The Anthropocene Project
ENS and the Anthropocene Project 2013-2014, Berlin
Interdisciplinary training course in Berlin, November 2014
The project was launched in January 2013 in Berlin at the HKW (Haus der Kulturen der Welt), an event co-organized with the Max-Planck Institute of History of Sciences (MPIWG). One major activity imagined on that occasion, the Anthropocene Curriculum, is a model project on Earth-related knowledge production that has been prepared in more detail these last days in Berlin (January 24-25, 2014). A body of international academics from natural, environmental, and social sciences, humanities, art, and architecture has been working to build a postgraduate Anthropocene Curriculum on this new and controversial topic, but also on how knowledge is acquired and dealt with at the stage of global change. Lyon has two ENS scientists contributing to the project, Pablo Jensen at IXXI and Ioan Negrutiu, Michel Serres Institute.
A snapshot of ideas that caught our attention during the workshop is given below.
The Anthropocene in its Great Acceleration phase may appear as a unique period in history, with paradoxical implications on issues such as inequalities in all aspects of human life and activities, but also for an in depth experience and practice of democracy (Will Steffen, Canberra and Stockholm).
The man-nature relationship is central to the project. If nature went public it would be the most valuable stock market flotation of all times (Sabine Höhler, Stockholm). To that end, research and education are producing knowledge and tools for the accounting and the legibility of the natural capital. They should be used to visualize and control the (over)use of nature, allowing for maintaining the balance of the stocks and flows of those natural resources.
This is not easy, because we are dealing with complex objects and issues that translate into wicked problems and … solutions. Therefore comprehensive problem analysis of social-ecosystemic relevance should specify what is and what is not included in the analysis and modelling and how can we deal with large amounts of heterogeneous data. The inevitable simplifications tend to produce major tensions between the numbers and/or methodologies and the realities on the ground (Miriam Diamond, Toronto ; Paul Edwards, Michigan ; Sverker Sörlin, Stockholm).
Concerning the resource question, natural sciences (geology, biology, geography) become geohistory, geopolitics, biopolitics etc through defined relations of power and production (Marco Armiero, Stockholm). Co-evolutionary processes are at work through the interplay of the resource, the society and the underlying knowledge. Such processes are critical in the understanding of past and ongoing transformations, mutations, shifts (Jürgen Renn, Berlin). For example, concerning fossil fuels and present time developmental models, an interesting “what if” question and exercise for all of us is that of Anthropocene “variants” one can imagine in societies having evolved on renewable resources only (socio-environmental impacts, man-nature relationships as alternative social-ecological interconnectedness, political- and social order-systems etc). It is obvious that such evolutions could reveal contrasting random-effects versus strategies of retention (“filtering”, framing) of ideas, solutions, innovations and innovation pathways.
In terms of land systems, land use intensification, and technological shifts, the area of damaged ecosystem per person (ecological footprint) has always been high with human societies (early fire clearing of land and hunting, invention of agriculture etc) (Erle Ellis, Maryland). The demographic shift is making now the global difference.
The above considerations may explain at least partly the fact that a solution for scientists is a problem for politicians (Sarah Whatmore, Oxford). And vice-versa. Let us take the example of political “games”, where the game consists of setting political goals and not reaching them, again and again (Serker Sörlin, Stockholm). The climate change perception is a very good example. The International New York Times, Jan 24, 2014, titled : Businesses count costs of climate change. The World Bank is considering that “global warming (is) the chief contributor to rising global poverty rates and falling GDP in developing nations”. Remains to be seen what are the measures taken to mitigate climate change that could fix poverty. OECD leaders call for “a big fat tax on carbon”, since increased carbon pollution is increasingly costly. So does climate change for the business community because of increasing economic risks (also see the 44th Davos Forum, Libération, Jan 27, 2014). Data quantifying such risks is still lacking. Not for too long, as studies are underway in the US to evaluate the financial risks associated with climate change by assessing its impact on the US economy “by region and by sector”. The article considers that the political establishment is not ready and open for such a strong turn. Additional reasons to believe that if the business community and concerned financial institutions could find solutions to mitigate climate change impacts on their activities, those solutions are unlikely to ease poverty rates and poor country conditions. A multi-layer hypothesis that makes an extraordinary study case for this upcoming advanced course in Berlin.
— Illustration : Benedikt Rugar