Preliminary Notes on the Anthropocene. A Vision 1

Tim Storrier, The Night Run (Star Trail) 2007

[Another attempt on my part to understand where we may be and where we may be going as a species on this planet. Have tried to make it as as compressed as possible, at times aphoristic. Part 2 shall follow.]

Preliminary notes on the Anthropocene. A Vision

Of the future we know nothing, of the past little, of the present less; the mirror is too close to our eyes, and our breath dims it.
– Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864)

In order to see our own epoch, it is necessary to step back from it and view it with a bifocal lens: that of the trajectory of its past and the potential of its future.

Humanity’s three great ecological leaps, the agricultural, urban-civilizational and industrial revolutions, have occurred during the last 12,000-year geological period called the Holocene.

The Holocene is now being replaced by a new geological period termed the Anthropocene (Paul Crutzen).

The Anthropocene denotes the fact that since the industrial revolution humanity has increasingly become an energetic, chemical, atmospheric, oceanic, geological force on a planetary scale.

Due to its use of fossil fuels, humanity now shifts much more soil and rock in just one year than the planet’s rivers and glaciers have shifted in all of geological history.

Humanity’s energy use is now about a third that of the heat released by continental plate tectonics and equivalent to the explosion of a Hiroshima bomb every four seconds.

Humanity’s use and transformation of fossil fuels has disrupted and poisoned planetary biogeochemical cycles in all domains of the soil, biota, air, freshwater and ocean systems.

For the first time, the majority of humanity now lives in cities, disconnected from food production, largely alienated from nature.

The obscurest epoch is today.
– Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 -1894)

In our epoch the ecological constraints and resources that enabled the Anthropocene are, however, peaking: global oil production peaked in 2006. Global population, other fossil fuels, water use, phosphorous production, grain and fish harvests are also peaking.

From global peaks there is no way but down. The Party of affluent resource consumption is over. The post-carbon Anthropocene will be very different to the carboniferous one.

Within the last few decades humanity has overshot global carrying capacity.

In this transition from the Holocene to the Anthropocene, we are at a pivotal turning point in both human and planetary evolution.

What we now do or fail to do as a species will determine planetary and human well-being for centuries, or possibly millennia, to come.

We have previously often seen ourselves, as a species, as spiritually one with nature and humanity. Now we are materially, literally, one.

The previously esoteric has become exoteric. The ramifications for our very identities are profound.

Denying our oneness with nature and humanity for millennia, we have now been dragged into oneness materially, whether we like it or not.

The ongoing and accelerating genetic merging of races and the increasing creative hybridization of cultures into a nascent world culture (e.g. the internet, ‘world music’) are material expressions and pre-figurations of the One World we objectively are and have always, spiritually, been.

However, there is a huge cultural lag between what is objectively the case on a global level (the One World of material interdependence), what is objectively needed to prevent ecocide (One World consciousness and action) and the current subjective consciousness of global majorities.

Even sleeping men are doing the world’s business and helping it along.
– Heraclitus (540-480 BCE)

Capitalism is, and has always been, a dialectical process of enclosures, expropriation and privatization on the one hand, and boundary destruction, globalizing and universalizing on the other.

Via this dialectical process, the great historical motor of separation and fragmentation, capitalist globalization, has become the motor of potential unification and oneness.

On the individual level, the future lineaments of an emerging ‘universal individual’ and ‘individualist universalism’, incorporating and transcending local and national characteristics and cultures, are becoming clearly discernible.

Now that we, not as individuals but as a species, have become objectively what we have always denied being and projected outwards onto an abstract entity called God, we had better become good at it.

When we realise our responsibilities and constraints as a ‘God-Species’, the Anthropocene will move from an unconscious and catastrophic one to a conscious and liberated one.

Once again living on a solar-based energy budget and honouring the basal miracle of plant photosynthesis, the guiding insight of the human ‘God-Species’ will be the paradox of humbly realising the inherent limits of its knowledge and actions and its embeddedness in the greater earth household.

The Anthropocene is now the planet’s way of regulating itself through the human ‘God-species’ which is neither omniscient, omnipotent nor autonomous but fallible, relational and disputational.

Paradoxically, the human ‘God-species’ realises it is an Unknown God, as ultimately unknown as the universe and we ourselves are to ourselves.

The human ‘God-species’ is not an entity but a never-ending process, an internal-external becoming, a paradoxical exfoliating into what it essentially is, like the tree from the tree-within-the-seed that came from the tree; however, in contrast to the tree, we as this ‘God-species’ process never arrive at some final point but are always both about-to-arrive and already there.

God is not a Christian.
– Bishop Desmond Tutu (b. 1931)

In practical terms, the liberated Anthropocene will see the relational wisdom of less replace the narcissistic ignorance of more.

The liberated Anthropocene will see the transition from the capitalist reign of the commodity, the total market and quantity to the reign of use value, free exchange and quality.

The science and art of ecology, the human expression, translation and interpretation of the earth’s language, has for the first time provided a unifying, albeit contested, global language with which we as a species can organize ourselves into our conscious Anthropocene.

This unifying socio-ecological language, like this text itself, is not a purely personal product but the collective expression and result of a spatial, temporal and cognitive interdependence stretching back through human and planetary evolution to the beginnings of the universe.

The Anthopocene can be seen as the planet’s way of kicking us into oneness by releasing its own buried plant energy via humanity’s use of fossil fuels in industrialisation.

Unrestricted and unmanaged in the form of the present unconscious Anthropocene of industrial capitalism, however, this release means climate chaos, civilizational collapse, resource wars and social regression into militarised and authoritarian police states.

Ecologically and sociologically, there is no ‘one humanity’. There are only the powerful and powerless, order-givers and order-takers, the rich and the poor, consumers and subsisters, each consuming vastly different amounts of planetary resources and ‘ecological space’.

The ecocide of humanity’s mounting ecological debt and deficit is due to unfair consumption by the wealthy and powerful, not the sheer numbers of the poor and powerless.

This unfair consumption is the ecological injustice that mirrors classical social injustice. It is a result and driver of the power relations of world capitalism, i.e. market economies channelling resources to those with money and capital.

A post-capitalist eco-society will thus need to be based on the re-distributive justice of the ‘fair earth share’, i.e. the equal share of resources and emissions that each person can consume each year within the limits of global and bioregional carrying capacity.

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.
– James Joyce

Apart from totalitarian market economies, the unconscious Anthropocene consists of capitalist elites seeking to ‘solve’ the problems their system creates by playing patriarchal God with all the hubris of their demonic engineering: planetary geo-engineering, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, carbon sequestration, nuclear power ‒ all seek to further ignore and violate the ecological laws and constraints of outer and inner nature.

The trajectory of the profit drive of capitalist civilization is to replace nature with a dead, artificial world, an image of itself as generalized commodity. Post-capitalist eco-democracy seeks to listen to, work with and embrace nature as its own other.

Capitalist communication technologies are now neurologically ‘re-wiring’ us into both the potential depth of ‘universal individuals’ and the shallows of distracted talking commodities (‘brands’) no longer able to follow complex reasoning or stringently think for ourselves.

The liberated Anthropocene will be neither televised nor tweeted.

Industrial capitalism’s unconscious Anthropocene is pervaded by the technocratic hubris of domination, power-over and the mechanistic, reductionist mindset. The liberated unconscious Anthropocene is pervaded by the humility of ecological wisdom, power-with and an organismic, holistic mindset.

Industrial capitalism’s unconscious Anthropocene is ecocidal and totalitarian: abstract, homogenizing, repressive of ecological and cultural difference.

Yet within this repressive Anthropocene we can, as a consciously acting species, liberate its potential for free, voluntary interdependence: specific, qualitative oneness in-and-through-diversity.

MacDonalds and Walmart express the localized homogenization of abstract globalization. Post-capitalist eco-democracy will be the conscious and free globalization of localized difference.

~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on July 7, 2011.

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