Humanity has precipitated a planetary crisis of resource consumption—a crisis of stuff. So ingrained is our stuff-centric view that we can barely imagine a way out beyond substituting a new portmanteau of material things for the one we have today.
In The Human Scaffold: How Not to Design Your Way Our of a Climate Crisis (University of California Press, 2021), anthropologist Josh Berson offers a new theory of adaptation to environmental change. Drawing on niche construction, evolutionary game theory, and the enactive view of cognition, Berson considers cases in the archaeology of adaptation in which technology in the conventional sense was virtually absent. Far from representing anomalies, these cases exemplify an enduring feature of human behavior that has implications for our own fate.
The time has come to ask what the environmental crisis demands of us not as consumers but as biological beings. The Human Scaffold offers a starting point.
Josh Berson has held appointments at two Max Planck Institutes—Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the History of Science—and the Berggruen Institute, among other places. He is the author of The Human Scaffold, The Meat Question, and Computable Bodies and consults on the design of food systems, mobility systems, and built space.