donderdag 17 maart 2011

A forager's critique of the 'Anthropocene' [updated]

The civilized world blinking in the night...

The following excerpt from Richard K. Nelson's 'Make Prayers to the Raven' (previous) about Koyukon coexistence with nature could be replaced with citations from heaps of other sources (for instance or for instance). But this one I happened to have by my side:
To most outsiders, the vast expanses of forest, tundra, and mountains in the Koyukon homeland constitute a wilderness in the absolute sense of the word. For the Western mind, it is wilderness because it is essentially unaltered and lacks visible signs of human activity, and it must therefore be unutilized. But in fact the Koyukon homeland is not a wilderness, nor has it been for millennia. 

This apparently untrodden forest and tundra country is thoroughly known by a people whose entire lives and cultural ancestry are inextricably associated with it. The lakes, hills, river bends, sloughs, and creeks are named and imbued with personal or cultural meanings. Indeed to the Koyukon these lands are no more a wilderness than are farmlands to a farmer or streets to a city dweller. At best we can call them a wildland. 

The fact that Westerners identify this remote country as wilderness reflects their inability to conceive of occupying and utilizing an environment without fundamentally altering its natural state. But the Koyukon people and their ancestors have done precisely this over a protracted span of time. From this viewpoint, they have made a highly effective adjustment to living as members of an ecosystem, pursuing a form of adaptation that fosters the successful coexistence of humanity and nature within a single community.  
The reason for quoting this is that it clarifies something that may otherwise by lost as the case for the official recognition of the Antropocene progresses.

In a recent discussion by Crutzen and Schwägerl on the reality of the Antropocene a reference is made to the anthropogenic biome work of Erle Ellis and Navin Ramankutty:
Geographers Erle Ellis and Navin Ramankutty argue we are no longer disturbing natural ecosystems. Instead, we now live in “human systems with natural ecosystems embedded within them.” The long-held barriers between nature and culture are breaking down. It’s no longer us against “Nature.” Instead, it’s we who decide what nature is and what it will be. 


Where wilderness remains, it’s often only because exploitation is still unprofitable. Conservation management turns wild animals into a new form of pets. 
The major results of the anthropogenic biome mapping project are:
- In 1700 the biosphere was less than half wild and only 5% used. 
- In 2000 40% of the biosphere is used, 37% of the biosphere are novel ecosystems and that 23% is wild. 
- Novel ecosystems embedded within used lands are almost twice as common as wildlands that remain primarily in Earth's coldest and driest regions.
The Richard K. Nelson quote shows that the supposed duality between wild & unused lands versus used & domesticated lands, as the conceptualized by the anthropogenic biome project is soaked in culturally defined notions of how landscapes are supposed to be used and classified. 

Apart from Antarctica no place on the planet is wild or unused, every place is home to some fellow human beings. 

Traumatic ecological disturbance is not a fact of human life, the Anthropocene isn't a geological epoch, it is a cultural artefact. As stated by Willian Ruddiman the producing culture is the culture of farming: 
"A wide array of archeological, cultural, historical and geologic evidence points to viable explanations tied to anthropogenic changes resulting from early agriculture in Eurasia, including the start of forest clearance by 8000 years ago and of rice irrigation by 5000 years ago."  
The Holocene will do as John Hawks wrote back in 2008.

Another quote from Nelson is at place. Here he voices a sentiment that will be almost impossible to grasp for the peasant mind.
And we might also give thought to the legacy that they have created, by which the people continue to live today. What is this legacy? We often remember ancient or traditional cultures for the monuments they have left behind, the megaliths of Stonehenge, the temples of Bangkok, the pyramids of Teotihuacan, the great ruins of Machu Picchu. People like the Koyukon have created no such monuments, but they left something that may be unique - greater and more significant as a human achievement. This legacy is the vast land itself, enduring and essentially unchanged despite having supported human life for countless centuries. 

As an aside: it is worth to quote the first use of the word 'anthropocene', from Vladimir I. Vernadsky's 'The Biosphere and the Noösphere' for its H.G. Wellian feel: 

A.P. Pavlov (1854-1929) in the last years of his life used to speak of the anthropogenic era in which we now life. ... Mankind became a single totality in the life of the earth. There is no spot on earth where man can not live if he so desires. Our people's sojourn on the floating ice of the North Pole in 1937-1938 has proved this clearly. At the same time, owing to the mighty techniques and successes of scientific thought, radio and television, man is able to speak instantly to anyone he wishes at any point on our planet. Transportation by air has reached a speed of several hundred kilometers per hour, and has not reached its maximum. All this is the result of "cephalization," the growth of man's brain and the work directed by his brain.  in which we now live... he rightfully emphasized that man, under our very eyes, is becoming a mighty and ever-growing geological force. This geological force was formed quite imperceptibly over a long period of time. A change in man's position on our planet (his material position first of all) coincided with it. In the twentieth century, man, for the first time in the history of the earth, knew and embraced the whole biosphere, completed the geographic map of the planet Earth, and colonized its whole surface.

1 opmerking:

  1. "The civilized world blinking at night... looks like a PET scan which lights up with all the glucose consuming cancer...As a dark mountain guy I think you'd agree that presents as stage IV.