“It seems easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism…” – Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time.
A few weeks ago, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report calling on the world to end its reliance on fossil fuels by 2100. “Since the 1950s, many of the observed changes [in the climate system] are unprecedented over decades to millennia,” the report’s authors wrote, concluding: “human influence on the climate system is clear.” The report is one of many documents that speaks to a question currently plaguing contemporary science: To what extent have humans impacted the earth’s processes, and how can we document those impacts? One answer to this question is the concept of the Anthropocene. “Anthropocene,” as a scientific term, gained traction around 2000 when atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and biologist Eugene Stoermer used it to describe a geological epoch in which human activity has led to environmental, geological, and atmospheric change on a global scale. In the Anthropocene, the two argue, humans have assumed the role of a major geological force. Crutzen and Stoermer locate the origins of the Anthropocene around 1784 (making it coeval with James Watt’s steam engine, itself a metonym for the beginning of the Industrial Revolution) and argue that it is an epoch in which we still live. Since the article’s publication, the concept has sparked heated debate across the sciences: Is there such a thing as the Anthropocene? If so, what kinds of evidence should we marshal to substantiate it?