No species has a more profound influence on the workings of our planet than Homo sapiens. In the atmosphere and oceans, on land and in ecosystems, the fingerprints of human activities have grown so obvious that many now refer to our time as the Anthropocene.
A special scientific committee charged with considering the evidence has recommended that geologists formally approve the designation of a new epoch. But authors from a variety of fields have already made their votes clear: The Anthropocene is now.
The descriptions of the 12 entries listed below are drawn from copy provided by the publishers.
Editor’s Note: Different geological ages are identified by recurring features that distinguish one sedimentary layer from the next, so scientists look for distinctive features in the sediments. The Anthropocene – or the age of the human – now is distinguishable from the Holocene by virtue of features consistently found in the sediments that have accreted in the past half-century-plus: nuclear isotopes, plastics, nitrogen compounds associated with human-made fertilizers, and isotopes of CO2 resulting from the burning of fossil fuels.
History of ideas
The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis: Rethinking Modernity in a New Epoch, edited by Clive Hamilton, Francois Gemenne, Christophe Bonneuil (Routledge 2015, 188 pages, $52.95 paperback)
If in the Anthropocene humans have become a force of nature, changing the functioning of the Earth system as volcanism and glacial cycles do, then it means the end of the idea of nature as no more than the inert backdrop to the drama of human affairs. It also means the end of the “social-only” understanding of human history and agency. These pillars of modernity are now destabilized. The scale and pace of the shifts occurring on Earth are beyond human experience and expose the anachronisms of “Holocene thinking.” Drawing on the expertise of world-recognised scholars and thought-provoking intellectuals, [this collection of essays] explores the challenges and difficult questions posed by the convergence of geological and human history.
The Birth of the Anthropocene, by Jeremy Davies (University of California Press 2016, 248 pages, $29.95)
The world faces an environmental crisis unprecedented in human history. Carbon dioxide levels have reached heights not seen for three million years, and the greatest mass extinction since the time of the dinosaurs appears to be underway. Such far-reaching changes suggest something remarkable: the beginning of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. The Birth of the Anthropocene shows how this epochal transformation puts the deep history of the planet at the heart of contemporary environmental politics. By opening a window onto geological time, the idea of the Anthropocene changes our understanding of present-day environmental destruction and injustice. Linking new developments in earth science to the insights of world historians, Jeremy Davies shows that as the Anthropocene epoch begins, politics and geology have become inextricably entwined.
The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945, by J.R. McNeill and Peter Engelke (Harvard University Press 2016, 288 pages, $19.95 paperback)
Before 1700, people used little in the way of fossil fuels, but over the next two hundred years coal became the most important energy source. When oil entered the picture, coal and oil soon accounted for seventy-five percent of human energy use. This allowed far more economic activity and produced a higher standard of living than people had ever known – but it created far more ecological disruption. We are now living in the Anthropocene. The period from 1945 to the present represents the most anomalous period in the history of humanity’s relationship with the biosphere. Three-quarters of the carbon dioxide humans have contributed to the atmosphere has accumulated since World War II ended, and the number of people on Earth has nearly tripled. Humans have dramatically altered the planet’s biogeochemical systems without consciously managing them. Where [this] might lead, no one can say for sure.
After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene, by Jedediah Purdy (Harvard University Press 2015, 326 pages, $29.95)
After Nature explores the competing traditions that still infuse environmental law and culture – a frontier vision of settlement and development, a wilderness-seeking Romanticism, a utilitarian attitude that tries to manage nature for human benefit, and a twentieth-century ecological view. Each has shaped landscapes that make its vision of nature real, from wilderness to farmland to suburbs – opening some new ways of living on the Earth while foreclosing others. The Anthropocene demands that we draw on all these legacies and go beyond them. With human and environmental fates now inseparable, environmental politics will become either more deeply democratic or more unequal and inhumane. Where nothing is pure, we must create ways to rally devotion to a damaged and ever-changing world.
New Earth Politics: Essays from the Anthropocene, edited by Simon Nicholson and Sikina Jinnah (The MIT Press 2016, 456 pages, $34.00 paperback)
The rate and scale of human-driven environmental destruction is quickly outstripping our political and social capacities for managing it. We are in effect creating an Earth 2.0 on which the human signature is everywhere. In this volume, prominent scholars and practitioners in the field of global environmental politics consider the ecological and political realities of life on the new earth. Arranged in complementary pairs, the essays in this volume include reflections on environmental pedagogy, analysis of new geopolitical realities, reflections on the power of social movements and international institutions, and calls for more compelling narratives to promote environmental action. All the contributors confront the overriding question: What is the best use of their individual and combined energies, given the dire environmental reality?
Wildlife in the Anthropocene: Conservation after Nature, by Jamie Lorimer (University of Minnesota Press 2015, 264 pages, $25.00 paperback)
In Wildlife in the Anthropocene, Jamie Lorimer argues that the idea of nature as a pure and timeless place characterized by the absence of humans has come to an end. But life goes on. Offering a thorough appraisal of the Anthropocene – an era in which human actions affect and influence all life and all systems on our planet – Lorimer unpacks its implications for changing definitions of nature and the politics of wildlife conservation. Wildlife in the Anthropocene examines rewilding, the impacts of wildlife films, human relationships with charismatic species, and urban wildlife. Analyzing scientific papers, policy documents, and popular media, as well as a decade of fieldwork, Lorimer imagines conservation in a world where humans are geological actors entangled within and responsible for powerful, unstable, and unpredictable planetary forces. This work nurtures a future environmentalism that is more hopeful and democratic.
Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism, edited by Jason W. Moore (PM Press 2015, 240 pages, $21.95)
The Earth has reached a tipping point. Runaway climate change, the sixth great extinction of planetary life, the acidification of the oceans – all point toward an era of unprecedented turbulence in humanity’s relationship within the web of life. But are we living in the Anthropocene, literally the “Age of Man”? Or is a different response more compelling and better suited to the strange – and often terrifying – times in which we live? The contributors to this book diagnose the problems of Anthropocene thinking and propose an alternative: the global crises of the twenty-first century are rooted in the Capitalocene, the Age of Capital. Anthropocene or Capitalocene? offers a series of provocative essays on nature and power, humanity, and capitalism [that] challenges the conventional practice of dividing historical change and contemporary reality into “Nature” and “Society.”
Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System, by Ian Angus (Monthly Review 2016, 280 pages, $19.00 paperback)
Science tells us that a new and dangerous stage in planetary evolution has begun – the Anthropocene, a time of rising temperatures, extreme weather, rising oceans, and mass species extinctions. Humanity faces not just more pollution or warmer weather, but a crisis of the Earth System. If business as usual continues, this century will be marked by rapid deterioration of our physical, social, and economic environment. Cogent and compellingly written, Facing the Anthropocene offers a unique synthesis of natural and social science that illustrates how capitalism’s inexorable drive for growth, powered by the rapid burning of fossil fuels that took millions of years to form, has driven our world to the brink of disaster. Survival in the Anthropocene, Angus argues, requires radical social change, replacing fossil capitalism with a new, ecosocialist civilization.
Ecological Economics for the Anthropocene: An Emerging Paradigm, edited by Peter G. Brown and Peter Timmerman (Columbia University Press 2015, 408 pages, $50.00 paperback)
Ecological Economics for the Anthropocene provides an urgently needed alternative to the long-dominant neoclassical economic paradigm of the free market, which has focused myopically – even fatally – on the boundless production and consumption of goods and services without heed to environmental consequences. The emerging paradigm for ecological economics championed in this new book recenters the field of economics on the fact of the Earth’s limitations, requiring a total reconfiguration of the goals of the economy, how we understand the fundamentals of human prosperity, and, ultimately, how we assess humanity’s place in the community of beings.
This collection represents one of the most sophisticated and realistic strategies for neutralizing the threat of our current economic order, envisioning an Earth-embedded society committed to the commonwealth of life and the security and true prosperity of human society.
The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us, by Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, translated by David Fernbach (Verso Books 2016, 306 pages, $26.95)
Refuting the convenient view of a “human species” that upset the Earth system, unaware of what it was doing, this book proposes the first critical history of the Anthropocene, shaking up many accepted ideas: about our supposedly recent “environmental awareness,” about previous challenges to industrialism, about the manufacture of ignorance and consumerism, about so-called energy transitions, as well as about the role of the military in environmental destruction. In a dialogue between science and history, The Shock of the Anthropocene dissects a new theoretical buzzword and explores paths for living and acting politically in this rapidly developing geological epoch.
Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization, by Roy Scranton (City Lights Books 2015, 142 pages, $13.95 paperback)
Coming home from the war in Iraq, U.S. Army private Roy Scranton thought he’d left the world of strife behind. Then he watched as new calamities struck America, heralding a threat far more dangerous than ISIS or Al Qaeda: Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, megadrought – the shock and awe of global warming. In this bracing response to climate change, Roy Scranton combines memoir, reportage, philosophy, and Zen wisdom to explore what it means to be human in a rapidly evolving world, taking readers on a journey through street protests, the latest findings of earth scientists, a historic UN summit, millennia of geological history, and the persistent vitality of ancient literature. Expanding on his influential New York Times essay, Scranton responds to the existential problem of global warming by arguing that in order to survive, we must come to terms with our mortality.
Ecocriticism on the Edge: The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept, by Timothy Clark (Bloomsbury Academic 2015, 218 pages, $29.95 paperback)
The twenty-first century has seen an increased awareness of the forms of environmental destruction that cannot immediately be seen, localized or, by some, even acknowledged.
Ecocriticism on the Edge explores the possibility of a new mode of critical practice, one fully engaged with the destructive force of the planetary environmental crisis. Timothy Clark argues that the “Anthropocene,” which names the epoch in which human impacts on the planet’s ecological systems reach a dangerous limit, also represents a threshold at which modes of cultural interpretation that once seemed progressive become latently destructive. The book includes analyses of literary works by Paule Marshall, Gary Snyder, Ben Okri, Henry Lawson, Lorrie Moore and Raymond Carver.