Is the idea of an ‘Anthropocene’ a death sentence for the planet?
Aran Grover discusses how the term ‘Anthropocene’ speaks to our current environmental issues
Dipesh Chakrabarty’s ‘manifesto’ for the newest geological stage in the planet’s life cycle claims that the “age-old humanist distinction between natural history and human history”has dissolved. It goes without saying that the biosphere of the planet is very much affected by our excessive industrial output as a result of late-stage capitalism and the subsequent depletion of the Earth’s resources. Demonstrably then, we have entered a phase in our planet’s history, where the greatest geological effectors are humans, thus the term ‘Anthropocene’. Though this term may sound exciting, like a beacon of light slashing through a haze of cosmic pessimism and screaming as if to say, ‘now is the time, you can make a difference, you, a simple human’, it brings a newfound responsibility that we as a species may not be ready to accept.
This is a responsibility not only for our human lives, but the entire biosphere. It is arrogant of us to treat ourselves as the pinnacle of Earth’s evolutionary life in terms of importance. Due to our sophisticated civilisation structures, we take on a responsibility to maintain the planet for all lifeforms, “we are such chauvinistic metazoa” to deny any other lifeform their rights to live on this earth, and more specifically their habitat, which we are slowly destroying.
Our increasing carbon output and the rising temperature of the Earth is bringing about unsustainable change. The 2016 Paris Agreement made a target of limiting global temperature increase to below two degrees Celsius (compared to levels before the industrial revolution) by 2100. The ‘Point of No Return’ for this target, “the year after which even aggressive policy measures would be unlikely to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal by the end of the century”, was (in a worst case scenario) agreed to be 2026. If the target is to be 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Point of No Return has already passed.
With this then, surely policymakers and industry would be panicking and introducing drastic measures to preserve the climate? Evidently this is not the case. Earth Overshoot Day, the date when “humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate that year”, in 2020, fell on August 22nd. It was also calculated that we would need 1.6 planets to support our excessive demands of the biosphere. Change clearly isn’t happening fast enough, and industries don’t seem to care.
It was also calculated that we would need 1.6 planets to support our excessive demands of the biosphere
Fast fashion is an example of this. According to the World Bank “The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions”. Though this number is high, and its impacts are undeniable, this is not to say that everybody should be spending money on expensive sustainably sourced, second-hand, or vintage clothing. Shops like Primark, Asos, Shein, etc. all produce affordable clothing. It is not simply down to the consumer to choose to buy more ethically sourced clothing, but down to the producers of said clothing to make clothes more ethically. There will always be demand for cheap clothes, so if there are cheap clothes available people will buy them regardless of how they are made, so there’s no need to shame people for buying from these places.
The language associated with the internet also presents problems, it is seemingly designed to divert our attention away from the real-world impacts of our internet use. What is “The Cloud”? We think of it as an ethereal mist hanging over our heads, storing everything we could possibly want, infinite and reliable. This is far from reality. There is no magic realm where information is stored, it is a large network of interconnected servers all across the world, each requiring oodles of power to run and maintain, and each requiring more for every exchange of information made online. For example, a typical email will generate four grams of CO2 emissions, with an average-sized picture attachment, this increases to 50 grams. On average emails require 1.7 percent of the energy used when delivering a letter. Though this is so much smaller, there is a real-world impact of internet use which is, especially as of late, the dominant communicative system we use.
a typical email will generate four grams of CO2 emissions, with an average-sized picture attachment, this increases to 50 grams
So, are we expected to stop using the internet, stop buying clothes? Is there any way we can win? Well there’s not much use in asking such questions as it is almost entirely out of our hands. It is down to policymakers in government and companies to look past their profit incentives and unite in arms to fight the disaster we have created for ourselves. It doesn’t look particularly hopeful, so at the moment it seems like the existence of an Anthropocene spells a morbid collapse of the planet, conducted by the prized fruits of its life-giving qualities – us.
But is this really the case? Maybe one day policymakers will decide to put profits aside for the good of the planet and achieve the goals set out at the Paris Conference. We don’t know what the planet’s future will look like, of course not, but we can just try to be better. It doesn’t matter if we aren’t perfect, we’re simply human (for lack of a better word). It is not our job to be perfect, that’s why authoritative organisations (government) exist. Some things will be unavoidable, like using the internet, or driving long distances, or buying non-renewable plastics. Nobody should expect anything from anyone other than those who have control and thus responsibility.
With this then, don’t shame people for not being environmentally conscious, don’t force vegan propaganda down people’s throats, don’t try to shock people with ‘reality’ – don’t encourage the stereotypes of the ‘mad vegan’, don’t give the stubborn ones something to latch onto. I don’t want to sound preachy, though it may be a little late for that, but my point is just that most of the big changes are out of our hands, so it’s a waste of time trying to carry the weight of the collapsing environment on your shoulders, just relax and live your life, eat your tofu and lentils if you want to, but don’t feel bad for that once-in-a-blue-moon sirloin steak.
In response to the question of whether or not we are doomed, nobody can really answer that, so my advice is to not think about it too much, or better yet, not at all. Sorry if that conclusion disappoints you, but did you really expect anything more than the rambling thoughts of a 19-year-old student, jaded with critical readings and relentlessly bombarded with the problems of the world via social media?