Philosophy’s new challenge

The Anthropocene Project

It’s now nearly official: the Anthropocene Working Group has recommended that the International Commission on Stratigraphy declare formally our entry into the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch of humans (it could take the Commission a few more years to issue the declaration). The neoliberal technological and economic juggernaut is now altering measurably the biogeophysical workings of the Earth system itself. Because they will destabilize civilization’s material scaffolding in fundamental ways these alterations will ultimately reverberate at all levels of the political order. The profound inequities of our global economic system can only make this phenomenon more pronounced and difficult to control. Worse yet, as we respond to crisis we may exacerbate the environmental conditions that ‘began’ the process. In other words, since roughly 1945 we have (mostly unwittingly) set in motion a huge feedback loop between nature and culture whose consequences are deeply uncertain, and which makes the very distinction between nature and culture look untenable. And yet since our political and ethical thinking about this new situation is in its infancy we have not fully grasped the enormity of the challenges we face. If this does not change soon, the future will be colonized by the forces of reaction as we scramble to adapt to the upheavals in store for us. Merely reacting to crises always favours the already-powerful. Clive Hamilton is therefore correct to argue that the new epoch should frighten us. However, we still have a chance to craft a future that accords with our best ideals of equality, truthfulness, and rational hope. These are basically Enlightenment ideals, and that is why the old Enlightenment Project must become The Anthropocene Project.