The Anthropocene is a geological period defined by recent and ongoing human activities that invite decisive responses by humanity in order to grapple with contemporary and future ecological, biological, and social change. The Anthropocene can also be thought of as the era when it becomes clear that our desires, our ambitions, and our capacities for consumption exceed the capacities of our planet, our home. In response to this conundrum, we need a financial system and money form that reflects these new realities. In this chapter, I contend that these days the problem is not that money is necessarily limited or scarce (since it’s created out of nothing), it’s that it’s not usefully distributed and that those who control and allocate credit control the future. How, then, we might ask, will beneficial ecological change occur if private banks refuse to recognize that ecofriendly change can be economically profitable on a massive scale?
Anthropocenic Artifice and the New Natures of Control
The Anthropocene is a geological period defined by recent and ongoing human activities that invite decisive responses by humanity in order to grapple with contemporary and future ecological, biological, and social change. In this essay, I describe a variety of current “natural” and cultural scenarios and draw on some authors not typically associated with weather disturbances and atmospheric change (Deleuze, Shaviro, Marx) to argue that the concept of the Anthropocene is also one that has the potential to be mobilized in service of unanticipated and emerging forms of social, spatial, political, financial, and ecological control . Indeed, we can perhaps imagine a not too distant future wherein the apparent urgency of the Anthropocene era’s challenges may require global responses that bypass democratic deliberation and necessitate—or are said to necessitate—new expressions of global, regional, and local power . At the same time I want to emphasize that emerging modalities of control in the Anthropocene will likely be sold to the public as being in their interest (and in many instances that might in fact be the case). It is the potential proliferation of these emerging expressions of power in the name of the Anthropocene that, I want to suggest, we must approach with caution as we seek solutions to tomorrow’s social, ecological, and spatial challenges. Or as Simon Dalby puts it: “How the Anthropocene is interpreted, and who gets to invoke which framing of the new human age, matters greatly both for the planet and for particular parts of humanity” (2016, p. 33). Put differently, perhaps the question worth attending to as we hurtle into the future might not be whether humanity will experience a “good Anthropocene ” (Ellis 2011) or a “bad Anthropocene ,” but rather: What will the Anthropocene mean (prior to deciding whether it’s good or bad)? In other words, how will the Anthropocene be defined (not merely as a geological epoch but as a socio-cultural phenomenon or vector of control ) and, who will do the defining (and for whom)? So, although when faced with the problems posed by the Anthropocene , the temptation will be to find solutions and to solve problems, perhaps we’d be better served by asking questions, by reflecting on what agendas are afoot and on whose interests are being served.
Indeed, we could go so far as to suggest that emerging collective enunciations and mobilizations in the name of the Anthropocene have the potential to bring with them their own forms of what Deleuze would describe as “new fascisms.” For Deleuze, the old-style fascisms are no longer the threat they once were. Their tactics are too blunt, too obvious, too predictable. Like everything else, he observes, fascisms change and evolve with the times, and as we speak “new fascisms are being born … and prepared for us” (2006, pp. 137–138). These new fascisms are not only about the “politics and economy of war” but masquerade as seemingly progressive “global agreements on security, on the maintenance of a ‘peace’ just as terrifying as war” (p. 138). Deleuze warns us that “all our petty fears will be organized in concert, all our petty anxieties will be harnessed to make micro-fascists of us; we will be called upon to stifle every little thing, every suspicious face, every dissonant voice in our streets [and] our neighborhoods” (p. 138). It is the potential proliferation and emergence of these micro-fascisms—or some variant thereof—in the name of a phenomenon like the Anthropocene that, I want to suggest, we must be wary of.
Open for Business and the Perpetuation of the Same in the Anthropocene
Bloomberg recently announced to its plutocrat and wanna-be-plutocrat readers that “The World has Discovered a $1 Trillion Ocean!” This purported “discovery” is, of course, the “new” ocean that was once the ice-filled Arctic. The Arctic, Bloomberg writes, “is open for business, and everyone wants a piece” (Roston 2016). This is what the Anthropocene looks like through the eyes of the status quo, of those eager to extend our neo-fascistic present well into the future (with the support of our democratically elected and financially supported political elite). As Bloomberg explains:
there’s no doubting the melting of the Arctic ice cap, and the unveiling of resources below, presents mind-boggling opportunities for energy , shipping, fishing, science, and military exploitation. […] The financial measure of opportunities available […] is difficult to estimate, but $1 trillion may be a solid first-pass. […] The Arctic is warming faster than any other part of the globe, [and World Economic Forum member Jan-Gunnar Withner notes that:] “These changes are like nothing we have seen. We don’t have anything to compare with it in history .” (Roston 2016)
I suppose this is a good thing, isn’t it? A new market primed for profit thanks to the Anthropocene ! It certainly fulfills the need for more of the status quo: infinite extractive growth on our finite and fragile planet (Brown et al. 2011; Jackson 2011; Mueller and Passadakis 2009; Pretty 2013). We can all speculate, of course, about who will benefit from this Anthropocene -induced windfall (and that the beneficiaries will certainly not be donating funds to fight climate change ). But where, we might ask, is all this money—a new 1 trillion—going to come from? The answer is a strange one indeed, one I think is important when grappling with the Anthropocene, and one that even mainstream economists are only beginning to fully grasp: The 1 trillion dollars the melting arctic promises will simply be brought into existence out of nothing—ex nihilo—by private banks in the form of loans made out to private corporations and investors (with interest owing, of course).
See, in today’s financial ecologies (Haldane and May 2011), 97% of the money in existence, namely digitally generated credit (rather than the comparatively small amount of paper money and coins that are created by governments) is created out of nothing by the banks when, for example, we sign on the dotted line for a mortgage, a student loan, automotive financing, credit card purchases, or government spending (Aglietta 1979; Benes and Kumhof 2012; Moore 1989, 1979; Nichols 1992; Rochon 1999; Seccareccia 2012; Terzi 1986). In other words, there is no “borrowing” going on at all, there is only money creation, and—most importantly—the decision to create money/credit —for whom? for what cause? in support of what agenda?—is decided by a global banking oligarchy in accordance with its very specific and all too often short-sighted profit-driven agendas and priorities. And because all of this credit comes into existence with interest owing, there is always more debt needing to be paid back than there is money in circulation ; and because of this the creation of money—that is, the perpetual borrowing of new money into existence—must continue ad infinitum so that debts will be able to be paid, inflation will be able to continue, and the current financial state of affairs will remain afloat. This is why, for example, interest rates have recently been so historically low—to encourage not “borrowing” for overpriced houses for you to flip or rent out on AirBnB, but to encourage the manufacturing of the money needed to keep the system of consumption, 2% inflation, and infinite growth going. Or as John Smithin explains in a recently edited volume by monetary reformers Louis-Philippe Rochon and Mario Seccareccia on the role of money in our global economies:
To “keep the show on the road” in the future […] it is clear that there is always going to have to be more borrowing activity [to keep inflating the economy], from one source or another, essentially ad infinitum. Given the structure of this financial system, and the specific nature of its money, the fact is that someone, somewhere, must always be willing to go into debt in order to generate profits for others. This statement is not an attempt to indicate that capitalist monetary production is nothing more than a “Ponzi scheme.” That is not the point at all. It is merely a logical statement about the arithmetic of this particular social technology . It is the way things are, given the assumed set of social relations, or social ontology. (Smithin 2013, p. 47)
Keeping the “show on the road” is what the status quo maintaining Bloomberg headline—which purports to be about new “discoveries”—is really about. So in the age of the Anthropocene let’s begin to take seriously, as Canadian economist Mario Seccareccia does, the fact that economic production itself is “a process of debt formation” (1988, p. 51) and that in today’s world the ex nihilo manufacturing of bank credit is the dominant mode of financing production and of ecological destruction (Seccareccia 1996). “The flow of investment spending in a monetary economy is primarily a process of debt formation,” he observes. “That is to say, in order for capital accumulation to proceed, firms must first become indebted to the financial sector, the purveyor of credit advances” (Seccareccia 1988, p. 51). And what better medium to encourage debt /credit creation than an all-new geological era—the Anthropocene !—with all its costs, expenses, emergent risks, security needs, and disciplinary imperatives?
I have written elsewhere about the significance and power of privately owned banks who have been granted the ability to create money out of nothing in potentially infinite quantities (Tiessen 2013, 2014a, b, 2015) and touch on this topic here because questions related to who gets to create money, and for what purpose, are critical if we are to pursue an ecological future —let alone an Anthropocene —that isn’t simply another, greener, or greenwashed, version of contemporary, extractive form of capitalism (Common and Perrings 1992; Spash 2012). In other words, when we begin to imagine what might be possible in, or what forces might shape, the Anthropocene , we must not lose sight of the fact that whoever is in control of bringing (i.e. loaning) money into existence with a few keystrokes on a computer gets to decide what that money is being created for (Nesvetailova 2014). Consider that all wars, all coal plants, all oil rigs, all nuclear weapons programmes, and all tar sands projects begin with a signature of a borrower willing to take on debt and risk and the deposit of newly created money into someone’s bank account by a bank in service of profit; consider too, that all the world’s solar panels, wind farms, hospitals, universities, organic farms, etc. get created the same way. Who is doing the choosing and for what purpose? The purpose of creating loans is, primarily, the pursuit of profit, preferably short-term profit. So, who is making today’s ecocidal loans? Who will make them tomorrow? What are their names? Who will profit most from the Anthropocene as a concept, rallying cry, public policy issue? Which banks? Loans for how much? What are the terms? When will the loans be created? Why do we allow such decisions to be made by purely financial interests in search of pecuniary gains and shareholder value? How is the public served when profit is the dominant paradigm? How does the environment benefit or lose? In sum, it’s worth pondering the fact that most of today’s institutionalized barbarism and eco-destruction—a vast majority of life’s most heinous crimes and catastrophes—were facilitated through bankers’ use of computers, privately and digitally created money, credit checks, and crediting international bank accounts. Even Marx understood the potential for the credit -creators to preemptively impose upon us the future ’s imperatives with their money-conjuring power. As he explains:
the banking system, by its organization and centralization, is the most artificial and elaborate product brought into existence by the capitalist mode of production […] Banking and credit , however, thereby also become the most powerful means for driving capitalist production beyond its own barriers and one of the most effective vehicles for crises and swindling. (Marx 1981, p. 742)
Contemporary financial orthodoxy —and power—is worthy of our attention because of the fact that when the control of credit creation is in private and for-profit hands (Eisen 2016; Schnurr 2016), our collective ability to design our Anthropocene —or any other geological era of our own making that we deem name-worthy—democratically or strategically is short-circuited and taken from us. Indeed, under the current global financial apparatus the public interest—if recent financial history is any indication—may not even exist. Indeed, the public’s role, it often seems, is simply to pay interest!
Perhaps most disturbingly, tomorrow’s Anthropocene may have, in a very real way, already been foreclosed in so far as the banks will be the ones who decide what it will look like by making financial decisions they are able to benefit from. The economist Richard Werner has done a lot of recent work explaining to mainstream economists—many of whom ignore the role of credit money—about the role of money in an economy, the role of debt, the ways money is actually created, and the relationship of these processes to power. Crazily, most mainstream economists do not actually consider the way money’s created or who gets to create it as being significant enough to be included in their financial models. This is a problem since, as Werner explains, “Recognition of the banks’ true role [in the economy] is the precondition for solving many of the world’s problems, including: the problem of recurring banking crises, unemployment, business cycles, underdevelopment, and depletion of finite resources” (Werner 2014, 2015). Werner explains (at length) the current global money situation as follows:
The empirical facts are only consistent with the credit creation theory of banking . According to this theory, banks can individually create credit and money out of nothing, and they do this when they extend credit . When a loan is granted by a bank, it purchases the loan contract (legally considered a promissory note issued by the borrower), which is reflected by an increase in its assets by the amount of the loan. The borrower “receives” the “money” when the bank credits the borrower’s account at the bank with the amount of the loan. The balance sheet lengthens. Through the process of credit creation 97% of the money supply is created in the [world] today…. Not surprisingly, the use to which bank credit is put to determines its effect, namely whether bank credit is extended for productive, consumptive, or speculative purposes. One reason for the neglect of the institutional and operational details of banks in the research literature in the past decades is likely the fact that no law, statute or bank regulation explicitly grants banks the right (usually considered a sovereign prerogative) to create and allocate the money supply. As a result, many economists, finance researchers, lawyers, accountants, even bankers, let alone the general public, have not been aware of the role of banks as creators and allocators of the money supply. (Werner 2014, p. 71)
Remember too, that governments are also beholden to the whims of the financial gatekeepers in so far as the agendas the political classes put into motion require the borrowing of money which, in turn, requires those agendas being vetted—in one way or another—by those who have been given the right to create money for us (and their friends the credit -rating agencies). Perhaps a new era of public banking or government-issued money (as articulated, for example, in the “Chicago Plan” following the Great Depression) could allow for greater democratic governance and “people power ” to be expressed through financial means (Benes and Kumhof 2012; Dittmer 2015)? Regardless, private domination of money creation needs to change by incorporating public financing in the public interest for public purposes (such as responding to Anthropocene issues).
Criticisms of monetary orthodoxy are rarely outright or overarching criticisms of money and banking in and of themselves, but they do critique the often invisible mechanisms of power and control that preemptively allow those in control of credit (not to mention those capable of shaping rhetoric related to speculative futures, e.g. the Anthropocene ) to pull strings behind the scenes. Based on their decisions regarding investment capital, interest rates, profitability, return on investment, etc., the financial sector will decide what our world looks like tomorrow (and—unless real change occurs—the powerful mechanism they use will remain for the most part unknown to the public). The crucial question here is how do we live sustainably in a world of scarcity when money can be produced by for-profit entities infinitely (restricted only by banks’ ability to contain or off-load, risk). Indeed, it is money’s ability to be “automagically” created that is the real ecological risk. Moreover, the potentially destructive capacities of money and the infinite elasticity of credit creation are compounded by the fact that as resources get more scarce they also become more profitable (Baveye et al. 2013; Clark 1973).
My cautions about the potential uses and abuses of the concept of the Anthropocene are in light of the potential profits to be made off of multiple aspects of this ecological adventure. After all, the banks benefit by creating money for both oil exploration and oil spill cleanup. In response to this conundrum, we need a financial system that reflects these new realities. Moreover, as economist Mathew Forstater observes, the problem is not that today’s money is limited or scarce (since it’s created out of nothing), it’s that it’s not usefully distributed and that those who control and allocate credit control the future (Forstater 2003; see also, Wray 2015, p. 147).
Money is, among other things, simply an enabler of human desire, and the Anthropocene can be thought of as the era when it becomes clear that our desires, our ambitions, our capacities for consumption exceed the capacities of our planet, our home. How, then, we might ask, will beneficial ecological change occur if private banks continue struggling to recognize that ecofriendly change can be economically profitable on a massive scale? And how will any eco-initiative that threatens the status quo be able to survive the financial power and policy decision-making capacity of the banks, particularly if they continue pursuing profit at all (ecological) costs? Deleuze understood the power of money to be used by its creators to shape the future . He wrote: “[b]eyond the state it’s money that rules [and] money that communicates” (1995, p. 152). For Deleuze and co-author Guattari, the money form—whether commodity money, credit -money (which we use today), central bank money, digital money, etc.—determines the ways ideologies, politics , and culture get expressed and shapes the dispositions and desires of those who are beholden to money’s built-in demands (demands like profit, repayment, etc.). For them, money itself is a tool for initiating, modulating, and multiplying desire . They observe that “the productive essence of capitalism can itself function only in this necessarily monetary or commodity form that controls it.” They posit that money’s flows map onto and determine flows of desire —both collective and individual: “It is at the level of flows, the monetary flows included, and not at the level of ideology, that the integration of desire is achieved” (Deleuze and Guattari 1983, p. 239). In other words, money’s effects precede and even determine ideology (what we often call neoliberalism, e.g., then becomes an effect of, or a response to, monetary phenomena since privatization of public infrastructure, e.g., is necessary because it isn’t usually profitable, and ballooning government debts are owing). That is, it is the bankers who are the enablers and instigators of the proponents of neoliberalism, and it is the bankers who are the gatekeepers that separate us from our desires and their fulfillment—whether we’re living in the Anthropocene or not. Moreover, it is we and our governments who give them permission—whether wittingly or unwittingly—to do what, thanks to us, they are capable of doing to the best of their ability! Deleuze and Guattari note too that “in a sense” it’s the banking system that “controls the whole system and the investment of desire ” (1983, p. 230), and highlight that a primary contribution of Keynes was his having reintroduced desire “into the problem of money” (ibid.). Indeed, given the financial sector’s current credit generating capacities we might imagine that in a world of ecological collapse and resource scarcity, despite periodic debt -driven and speculative catastrophes, the last thing standing will be a banker ready to offer a loan in order to extract interest from that final purchase at the end of the line for the predatory Ponzi scheme (Minsky 2015; Nesvetailova 2008; Tiessen 2014a).
For Deleuze and Guattari, engaging the question of desire through money, and considering money through desire is what “must be subjected to the requirements of Marxist analysis” since, as they posit, Marxist economists unfortunately:
too often dwell on considerations concerning the mode of production, and on the theory of money as the general equivalent as found in the first section of Capital, without attaching enough importance to banking practice, to financial operations, and to the specific circulation of credit money which would be the meaning of a return to Marx, to the Marxist theory of money. (1983, p. 230)
The most salient passages by Marx on money to which Deleuze and Guattari may be referring speak powerfully to our current macro-economic moment insofar as they examine the libidinal and affective dimension of what Marx called “vulgar economics”—a type of monetarily based economics wherein capital—as privately created credit —generates a debt that becomes “an independent source of wealth”; this form of usurious capital is, in Marx’s view, “a godsend” for the money “lenders” and capital owners since its profits are “no longer recognizable” and since the capitalist production process obtains via the affordances of the money form “an autonomous existence” (Marx 1981, p. 517). In such a money system, capital—as virtual production capacity conjured from nothing as credit with debt owing—“becomes a commodity” with a “self-valorizing quality” and a “fixed price”—namely “the prevailing rate of interest” (ibid.).
Marx observes that as interest-bearing capital (credit -)money gains a sort of nonhuman urgency (if not agency ) all its own, appearing magically “as a mysterious and self-creating source of interest, of its own increase” (1981, p. 516). Money as autopoietic flow of credit and debt parasitically preys on human desire , guilt, and greed. As Marx explains:
In interest-bearing capital, therefore, this automatic fetish is elaborated into its pure form, self-valourizing value, money breeding money, and in this form it no longer bears any marks of its origin. The social relation is consummated in the relationship of a thing, money, to itself. Instead of the actual transformation of money into capital, we have here only the form of this devoid of content. As in the case of labour–power, here the use–value of money is that of creating value, a greater value than is contained in itself. Money as such is already potentially self-valorizing value, and it is as such that it is lent, this being the form of sale for this particular commodity. Thus it becomes as completely the property of money to create value, to yield interest, as it is the property of a pear tree to bear pears. And it is as this interest–bearing thing that the money–lender sells his money. (Marx 1981, p. 516, my italics)
This passage by Marx echoes Deleuze and Guattari’s thinking about the role of money as an autopoietic medium of power and control and anticipates the ecocidal economic logic of credit money in the Anthropocene . Of course, perpetual growth cannot keep pace with the exponentially compounding growth of debt . For Marx in the Third Critique, money’s demands (for debt repayment) infect all that it puts a price on and all desires that it promises to fulfill. Money’s surplus value, Marx observes, accrues to it “as such”: “Like the growth of trees, so the generation of money seems a property of capital in this form of money capital” (Marx 1981, p. 517). Marx’s biologically based monetary metaphors are especially striking and provide fertile ground for describing money’s capacity for growth and capacity to subsume reality according to its logic; he explains that “interest is the specific fruit of capital, the original thing,” while profit—from actually selling goods and services with some necessary use value—becomes “a mere accessory and trimming added in [capital’s] reproduction process. The fetish character of capital and the representation of this capital fetish is now complete” (1981, p. 516).
Worth emphasizing, however, is that Marx perhaps misinterprets “vulgar economics” as being an “irrational” form of capital, when in fact, the cold rationality of this logic—perpetrated by private interests on public borrowers and debtors—is the height of sound and profitable thinking (at least if power, accumulation, and control are your objectives). This rationality—“this ingrown existence of interest in money capital as a thing” (1981, p. 518) or capital as that which “reproduces itself and increases in reproduction, by virtue of its innate property as ever persisting and growing value” (1981, p. 519)—is one that depends on mythologies, illusions, hopes, and dreams and, although the true motives are concealed, manipulates desire with—literally—mathematical precision: “the ability of money as a commodity to valorize its own value independent of reproduction—the capital mystification in the most flagrant form” (1981, p. 516). Credit-money, as Marx observes, is not unlike a parasite for centralizing power and wealth by expropriating the wealth of those to whom it is extended. Crucially, this is not a mistake, nor is it irrational! Credit —according to this view—is extended like the fishing net of a deep-sea trawler, capturing everything in its path and laying waste to the fertile sea floor (or ground) from which wealth was generated in the first place. As Marx explains:
Where the means of production are fragmented, usury centralizes monetary wealth. It does not change the mode of production, but clings on to it like a parasite and impoverishes it. It sucks it dry, emasculates it and forces reproduction to proceed under ever more pitiable conditions. Hence the popular hatred of usury, at its peak in the ancient world, where the producer’s ownership of his conditions of production was at the same time the basis for political relations, for the independence of the citizen. (1981, p. 731)
Again, Marx’s analysis could not be more clear:
All wealth that can ever be produced belongs to capital in its capacity as interest-bearing capital, and everything that it has received up till now is only a first installment for its all-engrossing appetite. By its own inherent laws, all surplus labour that the human race can supply belongs to it. Moloch. (1981, p. 521)
Sometimes theorists predict or at least pine for the end of today’s rapacious form of capitalism , expecting it to collapse in on itself or self-destruct. But, again the banks win since self-destruction and collapse are the very lifeblood of money and credit creation since it clears the way for new, more intensive rounds of money production (i.e. borrowing). Steven Shaviro, in a recent blog post, anticipates the banker-built Anthropocene of the near future as follows:
Among all its other accomplishments, neoliberal capitalism has also robbed us of the future . It turns everything into an eternal present. The highest values are supposedly novelty, innovation, and creativity , and yet these always turn out to be more of the same. The future exists only in order to be colonized and made into an investment opportunity. In other words, we cannot hope to negate capitalism , because capitalism itself mobilizes a far greater negativity than anything we could hope to mount against it. The dirty little secret of capitalism is that it produces abundance, but also continually transforms this abundance into scarcity. It has to do so, because it cannot endure its own abundance. And yet, none of these contradictions have caused the system to collapse, or even remotely menaced its expanded reproduction. Instead, capitalism perpetuates itself through a continual series of readjustments. Nearly all of us, as individuals, have suffered from these blockages and degradations; but Capital itself has not. (Shaviro 2013)
Of course, the readjustments identified by Shaviro are not readjustments at all but merely the perpetuation of the same—that is, the issuing of more credit by finance capital following the inevitable saturation of the debt carrying capacity of the financial Ponzi scheme. After all, capitalism is a complex adaptive system and credit -driven capital survives by perpetuating, reconstituting, and manufacturing new desires, not satisfying or satiating them. Or as Naomi Klein puts it in her book This Changes Everything: “We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe—and would benefit the vast majority—are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets” (2014, p. 18).
Nature ’s Biological Benefits and the Cultivation of Future Eco-Desires
Recognition of the role of finance is critical if we are to move towards a more ecologically balanced Anthropocene . Dalby concurs, observing that the direction “we collectively push the planet in is shaped by human actions and decisions made mostly by the rich and powerful of our spacies” (2016, p. 35). But how might we begin, as Jedediah Purdy says, to become “different people ” (in Andersen 2015) in a way that puts us on course for a more ecologically friendly future ? Is it possible that the proverbial 99% could also play a part in steering or pushing our planet in an ecologically sustainable direction? Indeed, assuming a nonlinear and unpredictable future , today’s elite may not even be in position to “push” the planet of tomorrow. Regardless, one thing that will be important if we are to move towards a “good Anthropocene ” is for human beings to desire this future , whatever it may look like. These days, individuals in the West often gravitate towards material and physical experiences they believe to be pleasurable, holistic, healthy. Consider the explosion of consumer interest in such things as organic agriculture and animal products (Batte et al. 2007; Moser 2015), higher quality direct or fair trade coffees, and yoga (Askegaard and Eckhardt 2012). People are drawn to these things because they value what they perceive to be the mental and physical benefits they receive from paying a bit more for something a bit better and a bit more in tune with the environment that surrounds them. Sometimes people demand disruption, if the benefits are tangible enough and can be easily experienced. Consider, for example, such demanded or desired disruptions as the admittedly for-profit business models of Airbnb or UBER (both of which perpetuate contract labor and precarity). But how do we create parallel, desirable realities and societies appropriate to the Anthropocene ? This pursuit of quality, sensorially beneficial, and authentic experiences finds expression in emerging research on the physical benefits of being in natural environments, even urban natural environments. In Japan, for instance, doctors are prescribing “forest bathing” and researchers are increasingly finding that immersion in urban and/or rural greenspaces is biologically and psychologically beneficial to peoples’ health and wellbeing (Pietilä et al. 2015; Pröbstl-Haider 2015; Romagosa et al. 2015). Similarly, walking among trees has been shown to lower cortisol levels and feelings of stress (Thompson et al. 2012). Research in this area might inform our reflections upon the Anthropocene by providing us with scientific permission to engage with nature in ways we don’t normally do in our busy urban lives.
Again, it’s one thing for things to be good for us (like exercise), it’s another for things to be enjoyable or desirable. Perhaps in the future we will begin to address both our need of exercise and our “nature deficit disorder” (Louv 2008, 2012) by getting outside and finding that we actually like it and that it feels good, and perhaps this engagement with natural environments and greenspaces could contribute to a desire for more conservation and less ecological destruction. If the public’s appetite for cage-free chickens can convince McDonalds to require that their chicken suppliers go 100% cage free within five years, perhaps similar consciousness raising in other areas can result from the intersection of scientific research and people ’s desire for more pleasure and less stress in their harried lives.
It strikes me also that a positive way forward is not so much to try to empathize with nonhuman agents and give voice to animal and plant agencies (as important as these may be), but rather to expand or enlarge our sense of what it could possibly mean to be a bit more anthropocentric: that is, to think of taking care of the earth as synonymous with taking care of ourselves. As the technophilic authors of, for example, the Ecomodernist Manifesto declare: “To say that the Earth is a human planet becomes truer every day” (Asafu-Adjaye et al. 2015, p. 6). This could mean trying to imagine a future for humanity that is, for example, not simply in service to capital. Or this could mean developing an increased recognition that we’re only harming ourselves when we destroy the ecosystems and environments that support us and give us life . Perhaps to think more anthropocentrically would mean developing a new appreciation for our integration with and interdependence on the world around us, to begin to imagine ourselves as biological beings composed of permeable membranes and flows, not to mention the nonhuman beings in our gut microbiome and beyond. How, in other words, can we as human beings better attune ourselves to earth’s flows? How do we create relationships with nonhuman others of mutual beneficence—the relationships that, as Spinoza might say, will begin to show us what we’re capable of doing. Or as Buckminster Fuller once famously observed: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
As Petra Hroch argues, one assumption about the Anthropocene , “as an account of the present moment,” is that it “forces us to confront […] the fact that further [conventionally] Anthropocentric thinking will not create a viable response to today’s eco-crises” (2014, p. 4). But is anthropocentrism capable of changing, becoming more expansive and integrative, becoming more open to the outside? Surely, if the great acceleration of ecological destruction we’re currently living through only began during the last century or two (speeding up post World War II), then our relationship to the natural world and to ourselves is one that can change drastically across times and spaces. This change will, of course, continue. As engineering and ethics professor Brad Allenby recently observed in the New York Times, the term Anthropocene “tends to reify humans as they are now” (2011). This, he observes:
may well require adjustment in the future , since the suite of emerging technologies – nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics, information and communication technology , and applied cognitive science – is rapidly making the human a design space. […] And as humans increasingly integrate with the technology around them, and as the evolution of that technology continues to accelerate, it is questionable that what we will have in a couple of decades is still “Anthro” [as we currently understand it]. It is not just Earth systems, but the human itself, that are in the midst of radical and unpredictable change, and it is probably premature to evaluate what sort of system will come out of the process. (2011)
If anything, these unpredictable processes of change will result in the modification of ourselves, the modification of the environments that surround us, and the modification of our relationships to these environments and to our emerging identities. Whitehead once remarked that “Successful organisms modify their environment ”; moreover, he added, “Those organisms are successful which modify their environments so as to assist each other.” This law, he observes, “is exemplified in nature on a vast scale” (2011, p. 256). We can only hope that these modifications of ourselves and the worlds around us will be as mutually beneficial as possible by the time the next geological era—human created or not—makes the Anthropocene just a bad—or maybe good?—memory.
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