12 Keys to Responsibility in the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene idea originated with Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, who realized the impact that human activities were having on the atmosphere. The research that Crutzen conducted revealed how certain chemicals were depleting the Ozone layer. This information incited activists to fight for bans in the 1980s on chemicals that were being used in refrigerants and aerosol cans. It’s been encouraging to see that in the years since these changes were made, Ozone levels have been steadily increasing.

The significance of this finding led Crutzen to wonder about other ways that humans might be impacting the environment. As the list of his findings kept growing longer, Crutzen was led to the revolutionary idea that the influence of humanity on earth has reached a point that warrants its own geologic epoch: the “Anthropocene.”

In The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet Christian Schwägerl provides twelve key ideas as we move toward a more responsible and conscious Anthropocene:

  1. Redefining our sense of time

To get a sense of our place in the Anthropocene, we need to redefine our sense of time.

We find ourselves caught in an instantaneous flow of information, keeping us thinking in the short-term. Compared with the doomsdayism so typically associated with thinking of the environmental movement which doesn’t encourage much consideration for what the distant future will look like. By expanding our sense of time to include the long now, we can give our actions a deeper context.

When you get into a car today, you’re touching the deep past. The gasoline powering the vehicles we drive so casually was formed three hundred million years ago. At the same time, we’re also touching the deep future; fifty thousand years from now, carbon molecules released from your roadtrip will still be influencing the atmosphere.

  1. Cities that “think like a planet”

Marina Alberti shared this idea of ways that we have to include human civilization in our understanding of nature. Cities must learn to function as planetary ecosystems. That means more sustainable transportation systems, renewable energy sources, and locally grown sources of food.

Humans are involved in the cyclical system of the biosphere where everything comes back around. There’s nowhere that resources can be extracted from without an impact; there’s nowhere to dump waste materials where they’ll disappear.

  1. Turning agriculture into an ecosystem

The business of growing food and raising animals for human consumption now takes place on an area of land larger than the size of South America. We have to take measures to counteract the destruction of soils caused by pesticides and chemical fertilizers, reverse deforestation, and consider the influence that our personal dietary choices have on global.

  1. Making technology compostable

Technology that is compostable must become the new standard. The iPhone has elements from forty different mountains. When we consider the resources that we’re pulling as a society from the earth for our technology, we can start to respect the process. The biosphere has a recycling process built in, and the technosphere has to become integrated within it.

  1. Building a real sharing economy

When we consider the material level that people strive for around the world, and then multiply that by that number of humans currently on the planet it shows us that instead of fighting for resources, we need to be sharing them.

  1. Becoming energy-smart

We need to be using the energy we have more wisely. We need to be encouraging meaningful strides in innovation by investing in energy research.

  1. Becoming conscious about directed evolution

Humanity has been breeding animals and cultivating plants for over ten thousand years. More recently, innovations in biological technology provide humans with even greater level of power over evolutionary outcomes. Will the use of this power reflect an attitude of stewardship or of short-term capitalist interests?

  1. Developing an ethos of connectedness

Though the name ‘Anthropocene’ reflects on our species, it can serve to open us up to a greater sense of all of the other life forms we share this planet with. By putting human history into a context of natural history, it can increase our sense of connection with the planetary story.

  1. Making the economy a subset of ecology

The Anthropocene combines the spheres of economy and ecology. By putting economics into an ecological framework, we can adjust our perspective so that natural resources are not viewed as externalities, but as our true source of wealth.

  1. Linking our lifestyles with global phenomena

In the Anthropocene we can connect our daily choices with their global impact and reflect on the influence that those choices have. We can ask ourselves what we offer back to the earth every day. In this way we can consider what we give as a daily offering to the planet—is it the contents of our garbage can?

This idea can help focus us and motivate us by contextualizing the role each person has as an individual in this epoch.

  1. Building an internet of all things

We already have an internet that connects us with so many things in the world, from highly discounted products shipped right to our doorstep to an endless stream of cat pictures, but by creating an internet of all things we can brings in the interests of all life forms on earth. Perhaps such an internet could help us calculate the best actions to take now according to the interests of future generations.

  1. Revitalizing materialism

We generally think of ourselves as a materialistic culture, but are we really if we buy things to throw them away after one use? Companies build products with planned obsolescence, so that they stop working in just a few years and we buy new things. We have to provide incentives to make lasting, quality products rather than focusing on maximizing profits.;.

craft in the anthropocene

An artistic representation of a future plastic-laden fossil.

From Craft in the Anthropocene, by Yesenia Thibault-Picazo

Every choice, every action has an influence on the rest of life on earth. The globalization of our society has such a far reach that the contents of our refrigerators span continents, oftentimes without our even realizing their exotic origins. The Anthropocene reflects a change in our consciousness as we realize our role as the dominant force on the planet. As we come to appreciate this power, we must consider how to be democratic in considering the interests of future generations as well as those who are most vulnerable to climate change but may not have as strong of a voice in the plutocratic political structures that are currently in place.

As we face the possibilities of this new epoch, we should remain optimistic. The Anthropocene is an open idea. It’s an idea that presents us with a wide range of challenges at the same time that it imbues us with the agency to shift the course of life on earth. As we begin to acknowledge the reality of our role as planetary stewards, we can start by bringing mindfulness to the choices that shape our lives and intention to the actions that will shape our world.

To read more on this radical investigation of our global situation, pick up your own copy of The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet in our bookstore.

35% More (Solar) Power

This futuristic-looking glass orb harnesses 35% more of the Sun’s energy than now-familiar solar panels. A rotating glass orb focuses concentrated sunlight onto a small surface of solar panels, while tracking the sun’s position in the sky. This is an aesthetically pleasing example of the possibilities of the future of solar power, and an example of the potential harmony between technology and nature that author Christian Schwägerl describes in our newest title: The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet.

You can read more about it here.

Barbarians or Stewards?

Synergetic Press Anthropocene author Christian Schwagerl, from a March 17, 2012 talk in Amsterdam, exploring the central thesis to his book, asks the question:”how will we be remembered by our children, as barbarians who looted our own home, or as planetary stewards?”

Watch video here.

Good News About the Bad News

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a comprehensive report concerning the human impacts of climate change. R. K. Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC. ““We have the means to limit climate change… the solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change.”

We are pleased to see that this critical issue is being addressed as a human-caused topic at the international level.

Here’s a link to the full report that was issued on November 5, 2014.

Here’s a link to same report’s summary statement.

Nine Tipping Points

Climatestate.com posted this article on March 24, 2014, where they cite nine ‘tipping points’ to indicate our recent entry into the Anthropocene.

They are:

  • Climate change
  • Ocean acidification
  • Ozone depletion
  • Atmospheric aerosol loading
  • Phosphorus and nitrogen cycles
  • Global freshwater use
  • Land system change
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Chemical pollution

You can read the entire article here.

Welcome to the (Fabulous) Anthropocene?!

Some perplexing questions being asked by a November 10, 2013 New York Times “Opinionator” article by Roy Scranton about the Anthropocene.

He makes parallels between his recent experience during a military tour of duty, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in terms of broken human infrastructures and its attendant chaos.


Excerpts include:

The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.

The greatest challenge the Anthropocene poses may be to our sense of what it means to be human.

If homo sapiens (or some genetically modified variant) survives the next millenniums, it will be survival in a world unrecognizably different from the one we have inhabited.

Geological time scales, civilizational collapse and species extinction give rise to profound problems that humanities scholars and academic philosophers, with their taste for fine-grained analysis, esoteric debates and archival marginalia, might seem remarkably ill suited to address. After all, how will thinking about Kant help us trap carbon dioxide?

You can find the link to the entire article here.