Look through the kaleidoscope
Breathing through a cloud of pollution; weird cough and skin allergies. Navigating through radioactive waters; paranoia through the looking glass. Driving through a flooded city; we shall not pass. A cascade of first-hand experiences.
My Chilean friend hums “It’s the end of the world as we know it” as he updates me on his neck of the woods: thousands of salmon die caged in aquaculture; thousands of dead sardines float along the toxic coast; and beached clams for miles and miles. Fishermen protest on the streets because people stopped buying their allegedly contaminated fish. But this is not Neptune’s short temper: birds and mammals also perish.
My virtual self is inundated with stories of a brave new world on a daily basis. Mediated experiences that immerse me in a pool full of objects of strange change. The real merges the virtual. These are the postcards from the Anthropocene.
We humans move more than twice the earth and soil than all of the oceans, seas, rivers and lakes combined. We consume four hundred years of biomass per day in fossil fuels. We have changed our planet’s atmospheric composition, geological disposition, levels of radioactivity and acidification of land and water. Rising sea levels swallow small islands here and there. The Pacific Trash Vortex, the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Three Gorges Dam in China and the first environmental refugees are no longer science fiction but rather dystopian realities that were caused by human-induced change.
We humans have become a dominant geologic force altering the planet in what some scientists refer to as the “Anthropocene”, a controversial and charged notion that has sparked debate across many disciplines. There are those who understand it in its strictest sense: a stratigraphic notion of geology that could eventually mark our contemporary epoch in sharp distinction from the previous Holocene. They wait anxiously to see whether the term will be formally adopted, a decision that was tentatively announced to the world in August 2016 by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (supported by the Anthropocene Working Group).
Then there are those who understand the Anthropocene in a broader scientific sense, as a necessary epistemological rupture that puts Earth system science at the heart of the discussion worth having. They claim that “landscape”, “ecosystem” and “the environment” are old words that truncate the wholeness with which we now have to address the planetary systems.
But there are also those who, refuting perhaps more dogmatic views on the Anthropocene, appreciate it as a potentially potent metaphor that can be used as a meaningful framework. Running against the sceptics who think that the Anthropocene rushes to place humans right at the epicentre of all action (anthropo- is a Greek root meaning “human”), they accept that the framework can be used to raise awareness of the consequences of our transformations.