Originally published in French in 2017, Bruno Latour’s academic novella is the latest iteration of a broader project (including a book-length appreciation of James Lovelock and Gaia) that explores the wide-ranging implications of losing nature/Earth as a reliable accomplice to human civilisation. Skilfully translated by Catherine Porter, Latour’s intervention is very different to Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin’s The Human Planet (reviewed in Geographical September 2018). Although different there is a common concern for what has become of us, and what sort of future we might have on planet Earth.
Latour is a distinguished philosopher and sociologist, and for decades he has produced books and articles that have had an impact on an array of disciplines. In Down to Earth, Latour articulates a contemporary eco-politics informed by the Trump era. In short, Trump’s backing away from the 2015 Paris Agreement made manifest a ‘new climatic regime’ in which the rich and privileged don’t believe in a ‘common world’. This explains why Trump and his allies are so concerned with borders because they want to save as much of the productive Earth for themselves.
Latour also looks at the political left and the need to address ‘Earthly politics’, which focuses on the ways the Earth might sustain a population of ten billion people alongside non-human beings. As an admirer of Lovelock, Latour is in favour of developing distinct yet shared territories, informed by a politics attuned to the complexities of social-ecological life.
The book is written in a distinctly Francophone intellectual style which is argumentative, provocative and at times short of empirical detail. As such, Down to Earth is rather airy in style and content, and readers might question how calls for ‘Earthliness’ materialise in practice.
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