Through a mix of design and accident, we’ve created a novel environment that is at once strongly shaped by human behaviors and highly opaque to normal human sensory modalities. But we haven’t instrumented this environment well enough to make up for our sensory deficits. Worse, we seem to collectively lack the instrument rating to fly this civilizational airplane. So we are flying blind into the anthropocene, without the appropriate instrument rating, on a wing and a prayer.
Posts tagged Anthropocene
Glaciologists usually talk of three distinct regions because they behave slightly differently from each other. In West Antarctica, which is dominated by those marine-terminating glaciers, the assessed losses have climbed from 53 billion to 159 billion tonnes per year over the full period from 1992 to 2017. On the Antarctic Peninsula, the finger of land that points up to South America, the losses have risen from seven billion to 33 billion tonnes annually. This is largely, say scientists, because the floating ice platforms sitting in front of some glaciers have collapsed, allowing the ice behind to flow faster. East Antarctica, the greater part of the continent, is the only region to have shown some growth. Much of this region essentially sits out of the ocean and collects its snows over time and is not subject to the same melting forces seen elsewhere. But the gains are likely quite small, running at about five billion tonnes per year. And the Imbie team stresses that the growth cannot counterbalance what is happening in the West and on the Peninsula. Indeed, it is probable that an unusually big dump of snow in the East just before the last assessment in 2012 made Antarctica as a whole look less negative than the reality. Globally, sea levels are rising by about 3mm a year. This figure is driven by several factors, including the expansion of the oceans as they warm. But what is clear from the latest Imbie assessment is that Antarctica is becoming a significant player. “A three-fold increase now puts Antarctica in the frame as one of the largest contributors to sea-level rise,” said Prof Shepherd, who is affiliated to Leeds University, UK. “The last time we looked at the polar ice sheets, Greenland was the dominant contributor. That’s no longer the case.” In total, Antarctica has shed some 2.7 trillion tonnes of ice since 1992, corresponding to an increase in global sea level of more than 7.5mm.
Part of what makes Morton popular are his attacks on settled ways of thinking. His most frequently cited book, Ecology Without Nature, says we need to scrap the whole concept of “nature”. He argues that a distinctive feature of our world is the presence of ginormous things he calls “hyperobjects” – such as global warming or the internet – that we tend to think of as abstract ideas because we can’t get our heads around them, but that are nevertheless as real as hammers. He believes all beings are interdependent, and speculates that everything in the universe has a kind of consciousness, from algae and boulders to knives and forks. He asserts that human beings are cyborgs of a kind, since we are made up of all sorts of non-human components; he likes to point out that the very stuff that supposedly makes us us – our DNA – contains a significant amount of genetic material from viruses. He says that we’re already ruled by a primitive artificial intelligence: industrial capitalism. At the same time, he believes that there are some “weird experiential chemicals” in consumerism that will help humanity prevent a full-blown ecological crisis. Morton’s theories might sound bizarre, but they are in tune with the most earth-shaking idea to emerge in the 21st century: that we are entering a new phase in the history of the planet – a phase that Morton and many others now call the “Anthropocene”.
“Jorge Luis Borges’ well-known quip on metaphysics being a branch of fantastic literature… requires that the converse be true – fantastic literature and science fiction are the pop metaphysics (or the “mythophysics”) of our time.”
–in THE ENDS OF THE WORLD, by Déborah Danowski& Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, translated by Rodrigo Guimaraes Nunes.
Using a ‘ball and cup’ analogy to explain the transition of the earth system from the Holocene Epoch to a new Anthropocene Epoch- from ‘Stratigraphic and Earth System approaches to defining the Anthropocene’ by Will Steffen et al.
This is a useful tool to counter arguments that attribute climate change concerns to natural variability in the Earth’s climate, rather than taking into account human driven contributions from man-made carbon emissions.
Our planet shifts within the ‘cup’ of the current geological age from natural climatic and biosphere variability (marked by the broken green ‘Holocene envelope of natural variability’ line). Additional drivers from early agriculture and the onset of the industrial revolution have pushed the planet to a state, that while beyond the limits of natural variability, has still been relatively stable and which the natural controls (negative feedbacks) of the planet have been able to (generally) dampen (indicated by the red line of the ‘Holocene basin of attraction’).
However, and linked to significant shifts in the nature, rate and magnitude of human and technological development occurring since around 1950 (known as the ‘Great Acceleration’), the Earth is being pushed beyond these limits- and outwith the Holocene boundaries, and potentially into a new geological age (ie the Anthropocene).
The New Mexico facility is due to be sealed in 2038. The present plans for marking the site involve a berm with a core of salt, enclosing the above-ground footprint of the repository. Buried in the berm will be radar reflectors, magnets and a “Storage Room”, constructed around a stone slab too big to be removed via the chamber entrance. Data will be inscribed on to the slab including maps, time lines, and scientific details of the waste and its risks, written in all current official UN languages, and in Navajo: “This site was known as the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Site) when it was closed in 2038 AD … Do not expose this room unless the information centre messages are lost. Leave the room buried for future generations.” Discs made of ceramic, clay, glass and metal, also engraved with warnings, will be embedded in the soil and the shaft seals. Finally, a “hot cell”, or radiation containment chamber, will be constructed: a reinforced concrete structure extending 60 feet above the earth and 30 feet down into it
‘Crypto’ from Greek meaning hidden or secret, related to ‘cryptic’, of unsure or obscure meaning. A cryptoforest incorporates both: they may be forests that are hidden or it may refer to forests of unsure pedigree, because no other words suffices. Cryptoforests are a feeble category within the psychogeographic classification of landscapes. You do find cryptoforests in the centre but the chance of finding one increases as you move outward and cracks will appear in the urban armour as you move further and further in the perimeter. I invite you to think of the cryptoforest not as a disturbance of urban hegemony, but as the place where the division between city and nature becomes meaningless.