Power to the People (part 1)

Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (London: Verso, 2016)

I’ve been very slow to read and blog about Malm’s indispensable book, almost entirely because of my own idleness but partly for another reason. Fossil Capital is a central contribution to the discourse on the Anthropocene, much though Malm himself dislikes the word. It’s rightly sparked a lot of discussion; even so, there’s certainly more to be said about it. It’s a book of large-scale political theory, yes, but it’s also the book of a PhD thesis. It’s an excellent book about the history of capitalism, but it’s a sensational book about the history of the British cotton industry, circa 1825–1850.  Continue reading “Power to the People (part 1)”


New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (no. 8)

Jan Zalasiewicz et al., “Scale and diversity of the physical technosphere: A geological perspective,” Anthropocene Review 4:1 (2017), 9–22

This is no longer actually a very new paper, but it’s an enjoyable one. It starts from Peter Haff’s conception of the technosphere, which I wrote about at length here. It asks: how big is the technosphere? The headline estimate is: human-originated technology has a total mass of about 30 trillion tonnes.  Continue reading “New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (no. 8)”

Literary Fictions

Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016)

A tornado in Delhi, tigers in the Sundarbans, the long history of the oil trade in Burma: The Great Derangement adds seductively to the imaginary of the Anthropocene debate. It’s a terrific book, written in a novelist’s prose, on capitalism, empire, climate change and culture.

The last of those is what’s most distinctively at issue here. The book’s been widely reviewed, and most reviewers seem to have been especially struck by its vivid account of the relationship between empire and ecological upheaval. But Ghosh’s reflections on the history of the novel are probably The Great Derangement‘s most original contribution to the discourse on the Anthropocene. Continue reading “Literary Fictions”

New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (part 7)

Jan Zalasiewicz et al., “The Working Group on the Anthropocene: Summary of evidence and interim recommendations,” Anthropocene, in press


The image above shows “the Quaternary time scale as currently preferred by the Anthropocene Working Group.” This proposed way of modelling recent geological time is plainly still a work in progress. The grey spikes would need to be replaced by golden ones, by GSSPs rooted somewhere in the actual Earth, before the map of the last 2.6 million years looked even provisionally complete. Continue reading “New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (part 7)”

Oh, Brad (part 2)

Part 1

To understand the improbable metaphysical conclusions that Clive Hamilton draws from Earth System science in Defiant Earth, we need to take a look at his conception of geological history. It’s a conception that relies on his dualistic theory of agency, whereby everything hinges on how much “power” humans can exert against nature, and nature against humans. Unlike the “post-humanists,” Hamilton will acknowledge “our actual power over nature” (p. 90). And unlike the ecomodernists, with their fantasies of Godlike omnipotence, he will acknowledge nature’s countervailing power against us. Continue reading “Oh, Brad (part 2)”

Oh, Brad (part 1)

Clive Hamilton, Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene (Cambridge: Polity, 2017)

Defiant Earth is an important contribution to thinking about the Anthropocene. It’s a book that everyone exploring ways in which to theorise the new epoch should take on board. I want to review it in detail over a couple of posts, to try to tease out its significance and to spell out my disagreements with it.

Hamilton has carved out a significant niche in debates about the Anthropocene in the last several years as a sort of TH Huxley figure. That is, he’s cast himself in the role of Paul Crutzen’s bulldog, defending an Earth Systems version of the Anthropocene in a series of surreally combative interventions called things like “Ecologists Butt Out: You Are Not Entitled to Redefine the Anthropocene,” “The Anthropocene Belongs to Earth System Science,” and “The Anthropocene: Too Serious for Post-Modern Games.”  Continue reading “Oh, Brad (part 1)”

On Balance

I’ve developed an enthusiasm recently for stone balancing. Not for doing it myself—I haven’t remotely got the dexterity or the patience—but for photos and videos of rocks stacked on top of one another in impossible ways (there are videos all over YouTube, and pictures all over the internet). The connections to thinking about stratigraphy and about the Anthropocene are easy to see: scrupulous attention to rocks arranged in vertical layers; the anamnesic quality of stone, or the way it can turn out to hold within itself improbable forms, like fossils; the delicate connection between human intention and mineral solidity, attuned to the possibility of disaster; stone, sheerly, the mesmeric draw of the lithic celebrated by Jeffery Jerome Cohen. Continue reading “On Balance”