Reflections on “After 400ppm” conference at Rutgers #anthropocene

I had the nice privilege of participating in the recent Rutger’s seminar on the Anthropocene, After 400ppm, this past Thursday and Friday. I thought I would distill a few takeaways from my experience there since I do not often comment on what I think about the on-going engagements with the concept of the Anthropocene. Some will be fairly obvious. All comments welcome.

1. There is no reason to define the Anthropocene now that is not inherently political. We’ll have a much better sense of things later – say in 100 000 years.

2. A common inferential mistake is to assume that because humans are affecting Earth systems that somehow nature does not exist. This is a revisionist interpretation of the idea of nature so that, instead of there being things and processes that arose independent of us (as we would find in “nature’s” etymological roots from the latin – nasci – or greek – phyein) we have some metaphorical device instead. The “stage” is a frequent one where we then talk about nature as a background with humans in the foreground. Then we say this is no longer a tenable divide (or that it is even part of the problem) and voila, nature is gone.  Do ecology without it, and so on. I have my doubts.

3. Key debates and dissent on the “anthropos” side of things – where the worry is that a universalized or culturally opaque vision of the human is smuggled in through the anthropocene – seem to be reforming along the lines of older debates between particulars and universals. The main difference in this case is that the claim is a particular set of cultural actions (capitalism is an increasingly common target on which I will not comment) have altered the conditions for all others because these all depend on the earth and that is precisely what has been altered. I’d suggest we stay attuned here to how one vision of the “earth” is now quickly reclassifying things to forge this connection (think: novel ecosystems, rewilding and so on).

4. There is an inordinate amount of faith being put into a return to “things” or “objects.”