‘Human activities have become so pervasive and profound that they rival the great forces of Nature’ (Steffen, et al., 2007)
Through the rapacious consumption of fossil fuels, industrial activities and the destruction of forests, oceans and natural resources, humans have fundamentally changed basic Earth systems. This has occurred at such a scale and pace that Earth System scientists argue we are leaving the Holocene geological epoch and entering the more volatile ‘Anthropocene’. This is a period in which human activity has discernibly affected the Earth’s global functioning to such an extent it is now operating outside the range of any previous natural variability (Crutzen, 2002; Hamilton, 2015; Steffen, et al., 2007). These changes reduce the ‘safe operating space for humanity’ (Rockström, et al., 2009), and include: a likely step-change in the average temperature of the planet this century of around 4 degrees Celsius (New, et al., 2011); the sixth great species extinction in the geological record (Kolbert, 2014); the acidification of our oceans; the disruption of the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles; and the pollution of air and water with a range of chemical toxins (Whiteman, et al., 2013). Extreme weather events, sea-level rise, food and water shortages, and accompanying political conflicts and wars suggest that life this century for much of the planet’s population will be ugly, violent and precarious (Dyer, 2010). The implications for organizations and organizing could not be more profound. Continue reading Call for Papers: ‘Organizing and the Anthropocene’→
The declining diversity of our biological systems has been an on-going feature of human history. As we have developed ever more ingenious and efficient technologies to harness and exploit the natural world, so our impact on nature’s bounty has been crushing. One of the most emblematic examples of this process for me was reading Mark Kurlansky’s marvellous history Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. Once a bountiful species (so great in number that John Cabot famously proclaimed in the 1490s that men could walk across the backs of cod on the Grand Banks), Atlantic cod were by the 1990s decimated through the introduction of industrial fishing techniques. Indeed, recent human history is littered with similar examples of species decline and extinction as a result of our industry. Reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s recent book The Sixth Extinction, one of the most tragic is the story of the last great auk; powerful flightless birds that were hunted to extinction in the nineteenth century; the last breeding couple killed in an island off Iceland one June evening in 1844.
I stumbled on this debate on Twitter yesterday in a response by Clive Hamilton to a TED talk by Andy Revkin on ‘Charting Paths to a “Good” Anthropocene’. Andy’s talk stresses the potential for a more optimistic future by pointing to a number of cognitive and emotional strategies with which we can better adapt to the worsening climate crisis. Clive’s critique argues that this type of thinking is part of an emerging form of ‘ecopragmatism’ which promotes a hopelessly unrealistic vision of human capacity to adapt to the climate change pathways we will experience this century (this argument is further developed in an article that has just come out in Scientific American). Andy has responded, arguing that he doesn’t believe he and Clive are so far apart in terms of recognizing the very real dangers of the climate crisis and that he hopes those who have ‘bridled’ at his vision for a ‘good Anthropocene aren’t hoping for a bad one’!
Recently I came across this excellent short video of our likely climate future based on recent IPCC reviews. Produced by Globaia, this visualisation is quite effective in trying to comprehend the impact humanity is having upon the Earth’s climate and ecosystem at a global scale; popularised in the concept of the ‘Anthropocene‘.
In reviewing the current social debate around climate change, I’m often reminded of the similarities between our current climate crisis and popular culture references in books and film. There is a rich vein of dystopian literature and related movies that tap into this zeitgeist of environmental disaster, overpopulation and apocalypse (for a reflection on this see Kathryn Yusoff and Jennifer Gabrys’ article ‘Climate Change and the Imagination’).
…many have pointed out that my position allowed me to protect the environment. But that never sat well with me, especially as it relates to fossil fuels with their broad and wide externalities. After much introspection, and a couple of tears, I realized that an opinion like that is a flat view and it ignores the fact I have enabled interests that are contrary to human existence. It’s the enabling that drives us nuts. To this end, I now flatly refuse any work that deals with fossil fuels interests. It makes life much simpler for me and I suspect it will for others.
The complexity and pervasiveness of climate change sometimes make this a difficult subject to communicate. We are after all talking about the basic physics, chemistry and biology of our ecosystem and the way in which human activities are changing these in profound and fundamental ways; what some have termed a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene.
And yet, the physical and social implications of climate change are becoming daily more evident. One of the most powerful ways in which this can be conveyed is through visual imagery. For instance a growing procession of extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Sandy and its impact upon New York City have provided a multitude of powerful images of the micro realities of extreme weather and how even the centre of global capitalism is no match for a ‘climate on steroids‘.