Theorizing the Anthropocene

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    • 00:09

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON: Hello, my name is Tracy Skillington.I'm a lecturer at the department of sociologyin University College Cork.And today I want to talk about someof the major themes that are exploredin an introductory article to a special issue of the EuropeanJournal of Social Theory that was published in August 2015entitled "Theorizing the Anthropocene."

    • 00:32

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: Now in this article I look at howincreasing societal awareness of various climate change problemshas provoked a very important critical reflectionon the question of how humanity has arrivedat this moment of destruction in its historical development.For the first time, the understanding

    • 00:53

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: is that the outer limits of nature's abilitiesto adapt to human destructive practices are clearly in sight.Average temperatures in 2015 and 2016thus far are the hottest on record,and the expectation is if temperatures continueto rise that one fourth of all of the Earth's species

    • 01:13

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: will be extinct by 2050.Perhaps the most sobering aspect of these developmentsis the undisputed role played by human enterprisein propelling this planet onto a courseof ecological destruction.Now time in this planet's geological history

    • 01:34

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: is thought to offer human she is small, yet highly significant,opportunity to reflect and reassess its role in shapingecological futures.As much as humanity has been the cause of its own advancethus far towards self-destruction,it can also be, as a Immanuel Kant said,

    • 01:55

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: "the cause of its own advance towards the better."Ultimately, the realization is that a more ethicaland ecologically sustainable world cannot be definedas a project for the future but rather must be locatedin the energies, the experiences,and of course the critical capacitiesof humanity's historical present.

    • 02:17

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: Evident in more recent climate change discourseis a very distinct orientation to time and human agency.Time is now very clearly defined as a limit concept.Time, or the lack thereof, compelsthe international community to drawon its own capacities and technological know-how

    • 02:39

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: to find ways of transcending this foreclosure on its futureand creatively envisage an alternative and less dangerousone.Across a wide spectrum of human activities today,we see evidence of such creative thinking,from innovations in low-carbon technologiesto new social models of sustainable living,

    • 03:02

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: but the understanding now also isthat an additional layer of critical reflexive thinkingis required on those factors responsiblefor planetary destruction.We see efforts, for instance, to analytically linksocietal and ecological changes that occured over the last twocenturies with the gradual advancement

    • 03:23

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: of global capitalism.The focus, for instance, is on the accumulation and refinementof what is called "technomass," and its dependenceis historically and today upon asymmetric and highlyexploitative flows of cheap labor and resource abundance.While in all of pre-Capitalist formations

    • 03:47

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: socioeconomoic reproduction and natural resource appropriationwere self-limited and guided by its sense of the needs of thosethat come after, the progressive advancementof industrial capitalist societieswas associated with the abandonmentof this concern for limits.As Agnes Heller points out, "In time,

    • 04:09

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: the demands of a capitalism without limitswould begin to compromise ideas of sufficiency, equity,and fairness, or at least begin to define them in termssuitable to its own interests.The insatiable energy demands of global capitalismtoday insures that enough and as goodwill not be conserved to sustain human life into the future.

    • 04:33

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: As a consequence, humanity's well-beingas a lasting possibility becomes a less predictable affair."In many ways, such critical insighton the interconnections between climate change and capitalismmark a very important phase in collective societal learning.First, they signify an acknowledgement

    • 04:54

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: that fairness has been wrongly measuredin terms of a prioritization of capitalism's present.Instead of principles of sufficiency and equity guidingdominant models of ecological and social justiceacross communities and time, inequalitieshave come to be naturalized as an inevitable product

    • 05:16

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: of humanity's progress.The second realization is that this distinct orientationtowards society development has coincidedwith the advancement of a new geological age knownas the "Anthropocene."The Anthropocene marks a phase in natural historywhen the geological forces of humanity's impact

    • 05:38

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: on the Earth's ecosystems overtakesother forces to become the most powerful driverof planetary evolution.Humanity now resumes a determining rolein shaping the direction of future changesin the physical and biological systems of this planet.The third realization is that to continue

    • 06:00

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: with current rates of deforestation, of fossil fuelconsumption, for instance, is to ensure thatthe Anthropocene advances in highly destructive direction.As scientific evidence of the dangers associatedwith these practices filter into social thinking,plans to invest further in fossil fuel industries,

    • 06:21

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: for instance, can no longer be justifiedbehind a veil of ignorance regarding future outcomes.The idea of the Anthropocene provokes a very serious debateon where our priorities ought to lie,and how bad Anthropocene futures can be avoided.The onset of the Anthropocene thus unleashes many changes.

    • 06:44

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: Geological changes, but also sociological changesin the way we think about the world, sources of endangerment,and ways in which future catastrophe can be avoided.Change is also triggered by the realizationthat climate change aggravates underlying social, ecological,and economic inequalities.

    • 07:05

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: Scenes of environmental disaster and humanitarian crisisin the developing world, for instance,force us to engage with deeply unpleasant truths,such as that revealing the extent to which the devastationinflicted upon the world's poorest communitiesis largely preventable.Not only are these inequalities distributed spatially

    • 07:25

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: in terms of affecting those who residingin semi-arid and low-lying regions most,but they are also distributed temporally.Future generations become yet another cohort whose interestsare being ignored.Thinking of humanity's well-beingonly in terms of the present, as muchof today's capitalist world does,is not only impractical, but highly immoral.

    • 07:49

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: Those with the most prescient understandingof these inequalities are younger generations.Today's global youth are the first generationwith a truly situated social perspectiveon how human practices destroy the Earthsystem they will inherit.Younger generations of the world differ from their elders

    • 08:11

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: in being the first for whom transformationstriggered by the arrival of the Anthropocene are second nature.These generations do not have a personalized memoryof a society before climate change was discovered.Younger and older generations mayco-exist in the same historic time frame,but they do not occupy the same social time.

    • 08:34

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: For these younger generations, the majority of their lifeexperiences reside in the future,especially a future that is now under serious threat.There is thus a notable stratification of experienceof the Anthropocene.Across different generations, depending on one'sage and, of course, depending on one's relationship

    • 08:56

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: to the future.What is interesting for sociologyabout these developments is the wayin which the stratification of experiencing the Anthropoceneis triggering a new level of ecological and future justiceactivism amongst younger generations across the world.For these young activists protest

    • 09:17

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: against the meta political injustice of their exclusionfrom decision making on issues that deeply affect their life.And of course these activists campaigningfor a lowering of the voting age to allowthem to become more active agents in definingthe political present.

    • 09:38

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: In various contributions to this special issue of the EuropeanJournal of Social Theory entitled, "Perspectiveson Climate Change," these issues are explored in more detail.Zhang, for instance, in her contribution,examines how deteriorating air quality in various mega citiesin China has inspired a new level and degree

    • 09:60

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: of political activism.O'Malley, in his contribution, looksat how the increasing demand for environmental justiceis helping to shape a new macro ethicof collective responsibility for Anthropocene futures.Whilst our temporal mobility may be limited,

    • 10:20

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: the products of our living are not.Our carbon dioxide emissions, for instance,could linger in the atmosphere for millennia,according to scientists.When each new generation over-consumes limited suppliesof essential resources, time's arrowbecomes a challenge to the possibility

    • 10:40

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: of preserving mutual advantage and a minimum resource justiceacross generations.As humanity edges ever closer to a 1.5 degree Celsiustemperature rise above pre-Industrial levels,lesser quantities of ecological goodsand greater quantities of environmental bads

    • 11:01

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: are being transferred to the next generations.Therefor, instead of reaffirming our commitment to principlesof equity and just saving in responseto new evidence of grave ecological dangers,generations today are practising a dissaving or a depletion

    • 11:22

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: of aggregate resource supplies to levelsthat are insufficient to sustain safe livingstandards into the future.The challenge now is to find more effective meansof breaking these cycles of dissaving and substitutingthe transfer of environmental bads for the transfer of goodsof benefit to humanity across time.

    • 11:44

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: For instance, renewable energy technologies,sufficient supplies of essential resources,and workable models of democratic organization.Being period locked and bound by the time frame of our birthand our death does not prevent each generationfrom contributing positively to humanity across time.

    • 12:06

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: Social and political antagonisms over the distributionof the burdens and responsibilitiesof global climate change are an integral componentof the democratic president and arelikely to be an essential componentof democratic futures, as are expectationsthat current abnormalities in matters of justice

    • 12:27

      TRACEY SKILLINGTON [continued]: will be addressed and that the rightsof all peoples to a safe and sustainable futurewill be fulfilled.Thank you for watching this short introduction and goodbye.

Theorizing the Anthropocene

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Abstract

Dr. Tracey Skillington presents a short introduction to her paper, "Theorizing the Anthropocene," which examines the new geological era in which human activity is a primary determinant factor. She discusses climate change, global capitalism, social inequality, and political activism.

Theorizing the Anthropocene

Dr. Tracey Skillington presents a short introduction to her paper, "Theorizing the Anthropocene," which examines the new geological era in which human activity is a primary determinant factor. She discusses climate change, global capitalism, social inequality, and political activism.

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