free access to the atmosphere, through new tools and relational practices emerging from communities attempting to move the Earth’s masses towards a post fossil fuel era.

This new era achieves lift off through an aerosolar balloon, a Do-It-Together (DIT) entrance to the aerial, whose only non-engine is the wealth of energy gifted by the Sun. Once inflated and heated by the Sun, it elevates into the air, becoming a flying sculpture that rises without the use of fossil fuels, helium, hydrogen, solar panels, batteries or burners. In floating without carbon emissions, these aerosolar journeys speculate on the kinds of nomadic socio-political structures that may emerge if we could navigate the rivers of the atmosphere. This is to become airnomads, realizing, as wished by Rosi Braidotti, the “non fixity of boundaries and [to] develop a desire to go on trespassing”. This is to move from Homo economicus to Homo Flotantis: attuned to planetary rhythms, conscious of living with other humans and non-humans, and who floats with the ocean of air, uprooting dominant geo-centric logics towards embodying an ever more entangled relationship with the atmosphere and the cosmos.

In bearing the consequences of the fossil-capital regime’s material practice of extraction, the atmosphere has become a highly stressed zone of the commonly composed terrestrial world. Aerodynamics, in constant movement and transformation, inherently entail complex spatial, temporal, socio-political and ecological processes, and today embodies the unequal relations of power projected upwards from the land. Hegemonic modes of re-/production in the midst of the Capitalocene, along with human mobility and organisation within the web of life, has enacted the breach of atmospheric pollution thresholds, with CO2 emissions now exceeding more than 400 ppm (Particulates Per Million). This corruption of the air is the trigger for state shifts in Earth’s systems, the critical changes already under way, with planetary temperatures increasing and multifold inequalities proliferating in an age of resurgent nationalism and geopolitical instability.

Our attention to the air and what it carries was heightened in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic. By wearing face-masks, we recognized the power of our breath; we also recognized that health is a collective measure, that in an interconnected world in which we are all musicians in a jam session, we must act in responsibility to the other. Environmental racism proved once again to have disastrous, deathly consequences during the COVID-19 crisis. Though inherently a virus cannot discriminate, the social systems in place can, and they guarantee that some will be infected while others will not and some will recover while others will not. COVID-19 was spoken of in terms of war; environmental racism is also, in a way, a war, with numerous casualties and countless battlegrounds. As Achille Mbembe wrote, “All these wars on life begin by taking away breath.” As such, our attack response must be against “everything that condemns the majority of humankind to a premature cessation of breathing, everything that fundamentally attacks the respiratory tract, everything that, in the long reign of capitalism, has constrained entire segments of the world population, entire races, to a difficult, panting breath and life of oppression.”

What are the rights of pass, the corridors we need to open, in order to restore the right to drift and breathe? How can we overcome the paradox of decisions made by the few, simultaneously forcing and inhibiting the mobility and breathability of the multi-species many? Aerocene calls for an interplanetary ecology of practice which could reconnect with elemental sources of energy and the strata borne from the Sun and other planets, rising upwards – downwards and inwards- towards an era of renewed symbiotic relations and sensitivities within life’s entanglements. We suggest a model for a landscape that balances and harnesses our relationship with the unlimited potential of the Sun. This realisation requires a thermodynamic leap of imagination, just like during an eclipse, when only in the absence of light do we become aware of our scale in the shadow of the cosmos.

Researchers in industrial and social ecology refer to ‘socio-metabolic regimes’ to define the epochal shifts in energetic relationships between humans and their environment, establishing a strict correlation between it and specific sets of social values. They argue that two of the main kinds of these regimes have been solar based, the ones of hunter-gatherer societies and those of agrarian. Despite the existence of societies that still embody such relationships with the sun—together with all the other species and life forms—they, and the conditions for today’s civilisational infrastructures, are threatened by the domination of the current socio-metabolic regime, the one based on fossil fuels, powering the Capitalocene.

This raises the urgency to rethink modes of being, and co-existence with the planet, and all our species share it with. What could be the fourth socio-metabolic regime? What are our varying response-abilities within the current crises of our social, mental and environmental ecologies under capitalism? What would be the new set of values necessary to drift us from the shadow sun of fossil capital, returning our socio-politically captured senses to that of the Earth, rather than the imaginaries of the global and national?

It may be through a rearticulation of our relationship with the Sun, air and cosmos that we open the boundaries of the Earth, to inhabit space with renewed interplanetary sensitivity, for this world and all others — free from borders, free from fossil fuels, free from neocolonial extractivism. Aeronauts, unite!