Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Understanding Humans in the Anthropocene: Finding Answers in Geoengineering and Transition Towns

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Understanding Humans in the Anthropocene: Finding Answers in Geoengineering and Transition Towns

Article excerpt


This paper argues that the approaches to global environmental change engendered by conventional environmental discourse have undermined the radical connotations of the Anthropocene. Taking direction from Clark's (2013, Geoengineering and geologic politics. Environment and Planning A 45(12): 2825-2832; 2014, Geo-politics and the disaster of the Anthropocene. The Sociological Review 62: 19-37) concept of geological politics, this paper attempts to rescue the discourses surrounding geoengineering and Transition Towns from dated environmental understandings. By demonstrating how our understanding of a human being-in-the-world can change in the Anthropocene, this paper argues that an experimental and material form of politics needs to shape the agenda of social scientists. Using this experimental perspective, this paper offers the creative example of how Transition Towns may become concordant with local geoengineering practices. Using this example to highlight how environmental discourse in the Anthropocene needs to encompass cross-societal formation with the more-than-human elements of our planet, this paper argues for material experimentation that concerns community participation and socio-technical innovation.


Anthropocene, geoegineering, transition towns, geological politics, material politics, experimentation


There is a danger that the concept of the Anthropocene, a term popularised by Crutzen (2002) that names humans as a geomorphic force, will miss the contours of what makes this epoch different. If the Anthropocene is to be taken seriously as an 'undefined and arguably unprecedented historical condition underpinned by environmental uncertainties', there is also an explicit demand for a 'critical reassessments of how material engagements take form, hold fast, and/or break apart in space and through time' (Johnson and Morehouse, 2014: 440). In other words, the Anthropocene invites a re-examination of contemporary globalised life from a perspective that transgresses the ontological distinction between humans and nature. From here, the systems of energy, food, transport, economics, etc. that facilitate the methods of exchange between material, goods, ideas and people across the globe, are suddenly questioned at a fundamental level. This questioning goes beyond a normative understanding of environmentalism--the size of our ecological footprint, but generates more profound perspective that attempts to put the 'social thought into contact with other epochs and eras' (Clark, 2014: 27). Thus, in order to 're-graph the geo imaginatively and practically' in response to ongoing earth surface changes, the need for a societal self-re-examination must embrace the geological dimension and push social scientists to go beyond contesting the dominant natural science framings of nature (Castree, 2014: 464). Indeed, 'the Anthropocene names a need for novel questions and methodologies that enhance our geographical, social, and political lexicon' (Johnson and Morehouse, 2014: 441).

Social scientists have begun to take to the call to 're-graph the geo' in the Anthropocene. This can be observed in geo-politics (Dalby, 2013) in local participatory action (Gibson-Graham, 2011; Gibson-Graham and Roelvink, 2011) and philosophically (Clark, 2013, 2014; Latour, 2013; Yusoff, 2013). However, there is no guarantee that the novelty of the Anthropocene will avoid being co-opted by the forces of the present; indeed, any progressive social, economic or political changes may become 'naturalised within a given socio-economic order ... one that forestalls the articulation of divergent, conflicting and alternative trajectories of future socio-environmental possibilities' (Swyngedouw, 2010: 228). Or alternatively, and as inhibiting, the more radical conceptions of the Anthropocene may simply be ignored by those in power and become disconnected from emerging alternative social movements (Castree, 2014). …

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