Key Terms of the Anthropocene
The geological span of time in which humans become geological agents. Paul J. Crutzen, Nobel Prize winning atmospheric chemist and environmental journalist Christian Schwägerl here, in Living in the Anthropocene: Toward a New Global Ethos, claim “the Anthropocene — human dominance of biological, chemical and geological processes on Earth — is already an undeniable reality” and we are currently living “on a planet that is being anthroposized at high speed.”
“The conversion of open spaces, landscapes, and natural environments by human action” (via Wiki)
An unofficial era of geologic time that marks humans—by their very existence—as a geologic entity. Coined by the Italian priest and geologist Antonio Stoppani in his 1873 text, Corso di Geologia, the anthropozoic era differs from the anthropocene epoch by not only referring to a different order of time (an era, as opposed to an epoch), but also by defining humans as constituting a geologic force on a fundamental level; the anthropocene, in constrast, merely suggests that humans became a geologic force around 1800, alongside the Industrial Revolution. As Stoppani writes, “The first trace of man marks the beginning of the Anthropozoic era” (translated in Making the Geologic Now 41).
Causality (or, Radical Causality)
In Timothy Morton’s new book, Realist Magic, Morton proposes a radical sort of reordering of the concept of causality that might interest us as Anthropocene thinkers:
“Realist Magic is an exploration of causality from the point of view of object-oriented ontology. I argue that causality is wholly an aesthetic phenomenon. Aesthetic events are not limited to interactions between humans or between humans and painted canvases or between humans and sentences in dramas. They happen when a saw bites into a fresh piece of plywood. They happen when a worm oozes out of some wet soil. They happen when a massive object emits gravity waves. When you make or study art you are not exploring some kind of candy on the surface of a machine. You are making or studying causality. The aesthetic dimension is the causal dimension. It still astonishes me to write this, and I wonder whether having read this book you will cease to be astonished or not.”
The concept that, although every country has a responsibility to mitigate climate change, some countries have a greater responsibility. As Sha Zukung, the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, writes in the preface to World Economic and Social Survey 2009: Promoting Development and Saving the Planet: “The climate crisis is the result of the very uneven pattern of economic development that evolved over the past two centuries, which allowed today’s rich countries to attain their current levels of income, in part through not having to account for the environmental damage now threatening the lives and livelihoods of others.” In other word, climate justice recognizes the intersection of climate change and western imperialism, asserting that more affluent countries (i.e. the early industrialized) should contribute a greater amount of resources to climate change solutions.
“There are no pre-constituted subjects or objects, and no single sources, unitary actors, or final ends. In Judith Butler’s terms, there are only ‘contingent foundations’; bodies that matter are the result. A bestiary of agencies, kinds of relatings, and scores of time trump the imaginings of even the most baroque cosmologists. For me, that is what companion species signifies…. [It is] about a fourpart composition, in which co-constitution, finitude, impurity, historicity, and complexity are what is” (6-16). Haraway, Donna. The Companion Species Manifesto, Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003.
See also Anna Tsing, “Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species”
Compostmodern is a conference where global ‘visionaries’ gather to posit designs, structures, and infrastructures for more Resilient design. Their questions seem useful not simply for physical designs but also perhaps for our more metaphysical concerns:
- How can we envision and design social, ecological and economic systems that strengthen society and meet our increasing challenges?
- How can we apply radical creativity and imagination to remodel and renew systems?
- How do we retain optimism in the face of disruptive change?
- How do we live as more fully embodied human beings?
- How do we move toward doing work that has more meaning?
Some of us might too find their Living Principles Words To Know terrifically useful.
A mode of thought/orientation in Morton’s The Ecological Thought concerned with confronting “anti-ecological” thought and embracing uncertainty (often through a turn to art) which allows us to move beyond normal categories of being.
Timothy Morton. The Ecological Thought. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010. p. 59.
“We imagine we still live back on that old planet, that the disturbances we see around us are the old random and freakish kind. But they’re not. It’s a different place. A different planet. It needs a new name. Eaarth. Or Monnde, or Tierrre, Errde, оккучивать. It still looks familiar enough— we’re still the third rock out from the sun, still three-quarters water. Gravity still pertains; we’re still earth like. But it’s odd enough to constantly remind us how profoundly we’ve altered the only place we’ve ever known. I am aware, of course, that the earth changes constantly, and that occasionally it changes wildly, as when an asteroid strikes or an ice age relaxes its grip. This is one of those rare moments, the start of a change far larger and more thoroughgoing than anything we can read in the records of man, on a par with the biggest dangers we can read in the records of rock and ice.” (McKibben, Bill (2010-04-07). Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (pp. 2-3). St. Martin’s Griffin. Kindle Edition
The Ecological Thought
“…the thinking of interconnectedness. The ecological thought is a thought about ecology, but it’s also a thinking that is ecological… It’s a practice and a process of becoming fully aware of how human beings are connected with other beings– animal, vegetable, or mineral.” The ecological view “is a vast, sprawling, mesh of interconnection without a definite center or edge. It is radical intimacy, coexistence with other beings, sentient and otherwise– and how can we so clearly tell the difference? The ecological thought fans out into questions concerning cyborgs, artificial intelligence, and the irreducible uncertainty over what counts as a person.”
From Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2010). pp. 7-8.
Ecosphere: “In ecology the term ecosphere can refer to the Earth’s spheres, a planetary ecosystem consisting of the atmosphere, the geosphere (lithosphere), the hydrosphere, and the biosphere. In astronomy an ecosphere is an imaginary shell of space surrounding stars where conditions are such that life might survive. See habitable zone. Ecosphere (aquarium) is a water filled sealed glass ball containing living algae and shrimp in a stable miniature ecosystem.” (via wiki)
“An ecotone is a transition area between two biomes. It is where two communities meet and integrate. It may be narrow or wide, and it may be local (the zone between a field and forest) or regional (the transition between forest and grassland ecosystems). An ecotone may appear on the ground as a gradual blending of the two communities across a broad area, or it may manifest itself as a sharp boundary line. The word ecotone was coined from a combination of eco(logy) plus -tone, from the Greek tonos or tension – in other words, a place where ecologies are in tension.” (via wiki)
Esperanza Spalding (feat. Lalah Hathaway)–Endangered Species (from the album Radio Music Society [Cleveland: Heads Up International, 2012]) [lyrics]
A unit or subdivision of geological time that is more precise than a geological period and broader than a geological age. For example, the Quaternary Period—which spans 2.6 million years ago to the present—is presently divided into two epochs: the Pleistocene Epoch and the Holocene Epoch. If officially recognized, the Anthropocene would become the name of the epoch in which we now live.
“There are two different ways in which the human species could become extinct: one, by evolving or developing or transforming into one or more new species or life forms, sufficiently different from what came before so as no longer to count as Homo sapiens; the other, by simply dying out, without any meaningful replacement or continuation. […] What distinguishes extinction and other existential catastrophes is that a comeback is impossible.” This means that true extinction occurs only when no Homo sapiens are left alive anywhere in the universe. (Bostrom, Nick. “The Future of Humanity” (pp. 9, 11). www.nickbostrom.com)
“There are four external factors, agents of climate change called climate forcings, that can warm or cool the climate. (1) Greenhouse gases are the obvious one. Another is (2) sulfur from coal burning, which forms a haze in the atmosphere reflecting sunlight back to space to cool the Earth. And two natural climate forcings are (3) volcanic eruptions and (4) changes in the intensity of the Sun. Records of past changes in these climate forcings have been pieced together from measurements in ice cores.” (Archer, David (2008-10-06). The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate (Science Essentials) (pp. 37-38). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition).
“I will try to convince you that human climate forcing has the potential to overwhelm the orbital climate forcing, taking control of the ice ages. Mankind is becoming a force in climate comparable to the orbital variations that drive the glacial cycles.” (Archer, David (2008-10-06). The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate (Science Essentials) (p. 6). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)
An architecture for Anthropocene Art? “A hypersurface is a new theory of liquid-embodied architecture to displace the nostalgia and re-realization being carried into the spatial conceptions of new media technology…Hypersurface architecture is a way of thinking about architecture that does not assume rea/irreal, material/immaterial dichotomies. It is to consider an architecture prior to those assumptions, that entails a condition also prior to the assumption of a split between body-subject building.” Hypersurface Architecture, Stephen Perrella
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
A group of scientists created by the World Meteorological Organization whose task it is to “summarize and synthesize all the published scientific papers into coherent reports. The scientists who do the actual work for IPCC are mostly employed by universities and national research laboratories around the world… Working Group I of the IPCC writes the Scientific Assessment reports, while Working Group II reports on Impacts of climate change, and III on Mitigation (reducing CO2 emissions, mostly). The most recent IPCC reports were released in spring of 2007.”
Archer, David. The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. 22.
In his “Love Your Monsters” (2012), Bruno Latour writes that our (ecological) sin is “not that we created technologies but that we failed to love and care for them.” Invoking our contemporary admiration (and faulty modern mis-remembering) of Shelley’s monstrous classic, Latour compares our current condition to that of Dr. Frankenstein’s “And just as we have forgotten that Frankenstein was the man, not the monster, we have also forgotten Frankenstein’s real sin. Dr. Frankenstein’s crime was not that he invented a creature through some combination of hubris and high technology, but rather that he abandoned the creature to itself.”
Latour recognizes the deep entanglement – which some (see Simondon, Hansen, Stiegler, for instance) might call co-evolution or originary technicity – between man and machine and calls us not to reject the machine – for this is both an impossibility and a misguided target – but to rethink the ways we use and abuse it. He believes the task involves not rejection but deeper attachment, not destruction but a more deliberate follow through: “This challenge” Latour says, “demands more of us than simply embracing technology and innovation. It requires exchanging the modernist notion of modernity for what I have called a “compositionist” one that sees the process of human development as neither liberation from Nature nor as a fall from it, but rather as a process of becoming ever-more attached to, and intimate with, a panoply of nonhuman natures.“
I’m wondering here finally if perhaps the Interspecies Internet is such a care-taking mechanism? Is integrating the nonmachinic nonhuman into the media ecology created between man and machine (and ‘thing‘) a technodigital-Latourian iteration of “becoming ever-more attached to, and intimate with, a panoply of nonhuman natures”?
The Interspecies Internet, recently launched by cognitive psychologist Diana Reiss, musician Peter Gabriel, MIT’s Neil Gershenfeld and Google VP Vint Cerf at TED2013, seeks ”to think about how you integrate the rest of the biomass of the planet into the internet.” The project is an experiment in “beginning to learn how to communicate with species that are not us, but share a sensory environment. …[in] [figuring out] what it means to communicate with something that’s not a person.” (TED2013) Is this monstrous or interspecies synchronicity?
“The ecological thought imagines interconnectedness, which I call the mesh. Who or what is interconnected with what or with whom? The mesh of interconnected things is vast, perhaps immeasurably so. Each entitiy in the mesh looks strange. Nothing exists all by itself, and so nothing is fully ‘itself’. There is curiously ‘less’ of the universe at the same time, and for the same reasons, as we see ‘more’ of it. Our encounter with other beings becomes profound” (15). Morton, Timothy. The Ecological Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2010. Print.
Multispecies ethnography“Creatures previously appearing on the margins of anthropology — as part of the landscape, as food for humans, as symbols — have been pressed into the foreground in recent ethnographies. Animals, plants, fungi, and microbes once confined in anthropological accounts to the realm of zoe or “bare life” — that which is killable — have started to appear alongside humans in the realm of bios, with legibly biographical and political lives.” Kirksey, S. Eben and Stefan Helmreich. “The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography.” Cultural Anthropology 25.4 (2010): 545. (mo)
Dipesh Chakrabarty’s term for the (non)human as a form of life in the Anthropocene, corresponding to the human’s capacity as a geological force, its “capacity to move things.”
“The nonhuman, forcelike mode of existence of the human tells us that we are no longer simply a form of life that is endowed with a sense of ontology…. A geological force — for that is what in part we are in our collective existence — is neither subject nor object. A force is the capacity to move things. It is pure, nonontological agency.” Chakrabarty, Dipesh. “Postcolonial Studies and the Challenge of the Anthropocene.” New Literary History 43 (2012): 13.
Also called the anthroposphere, noösphere refers to the anthropogenic conversion of the biosphere into a human-dominated Earth system. An antecedent concept to the Anthropocene, the term originated in 1920s France with the meeting of three scholars: Vladimir Vernadsky (Russian naturalist who originated the field of biogeochemistry), Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (French geologist, Jesuit priest, and evolutionary philosopher), and Edouard Le Roy (French Catholic modernist, mathematician, and philosopher). Translating as “sphere of human thought,” the concept of the noösphere sees the Earth’s history as divided into three time periods: the geosphere, the biosphere, and the noösphere.
A philosophical concept in which a system is framed as a living organism, containing parts that work together to create a whole. In The Ecological Thought, Timothy Morton defines organicism as “an aesthetic image of a ‘natural’ fit between form and content and between parts and the whole” (23).
Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum Event (PETM)
“The most recent instance of a fast warming into a hothouse climate… 55 million years ago, the Paleocene Eocene thermal maximum event.” This was the last time in which the Earth warmed into a hothouse climate state. David Archer. The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.
In his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn defines paradigms as “universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners” (X). A paradigm shift occurs when the fundamental assumptions of a group of practitioners change. Jill Bennett broadens this definition in her book, Living in the Anthropocene, stating that the concept of the Anthropocene “is a framing concept for what its proponents represent as a paradigm shift. As defined by Thomas Kuhn, a paradigm shift is a revolutionary change in the basic assumptions underpinning a discipline or branch of science (in the strictest sense, it marks a break with ‘normal’ science such that the foundations of subsequent work are radically changed). A paradigm, however, is not simply a current theory, but an entire encompassing worldview” (6). The concept of a paradigm shift can therefore help conceptualize the rippling out of the Anthropocene from a specifically geologic term into cultural productions.
“1. Political ecology does not speak about nature and has never sought to do so. It has to do with associations of beings that take complicated forms–rules, apparatuses, consumers, institutions, mores, calves, cows, pigs, broods–and that it is completely superfluous to include in an inhuman and ahistorical nature. Nature is not in question in ecology: on the contrary, ecology dissolves nature’s contours and redistributes its agents.
2. Political ecology does not seeks to protect nature and has never sought to do so. Ont eh contrary, it seeks to take charge, in an even more complete and mixed fashion, of an even greater diversity of entities and destinies. if modernism claimed to be detached from the constraints of the world, ecology for its part gets attached to everything.
3. Political ecology has never claimed to serve nature for nature’s own good, for it is absolutely incapable of defining the common good of a dehumanized nature. It does much better than defend nature (either for its own sake or for the good of future humans). It suspends our certainties concerning the sovereign good of humans and things, ends and means” (21). Latour, Bruno. The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Trans. Catherine Porter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2004. Print.
In her landmark book How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, Katherine Hayles describes the “posthuman” as an emergent cultural phenomenon with several defining characteristics:
“First, the posthuman view privileges information pattern over material instantiation, so that embodiment in a biological substrate is seen as an accident of history rather than an inevitability of life. Second, the posthuman view considers consciousness, regarded as the seat of human identity in the Western tradition long before Descartes thought he was a mind thinking, as an epiphenomenon, as an evolutionary upstart trying to claim that it is the whole show when in actuality it is only a minor sideshow. Third, the posthuman view thinks of the body as the original prosthesis we all learn to manipulate, so that extending or replacing the body with other prostheses becomes a continuation of a process that we began before we were born. Fourth, and most important, bu these and other means, the posthuman view configures human being so that it can be seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines. In the posthuman there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals” (2-3).
Rob Nixon’s term for the incremental, “invisible” violence of ecological devastation in the Anthropocene. “By slow violence I mean a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all” (2). Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard UP, 2011.
In his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, Marx uses the term “species-being” [Gattungswesen] to refer not simply to the human’s singular form of consciousness, but to its ability to produce and transform the material world. The human is a species-being in the sense that it makes its life activity its object.
“It is not just in the working-up of the objective world, therefore, that man first really proves himself to be a species being. This production is his active species life. Through and because of this production, nature opens as his work and his reality. The object of labour is, therefore, the objectification of man’s species life: for he duplicates himself not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in reality, and therefore he contemplates himself in a world that he has created” (76). Marx, Karl. “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, Ed. R. Tucker, W. W. Norton, 1978.
Substance vs. Accident
In Aristotelian philosophy and Catholic theology, substance refers to that which exists in and of itself, whereas an accident refers to a descriptive quality or state of being. Accidents—such as height, color, weight, etc.—belong to substances. For example, if you see a brown dog, the individual being (i.e. the dog) constitutes the substance, while the fungible characteristic of the dog (i.e. its brownness) constitutes the accident. In The Companion Species Manifesto, Donna Haraway recognizes that “I hear in species the doctrine of the Real Presence under both species, bread and wine, the transubstantiated signs of the flesh. Species is about the corporeal join of the material and the semiotic…” (15-16). In other words, recognizing the theological meaning of species, Haraway is gesturing toward the Catholic belief in which species denotes the appearance (i.e. accident) of the consecrated bread and wine, such as the color, taste, and odor of the Eucharist. By doing so, among other rhetorical moves, Haraway claims the contingency of the concept of species, insofar as the Catholic definition of species refers to the accidents, or outward, physically discernable qualities, of the Eucharist.
“A location, a background against which our actions become significant.”
Timothy Morton puts forth this definition of “world” in order to argue that perhaps in the era of the Anthropocene, we have lost it. The fundamental interdependence and potential significance of everything around us can cause us to lose any sense of perspective or mooring. Morton compares this experience to schizophrenia and explains that in both cases, although “everything seems threateningly meaningful,” it becomes impossible to determine just what the meaning is.
From Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2010). p. 30.
Vibrant matter, via Jane Bennett, loosely paraphrased: Things have a thing-power, a vibrant independence, a not-quite-human capaciousness. There is a “vitality intrinsic to materiality” and nonhuman things, as well as human things, are agents in the human-nonhuman network/ecology that is life. (Vibrant Ecology, Bennett, p3)