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Fr. Anthropocène

Esp. Antropoceno

→ climate (change), ecosystem

The concept of anthropocene emerged from the awareness that the earth has entered into a new geological epoch, born perhaps two centuries ago with the industrial revolution and powered by burning fossil fuels. It was anticipated by Vladimir Vernadsky, who first used the seminal concept of the ‘Biosphere’, which acknowledges that the world is a functionally integrated, global phenomenon. A similar concept, referring to the recent geological era dominated by the global environmental impact of human expansion and activities, was called the Anthropozoic by Stoppani (1873). The reality of the Anthropocene had also been grasped by the French paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in 1922, who borrowed the Noosphere terme from Vernadsky, wrote his Phenomenon of Man between 1938 and 1940, first censored by the Catholic Church for « offending the Catholic doctrine ». Other names were the Eremozoic (Wilson, 1992) or the Anthrocene (Revkin, 1992).

In 2000, Paul Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer proposed using the term anthropocene for the current geological epoch, to emphasize the central role of mankind in geology and ecology. Finally, a group of 21 scientists at the Geological Society of London concluded in 2008 that the planet was no longer in the Holocene epoch, that the 12,000-year interglacial period in which humans have flourished was over, and that we are now living in a new epoch—they called it the Anthropocene—a period characterized by a human-dominated environment. In the same way, William Ruddiman (2014), University of Virginia, has worked on a hypothesis that posits that pre-industrial age humans raised greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. Looking back seven thousand years into the Holocene—the current 11,500-year-old geological epoch—Ruddiman has proposed that early agriculture emitted enough methane and carbon dioxide to offset what would have been a global cold cycle. Ruddiman says that in contrast to the familiar view that human-caused greenhouse gases began with the industrial revolution, “the baseline of human effects on climate started earlier and that the total effect is larger.”

The convergence of the Earth and human societies into a global geophysical force has given ris to a number of questions and claims, such as: is it be the final stage in a story that emphasizes the central role of mankind in geology and ecology, or a sequence of destructions which started with prehistoric hunter-gatherers and led to the current climate change? Is it alternatively a belated awareness resulting from these developments? Do we experience a partial deviation from Nicolaus Copernicus’s break in the 16th century, which moved the Earth from its privileged position at the centre of the universe and made people peripheral?

The epistemological consequence may be that the overlapping of nature and culture (Descola 2005, Ghils 2001) as autonomous concepts in conventional studies brings about a “paradigm shift” which excludes single, disciplinary approaches, and requires a transdisciplinary method to address complex systems and implement holistic strategies. The crisis of humanities may then need some reconciliation with hard sciences within a complex, global model of knowledge.

In terms of global governance, the question is whether the imperative of economic development can be reconciled with the need to limit climate change. Alternantively, the imperative of growth, the increase of inequalities (Piketty 2014) and conflicting cultural views will be seen as global political deadlocks. An even more pessimistic view as been expressed by Jared Diamond (2005), who asks whether we are heading to the final collapse of civilisation, caused by the ongoing “ecocide”.