Geography in the Anthropocene

  • Created by: sikemi__
  • Created on: 27-05-21 12:45

What is the Anthropocene?

  • The 'age of humankind'. 'Human-dominated geological epoch' (Crutzen, 2002)
  • Diffcult to detect/measure when it started
    • Some argue the Agrcultural Revolution of 8000 BP marked the start as communties settled and landscapes and speces were changed, also increased use of fire
    • Others argue that the invention and propogation of the steam engne in 1784 was the start due to the transition to fossil fuels
    • Some say period of 1950's onwards was the start. Termed as the Great Acceleration where there were vast population increases, a strong transition to urban areas and cities and to increased consumption and GDP grew
      • However, populations that grew the fastest didn't necessarily have the highest emissions, so can we link the two?
    • Others see the need for a geological marker within the geologiical record as a starting point. Some say this was the explosion of the first atom bomb n 1945 at the Alamogordo Test Range in New Mexico due to the radiaton released which can be detected in soils through records worldwide
    • Recently, attention has been turned to plastics and the idea that they can now be seen in the gelogical record so might be an indicator for the start
  • There is increasing attention to human impact on Earth
    • 'Suddenly we are not just billions of individuals and millions of collectivities but a single species alongside otther species, one whose survival is threatened by our own behaviour' (Gibson-Graham & Roelvink, 2009)
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The idea of Nature

  • Nature is...
    • The intrinsic essence of something. Fixed, unchanging and unmalleable but interference or management changes its essential quality.
    • An inherent force. Nature has its way e.g. extreme natural events.
    • The external world. The physical/biological or non-human world which is subject to its own dynamics and observable by natural science methods e.g. wildlife docs.
  • Is nature speaking to us? Or is it being spoken to?
  • We envision nature as being devoid of humans e.g. rainforests.
  • It is also idealised in manicured scenes in a rural sense. In urban settings, our idea of nature comes from our expectations around urban park landscapes which are highly planned and not natural.
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Nature in Geography

  • Environmental determinism
    • Idea put forward by Ellen Churchill Semple in book Influences of Geographic Environment in 1911.
    • During an era of heightened imperialism where Geography provided an understanding of places and people, and a means for colonial and imperial conquest as well as rationalised racial differences
    • Idea of a natural environment as a reason for differences was echoed by ideas of 'Social Darwinism; and applications of natural selection.
    • Idea of survival of the fittest was applied through eugenics and white supremacist ideas of what constituted fitness.
    • Social, moral and cultural characteristics are determined/shaped by environmental conditions and therefore by geography.
    • Therefore, colonialism and racism rely on such a concept in order to flourish.
  • Environmental Possibilism
    • Challenge to idea of environmental determinism by figures such as Sauer and Mumford in 1930's to 1950's.
    • Suggested that society develops under reciprocal influence of nature, as can be seen by influence of man on the environment rather than in the landscape.
    • Nature and land was fashioned by humans - this challenged the racist determinism of early geographical thinkers.
  • Environmental Geography
    • Merting point between human and physical geography
    • Throughout the 1960s to 80s, it stressed the human impact on separate and threatened/fragile nature
  • Social nature
    • During the 1990s and 2010s, geography took a social constructivist turn with understanding natures
    • Movement that firmly places humans and society back in nature by critiquing the division but also the concept of nature itself
    • Nature is defined, delineated and physically produced by society
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The politics of future Natures

  • Political ecology
    • Concerned with constructiveness and socialness of nature but also power
    • Sees the environment as 'fundamentally and thoroughly social and political' (Neumann, 2005)
  • Politics of knowledge of nature
    • Knowledge of nature is not the same as the 'natural world' it represents (Castree, 2005)
    • We are trained to see nature in particular ways and come with preconceptions on things such as climate change and fossil fuel resource use
    • Different knowledges of nature compete wth each other
  • Politics around biodiversity
    • Biodiversity has become normalised, meaning certain environments and species are more priviledged than others (e.g. given government protections/seen as problematic and unwanted)
  • Politics of a sustainable Earth
    • The resource costs and environmental residues per person
    • Ecological footprint - the area of biologically productive land and sea needed to regenerate the resources a group of humans consume, and to absorb and render harmless the waste produced
    • Data from shows that Earth overshoot day i.e. 'the calculated illustrative calendar date on which humanity's resource consumption for the year exceeds Earth's capacity to regenerate those resources that year' is almost 4.5 days earlier each year. In 1961 we were using almost 75% of the biocapacity of the Earth, now we are fast approaching 170%.
    • However, the consumption and resulting footprint is not distributed evenly across the globe. Some experience environmental degradation far worse than others (temporal and spatial distributions)
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Idea of planetary boundaries

  • Proposed by Rockstrom et al, 2009
  • Shows we're approaching limits on climate change and have already breached limits on biodiversity loss and the nitrogen cycle
  • Another version proposed by Steffen et al, 2015
    • Core boundaries were climate change and biosphere integrity
    • Recognised uncertainties
    • Stated we had crossed boundaries in genetic diversity and biogeochemcal flows and were in 'zone of uncertainty' with climate change and land-system change
  • Critiques...
    • Science base is insufficient
    • Boundaries are arbitrary
    • Not always global - local varations matter
    • Will inevitably be taken as targets - 'targets are there to be broken' (Nature, 2009)
  • Doughnut Economics readjusts the idea of planetary boundaries to think about their being a safe zone and a bottom zone, in between which you can find a safe and just living space for humanity (Raworth, 2012)
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Politics of the Anthropocene

  • Anthropocene science displays 'a panicked political imperative to intervene more vocally and aggressively in an Earth run amok' (Robbins & Moore, 2012)
  • Capitalocene - rooted in capitalist processes and commodification of nature (Moore)
  • Plantationocene - rooted in colonalism/capitalism/racism (Tsing)
  • Chthulucene - capital/plantationocene but decentres humans and asks for rethinking of new environmental futures that are less defeatist
  • Virocene? - age of the parasite/virus

The Anthropocene doesn't represent a failure of environmentalism. It is the stage on which a new, more positive and forward looking environmentalism can be built (Marris et al, 2011)

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