Managing the Planet: The Anthropocene, Good Stewardship, and the Empty Promise of a Solution to Ecological Crises

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 08:45
Oral Presentation
Charles STUBBLEFIELD, University of Alberta, Canada
The Anthropocene has emerged as a dominant conceptualization of the current geological epoch and, more significantly, of our relation to nature. By its proponents the Anthropocene is espoused as a “solution formulation,” an analytical tool which clarifies humanity’s multifarious impacts on nature and nature’s subsequent crises; and further as a conceptual apparatus from which to launch mitigation and adaption strategies, promising deliverance or at least engagement with ecological crises. However, the Anthropocene is not a neutral concept, merely illuminating transition within ecological conditions and connections between human activities and nature; rather, it is a particular prism from which to understand humanity’s relation to nature. And, as the Anthropocene becomes ascendant both analytically and politically, it becomes vital to question its imaginary, how it constructs nature and humanity, how it influences and constrains responses to ecological crises, and what the long-term implications of operating within this imaginary are.

I argue that the Anthropocene as a political/analytical prism rests upon flawed conceptions of nature, history, and humanity, rending it an impotent construct from which to respond to ecological crises; offering only partial and presumptive “solutions” in the form of intensified governmental regulation and the application of manifold technological “fixes” through the geoengineering of Earth’s systems, in an attempt to address isolated aspects of ecological destruction. While the Anthropocene highlights human-nature relations as central to ecological crises, it does not question the economic system which drives those relations leaving the principal source of crisis unchallenged; and is thus left addressing capital’s epiphenomena. The solutions offered up through the Anthropocene imaginary may extend the viability of certain lifestyles and capitalism’s modus operandi within the immediate future, but will not reverse nor end ecological devastation. As such, we must move beyond the faulty imaginary of the Anthropocene to novel imaginings of our relations to nature.