Reading Diary: Art After the Anthropocene (Pope)

After the Anthropocene: Politics and geographic inquiry for a new epoch: This text includes a collection of five scholarly essays that unpack the term ‘Anthropocene’, arguing for the inclusion of a geological perspective that re-centres the planet in political discourse.

The term Anthropocene suggests a period in which human activities are rapidly changing the global environment on a massive scale, and for a profit. The constantly expanding and consolidating impact of capitalism has accelerated the damage, and hardened the divide between the ultra rich and disenfranchised poor, and between human beings and nature. This hardened separation is most ‘embodied’ within urban settings, and has produced a particular pathology of the liberal subject: exhausted, helpless, and unsettled by impending 'natural' disaster.

These texts share a perspective that the issue is no longer ‘what to do’, but ‘how to do it’, and the authors contend that a geological perspective must be included in order to address political change. To me, the crux of this argument presents as an ideological change, one that would provoke a shift in how policies, social processes, and corporate dealings could be reframed, not through fear tactics and potential manipulation, but towards the perspective of a(n) (in)human, increasingly artificial, or expanded way of relating to the planet that integrates multiple forms of agency (some of which are human, some not).

If this were achievable, how, and what might politics look like? If we were to exist WITH the planet, how would our physical composition, or embodiment, change? Dance practitioners have been attempting this for years, although for different reasons, but there is a lot that can be learned through the processes of collective improvisation, transformation, and methodologies that produce the experience of an altered physical composition. Aboriginal traditions and rituals deal with transformation as well, but are more directly linked to the embodiment of nature. I think that researching such traditions could be beneficial to initiating the ‘how’ in regards to change. How to bring nature into the urban? How to bring geophysical forces into a political conversation? How to physically possess empathy and connection for the planet, so that our position is no longer passive?

I found Rowan’s perspective on technology surprising, as I don’t often think about the potentiality of technology, and I group it in with the ‘capitalism/bad’ category (I am aware of my complicity/hypocrisy as I type away on my laptop…). I am interested in how technology produces potential ‘sites’ for political conversation and social change, and how it might be harnessed as a generative force as opposed to exploitative, divisive in its re-centring of the status quo (ok, so i'm using this laptop for good?). Again, the How question arises… And also, what might a geophysical laptop look like or do? (This laptop is making my eyes hurt. I wonder what physical evolution process has already been initiated by this piece of technology? Less body hair, rapid attention shifts…)

The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives: It seems we have a mess on our hands. This article isn’t news, but it lays out a very sobering articulation of the facts. I am utterly ashamed to be complicit in the continued depletion of planetary resources. I am reminded of, and disturbed by, an old-school dictum: “The solution to pollution is dilution.” This kind of hubris, and attitude towards the ‘limitless’ solvency of the planet is disgusting. How how how to make change? How does one go about changing her worldview to a planetary-view?

This article describes the toxic combination of exponential growth, depleting resources, and the exploitation of developing countries to produce that which is consumed by comparatively rich developed nations. There is a demand, and there is an attitude that an endless supply is available. But how did this demand come to be? How could we come to want something that we didn’t even know existed previously, how could we feel entitled for that which has no name, and how have we become so comfortable living on the fringe of constant expansion? This sounds like an addiction to consumption. Is it consumption that we have to grant a new definition? I imagine having the self-discipline to curb consumption, but here I am on a laptop, in Berlin, doing things that cost the planet...

One thing I learned from the similarly sobering film ‘Food Inc.’ is that the consumer decides. If all of this mess rests in the hands of consumers, then surely our purchasing decisions could add up to something (Wallmart is carrying local organic products after all). So how can these choices extend to ‘consumption’ on a larger scale, and what can consumption, as a word, also include in its meaning, a meaning that perhaps isn’t so ‘one-sided’? I recently switched to Bullfrog Power in Canada: a company that purchases my energy usage from sustainable sources, like wind power, and something called ‘green natural gas’ (an alternative to fossil fuel-based natural gas). OK, so consumption in this sense produces support for renewable energy, or the production of very real options. Is it possible that the mutual beneficiary of our choices could be the planet?

Thinking about 'location'. This word includes where products are from, how they are manufactured, how they are distributed, and the political systems that support their production and exchange. I’m very happy purchasing produce from a local CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture), but I often think about the people I’m not buying from anymore, who perhaps bought into cash crops, or can’t afford to transition to organic practices, or are stuck in a contract with a multinational food corp. (Monsanto…). But is it really possible to only support companies with which I share an ideology? And isn’t that dangerous, like bordering on closed-minded, xenophobic, and prejudicial thought lines?

Accountability is a slippery topic too, but from the research presented in this article it is clear that developed countries must be accountable for the damage they have created, and incur the cost of change from this point going forward. To me, the lone consumer, it means dropping a bit more coin to activate this term consumption differently and remember its mutual beneficiary.

This article also delves into some possible solutions, and brings up the ethics of manipulation, and human interference with nature. The synthesis of a bacterial chromosome is discussed, alongside geo-engineering approaches to changing the earth’s atmosphere to have a brief cooling affect (even though the possibility of many consequences are present, including toxic sulphuric pollution). To my mind, the whole problem comes down to an attitude: the audacity of a small privileged group who get to make decisions on behalf of entire populations, and consequently affect the planet that we are supposed to share, and respect in order to keep this whole mess afloat. 

There should be some kind of ‘global permission’ to act, and only act if the whole world is ‘IN’. How impossible! But utopian... A ‘no tolerance’ principle that puts a stop to greed as the main consumer motivation. And hey, that might make us a little bit uncomfortable! Good.

A note on technology: instead of spending billions on synthesizing new life, why not invest in the conversion to alternative energy? And why is Canada so embarrassingly greedy right now?? Harper-oil Conservatives please go away.