1. Eileen Crist, “On the Poverty of Our Nomenclature. Environmental Humanities 3 (2013), 129-147.
In last week’s class we discussed the traditional separation of human and natural history for reasons such as the ontological distinction between Society and Nature, but also for the different time scales in which each take place. Eileen Crist, however, believes that in recognizing our hybridity, or the permanent intertwinement of humans and nonhumans, the Anthropocene, as both a scientific term and a social construct, promotes an anthropocentric view that buries the historical contradiction between human beings and “the entire breadth of Life” (129). Since the geological impact of human beings is incontrovertible, the term Anthropocene is being more widely and positively heralded as a symbol of the final realization that human beings are integrated with broader ecologies. Moreover, because scientists have supported naming our current geological epoch the Anthropocene, this only further solidifies it as a ‘proper’ name. Crist warns that by equating the force of human beings to the scale of Earth’s processes, human impact is seen as “natural”, and not what she refers to as a “human species-supremacist planetary politics” (130). Crist writes, “The Anthropocene discourse veers away from environmentalism’s dark idiom of destruction, depredation, rape, loss, devastation, deterioration, and so forth of the natural world into the tame vocabulary that humans are changing, shaping transforming, or altering the biosphere, and, in the process, creating novel ecosystems and anthropogenic biomes” (133).
Does the Anthropocene underrate the true destruction by normalizing human impacts on Earth? Would we rather construct an epoch based on our freedom and agency instead of giving into the truth of our limits on this planet? Crist argues yes, that like a kind of “Promethean self-portrait,” calling our current period the Anthropocene gives us the prerogative to continue tampering with nature on large scales, rather than question our very relationship and engagement with the natural environment. “The very concept of the Anthropocene crystallizes human dominion, corralling the already-pliable-in-that-direction human mind into viewing our master identity as manifestly destined, quasi-natural, and sort of awesome” (141). The Anthropocene might be the “obvious” choice for our current geological epoch, but Crist hopes for a nomenclature that steps beyond the mere ‘scientific construction’ of the term and for a name that presents a “higher calling we must rise to meet” (142). She calls for a term, perhaps like the ecotheologian Thomas Berry’s “Ecozoic’, that challenges us to integrate with nonhumans, wild nature, and ecological limits. Engaging with this wild nature, she hopes, means “catching “a sideways glance of a vast nonhuman world that has been denigrated by the concepts, institutions, and practices associated with the ‘human’” (143).
What Crist seems to be suggesting is that the Anthropocene manifests this social tendency to think of technical solutions, rather than questioning the necessity to engage with the planet in the first place. Instead of viewing Earth as “an assortment of “resources” (or “natural capital,” “ecological services,” “working landscapes,” and the like),” we should strive for “a cosmic and truer vision of Earth as a wild planet overflowing in abundance and creativity” (144). Crist’s view could perhaps be seen as romantic, or even seeking a state of nature that Bruno Latour would argue never existed, but her point is well taken that we have come to think of ourselves as the prime agent, sole proprietor, and main caretaker of the planet, when in fact we are only a small piece of a vast and diverse biosphere.
2. Ben Dibley, ” ‘The Shape of Things to Come’: Seven Theses on the Anthropocene and Attachment.” Australian Humanities Review 52 (2012).
- Anthropocene is both a geological epoch and a socially constructed discourse: the human species as a geologic force is an “emergence that is simultaneously an emergency.” Not only is it a geologic term to signal a new era in earth’s course, but a term that has firmly entered discourse across the social sciences and humanities.
- The Anthropocene bridges time scales that had previously kept geological and human history separate. Because the former was previously thought to be too slow moving to impinge on social processes, the rupture presented by the Anthropocene allows us to see this “acceleration” of change and this “folding of geological time and the time of capital.”
- The Anthropocene on the one hand is a discourse of limits, that is awareness of market externalities, the ecological price of freedom, and its significance not as a resource but as our “very life support system.” On the other hand, there is another very distinct camp that sees the Anthropocene as a treatable condition: markets alone, with their engenderment of technoscientific fixes, geoengineering solutions, and liberal freedoms, are capable of moving us out of the crisis.
- The modern distinction between society and nature is now dead, even though it was never the case to begin with. Neither the romantic ‘we must leave the nonhumans alone’ perspective, nor the enlightenment ‘we can control Nature’ framework will function to avoid this dualism any longer. We are made aware of the ‘entanglements’, ‘naturecultures’, and ‘global hybrids’ that Latour, Haraway, and others have identified.
- Rather than characterizing our responsibility as that of retreating (avoiding further tampering) or mastery (technoscience will come up with a solution), we must realize our ‘attachment, dependency and responsibility’ to Earth. There is, at least in the near future, no other planet for us to migrate, and thus the Anthropocene hails us ‘Earthlings’. This is congruent with Eileen Crist’s argument.
- ‘The emerging apparatus of the Anthropocene signals an increasingly thorough folding of ecology and economy, to which the financialization of the earth system is central’. Not only do we have this emerging financial speculation and hedging against Earth’s catastrophes and processes, but also capital now dictates biological, geological, and molecular solutions. Bioengineering of plants, optimizing the climate with aerosols, and designing bacteria are such examples of market technoscientific solutions that emerge from a system of capital that contributed to the crisis in the first place.
- We are no longer afforded a utopian vision of the future, but rather must begin to compose the world with new relationships between humans and nonhumans. Enlightenment inspired freedom, with its ambivalence for nature’s limits on human life, must necessarily be re-conceived to accommodate a cosmopolitical process: politics beyond the domain of the human. Life in the Anthropocene therefore has no certain future, only prospects that depend on our conduct in the present.