VIII. Earth Earns: An Open Participatory Earthropocene to Ecosmocene CoCreativity
1. This Human Impact Anthropocene Stage
Sigurdsson, Geir. Anthropocosmic Processes in the Anthropocene: Revisiting Quantum Mechanics vs. Chinese Cosmology Comparison. Bala, Arun and Prasenjit Duara, eds. The Bright Dark Ages: Comparative and Connective Perspectives. Leiden: Brill, 2016. In our own dark bright age, historical eras can be studied with a global scope and veracity not possible before. This notable chapter by a University of Iceland scholar alludes that quantum phenomena as dynamic “inter-acting agencies” is akin to ancient Asian views of an integral organic reality with a yin-yang complementarity. Life is inherent in matter via an inner autopoietic drive, variously as Qi or Li energies. It is advised that our Anthropocene age might be better understood, and mitigated, by these Anthropocosmic relational ecologies which accord with a living nature. The whole volume considers Joseph Needham’s question why the west became technological while China remained contemplative, which might align with relative left and right brain hemispheres as Complementary of Civilizations conveys.
Steffen, Will, et al.
The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives.
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.
Climatologist Steffen, with historian Jacques Grinevald, Nobel chemist Paul Crutzen, initial proposer of the term, and historian John McNeill, enter a lead paper in a special, much reported, issue on the realization that recent centuries of human migrations with technological, industrial impacts so alter the earth as to constitute a new epochal era. Prime precursors are seen as Vladimir Vernadsky and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Paris colleagues from the 1920s. By this purview, Earth-system qualities such as climate change, biodiversity, nitrogen and phosphorous cycles, ozone loss, ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosols, and chemical pollution, as if a planetary physiology, can be brought into a novel relief. Typical papers discuss emergent dynamics of the climate-economy system, ocean changes, societal responses (Crispin Tickell), Quaternary analogues for greenhouse warming, and so on.
The human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system. Although global-scale human influence on the environment has been recognized since the 1800s, the term Anthropocene, introduced about a decade ago, has only recently become widely, but informally, used in the global change research community. However, the term has yet to be accepted formally as a new geological epoch or era in Earth history. In this paper, we put forward the case for formally recognizing the Anthropocene as a new epoch in Earth history, arguing that the advent of the Industrial Revolution around 1800 provides a logical start date for the new epoch. We then explore recent trends in the evolution of the Anthropocene as humanity proceeds into the twenty-first century, focusing on the profound changes to our relationship with the rest of the living world and on early attempts and proposals for managing our relationship with the large geophysical cycles that drive the Earth’s climate system. (842)
Steffen, Will, et al. The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship. AMBIO. 40/739, 2011. AMBIO is a journal of environmental concerns from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Sixteen authorities including Carole Crumley, Jan Zalasiewicz, Hans Schellnhuber, Katherine Richardson, and Marten Scheffer take a long integral view of this nascent Earth era “from hunter-gatherers to a global geophysical force” to again call for an imperative phase of informed, intentional, and respectful “planetary stewardship.” But consider the 2012 American election. While the evidence and urgency for such a response could not be clearer – just look out the window – vested cultural, religious, conceptual baggage overrules to impede, confound and daunt. My paper “Environmental Ethics and the Question of Cosmic Purpose” in the August 1994 issue of that referred journal worried that we will not be moved achieve a living, sustainable bioplanet in a moribund universe of mechanist cosmology. Some two decades on, nature is “nothing” says physics, so the remedial project continues with this sourcebook website, and profound alarms as the above manifesto.
Over the past century, the total material wealth of humanity has been enhanced. However, in the twenty-first century, we face scarcity in critical resources, the degradation of ecosystem services, and the erosion of the planet’s capability to absorb our wastes. Equity issues remain stubbornly difficult to solve. This situation is novel in its speed, its global scale and its threat to the resilience of the Earth System. The advent of the Anthropence, the time interval in which human activities now rival global geophysical processes, suggests that we need to fundamentally alter our relationship with the planet we inhabit. Many approaches could be adopted, ranging from geo-engineering solutions that purposefully manipulate parts of the Earth System to becoming active stewards of our own life support system. The Anthropocene is a reminder that the Holocene, during which complex human societies have developed, has been a stable, accommodating environment and is the only state of the Earth System that we know for sure can support contemporary society. The need to achieve effective planetary stewardship is urgent. As we go further into the Anthropocene, we risk driving the Earth System onto a trajectory toward more hostile states from which we cannot easily return. (Abstract)
Steffen, Will, et al. Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 115/8252, 2018. An entry by 16 leadings authorities, cited below, which could be the strongest, and maybe the last definitive call to action about major global climate change. As extreme floods, fires, storms, temperatures and events occur, increase in intensity, and tip toward a new attractor state, a case for an abrupt catastrophe is made. The epochal context spans from a Holocene interglacial cycle to this late day and ahead to a resilient Stabilized Earth or terminal Hothouse Earth options. But may we add, a cultural quandary not referred to much conflates the issue. For an example, an Amazon search for a 2016 book The Great Acceleration brings up two main hits. One is by environmentalists John McNeill and Peter Engelke about this intensifying human era, but the other is by evangelist Michael Fickess which lauds how such trib
We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway even as human emissions are reduced. Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years and to sea levels significantly higher than at any time in the Holocene. We examine the evidence that such a threshold might exist and where it might be. Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies—and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values. (Abstract)
Steffen, Will, et al, eds. Global Change and the Earth System: A Planet under Pressure. Berlin: Springer, 2004. A summary report of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme that views humankind as entering an Anthropocene Era of unprecedented impact on planetary life support systems. A worldwide effort is underway to quantify this in every category from mineral resources to carbon cycles, shrinking glaciers and urban air quality. A wild card is an unknown propensity to suddenly (~10 years) alter a critically poised dynamic climate. But this multifaceted research proceeds, as do many other sciences, without cosmological guidance for we do not know what kind of a universe earth springs from and abides in. So a major section is named Planetary Machinery. A great service would be rendered by an appropriate natural philosophy.
Human activities clearly have the potential to switch the Earth system to alternative modes of operation that may prove irreversible and could inadvertently trigger changes with catastrophic consequences. (261)
Stephens, Lucas, et al. Archaeological Assessment Reveals Earth’s Early Transformation through Land Use. Science. 365/897, 2019. A summary report by many coauthors from the Harvard ArchaeoGlobe Project which describes retro global visualizations which move the initial date of homo sapiens impacts some millennia further back. See also a commentary How Humans Changed the Face of Earth by Neil Roberts in the same issue.
Environmentally transformative human use of land accelerated with the emergence of agriculture, but the extent, trajectory, and implications of these early changes are not well understood. An empirical global assessment of land use from 10,000 years before the present (yr B.P.) to 1850 CE reveals a planet largely transformed by hunter-gatherers, farmers, and pastoralists by 3000 years ago, considerably earlier than thought. Archaeological reconstruction of global land-use history illuminates the deep roots of Earth’s transformation and challenges the emerging Anthropocene paradigm that large-scale anthropogenic global environmental change is mostly a recent phenomenon. (Abstract excerpt)
Szerszynski, Bronislaw. Viewing the Technosphere in an Interplanetary Light. Anthropocene Review. Online October, 2016. The Lancaster University, UK, sociologist situates this nascent presence of a global human mantle in an astronomical environ so to better appreciate, aka speculative planetology. “Matter’s self-organizing powers” are then seen at work in the major evolutionary transitions in individuality scale as it lately emerges to anthropo sapiens. With references to Stanislaw Lem’s science fiction, Peter Haff’s ecological thought, and more, an expansive vista is achieved. See also in this journal Scale and Diversity of the Physical Technosphere by Jan Salasiewicz, et al (Online November).
I argue that discussion about the ‘technosphere’ as an emergent new Earth system needs to be situated within wider reflection about how technospheres might arise on other worlds. Engaging with astrobiological speculation about ‘exo-technospheres’ can help us to understand whether technospheres are likely, what their preconditions might be, and whether they endure. Exploring earlier major transitions in Earth’s evolution can shed light on the shifting distribution of metabolic and reproductive powers between the human and technological parts of the contemporary technosphere. The long-term evolution of technical objects also suggests that they have shown a tendency to pass through their own major transitions in their relation to animality. Such reflection can shed new light on the nature and likely future development of the Earth’s technosphere. (Abstract)
Thomas, Julia Adeney, ed.
Altered Earth: Getting the Anthropocene Right.
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,
A Harvard Radcliffe scholar edits a latest survey upon this post 1950s era after the Holocene when rampant human impacts began to take over the world. From geology to culture, authorities such as Will Steffen (Earth Science) to Kate Brown (nuclear war) cobble together its many, disparate issues. But the awkward, unnatural concepts remains troublesome. For example, a book review by ecologist Mark Maslin (see his How to Save Our Planet 2021) worries about its compass and basis. (See also The Green New Deal 2022 by Jeremy Rifkin.)
Altered Earth aims to get the Anthropocene right in three senses. With essays by leading scientists, it highlights the growing consensus that our planet entered a dangerous new state in the mid-twentieth century. Second, it gets the Anthropocene right in human terms, bringing together a range of leading authors to explore, in fiction and non-fiction, our deep past, global conquest, inequality, nuclear disasters, and space travel. Finally, this landmark collection presents what hope might look like in this seemingly hopeless situation, proposing new political forms and mutualistic cities.
Tonnessen, Morten, et al, eds. Thinking about Animals in the Age of the Anthropocene. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2016. As the summary cites, postmodern scholars struggle to respectfully grasp what this evident radical phase means in the historic, evolutionary and global scheme of whatever reality there may be. Samples chapters are Dangerous Intersubjectivities from Dionysos to Kanzi by Louise Westling, and Out of the Metazoic? By Bronislaw Szerszynski.
The term “Anthropocene”, the era of mankind, is increasingly being used as a scientific designation for the current geological epoch. This is because the human species now dominates ecosystems worldwide, and affects nature in a way that rivals natural forces in magnitude and scale. Thinking about Animals in the Age of the Anthropocene presents a dozen chapters that address the role and place of animals in this epoch characterized by anthropogenic (human-made) environmental change. While some chapters describe our impact on the living conditions of animals, others question conventional ideas about human exceptionalism, and stress the complex cognitive and other abilities of animals. The Anthropocene idea forces us to rethink our relation to nature and to animals, and to critically reflect on our own role and place in the world, as a species.
Tsing, Anna, et al, eds. Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017. A collection from a UC Santa Cruz 2014 gathering so as to allow and consider radically organic, vitalist, creaturely options to this lumpen age of mechanized, rapacious consumption. A guiding theme became novel appreciations of life’s pervasive symbiotic and autopoietic essence across internal, communal and ecological scales, beyond only isolate individuals. Luminous papers such as Symbiogenesis, Sympoiesis, and Art Science Activisms by Donna Haraway, Holobiont by Birth by Scott Gilbert and The Postmodern Synthesis in Biology by Margaret McFall-Ngai, along with lively images bring an especial glow. A final entry is Coda. Beautiful Monsters: Terra in the Cyanocene by Dorion Sagan since this vivid array is inspired by and draws upon Lynn Margulis’ biospheric vision.
Living on a damaged planet challenges who we are and where we live. This timely anthology calls on twenty eminent humanists and scientists to revitalize curiosity, observation, and transdisciplinary conversation about life on earth. As human-induced environmental change threatens multispecies livability, this volume puts forward a bold proposal: entangled histories, situated narratives, and thick descriptions offer urgent “arts of living.” Included are essays by scholars in anthropology, ecology, science studies, art, literature, and bioinformatics who posit critical and creative tools for collaborative survival in a more-than-human Anthropocene. Ghosts and Monsters are tentacular, windy, and arboreal arts that invite readers to encounter ants, lichen, rocks, electrons, flying foxes, salmon, chestnut trees, mud volcanoes, border zones, graves, radioactive waste—in short, the wonders and terrors of an unintended epoch.
Usher, Phillip John. Untranslating the Anthropocene. Diacritics. 44/3, 2017. Yes, we are aware of and peruse journals of the academic postmodern humanities. In this Johns Hopkins University Press journal, a NYU professor of French and comparative literature muses about whatever this current word might actually apply to and mean.
As part of an issue of Diacritics on "Untimely Actualities," this article takes its impetus from Barbara Cassin's "Dictionary of Unstranslatables" (ed. in English by Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra, and Michael Wood), in order to ask: what do we say when we say "Anthropocene"? The point is not to offer yet another definition of, or counter-term for, the Anthropocene, but to unpack the "anthropos" within the cross-linguistic histories of which it is part (homo, humanism, posthumanism, anthropos, anthropology, etc.). (Editor)
Williams, Mark, et al. The Anthropocene Biosphere. The Anthropocene Review. 2/3, 2015. In this new journal which considers the many effects of this novel phase of major human impact, leading environmentalists such as Jan Zalasiewicz and Anthony Barnosky provide a technical survey of the resultant state of Earth’s biologically conducive envelope. Typical entries might be Earth System, Geological, Philosophical and Political Paradigm Shifts by Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis (2/2) and The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration by Will Steffen, et al (2/1).
The geological record preserves evidence for two fundamental stages in the evolution of Earth’s biosphere, a microbial stage from ~3.5 to 0.65 Ga, and a metazoan stage evident by c. 650 Ma. We suggest that the modern biosphere differs significantly from these previous stages and shows early signs of a new, third stage of biosphere evolution characterised by: (1) global homogenisation of flora and fauna; (2) a single species (Homo sapiens) commandeering 25–40% of net primary production and also mining fossil net primary production (fossil fuels) to break through the photosynthetic energy barrier; (3) human-directed evolution of other species; and (4) increasing interaction of the biosphere with the technosphere (the global emergent system that includes humans, technological artefacts, and associated social and technological networks). These unique features of today’s biosphere may herald a new era in the planet’s history that could persist over geological timescales. (Abstract)
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