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)”

Facing Left (part 2)

Last week’s post was the start of a response to Ian Angus’s Facing the Anthropocene. I think it’s a terrific book, and although there are differences between his study and mine (his book is about the Earth System science version of the Anthropocene; mine is about the stratigraphic version of the Anthropocene) I hope that the two are more or less complementary and mutually illuminating. Still, I want to take seriously Angus’s declaration that he “looks forward to receiving responses, amplifications, and, of course, disagreements” (p. 20). I’ve got two disagreements to point out; they’re disputes with only small moments in the book, but I think they point to deeper conceptual divergences. In another post (given my self-imposed 2000-word limit), I’ll add three suggested amplifications.

The first disagreement has to do with temporality, and it’s centred on a chapter of Facing the Anthropocene called “Capital’s Time vs. Nature’s Time.” That opposition seems too simple to me. Continue reading “Facing Left (part 2)”

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”