Facing Left (part 1)

Ian Angus, Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System (New York: Monthly Review Press)

(Full disclosure: Ian Angus and MR Press sent me a review copy of this book, which isn’t otherwise available in the UK yet, and Angus re-posted a piece from Made Ground at Climate & Capitalism the other day.)

Facing the Anthropocene hits nails on their heads over and over again. It should transform the relationship between leftist ecological thought and Earth System science. Continue reading “Facing Left (part 1)”


On Walking to Work

Near the beginning of a book I read as a child—I was sure it was Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, but just now I couldn’t find it there—there’s a passage on topography. The author says that if she (or he) forgot everything in her old age, first losing names and faces, and then losing the events of her own life, the last thing that would stay with her would be the shape of the land she knew best. She’d remember the pattern of the hills, valleys, and slopes after everything else had gone.

That idea impressed me because it was so alien. I realised when I read it that I didn’t have any sense of how the contours around my house or my school fitted together, underneath the roads and trees and buildings. It had probably never previously occurred to me that there was a continuous shape to the land below the pavement, or that people might be interested in or appreciate those curves and gradients. Continue reading “On Walking to Work”

Grief Encounter

Lesley Head, Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene: Re-conceptualising Human-Nature Relations (Abingdon: Routledge)

I’m fairly sure that Australia produces more essays on the Anthropocene per capita than anywhere else on earth. Most (not all!) of that Australian writing on the Anthropocene has a distinctive tone and orientation: a taste for relationality and interconnection, and an emphasis on communality and affective experience. Its ethical touchstones are principles of care and of living-with; it celebrates the embodied and the everyday.

British work on the Anthropocene has tended towards the empirical instead of the highly theorised (a thudding national stereotype, I know). North American contributors have perhaps been disproportionately concerned with the politics of universalism and with conservation issues, though such a high proportion of all work on the Anthropocene has come out of the US and Canada that it’s hard to generalise. But much more than those vague national tendencies, there’s a distinct Australian tradition of writing about the Anthropocene. Continue reading “Grief Encounter”

Thank the Mouse Day

Christian Schwägerl, The Anthropocene: The Human Era and how it Shapes our Planet, trans. Lucy Renner Jones (London: Synergetic)

Here’s my review of Christian Schwägerl’s enjoyable book, originally published in Green Letters, vol. 20, no. 1 (2016), pp. 104–7.


In February 2000, Paul Crutzen travelled to Cuernavaca, just outside Mexico City, for the International Geosphere–Biosphere Programme (IGBP) annual conference. The IGBP was an international organisation coordinating research on Earth system science. Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist and vice chair of the IGBP, was one of the world’s most eminent scientists. He had received a Nobel Prize for his work underpinning the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer. In Cuernavaca, Crutzen listened to researchers from the IGBP’s paleoenvironment project reporting on their work, referring frequently as they did so to the present geological epoch, the Holocene. He found himself suddenly impelled to speak out: “Stop using the word Holocene. We’re not in the Holocene any more. We’re in the… the… the Anthropocene!” (The precise form of his words varies slightly from telling to telling.) The delegates fell silent, but at the coffee break that followed they talked of nothing else. Their excited conversations were the beginning of a process whereby Crutzen’s moment of inspiration has come to shape the course of modern environmental thought. Continue reading “Thank the Mouse Day”

Somewhat New

J. R. McNeill and Peter Engelke, The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP)

John McNeill’s Something New Under the Sun, his environmental history of the twentieth century, is one of the Bibles of work on the Anthropocene—most of all among researchers in the physical sciences, I suspect. McNeill is a member of the Anthropocene Working Group, and he’s been publishing with them for a long time. He was the co-author with Will Steffen and Paul Crutzen of an influential early article (influential in the wrong direction, I think, but that’s for another time) called “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?” But Something New Under the Sun deserves its status independently of McNeill’s later collaborations: it’s an extraordinary survey of environmental change in the twentieth century, in ecosystems of practically every kind. As the AWG has focused more sharply in on a mid-C20th golden spike for the Anthropocene epoch, McNeill’s conspectus has got ever more important to them, and to other researchers concerned with what the AWG is up to.

Still, Something New is a decade and a half old now. A lot has changed, both in environmental historiography and IRL. The obvious question, in the context of this blog: does this new book, with “Great Acceleration” and “Anthropocene” right there in the title, supersede the earlier one for researchers working on the Anthropocene? If you wanted to read just one book to give you a survey of the years when (you might be inclined to believe) the Holocene ticked over into the Anthropocene, should it be this one instead of Something New Under the Sun? The answer is… no. But it’s a useful supplement. Continue reading “Somewhat New”