Author: Christian

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.

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Anthropocene

Anthropo-scene #9: Sense, Sensors, Sensitivity

In 1928 Alfred Döblin, one of Germany’s great authors, wrote a book that in my eyes should become part of the official intellectual ancestry of the Anthropocene. It’s called “Das Ich über der Natur”, the Self Above Nature. But it’s not about human arrogance and domination of Earth, quite the opposite. Döblin describes ways how to immerse ourselves in Nature.

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Anthropocene

Anthropo-scene #8: Anthropocene Rabbit

I was on my bike, cycling to Berlin’s Gleisdreieck area to attend Re:publica, Germany’s hip and cool digital culture event, when a pile of rubble caught my attention. “Gleisdreieck”, or “rail track triangle”, has in recent years become a hotspot of urban development. For decades, the area had been a kind of inner-city wilderness, an urban savannah with little formal use.

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Anthropocene

Anthropo-scene #7: Anthropocene Bird

What does it mean to be a bird in a world massively altered by human actions? This White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus), a beautiful raptor, is finding it out while hovering above Baylands Park near Palo Alto, California.

Humans have made not only the Dodo, but dozens of bird species, vanish from Earth in the past decades, through hunting, habitat destruction and the spread of cats, rats and dogs with the help of ships. Globally, 1300 out of a total of 10,000 bird species are seriously in decline. Other birds have learned to live with humans and profit from their presence.

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przewalkski's horses
Anthropocene

Anthropo-scene #6: Military Nature

Over the past 200 years, Döberitzer Heath has been trampled down by soldiers, pounded by artillery fire and plowed by tanks. The Prussian army was the first to use the 3,500 hectares of shrub land, heath and forest west of Berlin for military training. Then came the army of the German Emperor, then the Nazis with the Wehrmacht and then, after World War II,  Soviet troops took possession. And then, an ecological miracle happened.

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Anthropocene

Anthropo-scene #5: Industrial Wilderness

Go back 100 years at exactly this location, and you would hardly be able to breathe and stand the noise. The Hattingen ironworks are an icon of the Ruhr region, one of the early centers of the Industrial Revolution. Starting in 1854, iron ore was extracted here and smelted with the help of local coal to produce high-grade steel of all sorts. When the local ores were depleted, the company in charge used imports from all around the world. In 1987, however, operations were so unprofitable that they came to a halt. Then, a post-industrial revolution began, a natural one.

Plants from China, South Africa and other countries that had been brought along with the ores started to take over the site and rare birds like Peregrine Falcons began to breed here. A hill, created with slag, became so overgrown that you can mistake it for something completely natural. And local eco-enthusiasts now use this momentum to create a “post-industrial wilderness” – with this “Wildwiese” (wild meadow) as one element. There’s even an exploratory route in the Ruhr region linking 19 sites of “industrial nature”. Don’t be surprised to see more rare plants and animals there than in places you consider to be proper “nature”.

Other installations in the Anthropo-scene series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

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Anthropocene

Anthropo-scene #4: Longing for Nature

Nature, anybody? Heidelberger Platz is one of the more brutal urban spaces in Berlin. It is torn apart by the city highway and train lines. The few buildings that surround it look pretty ugly. There’s no feeling of a social fabric here, just a constant flow of people moving through. The whole experience of being here is pretty filthy. Except for the animals. Here they are, a dolphin and a turtle swimming in bright blue water, a happy chick and a healthy-looking ice bear, plastered on the walls of a drive-thru car wash under the highway bridge. The owners of the car wash could show race cars here or pictures of sexy women, but no: people get to see a pictorial zoo. An optimistic reading of this bizarre sight is that it exploits an in-built human longing for being in and with nature. If we feel happy hanging out with dolphins even in our car washes, humans will surely look after the well-being of Earth in the Anthropocene? The pessimistic reading goes like this: we’re fed Orwellian images of an abstract natural purity so we get distracted from how ugly human-made spaces can be. Either way, Nature is here to stay.

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Anthropocene

Anthropo-scene #3: Morphing Earth, Piece by Piece

Many still think that Earth is just too big and mighty to be changed permanently by humans. When Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer proposed to introduce a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, they encountered wide-spread disbelief that us little, recently-evolved creatures could act on the longest, deepest time-scale available to describe our planet.

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Anthropocene

Anthropo-scene #2: The Mind’s Lianas

When Édouard Le Roy, Vladimir Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin started to describe in the 1920s how the “noosphere”, the sphere of the human mind, grows into the geosphere and the biosphere, they were already talking about something very real. Yet until today we continue to talk as if our global systems for communicating and exchanging thoughts are somehow immaterial and other-wordly. Today’s “clouds”, in which our data are kept safe, create the metaphor that information turns ethereal once it is stored. Yet the opposite is true. With a multitude of cables, electromagnetic interventions and very material computers, the noosphere is a geological reality of increasing volume and it is increasingly a part of Anthropocene nature. This is what Anthropo-scene #2, on the Indonesian island of Bali, shows: A new species of vine-like plant which could be aptly called Liana noospherica by a new, yet-to-come breed of naturalists that give the new entities of the noosphere scientific names.

This is the second in the Anthropo-scene series. For the first post, click here. 

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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.

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