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!