Por Katarzyna Olga Beilin
The Anthropocene (from Greek Anthropos – “man” and kainos: “recent or new”) is a concept coined by specialists in Earth System Sciences in the 2000s that describes the recent epoch in time as marked by human transformation of biospheric processes including, but not limited to, climate change (Crutzen, Paul J. and Eugene F. Stoermer, 2000; will Steffen, 2007). Historians of science Christophe Bonneuil and Jean Baptiste Fressoz (2016) document that the idea was already present in the last two centuries, but it has become mainstream as the danger of climate change materialized at the threshold of the 21st century. According to Steffen et al, (2011) and Jan Zalasiewicz (2008), the end of the preceding geological epoch, the Holocene, and the beginning of the Anthropocene correspond to the Industrial Revolution around 1800. William Ruddiman (2013, 2015) argues, however, that the beginning of this epoch should be dated 8 thousand years ago when human agriculture became dominant.
It has been contested whether the Anthropocene is indeed the best term to describe our times. Critics of the concept (Donna Haraway, 2015, 2016; Jason Moore, 2017; Raj Patel and Jason Moore, 2017, Elmar Altvater at al, 2016) argue that not all the people contribute equally to the degradation of Earth ecosystems, since various communities indeed have lived sustainably and perhaps we all could. These scholars suggest that not humans as a species, but rather Eurocentric petro-capitalism (Imre Szeman, 2017) and rampant consumerism based on colonial unjust dynamics between the global North and the global South are responsible for the destructive transformations of the planetary systems. The concept of the Capitalocene would be then, according to those thinkers, a better name for the degradation of world systems caused by a voracious human economy in constant pursuit of profit and growth at the expense of the biosphere.
Apart from the anthropogenic climate change, the Anthropocene/Capitalocene is marked by dramatic biodiversity loss, known as the Sixth Extinction (Elizabeth Kolbert, 2016) or the Anthropocene defaunation. Other processes include deforestation and ocean acidification, the fast growth of the global population, especially in the cities, the corresponding growth of animal farming (Tony Weis, 2013), the use of fossil fuels (Imre Szeman, 2017), the persistent “car culture” (see Sobre ruedas. Dir Oscar Clemente), the overwhelming growth of waste and the often-invisible presence of toxicity (Michelle Murphy, 2006). The Italian scholar Marco Armiero (2017), reflecting on waste and toxicity spreading over the globe, suggested an alternative concept of the Wastocene. The presence of plastics–and especially the plastic oceanic gyres–led Ian Lowe (2018) to argue that our time should be called the Plasticene, and the monocrop-agriculture phenomenon made a group of scholars coin the term Plantationocene (Haraway, 2015). Finally, the homogenization of landscapes, cultures, and lifestyles was described by Charles C. Mann (2011) as the Homogenocene. All these most destructive trends dramatically intensified around the 1950s, the period when the most recent part of the Anthropocene, called the Great Acceleration, began (Steffen at al, 2015, see also http://www.anthropocene.info/).
In her last book, Haraway (2016) proposed to think of our epoch not only as the time of destruction and losses, but also as a time when people search for alternative ways to live, and establish a new balance with nature by building what she calls “mixed assemblages” that include human and nonhuman forms of life. Indeed, the awareness of the Anthropocene/Capitalocene, of the peak of petroleum use and, in Europe, also of the economic crisis of 2008, brought to life a number of new social movements transforming local economic cultures, often based on local currencies, such as Towns in Transitions (Beilin, 2016; 2019), Ecovillages, and Coops.
The concept of the Anthropocene has had a deep significance for the humanities, the sciences, and indeed their mutual relations. Chicago historian, Dipesh Chakrabarty (2009) famously states that the Anthropocene forces humanities back to Earth showing that the freedom which the humanities imagined is dependent on the environment. Noel Castree (2014), Sverker Sörlin (2012), and others call for intensifying collaborations between the sciences and humanities to better understand and transform the culture, economy, and science responsible for the anthropogenic processes. Environmental Humanities was born as an interdisciplinary platform to bridge between different disciplines that work on the problems of the Anthropocene (Robin, 2018) and that have since become one of the forefronts of change in the Academia.
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