• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous CounterPuncher has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Reflections on the Anthropocene

“However these debates will unfold, the Anthropocene represents a new phase in the history of both humankind and of the Earth, when natural forces and human forces became intertwined so that the fate of one determines the fate of the other. Geologically, this is a remarkable episode in the history of this planet.”

This is a little too big to simply call “news.” Indeed, I can’t move beyond these words — especially that heart-stopper, “intertwined” — until I’m able to summon sufficient inner quiet and humility. Geologically, the paradigm has already shifted. How about spiritually?

The words are those of four geologists and climate scientists, including Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, writing in 2010 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology (and quoted at phys.org) — making the point that the human phenomenon has become, for better and for worse, essentially partnered with nature, a co-creator of the planet’s future.

This hypothesis has returned to public attention, as the International Geological Congress meets in Cape Town, South Africa, and a working panel has voted that the Anthropocene Epoch — a planetary shift to a new geological state of existence — be officially acknowledged by the world’s scientific community. That is to say, the planet has moved beyond what has been called the Holocene: some 12,000 years of climate stability, which emerged after the last ice age. In this window of opportunity, human civilization created itself and, in the process, seized hold of, and began changing, the planet’s geological infrastructure.

The current hypothesis is that the Anthropocene began, uh . . . about the time “Ozzie and Harriet” was hitting the airwaves, disposable ballpoint pens were finding their market niche, and the Baby Boomers were starting kindergarten. That is to say, the 1950s.

The primary cause of the geological shift, the Guardian reports, are “the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration.”

None of this is good news. Short-sighted human behavior, from nuclear insanity to agribusiness to the proliferation of plastic trash, has produced utterly unforeseen consequences, including disruption of the climate that has nurtured our growth and becoming over the last dozen millennia. This is called recklessness. And mostly the Anthropocene is described with dystopian bleakness: a time of mass extinctions. A time of dying.

But I return to the words quoted above: “. . . the Anthropocene represents a new phase in the history of both humankind and of the Earth, when natural forces and human forces became intertwined. . .”

What I hear in the silence of these words is something far more resonant than mere pessimism or cynicism. I hear awareness. I hear urgency. I hear hope.

I hear the largest challenge that humanity has ever faced or imagined — a challenge that transcends religion, politics and science, indeed, everything we believe and everything we know, or think we know. This includes a belief in our own reckless immaturity.

Consider: “Human occupation is usually associated with deteriorated landscapes, but new research shows that 13,000 years of repeated occupation by British Columbia’s coastal First Nations has had the opposite effect, enhancing temperate rainforest productivity.”

The story, also at phys.org, talks about research data showing that the trees growing at sites formerly inhabited by the tribal peoples “are taller, wider and healthier than those in the surrounding forest,” thanks to various practices, including the burying of the remains of intertidal shellfish over thousands of years, enriching the soil. “For more than 13,000 years —500 generations—people have been transforming this landscape,” environmental scientist Andrew Trant is quoted as saying. “So this area that at first glance seems pristine and wild is actually highly modified and enhanced as a result of human behavior.”

There are many, many examples of how “primitive” cultures have been true stewards of their environment and enhanced its health and eco-diversity, but such stories are easily dismissed with a despairing shrug: This isn’t how the modern world works. Nor has eco-stewardship been the force that has brought on the Anthropocene. That has come about, rather, by a combination of extraordinary technological breakthroughs and cold indifference to their consequences: human evolution, you might say, outside the circle of life. But here we are nonetheless.

“. . . when natural forces and human forces became intertwined . . .”

It’s time to grow up. Simply looking at the news in the context of the ongoing geological shift puts things in a radically different perspective. I grab, almost at random, a recent story that slapped me in the face with its absurdity: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sends shockwaves across spectator America when he refuses to stand for the national anthem. Fans burn replicas of his jersey.

What I see in Kaepernick’s courageous act transcends even the racism he was protesting. The consciousness symbolized by the national anthem — that only part of this planet matters and all of it is available for our exploitation — is what has cluelessly ushered in the Anthropocene. We need to build a new world on the far side of that consciousness: on the far side of the flag, on the far side of the national anthem.

More articles by:

Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 16, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
How Turkey’s Invasion of Syria Backfired on Erdogan
Chitrangada Choudhury – Aniket Aga
How Cotton Became a Headache in the Age of Climate Chaos
Jack Rasmus
US-China Mini-Trade Deal: Trump Takes the Money and Runs
Michael Welton
Communist Dictatorship in Our Midst
Robert Hunziker
Extinction Rebellion Sweeps the World
Peter A. Coclanis
Donald Trump as Artist
Chris Floyd
Byzantium Now: Time-Warping From Justinian to Trump
Steve Klinger
In For a Dime, in For a Dollar
Gary Leupp
The Maria Ramirez Story
Kim C. Domenico
It Serves Us Right To Suffer: Breaking Down Neoliberal Complacency
Kiley Blackman
Wildlife Killing Contests are Unethical
Colin Todhunter
Bayer Shareholders: Put Health and Nature First and Stop Funding This Company!
Andrés Castro
Looking Normal in Kew Gardens
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
Patrick Cockburn
As Turkey Prepares to Slice Through Syria, the US has Cleared a New Breeding Ground for Isis
John Feffer
Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency
Dean Baker
The Economics and Politics of Financial Transactions Taxes and Wealth Taxes
Jonah Raskin
What Evil Empire?
Nino Pagliccia
The Apotheosis of Emperors
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A Passion for Writing
Basav Sen
The Oil Despots
Brett Wilkins
‘No Friend But the Mountains’: A History of US Betrayal of the Kurds
John Kendall Hawkins
Assange: Enema of the State
Scott Owen
Truth, Justice and Life
Thomas Knapp
“The Grid” is the Problem, Not the Solution
Rob Kall
Republicans Are Going to Remove Trump Soon
Cesar Chelala
Lebanon, Dreamland
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail