A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk — well, really an extended sound-bite — on the idea of the Anthropocene. It was part of Penn’s School of Arts and Science’s 60-Second Lecture series, a somewhat ridiculous, slightly nerve-wracking, potentially embarrassing, but mostly fun way of sharing ideas and research in very small bites in an open, public setting.
Here’s the “lecture” in its entirety, delivered from 11:55am to 11:56am, April 9, to an ambulatory audience on Penn’s Locust Walk:
Recently the idea of the Anthropocene has been sweeping through environmental thought, raising new questions about humanity’s place in nature. The idea is that our environmental impact has grown so huge that we’ve entered a new geological era, the ‘age of man’, of Anthropos. Our CO2 emissions, for example, are warming the planet and acidifying the oceans. The idea of the Anthropocene encourages us to take responsibility for these kinds of world-changing effects.
But it also risks feeding our narcissism. By taking our planetary dominance at face value, we may be entering not just a new geological era but also a new cultural era, the Anthropocentrocene, where we forget how dependent we are on the forces of nature. Like the butterfly that sets off a hurricane, our local interventions have global effects precisely because they’re embedded in powerful systems beyond our control or even prediction. If we lose sight of this interdependence, these limits to our power, we may be forced to embrace another uncomfortable term: Anthropsolescence.