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VII. Pedia Sapiens: A Genesis Future on Earth and the Ecosmos

1. An Anthropocene Moment: Kinder or Cinder

    We choose this Future Earth image, whose cover scene is from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, because the 2014 volume covers the Anthropocene age from planetary science to public education to community concerns. The next quote is its good summary. Earth now is dominated by both biogeophysical and anthropogenic processes, as represented in these two images from a simulation of aerosols. Dust (red) from the Sahara sweeps west across the Atlantic Ocean. Sea salt (blue) rises into the atmosphere from winds over the North Atlantic and from a tropical cyclone in the Indian Ocean. Organic and black carbon (green) from biomass burning is notable over the Amazon and Southeast Asia. Plumes of sulfate (white) from fossil fuel burning are particularly prominent over northeastern North America and East Asia. If present trends of dust emissions and fossil fuel burning continues in what we call the Anthropocene epoch, then we could experience high atmospheric CO2 levels leading to unusual warming rarely experienced in Earth’s history. This book focuses on human influences on land, ocean, and the atmosphere, to determine if human activities are operating within or beyond the safe zones of our planet’s biological, chemical, and physical systems.


This is a 2010s section for an increasing number of references since 2000 about a latest evolutionary epoch signified by a human name so as to supersede the Holocene of the last 10,000 years. A generic web definition is: The Anthropocene defines Earth's most recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now altered by humans. As disparate entries convey, while a radical Anthropo Sapiens impact is obvious, how to situate its origins, and to adequately recognize the geologic, oceanic, environmental, biodiversity, public litany of unprecedented, perilous influences remains much underway.

But from mid 2016, it would seem we are cutting it much too close. In reality, civilizations are madly clashing and crashing across the globe. Rather than a 21st century worldwide wisdom and concerted mission to select and save this special, precious bioplanet, we seem bent on going backward to barbaric dark ages, this time with an infestation of terminal weaponry. The goal and promise of an integral planetary scale, common revolutionary sapiensphere as an intended phenomenon, is a true organic vitality and sustainability for all creatures, children and futures.

Big History 2015 Anthropocene Conference. Google Title. A Transdisciplinary Exploration to be held at Macquarie University in New South Wales, Australia, on December 9-11, 2015. This is the home of Prof. David Christian, founder of the Big History project to integrate human, earth, and cosmic phases. With leading Anthropocene environmentalists such as Will Steffen and Jan Zalasiewicz, along with cosmic philosophers Clement Vidal and David Grinspoon, (search each name) an expansive vista promises to situate Earthkind in a spatial and temporal developmental universe. But all 27 speakers are men, bereft of any imagination of a greater reality and procreation of which Anthropo Sapiens and all else are an intended, intelligible participant phenomenon.

Humanity’s Long Term Prospects Moving beyond the perils and challenges of the next few decades of the Anthropocene and looking at humanity’s prospects for the longer term future informs our ability to formulate our strategies today. It also fuels a sense of optimism about the future. While the nearer you look to the present, the more difficult it is to forecast events, science and Big History make predictions that become much clearer the further into the future you look. This panel will examine the field of foresight in terms of the environment, macro-economics, projections for rising technological complexity, and even the potential for humanity in terms of space exploration and astrobiology. The question of the long term prospects for humanity will embrace the next century, the next millennium, and even the longest term prospects on geological and cosmological timescales. Tackling the Anthropocene from a truly big history perspective, experts from the natural and social sciences will look at the long term potential for humanity, should we overcome the dangers currently confronting us in the 21st century.

Barnosky, Anthony, et al. Introducing the Scientific Consensus on Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems in the 21st Century: Information for Policy Makers. Anthropocene Review. 1/1, 2014. A 16 member team including Paul and Ann Ehrlich, Gretchen Daily, and James Brown provide a tutorial and manifesto for this inaugural issue about what we all need to learn and do to save this precious bioplanet.

Beigi, Shima. Engineering an Anthropocene Citizenship Framework. arXiv:1508.03525. A Iranian-British, University of Bristol civil engineer takes an especially global perspective which integrates Cognitive Maps, Resilience, Known Hazards, Infrastructures, Ecological Systems, and Climate in terms of energy flow input and dissipations. Via attendance and presentations at United Nations Environmental conferences, she concludes it is imperative that peoples be able to see themselves as planetary citizens and address these common issues if we are to survive and sustain. Practical examples such as urban traffic control are cited via an adaptive and cooperative self-organization. Of course, this peaceable future quite requires that barbaric men stop playing nuclear chicken and cease internecine tribal carnage.

This article presents an Anthropocene citizen-centered framework by incorporating the neuroscience of sustainability related stressors, the biology of collaboration in multi-agent ecosystems such as urban systems, and by emphasising on the importance of harnessing the collective intelligence of the crowd in addressing wicked challenges of sustainable development. The Anthropocene citizenship framework aims to transcend the cognitive model of global citizenship and sustainability to a dynamic, resilient and thriving mental model of collective cooperation. (Abstract)

Bierman, Frank, et al. Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance. Science. 335/1306, 2012. A global team of thirty one environmentalists from Sweden, the Netherlands, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, United Kingdom, Thailand, Norway, Japan, Canada, and the United States lay out a pathway to a appropriate polities for this evident era of a respectfully human-facilitated biosphere. Seven stages or “building blocks” are noted. 1. Upgrade United Nations ecological agencies and programs. 2. Better integration of the social, economic, and environmental bases for sustainable development. 3. Improved national sustainability political responses. 4. Such sustainability policies need have a planetary scale. 5. An educated majority populace who can vote these imperatives into reality. 6. Stronger intergovernmental institutions in regard. 7. In all cases, equity and fairness as the essence of local and global programs.

Cook, Brian, et al. Geographies of the Anthropocene. Geographical Research. 53/3, 2016. In a journal of the Institute of Australian Geographers, an introduction to a special issue on this popular subject. The several entries such as Geographers and the Discourse of an Earth Transformed by Noel Castree, Metaphor and the Anthropocene by Lauren Richards and The Anthropoceneans by Lesley Head (Search) affirm that we are in the midst of a most major planetary transformation. Its perilous effects span land, sea, air, flora, fauna, and onto our own personal and public psyches.

Cronin, Michael. Eco-Translation: Translation and Ecology in the Age of the Anthropocene. London: Routledge, 2017. The Dublin City University professor of humanities and social sciences weighs in that a common text of local and global vernaculars could help advance vital environmental solutions.

Ecology has become a central question governing the survival and sustainability of human societies, cultures and languages. In this timely study, Michael Cronin investigates how the perspective of the Anthropocene, or the effect of humans on the global environment, has profound implications for the way translation is considered in the past, present and future. Starting with a deep history of translation and ranging from food ecology to inter-species translation and green translation technology, this thought-provoking book offers a challenging and ultimately hopeful perspective on how translation can play a vital role in the future survival of the planet.

Dalbotten, Diana, et al, eds. Future Earth: Advancing Civic Understanding of the Anthropocene. Washington, DC: American Geophysical Union, 2014. The editors of this Geophysical Monograph 203 are Diana Dalbotten, University of Minnesota, National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics, Gillian Roehrig, UM, STEM Education Center, and Patrick Hamilton, Science Museum of Minnesota. This unique edition is chosen as our section image because the entries cover a multidiscipline scientific basis to educational pathways for public awareness and respectful accommodation. Chapters include Climate Literacy and Scientific Reasoning by Shiyu Liu, et al, Building Capacity to Use Science for Sovereignty in Native Communities by Nievita Bueno Watts, et al, and The Anthropocene and the Framework for K-12 Science Education. A book summary accompanies the image above.

Donges, Jonathan, et al. Closing the Loop: Reconnecting Human Dynamics to Earth System Dynamics. Anthropocene Review. Online August, 2017. Senior Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Stockholm University scientists including Hans Schellnhuber press on with efforts to conceive a sustainable bioplanet by joining human civilizations with “networked transformative change and complex coevolutionary dynamics.” This vital unity might then be facilitated by “a complex systems view of the Anthropocene.”

International commitment to the appropriately ambitious Paris climate agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 has pulled into the limelight the urgent need for major scientific progress in understanding and modelling the Anthropocene, the tightly intertwined social-environmental planetary system that humanity now inhabits. The Anthropocene qualitatively differs from previous eras in Earth’s history in three key characteristics: (1) There is planetary-scale human agency. (2) There are social and economic networks of teleconnections spanning the globe. (3) It is dominated by planetary-scale social-ecological feedbacks. Bolting together old concepts and methodologies cannot be an adequate approach to describing this new geological era. Instead, we need a new paradigm in Earth System science that is founded equally on a deep understanding of the physical and biological Earth System – and of the economic, social and cultural forces that are now an intrinsic part of it. It is time to close the loop and bring socially mediated dynamics explicitly into theory, analysis and models that let us study the whole Earth System. (Abstract)

Gaffney, Owen and Will Steffen. The Anthropocene Equation. Anthropocene Review. Online February, 2017. Senior Stockholm University and Australian National University environmentalists attempt to quantify the present fluid, perilous state of our human industrial proliferation over the finite biosphere. In regard, four main factors – A for astronomical forcings, G for geophysical effects, I as the internal dynamics of the Earth system, and especially H for the increasingly prime driver of human activities – are set in a mathematical form. A conclusion is obvious: We deduce that astronomical and geophysical forcings in the Holocene and into the entire Quarternary approximate to zero compared with the impact of current human pressures on the rate of change of the Earth System.

The dominant external forces influencing the rate of change of the Earth System have been astronomical and geophysical during the planet’s 4.5-billion-year existence. In the last six decades, anthropogenic forcings have driven exceptionally rapid rates of change in the Earth System. This new regime can be represented by an ‘Anthropocene equation’, where other forcings tend to zero, and the rate of change under human influence can be estimated. Reducing the risk of leaving the glacial–interglacial limit cycle of the late Quaternary for an uncertain future will require, in the first instance, the rate of change of the Earth System to become approximately zero. (Abstract)

Glikson, Andrew. Evolution of the Atmosphere, Fire and the Anthropocene Climate Event Horizon. Springer Briefs, 2014. An Australian National University Earth and paleoclimate scientist argues that our human use of combustion in many forms is a prime reason for global environmental stress. We also note this work for its Epilogue: The Life Force which alludes that the human intelligence able to learn and do all this appears to be written into the very physical laws from which it evolved and emerged. See also Climate, Fire and Human Evolution: The Deep Time Dimensions of the Anthropocene (Springer, 2016) by Glikson and Colin Groves.

Unique among all creatures, further to the increase in its cranial volume from Australopithecus to Homo sapiens, the use of tools and cultural and scientific creativity, the genus Homo is distinguished by the mastery of fire, which since about two million years ago has become its blueprint. Through the Holocene and culminating in the Anthropocene, the burning of much of the terrestrial vegetation, excavation and combustion of fossil carbon from up to 420 million years-old biospheres, are leading to a global oxidation event on a geological scale, a rise in entropy in nature and the sixth mass extinction of species. (Publisher)

Glikson, Andrew and Colin Groves. Climate, Fire and Human Evolution: The Deep Time Dimensions of the Anthropocene. Berlin: Springer, 2016. An Australian National University earth systems geologist and a biological anthropologist explain that the latest appearance of homo sapiens is much due to the presence, and usage of oxygenated combustion over the past billion and million years. A closing chapter Rare Earth goes on to say that intelligence is written into the laws of nature, but avoids an “anthropocentric” view.

The book outlines principal milestones in the evolution of the atmosphere, oceans and biosphere during the last 4 million years in relation with the evolution from primates to the genus Homo – which uniquely mastered the ignition and transfer of fire. The advent of land plants since about 420 million years ago ensued in flammable carbon-rich biosphere interfaced with an oxygen-rich atmosphere. Born on a flammable Earth surface, under increasingly unstable climates descending from the warmer Pliocene into the deepest ice ages of the Pleistocene, human survival depended on both―biological adaptations and cultural evolution, mastering fire as a necessity. Once the climate stabilized in the early Holocene, since about ~7000 years-ago production of excess food by Neolithic civilization along the Great River Valleys has allowed human imagination and dreams to express themselves through the construction of monuments to immortality. Further to burning large part of the forests, the discovery of combustion and exhumation of carbon from the Earth’s hundreds of millions of years-old fossil biospheres set the stage for an anthropogenic oxidation event, affecting an abrupt shift in state of the atmosphere-ocean-cryosphere system.

Gonzalez de Molina, Manuel and Victor Toledo. The Social Metabolism: A Social-Ecological Theory of Historical Change. Berlin: Springer, 2014. A Pablo de Olavide University, Spain geographer and philosopher, and an Autonomous University of Mexico ecologist survey human civilizations from settlements to megacities in the context of an anthropocene planet with a nascent organic physiology and anatomy. Initial chapters cover earlier attempts at its expression. Basic metabolic processes of material and energy inputs, circulation, consumption, transformation, dissipation, and so on are described next. The work then courses from localities to regions, nations onto rudiments of a viable global phase. These are considered from agrarian, industrial, urban, political, and cultural aspects as nonlinear thermodynamic, autopoietic, adaptive complex systems. The goal is scales of societies as graced and empowered by truly sustainable vitalities.

Over this last decade, the concept of Social Metabolism has gained prestige as a theoretical instrument for the required analysis, to such an extent that there are now dozens of researchers, hundreds of articles and several books that have adopted and use this concept. However, there is a great deal of variety in terms of definitions and interpretations, as well as different methodologies around this concept, which prevents the consolidation of a unified field of new knowledge. The fundamental aim of the book is to conduct a review of the past and present usage of the concept of social metabolism, its origins and history, as well as the main currents or schools that exist around this concept. At the same time, the reviews and discussions included are used by the authors as starting points to draw conclusions and propose a theory of socio-ecological transformations. (Springer)

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