It’s a good time to reflect on the kind of Anthropocene we’re creating, and how we might make it a better one. Although we have already so changed the planet that it has entered a unique state – the Anthropocene – in which humans have become the dominant force, we are still leading very Holocene lives. What I mean by this is that our culture, civilisation, and infrastructure have not kept pace with the changing planet – we are still living twentieth-century lifestyles even though the world has moved into an entirely new era. The way we acquire our food, obtain our energy, use water, travel, relate to wildlife, plan new infrastructure, organise human populations, make global decisions… are all virtually unchanged from the twentieth century – even Victorian – times. Such a state of affairs may have been appropriate for a time of low human population, plentiful resources, a stable climate and abundant supplies of combustible fuels. But the challenges of the Anthropocene demand that we rethink our approach to everything, that we question established dogma, that we design our societies, creations and lifestyles for this new planetary state.
Since humanity has become this global force, this superorganism, it makes sense to use our full species’ potential to innovate new ways of living – it means embracing human diversity and using it to generate answers to our pressing problems. I don’t just mean a twentieth-century celebration of the music and art of other cultures in a few annual events. I mean including the voices, opinions, ideas and dreams of women, the poor, the uneducated, those from the global south, those at the forefront of planetary change, and those directly encountering its impacts, as well as the corporations, Western leaders, business interests, scientists and activists that currently dominate such discussions. One thing that became startlingly clear to me while researching this book, was the extraordinary wealth of intellect, amassed experience, and determination we have around this green-blue Earth, from the smallest village to the overcrowded slum to the most organised lab. We are an incredibly adaptable, innovative species. I’ve seen neat little tricks to purify spoiled rainwater for drinking, all the way to massive yet simple geoengineering projects to restore glaciers above Himalayan mountain villages – both, incidentally, home-grown inventions born out of the kinds of experiments that human beings have always done when faced with an environmental difficulty.
I don’t doubt that we will survive into the Anthropocene for several decades at least. But how much better if we were to use our innate cooperative skills to properly communicate across the globe, across the self-imposed divisions of gender, nationality, race and culture, to efficiently use the brief time our generation has to make this an Anthropocene where we can all live in comfort with enough food, water, access to energy and other components of a Good Life.
For those of you near London, I’ll be talking at The Royal Institution on ‘Humans and other animals: the tangled web of culture’ on Wednesday 26 November, 7-8.30pm, do came along!
ADVENTURES IN THE ANTHROPOCENE is out in the USA! I spoke to countless Americans while researching the book, and visited people and institutes across the country – do pick up a copy and read their fascinating stories and others from around the world.
Electricity transmission in the coming decades will require new types of supergrids to connect renewable sources of power to people’s homes, businesses and manufacturing bases. In this Discovery programme for BBC World Service, I look at the grids of the Anthropocene, and at different ways of transmitting electrons around.
GeoScientist, the magazine of the Geological Society of London, has reviewed my book. Geologist Jan Zalasiewicz gave it a generous review and pronounced it “highly recommended”, which is great praise from someone whose work I greatly admire!
Adventures In The Anthropocene is available in Canada from today in all good bookshops. David Suzuki says:
Our species has exploded into a new kind of force – one species able to alter the physical, chemical and biological properties of the planet on a geological scale. Gaia Vince’s important book provides the evolutionary, temporal and biophysical context to show with clarity the stunning speed and magnitude of the human footprint on the planet. She manages to inspire with hope while conveying a cry of urgency.
Barbara Kiser included a brief review of Adventures In The Anthropocene in the current issue of Nature magazine, writing that my “…broader discussions of the biological and Earth science are as cogent as [my] close reportage on innovators…” My book is available in bookstores and online.