The Anthropocene

The word Anthropocene, coined by Eugene Stoermer in the 1980s, was popularized by himself and Paul Crutzen in 2000 and became a buzzword somewhere in the middle of 2011 (according to Google trends). It identifies a still unofficial unit of geologic time in which human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems. However, well before the word Anthropocene started its unstoppable march to popularity, in his celebrated The End of Nature (1989), Bill McKibben warned that human beings had become the “most powerful source for change on the planet” and explored the possible ethical implications of this awareness. From the historians’ and philosophers’ perspective, the École des Annales —- Bloch, Febvre and Braudel —-, Kranzberg and Pursell, Benjamin, Schatzki, the 1960s debate on the culture-nature divide and more recent scholarship had been discussing the for almost a century visible and invisible entanglements among nature, technology and humans.

Despite not identifying a new reality, the discussion about the meaning and utility of the concept of Anthropocene triggered a still ongoing lively debate that crisscross different disciplines. One should ask why.

Media-wise and concerning the public at large, it is clear that extreme weather phenomena, rising temperatures, melting polar ice, ocean acidification, islands of plastics, biodiversity loss, artificial intelligence are at the core of a general interest in the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch in which the unprecedented human pression on resources turned the relatively stable conditions of the Holocene into an unbalanced world marked by the all-encompassing human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecology.

For the academic world, the Anthropocene created a much-needed space for rethinking the history of human-environment relations from a kaleidoscope of perspectives ranging from science to art, from humanities to engineering, from politics to economics, from scholarly to activist-driven discussions. The epistemologies, the conceptual and methodological apparatus, the topics, and the controversies included cover an immense territory that still remains to be explored.