Blaming humans and erasing history, the troubling issues with the Anthropocene
by mcaponci on October 7, 2016 - 7:20pm
This article focuses on the group of international scientists who believe that human impact has pushed our planet into a new geological epoch – one that they wish to term the ‘Anthropocene’, a concept that seeks to highlight the human induced changes to the planet. The studies conducted by scientists provide an overwhelming amount of evidence to support claims of population growth, increased consumption, and extreme technological change all contributing to this new epoch. It is the desire of many scientists to make the Anthropocene an official epoch to highlight the severity of humanity’s impact on the Earth, and with the recent increase in usage of the word, scientists are hoping the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) formally accept it.
There is absolutely no doubt that many humans have altered the Earth in irreparable ways at an alarming rate. This statement is one that is globally affirmed. However, to say that the human species has profoundly impacted the Earth is a misleading and inaccurate generalization. The word ‘anthropos’ in itself is the latin word meaning human. To claim this epoch as the epoch of humans is essentially blaming all humans, insinuating that all humans are the cause of this new geological phase. Given the fact that nearly 389 million people live on less than $2.00 a day, its not possible that their impact be equivalent to the that of the West.
The term Anthropocene bolsters the idea that humans are separate from nature, that one has impacted the other. To disengage humans and nature is to reinforce homocentric ideals– a very Western ideal and not one that reflects the species as a whole. This new geological epoch is not necessarily because of humans – rather it is a result of human actions and natural forces interacting with one another. This is not to say that humans are not responsible, just that they are not solely responsible.
The term in itself is also exceptionally vague, allowing for just about anyone to use and interpret the word and its meaning in whatever way they desire. This degree of vacuity fails to properly frame the reality and severity of the new epoch. With no clear definition and a high degree of uncertainty, a cognitive conflict is has risen amongst not only professionals in the field, but amongst anyone who has heard about this powerful new concept dubbed ‘Anthropocene’. Due to its lack of specificity, the term has become politically charged, allowing a range of influential groups to coopt this phrase and control the public discourse for their personal use and political agendas.
It is also important to consider the possibility that the current state of the Earth is less of a result from the entire human species and more of a product of the capitalist system. The capitalists system has always put economic gains at the forefront of its goals, leaving a path of destruction and unevenly distributed wealth and power behind it. Thus, it may be beneficial to explicitly blame the economic system rather than an entire species.
Anthropocene puts all humans universally under the gun for the impact only a portion of humans have caused. The term single handedly reinforces the notion that humans and nature are separate spheres – the very belief system that may have perhaps brought us into this new epoch to begin with. Anthropocene poses various challenges amongst the public with its ambiguity and fails to recognize the major role that the capitalist system plays. It’s time the top brass brainstormed actual solutions to the new epoch’s troubling issues rather than throw around indefinable terms for sake of starting controversy.
Vaughan, Adam. “Human Impact Has Pushed Earth into the Anthropocene, Scientists Say.” The Guardian, 11 Jan. 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/07/human-impact-has-pushed-earth-into-the-anthropocene-scientists-say. Accessed 6 Oct. 2016.