Coming to terms with the Anthropocene

Once again, Andy Revkin has put together a fantastic in-depth post that can be enjoyed either as a quick overview of a complex topic or as the portal to digging into a wealth of primary sources.  This time he’s back on the question of the anthropocene—the posited new epoch in earth’s evolution that’s marked by the primary influence of humanity.  He presents what is perhaps the best point-counterpoint summary I’ve yet seen on the fundamental question underlying anthropocene thinking: can there be a “good” human age, or is this era inherently one of ecological and social decline? This really comes down to whether one has faith in humanity’s ability to forge a new balance with the earth’s natural systems.  And of course, the answer you carry forward will be a fundamental shaper of your overall world view and your approach to life and to resilient investing.

Revkin shares extended excerpts from two talks at a recent Breakthrough Institute Dialogue, one each from a proponent of a “good anthropocene” centered around Breakthrough’s concept of “consciously decoupling” human systems from nature to minimize our ecological footprint, and a challenge to this view from a strong skeptic; then he gives the floor to a critique of both views, which adds important perspective that puts these arguments into a larger context that leads to a call for “consious coupling” with the natural world:

There’s a desperate need for eco-postmodernist strategies that reconnect our ways of life with Earth and help to turn consumerist materialism into what political scientist Jane Bennett has called “vital materialism” or what Pope Francis has described as an intimate connection with all beings alive in his recent encyclical “Laudato Si”. Moving beyond anthropocentrism is a central challenge. An anthropocentric Anthropocene would be short, ugly and, in the words of E.O. Wilson, lonely.

In my book and in a talk I gave at the Royal Institution in London in March this year, I explore a “good Anthropocene” ­based on conscious coupling, a renewable economy, bioadaptive technologies, decentralized power systems and a biocultural transformation.

Rather than further excerpting Revkin’s excerpts, we’ll just encourage you to go on over to his DotEarth blog to peruse the post and dig in as far as you’re drawn to—as usual at DotEarth, the piece is laced with links to related writings, conversations, and initiatives.  These diverse points of view shed much valuable light on questions that truly are at the root of whether you’ll be shaping your life in preparation for long-term decline, or for an emergent and unpredictable new order.  It’s all too easy to let these deeper questions sit unexamined, but those who grapple with them will find themselves moving from a more solid foundation as they step into whichever future actually does unfold.  Consider the time you spend with this and other similarly rich “big picture” pieces to be valuable Zone 3 investments (personal assets, evolutionary strategy) as you deepen your own appreciation for the rich uncertainties of the path ahead.

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