Climate change is creating existential moments of decision. This is unintended, unseen, unwanted, and is neither goal oriented nor ideologically driven. The literature on climate change has become a supermarket for apocalyptic scenarios. Instead, the focus should be on what is now emerging—future structures, norms, and new beginnings.
Metamorphosis is about a new way of generating and implementing norms in the age of climate change. A brief look at the history of world risk society illustrates this concept. Before Hiroshima happened, no one understood the power of nuclear weapons; but afterward, the sense of violation created a strong normative and political momentum: “Never again Hiroshima!” Violations of human existence like Hiroshima induce anthropological shocks and social catharsis, challenging and changing the order of things from within.
“Never again Holocaust!” This metamorphosis decouples our normative horizons from existing norms and laws. I am referring here to something profound. A former basic principle of national law was that an act could not be judged in hindsight against a law that did not exist at the time the act was committed. So while it was legal under Nazi law to kill Jews, it became, in hindsight, a crime against humanity. It was not simply a law that changed, but our social horizons—our very being in the world. This is exactly what I mean by metamorphosis. In the case of climate change as a moment of metamorphosis, nature, society, and politics coalesce.
Header: Maurits Cornelis Escher, Metamorphosis II (1940)