Anthropocene

Anthropo-scene #10: From Thoughts to Geology

It’s more than two years since I have started this exploration of the Anthropocene for Next Nature for you. We have visited many places together, places I have traveled to as a reporter, author, biologist: we have entered a graphite mine, where ancient algae are turned into high-tech gadgets, we have discovered a former military training areas that has become a neo-natural ecosystem, we have encountered plants and birds that try to live and thrive in the new geological epoch we are about to name after ourselves, the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene will not be a smooth ride, but an exciting one.

But having explored the Anthropocene idea over the past eight years in my book “The Anthropocene” (Synergetic Press, 2014), as co-founder of the large cultural-scientific Anthropocene Project at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin and as co-curator of the ongoing special exhibition at Deutsches Museum in Munich, I find it increasingly disconcerting that some people confuse Anthropocene and anthropocentrism.

In terms of words, the “cene” in Anthropocene derives from the Greek “kainos”. Thus Anthropocene means “the new brought about by humans”. Anthropocentric is something very different: it’s a form of indifference to other living beings, or even arrogance towards them. For me, one thing is clear: the Anthropocene must not be anthropocentric – otherwise it will be very short.

The Anthropocene does not mean that we should optimize the world for current human needs with the help of the current methods of rampant capitalism or that we should strive for “conscious decoupling” from nature. Rather, the Anthropocene is our chance for “conscious re-coupling”, for making our technologies and cities vibrant parts of the world’s biosphere and for expanding the richness of nature (not only) for future humans. How can this be done? I recently had a chance to examine this question at the Royal Institution and the Royal Society of Arts in London. If you like, do have a look at the videos, and please stop by on Twitter or my website if you want to keep in touch.

So what about the brain coral? It’s one of my favorite objects in Berlin’s Natural History Museum and takes us back from thoughts to geology. The brain coral is a powerful symbol for our interconnectedness on so many levels, genetic, aesthetic, social, ecological, economical. Jane Bennett has written in “Vibrant Matter“: “A touch of anthropomorphism can catalyze a sensibility that finds a world filled not with ontologically distinct categories of beings (subjects and objects) but with variously composed materialities that form confederations. Anthropomorphising oddly enough, works against anthropocentrism. A chord is struck between person and thing, and I am no longer above or outside an …’environment’.” In the Anthropocene, the environment will become the invironment.

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

Read the whole Anthropo-scene series.

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