‘The end of nature’ is – whether as a concept, term or slogan – much used in both academic and ‘popular’ circles. In its most well-known usage, probably by Anthony Giddens, it has been employed to argue that there is now, in our times, no longer any or, at least, few aspects of the physical world untouched by human intervention. This is not to say that there is no ‘natural environment’, but merely serves to highlight a change in subjective attitudes towards this environment; where people, for hundreds of years, worried about what nature could do to us – catastrophes, floods etc. – ‘somewhere over the past fifty years or so’ (as Giddens remarks) people stopped worrying about what nature could do to us, but what we have done to nature.
This is a times ‘after nature’. One could say that scholars such as Giddens and Beck use ‘the end of nature’ to argue for the prominence of a ‘risk society’ in which people mostly relate to nature as a future disaster, as a possible treath, due to our own activities of which the consequences are not certain.
Zizek, in a recent article in the New York Times, uses ‘the end of nature’ merely as a slogan. In a recent tv interview for the Dutch television he connects this to the phenemonon of the ‘anthropocene’. That is, being a rather recent invention of geologists, this term is meant to characterize – just like Pleistocene etc. – our present times in terms of our intrinsic relation to ‘nature’. As Zizek states, we humans totally master nature (he refers to the first man-made earthquake in Japan – if I recall this correctly). For Zizek this makes possible to argue the following: ‘if nature is no longer a stable order on which we can rely, then our society should also change if we want to survive in a nature that is no longer the good caring mother, but a pale and indifferent one’.
It is interesting to compare this to an other recent publication, that of ‘Ecology without Nature’ written by Timothy Morton. Following a line similar to that of Latour in ‘Politics of Nature’ (albeit coming from a different background and being philosophically (not necessarily politically) a bit more profound than the latter) Morton argues that we should give up the idea of the existence of ‘Nature’ as such; as an entity to which we can relate, which can serve romantic purposes, that is always out-there. Rather than resigning from action, rather than turning away from ecology (and the like) Morton argues that it is tentamount to ecology to do away with nature. So a supposed ‘anthropocene’ would not mean that ecology can be done away with as well and that social change is what follows next (as Zizek argues), but that doing away with nature makes possible ecological social change, since we recognize that the human and the non-human are ‘too’ meshed up, too much on the same level to even wonder why ‘we’ have a responsibility for ‘something so remote’, so much with its own mode of existence.
So ‘the end of nature’ comes in two flavours, then.