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VIII. Pedia Sapiens: A New Genesis Future

1. An Anthropocene to Earthropocene Moment

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)

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)

Zalasiewicz, Jan, et al. Making the Case for a Formal Anthropocene Epoch. Newsletters on Stratigraphy. 50/2, 2017. 27 senior coauthors including Will Steffen, Jacques Grinevald, Mark Williams, and Andrew Rifkin make a scientific and conceptual statement to rebut recent criticisms. This latest human phase in its global presence does in fact constitute a distinct, post-Holocene geological and biospheric era.

A range of published arguments against formalizing the Anthropocene as a geological time unit have variously suggested that it is a misleading term of non-stratigraphic origin and usage, is based on insignificant temporal and material stratigraphic content unlike that used to define older geological time units, and is driven more by politics than science. In response, we contend that the Anthropocene is a functional term that has firm geological grounding in a well-characterized stratigraphic record. The Anthropocene differs from previously defined epochs in reflecting contemporary geological change, which in turn also leads to the term's use over a wide range of social and political discourse. Here we respond to the arguments opposing the geological validity and utility of the Anthropocene, and submit that a strong case may be made for the Anthropocene to be treated as a formal chronostratigraphic unit and added to the Geological Time Scale. (Abstract excerpt)

Zalasiewicz, Jan, et al. The New World of the Anthropocene. Environmental Science & Technology. 44/7, 2010. With co-authors Mark Williams, Will Steffen, and Paul Crutzen, we cite this reference to enter a term that has lately become accepted to describe a radical age of earth evolution. First advanced in 2000 by Nobel chemist Crutzen, earlier an alarmist about nuclear winter, it has caught on to represent vast alterations to geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere due to human industrial and commercial impact. Cover stories in National Geographic for March 2011, The Economist for May 26, 2011, along with a March 2011 dedicated issue on the Anthropocene in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, indicate its value in providing a planetary platform for discussion. These contributions document the epochal degree in hardly more than a century to which earth’s surface is being made over, and then advocate imperative remediations so in our insensate excess we do not terminally destroy it (an apocalyptic summer?).

Zalasiewicz, Jan, et al. The Working Group on the Anthropocene: Summary of Evidence and Interim Recommendations. Anthropocene. 19/55, 2017. In common usage, the Anthropocene refers to a time interval marked by rapid but profound and far-reaching change to the Earth’s geology, currently driven by various forms of human impact. (1) Some 26 senior authors such as Paul Crutzen and Will Steffen review this continuing sensible project to fully understand and define this crucial latest era.

Zalasiewicz, Jan, et al, eds. The Anthropocene as a Geological Time Unit: A Guide to the Scientific Evidence and Current Debate. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Into the 21st century, this concept of a late historic era due to the populous industrial, technological, citified, resource-consuming, energy-burning human species has gained common use. The collection gathers many Earth system studies by which to certify a true evolutionary stage beyond the Holocene (12,000 years ago to circa 1950). Among its seven sections are History and Development as a Stratigraphic Concept, Biostratigraphic Signatures, The Technosphere and its Physical Record, and Climate Change, with authoritative entries by Will Steffen, Colin Waters, Naomi Oreskes, Mark Williams, Jacques Grinevald, and many more. We note The Technosphere and its Relation to the Anthropocene by Peter Haff which argues that a common, willful intention will be vital to mitigate and sustain.

The anthroposphere encompasses the total human presence throughout the Earth system including our culture, technology, built environment, and associated activities. The anthroposphere complements the term anthropocene – the age within which the anthroposphere developed. Some mark this age as beginning with the advent of agriculture, others with the industrial revolution. A growing movement within the geological community is considering establishing the anthropocene as a new geologic era, possibly starting around 1950. In physical terms, the anthroposphere is comprised of the cities, villages, energy and transportation networks, farms, mines, and ports. It also encompasses books, software, blueprints, and communication systems - the mark of civilization. (Aspen Global Change Institute)

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