Present Progressive?

Of Cell Phones and Energy Transitions in the Anthropocene

September 28, 2016

Sarah Strauss

The first week of September was a rather busy one, beginning with the announcement by the Subcomission on Quaternary Stratigraphy’s Working Group on the Anthropocene (AWG), reporting their vote for the onset of the Anthropocene Epoch. In their report to the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), the Working Group favored the nuclear fallout of 1950s as a defining moment, though only one of several candidates that must still be considered before the designation of type location for the Anthropocene’s golden spike. A “golden spike” is a physical marker for the lower boundary of a geologic period, as defined by a Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP), which must be specified by a unit of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. So, the AWG must decide what signal demonstrates most clearly and continuously the reality of anthropogenic dominance on the geologic processes of the planet. Most often, this is done by designation of a type fossil; in the case of the Anthropocene, a leading candidate is the domestic chicken. Just think about that one: dinosaurs have literally come home to roost…


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“Something Wicked This Way Comes”

Energy, Modernities, and the AnthropoScene

March 2, 2016

Sarah Strauss

The verdict of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is clear: we are the dominant species on this planet, and our documented role in the global system gives many (but not all) confidence that the Anthropocene is well named. We need to understand the interactions, impacts, and development of systems to attempt either adaptation or mitigation with respect to our changing climate, recalling that unintended consequences must always be counted. As they say, there is no planet B, no other place where externalities can be stored for later disposal. Of course, wicked problems like climate change are nothing new. They resist resolution because they are difficult to define/multicausal (unlike the ozone hole); have incomplete or changing parameters, such that “solving” one part of problem generates new ones; and have no clear solution, just better or worse options (Rittel and Webber 1973). Wicked problems are socially complex and generally require behavioral or cultural changes of significant proportions. Examples of these, such as climate change, energy transitions, water management, and biodiversity loss, are also the hallmark of the Anthropocene: they are “socionatural” transformations that we have set in motion ourselves, and the ones I have mentioned all have strong connections with each other. Here, I focus on energy.

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