READING DIARY: Art After The Anthropocene (Pope)
The Anthropocene: conceptual & historical perspectives
How have we gotten to this point in time and more importantly why are we, as a human race, unable to grasp the urgency of logical social, political and economic reform in response to the Anthropocene? The ludicrously of our blind faith in archaic political systems that are currently inadequate in addressing the concept of finite resources while advocating continuous growth at all costs is insanity on a global scale (although predominantly OECD countries).
The concept of the Anthropocene is a new epoch in the geo-history of our planet where human activity is the predominant influence over complex biological systems. It is not a concept that is easy to grasp considering our extremely limited understanding of the interrelationship between the different global bio-systems.
The Anthropocene in this paper was defined as a shift from the previous geological epoch (the Holocene) into the current epoch in which humans have become the predominant global geological force.
As it turns out we are quite effective in exerting our influence over the planet and “we see a surprising speed in the growth of man’s geochemical work.” If only we could harness such gusto to reverse or solve the problem.
This paper gives an in-depth and interesting historical analysis of the Anthropocene and answers the question of how we got to this point in the first place. The more pressing question for me is Why?
Why have we previously allowed and continue to allow a perception that our economy should solely be based on fiscal policies for a currency that no longer has any intrinsic value? Why is a resource based economy that could be recorded and monitored as fastidiously as we currently do our dollars and cents, avoiding deficits of resources that we can’t replace, such a difficult concept to grasp?
“…after World War II…the world moved towards a system built around neo-liberal economic principles, characterised by more open trade and capital flows. (p:850).
This coincided with the Great Acceleration (1950+)(the sharp increase in discernible imprint of human activity on the global environment).
In this paper the Anthropocene was stated to involve (but not limited to):
o Increased atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.
o Conversion of natural ecosystems to human-dominated landscapes.
o Increases in reactive nitrogen for fertiliser.
o Likely to be entering the Earth’s 6th great extinction event, however, it is the first to be caused by human activity.
o Impending Peak Oil production rates.
o Impending Peak Phosphorus rates – phosphorus is a key element in fertiliser and will affect agricultural production and food security - this will be exasperated by diminishing petroleum supplies.
This paper highlights the ineffective attempts that policymakers have made in developing a global governance of the problem. “The sheer complexity of the Earth system... the likelihood of tipping elements in large sub-systems of the planet, presents a bewildering array of problems to policymakers.” (p:856)
There are some innovative approaches suggested by the authors that could potentially be explored further. These include:
o Active adaptive management
o Multi-level & polycentric governance systems
o Early warnings & detection for changes in Earth’s bio-systems
o Improved capacity for governments to assimilate, analyse and model large quantities of biophysical information as a basis for the decision making process.
o Planetary Boundaries Concept
It was sobering to read that consideration is being given to the ethical issues associated with intentional interference with bio-systems such as geo-engineering Earth’s atmosphere to counteract the current temperature rises. The inevitability of unforeseen consequences that geo-engineering is likely to cause would only exasperate the problem. As Einstein said, “we can’t solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
From my own perspective I am saddened by the idea of being so complicit in the problem. I feel just as caught in the cycle of consumption and waste as those around me. As an artist I feel it is vital at this point in our history to consider ways to effectively initiate social change based on the ideas generated by an understanding of the Anthropocene.
After the Anthropocene: Politics & geographic inquiry for a new epoch
This paper is written from the perspective of five different scholars and their opinions and suggested approaches to the challenges imposed by the Anthropocene onto the comparative structures of current geopolitical systems.
Introduction: Into the Anthopocene (Elizabeth Johnson)
In attempt to define the Anthropocene the author has presented the following:
“…an unprecedented historical condition underpinned by environmental uncertainties, which demand critical reassessments of how material engagements take form, hold fast and/or break apart in space and through time.”
This new epoch signals ‘the collapse of the age-old humanist distinction between natural history and human history.’
In general, the Anthropocene involves the rise of humanity as the predominant operator and geological agent over a system it has a very limited understanding of.
Geographic pedagogy in the Anthropocene (Simon Dalby)
Grasping the concept of the Anthropocene and all that it entails requires rethinking the many aspects of the problem simultaneously, both from a political point of view and the pedagogic perspective. How we teach the ideas and research generated by the related academic fields to those that have the potential to make change is a vital step in the effective communication between disciplines.
As it currently stands the future configuration of the Earth’s biosphere is predominantly being decided in corporate boardroom and shaped in the planning office of major corporations. If geographers want to be effective in exerting their knowledge and influence over the decision making process and changing the configuration of the planet then this is the key area that they need to direct their research according to Dalby.
This is especially relevant considering current geopolitical strategies are failing to effectively deal with climate change. The current neoliberal logic of market rationality as a means of developing policies to address the problem clearly has opposing agendas. As the author states, the sheer amount of research and potential technological innovations has the means for rethinking the way we build societies based on a far more sensible ecological future. This needs to be seriously considered by policymakers.
I think the most vital point made by this author is that we need to ensure a level head when proposing changes to policy. Policy changes that are based on the fear of imminent catastrophe (which is often sold to the public – such as those made after 9/11) risks articulating change through inappropriate policies and actions that are then justified and manipulated through the use of that fear.
“Focusing on making the future, rather than responding to danger, has to be the pedagogic priority.”
Notes on politics after the Anthropocene (Rory Rowan)
The Anthropocene names a new set of geo-social conditions that are already at play but threaten to further influence the fundamental structure of human existence. This basically signals a profound shift in the relationship we humans have with our planet.
“The Anthropocene creates opportunities to cast the planet itself as a key player in the drama of human politics rather than simply its stage.”
This section of the paper raises the question of what consequences an engagement with the planet has for political thought?
The Anthropocene entails such vast geographical scope that any decision made in its response needs to question the long-term planning, sustained funding and significant transnational cooperation. The scope of which renders current political systems inadequate.
The Antropocene has introduced the need to have a far greater global political discourse and greater emphasis on macro-scaled concerns but I also believe that this needs to be balanced with more innovation towards creating sustainable and independent smaller communities that generate their own energy and waste recycling programs along with localised food production.
Technology is also an important consideration in an attempt to address the long-term, macro-scaled challenges. How? I am not entirely sure but I do believe that more research needs to be directed towards creative technical solutions to some of the problems. However, not in the form of Geo-Engineering which to me has the potential to create even greater unforeseen ecological disasters. While we have such a limited understanding of how the various biospheres interact with one another massive alterations of one of the largest components of those spheres (our atmosphere) is to me an insane proposition – How can the solution to this problem be further tampering with complex global systems while wearing a blindfold?
The crisis is the age (Stephanie Wakefield)
This section of the paper looked at how historical chance events combined with Western democratic power struggles among governments has culminated into the development of the Anthropocene. “Dispositifs work not by imposing order on pre-existing fields but by arranging and producing terrain itself through a double bio-political movement that simultaneously posits a vision of life and constructs it.”
An interesting point was made in reference to the Anthropocene and the label of the ‘Age of the Human.’ The author comments that this should really be understood as the age of government, for the human is but the product and vehicle of the attempts to manage life. The current geopolitical system that we as humans have cast over the planet was once considered the solution to all our problems and is now identified as the problem itself.
The author suggests that rather than have geographers ask what…, the more imperative question is "how will we put this age out of its misery?”
The Anthropocene frack (Kathryn Yusoff)
Yusoff presents a description of the Anthropocene by stating that "the occasion of the Anthropocene might be understood quite simply as a revolution of the Earth: a moment of planetary change characterised by the realisation of geomorphic power as a consequence of the social mobilization of fossil fuels.”
The Anthropocene introduces a critical urgency on the importance of geopolitics and the need to develop a clear identification of what constitutes the geopolitical.
According to Yusoff there is a collision between social and geological forms of power. There is a new identity politics for the human as geological agent over the planet – an identity that has material, temporal and geopolitical implications –all of this is working at the scale of the planet.
The dispersion of ‘the contours of capitalisation’ and the redistribution of responsibility across the planet needs to become the special norm – despite the fact that the predominant cause for this epoch rests on the conscious of a few.
The challenge lies in the global ability to craft a new geopolitical identity that can simultaneously attend to fractures in the political and philosophical concepts of the human, Earth and history.
This raises the question of “what it means to cohabit the Earth as an Earth force rather than as a social one?”