No Need to Make an Anthropo-Scene

   The human impact on the planet has come on so suddenly and with such force, that many stratigraphers believe that we have entered a new epoch: the Anthropocene or “The Age of Man” (Kolbert, 2011). This proposed new age begins not with the rise of the genus Homo or even with the emergence of H. sapiens specifically, but with what scientists refer to as the Great Acceleration (Steffen et. al, 2007, pg. 617). With the Great  Acceleration came electricity, industry, modern medicine, and as a result, a booming human population. These factors have placed significant strain on the environment, especially when it comes to pollution. Though we are indeed living in an exceptional time, I find myself siding with Malm in regards to the term “Anthropocene”, as I feel it’s somewhat of a misnomer.  “But Rebecca,” I hear a couple of you saying. “Weren’t you the same person who wrote that humanity is collectively responsible for the state of the planet?” As a matter of fact, I am. But after giving it some thought, I now believe that I was mistaken in my initial assessment. As Malm explains, that line of thinking only abstracts the problem. We are essentially taking eight billion faces and congealing them into a single, faceless entity; something so intangible that we have no hope of stopping it. Logically speaking, not everyone is to blame for carbon emissions. In many cases, it is a small group of people calling the shots. Take the British imperialists’ invasion of Northern India. Upon their arrival, “they stumbled on coal seams that were, to their great amazement, already known to the natives — indeed, the Indians had the basic knowledge of how to dig, burn, and generate heat from coal. And yet they cared nothing for the fuel.” (Malm, 2015)  The actions of a few affecting the many continues to this day. A single mother in Ghana nor a nomad in Mongolia nor a little boy in an Indian slum holds a candle to Americans when it comes to energy consumption. Even then, surely not every American is to blame for the state we’re in, right? As such, it would seem that referring to the modern era as the “Anthropocene” is too broad to readily pinpoint the issue. We’re observing bacteria with a telescope, so to speak. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely opposed to a holistic approach. Without such an approach, we would’ve never understood the relationship between the carbon dioxide and its effect on Earth’s various biomes, and by that extent, those biomes’ effects on one another. I’m simply worried that if we overlook the finer details, we might miss something important, perhaps even vital to uncovering the solution to our overwhelming problems. Initially, I was going to suggest that we refer to this new epoch as the “Industricene” instead, thereby placing the blame on industry’s shoulders. But as I thought it over, I soon realized that this term could easily become a gross generalization much in the same way “Anthropocene” is. I have to wonder if these labels are part of the problem. Labels help us categorize, but they also run the risk of simplifying complex concepts. As Dr. Whitlock went over in her presentation, she found people were more apt to listen to her when she referred to climate change as “the changing climate”. I believe this is because the term “climate change”  has become a label in the realm of politics, whereas “the changing climate” has not. Avoiding politics generally makes people more open to discussion, and therefore more likely to cooperate on an issue. In conclusion, I would vote “no” because I don’t think we need more generalizations. What we need is specificity.

 

   The biggest problem with people becoming deeply rooted in their own opinions and sense of rationality is that it creates an echo chamber. Progress is difficult thing to make when you only listen to like-minded people, as you’re only looking at an issue from a single perspective. Multiple points of view are beneficial because they help us understand a problem from every possible angle, and as a result, opens us up to a vast array of solutions. Although she fully accepts climate change as reality, Dr. Cathy Whitlock knows that she needs to take a different approach when addressing the opposition.  She does this by bringing up issues such as diminishing snowpack, drought, wildfires, and increasing population into her presentations. Why? Because these are all problems specifically concerning Montana. By explaining how climate change exacerbates these issues, she is giving Montanans something that’s easier to digest than say, dying coral reefs or coastal flooding. Alternatively, Floridians care far more about flooding than drought, meaning that Dr. Whitlock would probably tailor her speech to Florida’s concerns if she chose to present there. An idea I have that kind of plays off Dr. Whitlock’s approach involves interactive kiosks. As kiosks are become more prominent, I think it’s worth utilizing the technology to educate people without necessarily talking down to them.  Using a touchscreen, people could select where they live, their hobbies, what they like to eat, etc. For example, say you live in southern California, you love surfing, and can’t live without coffee. What this kiosk would do is take that information and organize it so that you could see exactly how climate change affects California, the Pacific ocean, and the coffee trade. In other words, you would know exactly how it affects you. These kiosks could then be placed in strategic areas such as train stations, airport lobbies, coffee shops, and really anywhere a large amount of people are going to be waiting around for awhile. While information is fine and dandy on its own, I think we could make these kiosks even more attractive by presenting the facts in a game format, like one of those old educational video games (think The Oregon Trail). I can’t think of anything specific off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are some very creative game developers that could come up with something interesting. I don’t think it would change minds necessarily, but perhaps it could provide enough fuel to keep the discussion going. Believe me, the last thing we need right now is for the discussion of climate change to die out.

 

Works Cited:

Kolbert, E. (2011, March). March 2011. Retrieved October 28, 2018, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2011/03/

Malm, A. (2015, March 30). The Anthropocene Myth. Retrieved October 28, 2018, from https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/03/anthropocene-capitalism-climate-change/

Steffen, W., Crutzen, P. J., & McNeill, J. R. (2007). The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature? Springer, 614-621. Retrieved October 28, 2018.

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