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Leaving the Anthropocene

Ecosystems Restoration & Planetary Regeneration in the Ecozoic

There is much talk about the Anthropocene these days. The term — or meme — has been taken up enthusiastically by many very committed people working towards a just-in-time response to avoid cataclysmic climate change and the further deepening of the sixth mass extinction crisis of life on Earth.

We are in the middle of cascading ecosystems collapse all around the globe. The behaviour of some has lead to humanity as a whole transgressing important planetary boundaries. Simultaneously most nations are far from having established sound social foundations for human wellbeing.

Climate change, biodiversity loss and severely degraded ecosystems are — to a large extent — the results of human action, and so are the obscene levels of inequality and the structurally dysfunctional economic and monetary systems which are incentivising behaviours which exploit people and planet.

Personally, I have never felt comfortable with the term Anthropocene. Now that it is widely used, I regard it as a transition meme to use with caution. Raising awareness of its short-comings points at a series of up-stream issues.

Using the meme of the Anthropocene contributes to a continuation of a specie-ist and anthropocentric worldview. This also inadvertently contributes to a perpetuation of the deeply flawed nature-culture divide that runs through the Western cultural and scientific discourse.

Paradoxically — many of those who use the term Anthropocene with good intentions are actually trying to overcome and address the devastating results of the Cartesian split between self and world.

The use of the word Anthropocene as the final phase of the Holocene epoch during which humanity became a dominant impact on ecosystems and planetary health also contributes to an inappropriate distribution of culpability to humanity collectively.

The bulk of the damage was done by a relatively small part of humanity— at best a wealthy 20 percent (and yes I am aware of my privilege and responsability of being part of them). The data and historical evidence clearly indicates that much of global warming can be traced to a few (mainly) colonialising countries and only 100 international corporations who became as powerful as national economies by externalising socio-ecological costs of their operation, while lobbying governments to create regulations that privatised wins and socialised cost.

I personally feel a lot more comfortable with Thomas Berry’s vision that we are in a transition out of the ‘sixth mass extinction’ at the end of the Cenozoic era and about to enter the Ecozoic era as the next chapter in the complexification of life as a planetary process.

The shorter we manage to make the Anthropocene transition, the higher the chances for life on Earth — humanity included!

At the beginning of the UN Decade for Ecosystems Restoration (2021–2030) and the dawn of the Century of Regeneration we can set ourselves a new North Star — a lighthouse to sail past and improbe on by the end of the this century as we leave the Anthropocene epoch and enter into Ecozoic era. In time for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day (on April, 22nd, 2020), here is my first draft for aManifesto of the ReGeneration.

The Anthropocene

The notion of the ‘Anthropocene’ has been around for some time and Russian scientist have used it to refer to our current epoch at the end of a geological era since the 1960’s to emphasize that the Holocene, an epoch characterized by relative climate stability and a proliferation of biodiversity and bioproductivity was coming to an end through the sudden — anthropomorphic — onset of the ‘Holocene Extinction’.

As we are leaving the Holocene espoch of our own accord due to the degenerative impact a small proportion of humanity has caused on the planet, the turbulent epoch of degeneration might more adequately be called the ‘Capitalocene’ rather than the ‘Anthropocene’. The survival of our species and that of many others will depend on making this epoch as brief as possible by realigning human activity with bio-physical reality and redesigning the human presence on Earth from its current degenerative impact to a regenerative one. The emergence of diverse regenerative cultures everywhere marks the beginning of both the Ecocene Epoch and the Ecozoic Era.

More recently, the Dutch Nobel laureate for atmospheric chemistry, Prof. Paul J. Crutzen, popularised the term. Anthropocene is now the accepted term for the era where human impact on the planet has become so dominant that our species could be perceived as dominant impact on the biosphere. Curtzen wrote:

“For the past three centuries, the effects of humans on the global environment have escalated. Because of these anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, global climate may depart significantly from natural behaviour for many millennia to come. It seems appropriate to assign the term ‘Anthropocene’ to the present, in many ways human-dominated, geological epoch, supplementing the Holocene — the warm period of the past 10–12 millennia. The Anthropocene could be said to have started in the latter part of the eighteenth century, when analyses of air trapped in polar ice showed the beginning of growing global concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane. This date also happens to coincide with James Watt’s design of the steam engine in 1784” (Nature 415,23, 2002).

In The Anthopocene Review (2014, Vol.1), Andrea Malm and Alf Hornberg offer one of the many critiques that have been voiced:

The Anthropocene narrative could here be seen as an illogical and ultimately self-defeating foray of the natural science community — responsible for the original discovery of climate change — into the domain of human affairs. Geologists, meteorologists and their colleagues are not necessarily well-equipped to study the sort of things that take place between humans (and perforce between them and the rest of nature), the composition of a rock or the pattern of a jet stream being rather different from such phenomena as world-views, property and power. Now that the latter layers of earthly existence mould the former, some epistemological confusion is perhaps to be expected. Against this background, ‘the Anthropocene’ resembles an attempt to conceptually traverse the gap between the natural and the social — already thoroughly fused in reality — through the construction of a bridge from one side only, leading the traffic, as it were, in a direction opposite to the actual process: in climate change, social relations determine natural conditions; in Anthropocene thinking, natural scientists extend their world-views to society.

Malm and Hornberg might be a little guilty of framing their critique in the context of what could be perceived as academic turf wars but I would still agree with their conclusion that the notion of the Anthropocene “is one of several theoretical frameworks which happen to be not only analytically defective, but also inimical to action.”

Joanna Boehnert, a design academic, activist and author of the insightful book ‘Design, Ecology, Politics — Towards the Ecocene’ offered a short review of the diverse critiques of the ‘Anthropocene’ framing in a recent article:

“While the term has rhetorical power in focusing attention on Earth system change, the concept has been critiqued by theorists including Jason Moore (2014, 2015),⁠ Bruno Latour⁠ (2014), Donna Haraway⁠(2015) and Andrea Malm (2015) for uncritically reproducing Western rationality, imperialism and associated anthropocentric assumptions. Critical theorists argue that ecologically destructive development is not a result of the actions of 7.6 billion people on the planet, but it is instead a result the system structures (in the form of social and political institutions) and minority elites that determine how we all live. The scientific framing not only fails to account for the social and structural dynamics propelling ecological crises — but it also obscures these forces by blaming the ‘anthropos’ as a whole. While it is clearly a powerful concept that helps focus attention on unprecedented consequential global challenges, the Anthropocene framing is inadequate on its own in terms of its capacity to generate appropriate responses.”

Jody prefers the use of the word ‘Ecocene’ building on the work of Rachel Armstrong who suggested in 2015 “there is no advantage to us to bring the Anthropocene into the future. The mythos of the Anthropocene does not help us. We must reimagine our world and enable the Ecocene.” Boehnert argues that “the Ecocene is dependent on a redirection of the political economy of design — such that design priorities can be oriented toward sustaining the context of human existence, rather than the accumulation of capital for the few.” She suggests:

“Regenerative, distributed and redirected design economies fit for the challenges of the Anthropocene, the Capitalocene and the Ecocene respond to different aspects of global environmental challenges. Where the scientific Anthropocene describes what is happening to Earth systems as they are changed by human activities, the critical Capitalocene describes the structural dynamics that propel environmental problems, the Ecocene generates a frame for design transitions.”

More on the Anthropocene:

To be clear: I appreciate the excellent work done by many people using the term Anthropocene who are aiming to rapidly address and re-design the degenerative human impact on Socio-Ecologcial-Systems (SES) around the world. With this critique I am simply trying to remind us of the memetic traps and conceptual baggage of this framing and would urge us that we combine the use of this concept with a critique of it’s limitations.

One way of doing so would be to stress that the shorter the Anthropocene, the sooner we will enter into the Ecozoic era characterised by our coming home into the family of life, by designing as nature in ways that create conditions conducive to life.

The Ecozoic Era

I suggest the name “Ecozoic” as a better designation than “Ecological.” Eco-logos refers to an understanding of the interaction of things. Eco-zoic is a more biological term that can be used to indicate the integral functioning of life systems in their mutually enhancing relations. The Ecozoic Era can be brought into being only by the integral life community itself.

Thomas Berry

Thomas Berry suggest that for an effective and rapid transition to this Ecozoic Era we need a series of enabling conditions:

THE DETERMINING FEATURES OF THE ECOZOIC ERA

1. Earth is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.

2. Earth exists and can survive only in its integral functioning. It cannot survive in fragments any more than any organism can survive in fragments. Yet, Earth is not a global sameness. It is a differentiated unity and must be sustained in the integrity and interrelations of its many bioregional modes of expression.

3. Earth is a one-time endowment. It is subject to irreversible damage in the major patterns of its functioning.

4. The human is derivative, Earth is primary. Earth must be the primary concern of every human institution, profession, program and activity. In economics, for instance, the first law of economics must be the preservation of the Earth economy. A rising Gross National Product with a declining Gross Earth Product reveals the absurdity of our present economy. It should be clear, in the medical profession, that we cannot have healthy people on a sick planet.

5. The entire pattern of functioning of Earth is altered in the transition from the Cenozoic to the Ecozoic Era. The major developments of the Cenozoic took place entirely apart from any human intervention. In the Ecozoic, the human will have a comprehensive influence on almost everything that happens. While the human cannot make a blade of grass, there is liable not to be a blade of grass unless it is accepted, protected and fostered by the human. Our positive power of creativity in the natural life systems is minimal, while our power of negating is immense.

6. Progress, to be valid, must include the entire Earth in all its component aspects. To designate human plundering of the planet as progress is an unbearable distortion.

7. The Ecozoic can come into existence only though an appreciation of the feminine dimension of Earth, through a liberation of women from the oppressions and the constraints that they have endured in the past, and through the shared responsibility of both women and men for establishing an integral Earth community.

8. A new role exists for both science and technology in the Ecozoic period. Science must provide a more integral understanding of the functioning of Earth and how human activity and Earth activity can be mutually enhancing. Our biological sciences especially need to develop a “feel for the organism,” a greater sense of theultimate subjectivities present in the various living beings of Earth. Our human technologies must become more coherent with the technologies of the natural world.

9. New ethical principles must emerge which recognize the absolute evils of biocide and geocide as well as the other evils concerned more directly with the human.

10. New religious sensitivities are needed that will recognize the sacred dimension of Earth and that will accept the natural world as the primary manifestation of the divine.

11. A new language, an Ecozoic language, is needed. Our language is radically inadequate. A new dictionary should be compiled with new definitions of existing words and an introduction of new words for the new modes of being and functioning that are emerging.

12. Psychologically all the archetypes of the collective unconscious attain a new validity and a new pattern of functioning, especially in our understanding of the symbols of the Tree of Life, the heroic journey, death and rebirth, the mandala and the Great Mother.

13. New developments can be expected in ritual, in all the arts, and in literature. In drama especially, extraordinary opportunities exist in the monumental issues that are being worked out in these times. The conflicts that until now have been situated simply within the human drama are magnified considerably through the larger contours of conflict as these emerge in this stupendous transition from the terminal Cenozoic to the emerging Ecozoic. What we are dealing with is in epic dimensions beyond anything thus far expressed under this term.

14. Mitigation of the present ruinous situation, the recycling of materials, the diminishment of consumption, the healing of damaged ecosystems — all this will be in vain if we do these things to make the present industrial systems acceptable. They must all be done, but in order to build a new order of things.

(Source: Thomas Berry, Centre for Ecozoic Studies)

More on the Ecozoic:

Let us usher in the Ecozoic and leave the Anthropocene!

Before we create diverse cultural expressions in music, art, theatre and literature exploring what it means to be human in the Anthropocene, I believe we would do better to reconnect with the Universe and Life as a “communion of subjects” and use the culturally creative power of the arts to retell what it means to be fully human in co-evolving mutuality with life as a planetary process.

Let us usher in the Ecozoic era as quickly as possible. The Anthropocene is an evolutionary aberration or potential evolutionary dead end for an arrogant species full of hubris. As if calling ourself Homo sapiens sapiens was not already arrogant enough in the face of lacking evidence that we can even manage to survive on this planet only a fraction of the time that many other species around us have. Now we added the hubris of naming an entire epoch after us, that may well be our last.

Only if we come home into the community of life — a planetary process that creates conditions conducive to life — are we likely to live long enough as a species to witness the continued unfolding of life’s evolutionary journey. There is clarity and wisdom in Thomas Berry’s reminder that “the Ecozoic Era can be brought into being only by the integral life community itself.”

It is time for all of us to play a part in regenerating the health, wholeness and vitality of that community on which our common future depends. The co-creation of diverse regenerative cultures cooperatively engaged in the healing of the Earth and her people is the only viable survival response as we move into the planetary Ecozoic era.

If you like the post, please clap AND remember that you can clap up to 50 times if you like it a lot ;-)!

Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration.

Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures

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Daniel Christian Wahl

Daniel Christian Wahl

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures

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