Anthropocene

Anthropo-scene #1: From Rocks to Thoughts

This is the first in a 10-part series where renowned journalist and biologist Christian Schwägerl discusses the many ramifications of the concept of the “Anthropocene”. 

Paul Crutzen’s idea of a dawning geological epoch shaped by us humans – the Anthropocene – is going viral. Since I presented it at the Next Nature Power Show in 2011, the top guys at the United Nations have endorsed the concept. A group of smart scientists led by Jan Zalasiewicz of Leicester University announced that, by 2017, they will reach a verdict of whether our current epoch will be officially re-named. Many initiatives have started exploring this new way of thinking about humanity’s place in and on Earth. Here our “ride into the Anthropocene” continues. I want take you to 10 places where the human mind, “nature” and technology fuse in this yet unexplored newness.

The Anthropocene creates places that are neurobiogeosociological hybrids, anthropogenic amalgams so to speak, next natural “anthropo-scenes”. Last weekend I visited one of these “scenes”, a graphite mine deep in the Bavarian woods. 360 million years ago at this slowly moving geo-spot, algae died in masses in a long-gone ocean. Their dead matter was drawn into the Earth’s crust, cooked and squeezed under immense pressure. Then what had been algae emerged again – as almost pure carbon, the raw stuff of life. Holocene humans started collecting this “graphite” and found it could be used to make pots fireproof. Holocene man then started writing with this stuff in pencils – from rocks to expressing thoughts.

Anthropocene humans are now taking graphite to totally new levels. Your high-tech car, your smartphone and the next generation of super-computers all rely on graphite. From this mine, graphite travels around the world to be embedded in high-tech stuff. And our high-tech forces are now rewriting the surface of Earth. Full circle. Now look what’s at the end of the graphite mining process:  A chain of pools for filtering slag and “waste water”. They shone at me in bright blue like the swimming pool of a 5 star hotel. But instead of bar music, I heard birds and frogs and machines. Standing there, I saw this ocean from 360 million years ago in front of me, minituarized by human thought and planning, an ocean that lives on in our machines.

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