The Anthropocene with its problems and solutions

by Adriana Cancar

Recently I read about the “Anthropocene”, which describes a new stage in human history where the driving force for environmental changes is understood to be human activity. Climate change is explained in human and social interference with nature – more specifically in the human and social appropriation of, and intervention in, nature and natural reproduction cycles.

The idea behind it seems interesting and at first glance quite right because the human – the Anthropos – really is the main cause for global warming and the climate crisis. The Anthropocene debate paints the picture that “we” (as humans) are the driving force behind climate change. Especially modern society’s lifestyle has enhanced the need and urgency of high energy amounts which leads to more massive extraction of fossil fuels which thereafter results in higher air pollution after burning and using them as the main energy source. The increased usage of fossil fuels leads to rising temperatures and higher CO2 emissions, all caused by an excessive expansion of nature’s appropriation and combustion of CO2-containing fossil fuels endangering the atmosphere. Several indicators (CO2 and methane concentration in the atmosphere, rising temperatures, and sea levels, etc.) convey the urgency in acting against climate devastation and degradation. All the signs and studies show the same picture: the Earth is burning.

By picturing these specific outcomes, the Anthropocene demonstrates technical and academic solutions equivalent to the problem’s logic. And most scholars agree on technical and market-based solutions for conquering the climate crisis. They emphasize that ‘we’ as society need to think more innovatively, efficiently, and use less resources or at least use them in a more efficient way.

Anthropocene as hegemonic discourse and epistemic power

But as I read more and more on the “obvious” cause “the Anthropos”, it becomes apparent that with universalizing and conceptualizing climate and nature in terms of objectivity, calculation and rationality as done in the Western scientific and academic discourse – power relations, hegemony, inequality, and hierarchies are further manifested and reproduced in this specific kind of climate discourse. Especially the idea and role of science needs to be criticized when it comes to climate discourses and (climate) knowledge as such. We need to speak about the epistemic dimension of climate change and climate knowledge – Whose knowledge counts when it comes to the implementation of political solutions for the climate crisis?

Speaking from a socio-constructivist point of view I know that my reality is constructed by my ideas, ideals and by my (materialistic) environment in which I made my personal experiences – all that matters when it comes to perceiving my reality and evaluating my reality. When we read about climate change and think of science in general there is a consensus on how to measure, evaluate and all in all perceive nature and reality by specific rules and guidelines that have been developed for centuries. So, it seems quite understandable that there is only room for one specific reality in the Anthropocene – a measurable, (supposedly) objective, rational, calculable and mostly white and masculine perception of nature and climate disguised by an academic or scientific climate discourse.

By setting these characteristics as standard and modern, Western science implements and executes a certain type of power and therefore a certain type of violence – an epistemic violence.

Opening the Discourse

Farhana Sultana states that epistemic violence or power means that defining climate, nature and knowledge in a specific way contributes to maintaining and reproducing power relations and hierarchies in science and therefore in the political, economic and social sphere as well. Critiques on the Anthropocene are expressed from different perspectives. We have feminist critiques on the Anthropocene as Giovanna Di Chiro depicts when she welcomes us in the White (M)Anthropocene. She elucidates the importance of accepting that climate and environmental reality is inked by patriarchal, white, postcolonial structures.

Postcolonial and neocolonial readings of the Anthropocene argue that the climate discourse and climate politics are neocolonial practices, acting as an extended arm of colonial interests to maintain international power relations – especially in securing access to valuable resources and raw materials.

Thus (climate) science and (climate) knowledge need to be put in critical and politicizing context to impede neutral and apolitical readings of climate politics that disguise power relations and hegemonic interests. It is crucial since we see the Anthropocene debate not supporting deconstructing power hierarchies and inequities when it states that all humans – the Anthropos – are equally responsible for destroying the planet and causing the climate crisis.

Higher CO2 emissions, rising temperature and sea levels and extreme weather are more common – all results from climate change and the human intervention in nature. But by perceiving climate change only in matters of numbers, statistics, and scientific indicators the social challenges are unveiled. The results and outcome are not just scientifically measurable indicators but the peril of real existences and humans. By asking the question who the particularly affected are it becomes apparent that exceptionally vulnerable groups are concerned by climate alterations. Hence, already vulnerable groups (mostly living in the Global South) need to get accustomed to new living and climate conditions. Climate politics and epistemic climate knowledge can be perceived as tool and instrument to silence approaches in politicizing climate and the climate discourse.

In this context we need to question the Anthropocene and climate discourse in feminist, postcolonial, decolonial tradition and need to address the continuances of neo-colonial structures in the climate discourse. We need to ask questions on who is heard and whose voices are silenced, and whilst it seems like the same questions were posed by scholars 20 years ago  there has not been any big progress in creating and walking towards a more just world or at least more just climate governance.

New solutions need to think outside the box and leave elitist, market-based techno-fix perspectives behind to create a space where nature and climate knowledge can bloom and help in finding other ways. There is no “One-size-fits-all solution” for the climate crisis since every place and every person have their own demands to be met. We need to become more sensitive with our understanding(s) of knowledge and have to keep in mind that different experiences create different ontologies. These understandings create divergent ways to interact with each other and with the earth.

There is more to understand and know about nature and each other than quantifiable parameters and indicators that tell us to be more efficient or more profitable. By opening the climate discourse and actually listening to what other epistemologies and rationales say without wanting to push them into the Global North’s academic logic there might be a chance to create climate justice not just in social, economic and political matters but also in epistemic matters.

Adriana Cancar is a Research Assistant at the University of Kassel, Germany. She is part of and contributing to the DFG-funded project “Towards a Reinvention of Development Theory- Theorizing Post-Development” and the COST Action Network “Decolonising Development”.