Evolution is nature’s way of preserving itself, but nature is losing out for the first time ever as it becomes curiously unnatural, artificially induced to adapt to human existence. It is human-made evolution, through and through.
The Anthropocene is a term first coined (yr. 2000) by atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen (Nobel Prize 1991). It is currently under review as an official new geologic epoch; nevertheless, it has become a standard reference point in everyday science.
The Anthropocene is the dawn of a new age when humans consciously and subconsciously shape nature, altering an evolutionary process as old as life itself and challenging the planet’s life forms.
The consequence is that seventy-five percent (75%) of Earth’s surface has been modified by the human footprint.
Geographers Erle Ellis and Navan Ramankutty from the University of Maryland, using data from satellite photographs, determined that only 22 percent of the earth’s surface is still wilderness and only 11 per cent of photosynthesis activity takes place in these wild areas. The remaining land consists of agricultural, residential and industrial zones and other “anthromes,” that is, areas “marked by humans.” (Schwägerl)
Christian Schwägerl, a Berlin-based journalist, author and biologist has written a ground-breaking book, The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet, Synergetic Press, 2014 that challenges doomsayers and climate changers to come to grips with a planet that is being molded by human hands.
Since the planet has been/is fashioned by human hands, according to Schwägerl, the potential for positive outcomes exist whereby people of the world wake up and take control over the socio-politico-economic forces that bankrupt the biosphere (the global sum of all ecosystems).
Schwägerl’s book is an eco-conscious clarion call to take control over human and nature’s destiny, redirecting activity into a symbiotic relationship with nature and shed the planet of the atrocious misdirection of eco-ravaging neoliberalism, a socio-politico-economic psycho theory of free markets and profits for the sake of profits, nothing else counts.
Nature has no value with neoliberalism, which was introduced by Milton Friedman, super-charged by PM Thatcher and President Reagan. Significantly, this alone is likely the crux or the core of the problem as recognized by doomsayers and climate changers.
Ergo, “If one defines the Anthropocene as merely the sum total of environmental crimes, then one would have to call it the “Westocene” or “Capitalocene” in reference to the Western lifestyles that have chiefly been the cause of anthropogenic phenomena.” (Schwägerl)
Schwägerl’s hypothesis is the antithesis of neoliberal values.
Cancel the American Dream?
“The problem with the American Dream is that it cannot be globalized in a sustainable way. According to ongoing research conducted by the Sustainable Europe Research Institute (SERI), Americans consume 90 kilograms of resources per capita a day, twice as much as Europeans, whose standard of living is already very high. They release 16 tons of carbon dioxide per capita, per year, from energy use alone. They eat more than 200 grams of meat a day. Due to the global demand generated by these patterns of consumption, an increasing number of nightmarish places are springing up: deforested areas in Asia and South America, oxygen-deprived waters in the Gulf of Mexico, bleached coral reefs along tropical coasts, oceans devoid of any fish and homogenous suburban areas proliferating on the outskirts of Western cities, the destruction of Africa’s biodiversity, decapitated mountains in Virginia, pock-marked fracking expanses in Texas, tar sand expanses in Alberta, Canada, and the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.” (Schwägerl)
“If everyone followed the old American Dream, with its predilection for big cars, monoculture and enormous quantities of waste, it would result in a massive and long-lasting cultural and ecological impoverishment. What kind of dream is it that becomes a nightmare for everyone trying to live it?” (Schwägerl)
All the same, China, a nation of 1.4 billion, or four times the U.S., is rapidly overwhelmingly on its way to achieving the grand “old American Dream” via state capitalism, a derivative of neoliberalism. Is there enough nature to go around without throttling back and supplanting neoliberalism with eco economics? Which works beautifully by sustaining nature whilst civilization utilizes it.
“To understand the extent to which we human beings are changing the earth, you do not have to live in an urban region in China with a hundred million neighbors, or on the agricultural plains of the American Midwest that stretch to the horizon, nor on the edge of a burning rainforest. Today, it is enough to stop for a moment and realize that with every meal, we alter distant ecosystems as if by remote control because the ingredients come mostly from different continents or even ecological hotspots: palm oil grown in former rainforests or industrially produced pork. Just by getting into a car, turning on the heat or air conditioning, or going on vacation by plane, we impact the world’s climate. Each time we reach for our Smartphones, we are holding to our ear an assortment of rare metals that have come from dozens of different mines around the world!” (Schwägerl)
“We are witnessing the transition from blind evolution according to Darwin’s laws, to a conscious evolution directed by the human mind.” (Schwägerl)
The natural course of evolution has been pushed aside in favor of today’s modern lifestyle, for example (one of many in the book), according to Schwägerl: The wingspan of cliff swallows in the United States has shortened in the past few decades—directed by the kinetic force of cars. It took a while for researchers to fathom the reason: In the 1980s, cliff swallows began to use highway bridges as breeding grounds because the bridges resembled the birds’ natural habitat. Automobiles were a huge factor in the selection process: birds that did not swerve out of the way in time died in collisions, often before they could reproduce. Over the years, the numbers of short-winged swallows increased, as it was easier for these birds to quickly swerve than for those with longer wings. Quite simply, the longer-winged birds were killed on the roads while the shorter-winged ones were able to use their new habitat as a breeding ground.
“We are changing the earth’s system; we are changing it fast, and we are changing it for a long time” (Schwägerl Interview by Alex Smith, Radio Ecoshock). It is the Age of Humans, and humans are actually becoming “part of nature” by effecting, changing, altering chemistry, biology, and geology.
For instance, geology has turned into a byproduct of human development. The planet contains five million mines that extract/extracted metals and minerals to build refrigerators, iPhones, cars, and skyscrapers. Open pit mines and mountain top removal alter landscapes, disturb rivers, and assault species so that householders can turn on lights. Cities are purely geological structures composed of stone, steel, and glass, all products of mining, changing geology from natural terrain to soaring mega structures.
Above, on, and within the planet the human footprint is ever-present, burrowing like moles with tunnels found everywhere all across the planet, e.g., in the U.S. alone there are 1,181 miles of subway tunnels. The extraction of aluminum, the most abundant metal in Earth’s crust, is so pervasive it could cover the entire United States in aluminum foil. Canals and dams change the course of water and wildlife habitat, thereby altering evolution. In point of fact, the human imprint on geology is huge, immeasurable, as people walk on it, ride on it, and communicate because of it.
“For the first time in Earth’s history, its future is being determined by both the conscious and unconscious actions of Homo sapiens, Paul J. Crutzen, PhD., Foreword- The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet, including geological, chemical, and biological changes. “All this came to a head in the eighteenth century, at another civilizational watershed, when people learned how to use energy. It is the moment Paul Crutzen claims represents the transition from the Holocene to the Anthropocene—“the emergence of humans as a veritable geological force.”
Schwägerl promotes human intelligence, ingenuity, and technological genius as a way forward to a positive outcome during this new age called Anthropocene. After all, for well over 2,000 years civilization overcame enormous odds working alongside nature, but nowadays, in a little over 200 years, civilization works against nature, for example, huge industrial agricultural fields and plantations operate “outside of nature,” working against it, defying over 2,000 years of civilization that worked with nature to locally produce food.
Similarly, modern-day economics operate “outside of nature” by ignoring nature’s value, using and abusing nature, or as stated by Schwägerl, “Western thinking is blinded to nature.”
Neoliberalism extracts from nature without giving back any value, keeping profits for Wall Street and its rapid, short-term micro-trading edifice. Everything is short-term, quarterly reports, tomorrow’s earnings release, and nightly news reports about what’s hot, what’s not. Americans are consumed by, brainwashed by, and dictated to by a short-term mindset, today’s newest presidential poll. Whereas, according to Schwägerl, a bountiful and workable eco relationship with nature is a long-term proposition.
No Apocalypse on the Horizon
According to Schwägerl, “Apocalypse No” means believing in people and a long-term future on earth. He says we are not intrinsically nature’s enemy, as many environmentalists want us to believe. Instead, we are the medium through which life becomes aware and transforms into something new, in a conscious way, not undirected evolution but by “a process that reflects upon itself.”
The scientific tools and the technological resources required to harmonize with nature are readily available in order to positively influence evolution via eco economics, avoiding any sort of apocalypse, skirting end times.
Schwägerl says “Apocalypse No!” which is the underlying theme within his wondrous, intriguing, fact-filled book that takes the reader on a fascinating journey throughout the world with expert scientific guidance.
But, do not underestimate Mr. Schwägerl’s knowledge of the true status of the world. He details the devastation caused by ocean acidification and the ravages of overfishing and the insanity of rainforest clear cuttings and the profound risks associated with too much carbon dioxide emissions. He’s smart about all of that.
He pinpoints the problems. Globalization of industrial agriculture comes with terrible risks. For example, global dead zones already exist in 760 places in the sea and along coastal areas because of industrial agricultural runoff.
A Way Forward
The way forward is to change from decades-old consumerist materialism that “treats the planet like a zombie.” (Giulio Tononi) He believes we now have a chance to develop a “vital materialism” that honors life in all its forms. Thus, Anthropocene becomes the opposite of anthropocentrism.
Indeed, Schwägerl’s book is upbeat, a story of humanity wisely integrating into the workings of the planet with “smart cities, biodegradable cars imitating nature, cultivated life-forms, and human-induced biodiversity across landscapes.” He looks beyond doomsayers, beyond an apocalypse to an “enlightened planet with beautiful human imprints.”
“I believe that the Anthropocene idea can help people see themselves as active, integrated participants in an emerging new nature that will make earth more humanist rather than just humanized. It would be absurd if an idea named the “Anthropocene” were characterized by a negative view of humans!” (Schwägerl)
The German biologist Andreas Weber writes: “In Anthropocene thinking, the gap between nature and culture has dissolved, not because humans have come to a different understanding of life and their role in it, but because their technology has swallowed nature.”
“Together with John McNeill and Will Steffen, Crutzen has outlined the path to an attitude that makes up the third, imminent phase of the Anthropocene, which he believes will have to start in 2015 at the latest. After the upheavals of the Great Acceleration from 1945 to the present day, people mature into “stewards of the Earth system.” “Stewards,” as opposed to “Masters,” has a thoughtful and considerate ring to it. It suggests that Earth might yet not be irreversibly transformed in a short space of time but handled with care so it could be handed down to others.” (Schwägerl)
A consistent undertone found within Schwägerl’s work is the benefits of a long-term positive future free from short-term thinking. He suggests humanity has become way too short-term oriented. Apocalyptic ideas and neoliberal principles feed into a self-defeating nemesis that misses opportunities for true progress.
“Doomsday thinking prevents us from imagining a long-term future.” (Schwägerl)
“The Anthropocene is an anti-apocalypse idea, par excellence; an ‘Apocalypse No’ instead of an ‘Apocalypse Now’. After all, it connects the past to the future… if we take the Anthropocene idea seriously, it can help us shape our present behavior in a positive way. Rather than defining humanity as the destroyer of nature.” (Schwägerl)
His thesis is that the Anthropocene idea could lead to a “Growth of the Limits,” not in the sense of continual economic growth but in the sense of social, cultural, spiritual, scientific, and economic renewal.
“Long-term ideas or aims have been lacking as to how we should manage the massive reorganization of the biosphere that is taking place. Restricted on one hand by neo-liberal short-term thinking and on the other by fear of an ecological Apocalypse, scenarios for a positive, long-term future have fallen by the wayside.” (Schwägerl)
Idealistic, yes, Schwägerl’s book, in the final, final, final analysis, is idealistic. He anticipates an eco-internet-revolution whereby people interconnect to organize, thus overwhelming the powers-that-be, to reorganize the socio-politico-economic landscape of the Anthropocene in accordance with nature, not against nature.
Whether idealistic or not as a solution for how humankind impacts the planet, The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet is a fantastic journey filled with remarkable facts and deep scientific insight into the Anthropocene, an age that everybody needs to understand with the depth of knowledge Schwägerl brings to the subject. His book is an easy, fast read that enlightens, page by page. Idealism leads to workable ideals.