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Environmental Affairs Symposium

Background: The Anthropocene

What does it mean to dwell in the Anthropocene, when the earth has in many ways become a human creation? Shall we the anthropos celebrate or mourn this era?…

The above questions launch our overview of Environmental Affairs Symposium 2014, and they strike to the core of a major recent environmental debate. The Anthropocene is a scientific and popular concept of the world as fundamentally shaped by humans. First proposed in the earth sciences community by scientists such as Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer (2000) as an appropriate term for the current geological epoch, the Anthropocene has now entered the popular imagination as well, via a range of publications (Proctor 2013) and websites such as Welcome to the Anthropocene depicting the remarkable extent of human transformation of the earth.

Though the discussion is still ongoing in the earth sciences community, a larger debate now pits those who consider the Anthropocene a “planetary opportunity” (DeFries et al. 2012) against others who consider it the pinnacle of hubris to imagine that humans do, or should, dominate the earth (Wuerthner et al. 2014). The popular debate thus suggests profoundly differing senses of our future global reality, with hope among those who embrace the Anthropocene, and feared apocalypse among its detractors—a tension perhaps nowhere more evident than in a recent online debate over the possibility of a “good” Anthropocene.

In many ways, the real focus of these debates is only partly over the state of the earth in the Anthropocene. It is also about our human identities and roles—thus the Symposium title, We the Anthropos. One contemporary scholar, Bruno Latour, deploys the concept “…to designate what is no longer the ‘human-in-nature’ nor the ‘human-out-of-nature,’ but something else entirely, another animal, another beast or, more politely put, a new political body yet to emerge” (Latour 2013, 79). Latour cautions us that we the anthropos are on new terrain in this era, such that “nature” and “humanity” are now intermixed to the point that these terms have lost their useful meaning.

If Latour’s understanding of We the Anthropos is correct, questions such as those posed at the top are fresh and open-ended. We look forward to significant, open-ended discussion as part of Environmental Affairs Symposium 2014.

Works Cited

  • Crutzen, Paul J., and Eugene F. Stoermer. 2000. “The ‘Anthropocene.’” IGBP Global Change Newsletter 41:17–18.
  • DeFries, Ruth S. et al. 2012. “Planetary Opportunities: A Social Contract for Global Change Science to Contribute to a Sustainable Future.” BioScience 62 (6): 603–6. doi:10.1525/bio.2012.62.6.11.
  • Latour, Bruno. 2013. “Facing Gaia: Six Lectures on the Political Theology of Nature”. Invited Lecture presented at the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion, Edinburgh, Scotland, February.
  • Proctor, James D. 2013. “Saving Nature in the Anthropocene.” Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences 3 (1): 83–92. doi:10.1007/s13412-013-0108-1.
  • Wuerthner, George, Eileen Crist, and Tom Butler, eds. 2014. Keeping the Wild: Against the Domestication of Earth. Island Press.



Environmental Affairs Symposium

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