It was apparently during a conference that Paul Crutzen (a Nobel Prizing winning atmospheric chemist) first proposed the idea of the Anthropocene. For Crutuzen the term Holocene (a geological epoch denoting a 10,000 year interglacial period), which is widely used by geologists and environmental scientists to denote our present epepoch, simply did not do justice to the extreme forms of environmental change the world has been experiencing over the last 150 year. According to Crutzen, the role of humans in changing the global climate, artificially fertilizing soils, and transforming the ecological make-up of the oceans signaled the emergence of new a geological epoch within which humankind had become a dominant geological force. While the scientific bases upon which it is possible to define and designate the anthropocene are still being debate, this blog explores the role of geography as a discipline in helping us to understand the form and nature of the anthropocene.
I teach environmental geography at Aberystwyth University. My research interests encompass the connections between urbanization and environmental change, the historical role of states within the management of human-environmental relations, and the psychological drivers of human behaviour towards nature. My geographical training leads me to think that current debates about the anthropocene are ignoring two critical considerations. First, while there has been much debate about when the anthropocene began (James Watt’s invention of the steam engine? The rise of nuclear technology?) very little attention has been given to the places where the anthropocene has been instigated within and orchestrated from. As a geographer, I am particularly interested in the role that intense sites of environmental transformation (from mega-mines and quarries, to mega-cities and suburbs) can play in developing a collective consciousness of the historic significance of the Anthropocene and new forms of environmental conscience. Second, while deliberations on the anthropocene have tended to focus on attempting to prove the geological agency of human-kind, far less attention has been given to intellectual challenges that the anthropocene presents. If humans are a geological force it is clear that they cannot be studied as other geological process have been. Researching the anthropocene will thus require a combination of atmospheric chemistry and behavioural psychology; climatology and urban studies; glaciology and economics; oceanography and international politics. This diverse field of enquiry is, I believe, one that geographers have always sought to operate within. This blog hopes to make a humble contribution towards this interdisciplinary project.