Five Maxims

Throughout this blog so far I’ve stayed pretty close to the arguments I made in The Birth of the Anthropocene. But in each post up till now I’ve also tried to add something new, rather than just reprising what I’ve already said in print. Since this will be the penultimate post on Made Ground this year, though, it seems a good opportunity to give a more explicit summary of the book itself. If you haven’t read The Birth of the Anthropocene but you’d like to know what its argument is, for the purpose of citation, disagreement, or mere curiosity, this post is for you…  Continue reading “Five Maxims”


Eemian Bonds

James Hansen et al., “Young People’s Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions,” under review for Earth System Dynamics

Why does the geological version of the Anthropocene matter to ecological politics? Because the ecological crisis has politicized geological time. The clearest pieces of evidence that the crisis has made deep time a political issue are newspaper headlines like the one in last Tuesday’s Guardian: “Planet at its hottest in 115,000 years thanks to climate change, experts say.” Headlines like that one—or like the New York Times’ front-page announcement in 2013 that CO2 levels are at their highest for at least three million years—are the starting point for the account of the Anthropocene that I gave in the book. A new and discombobulating temporal scale has made its presence felt in current affairs. The idea of the Anthropocene epoch is one way of coming to terms (as far as it’s even possible to come to terms) with that disturbance of scale. Continue reading “Eemian Bonds”

On Terra Incognita: Crutzen’s “Geology of Mankind” (part 2)

Part 1

Here’s the second part in an occasional series of fossickings through the great talismanic paper on the Anthropocene, Paul Crutzen’s “Geology of Mankind”— now up to 1877 citations on Google Scholar but not previously, as far as I know, the subject of anything like a detailed close reading. Continue reading “On Terra Incognita: Crutzen’s “Geology of Mankind” (part 2)”

New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (part 4)

Will Steffen et al., “Stratigraphic and Earth System Approaches to Defining the Anthropocene,” Earth’s Future 4 (2016), 324–45

And still they come. Actually, this paper by AWG members came out before the results of the vote on formalization, but I hadn’t had an opportunity to write about it until now. It’s another big overview paper. Continue reading “New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (part 4)”

A Change of Cene (part 2)

In the first part of this review I worked through five of the seven chapters of Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism. Despite the various merits of some of those chapters, there was essentially nothing in them to justify the book’s claim to “diagnose the problems of Anthropocene thinking” from a politically radical point of view (a claim repeated in, for instance, this supportive review)

That leaves just two chapters, one by Eileen Crist and one by Jason Moore. Continue reading “A Change of Cene (part 2)”

The End of the Beginning

The 2011 annual report of the International Commission on Stratigraphy’s Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy included the following notification: “The [Anthropocene] Working Group has applied for funding to allow further discussion and networking, and is working to reach a consensus regarding formalisation by, it is hoped, the 2016 IGC [International Geological Congress].” “As if they had so much time and so little money!” sighed Bruno Latour. But then, he admitted, “geologists are used to taking their time.”

The 2016 IGC began in Brisbane on August 29th. The first day’s programme included a paper by Colin Waters, the working group’s secretary, called “The Anthropocene: overview of stratigraphical assessment to date.” The same panel also featured a paper by Stanley Finney, chair of the International Commission on Stratigraphy, on “The mistaken drive to define the ‘Anthropocene’ as an officially recognized unit of the Geologic Time Scale.”

On the same day, the University of Leicester published the results of a series of six votes among 35 members of the working group: Continue reading “The End of the Beginning”

A Change of Cene (part 1)

Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism, ed. Jason W. Moore (Oakland: PM Press)

This blog is mostly about books and articles that I’ve found helpful for thinking about the Anthropocene. I don’t usually bother writing about books here unless I like them: life’s short. There are things I like about Anthropocene or Capitalocene? as well, along with things that I don’t. But the frustrating thing about it is that it advertises itself as a radical diagnosis of “the problems of Anthropocene thinking.” If someone had heard of it but hadn’t read it, they might well end up with the impression that there now exists a systematic book-length critique of “the Anthropocene” from a critical or leftist point of view. And that isn’t the case.

Heaven knows that the Anthropocene can seem as if it’s everywhere in environmental studies at the moment. Claiming to pour cold water on that enthusiasm from a politically advanced standpoint makes for a good sales pitch. But the reality is that—despite its merits—Anthropocene or Capitalocene? has little to say about the first word in its title, and what it does have to say is very poorly informed about the existing literature.

If you publish a book attacking a theory, or a concept, or even—as in this case—a word, you invite a rejoinder from people who are sympathetic to that theory or concept, or to some or all ways of using that word. I want to spend both this week’s post and next week’s (the one after next, as it turned out) on a fairly detailed review of the collection, mainly so as to try to discourage the idea from taking root that there’s now been a methodical critique of “the Anthropocene” from the left.  Continue reading “A Change of Cene (part 1)”

Sphere of Influence

P. K. Haff, “Purpose in the Anthropocene: Dynamical role and physical basis,” Anthropocene (forthcoming)

This is the latest in a series of papers that Peter Haff has published in the last couple of years on the Anthropocene and the “technosphere.” I don’t think that those two concepts necessarily go hand in hand; in some formulations they can even be at odds with one another. But Haff seems to me one of the most exciting and creative thinkers currently working under the sign of “the Anthropocene.” Continue reading “Sphere of Influence”

Facing Left (part 3)

Part 1; part 2

Here’s the last part of my extended response to Ian Angus’s landmark Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System. In this post I want to offer some of the “amplifications” that Angus solicited from his readers at the start of the book.

There’s always more that could be said. Everybody’s publisher sets them word limits, and the main text of Angus’s book comes in at a crisp 200 pages. Still, I’d like to suggest three ways in which his discussion could usefully be taken further. Continue reading “Facing Left (part 3)”