The Geo-Politics of the Anthropocene: Using Stratigraphy to Naturalize the Anthropocene as a Formal Geological Unit

Jeni Barton


In humanities disciplines, ever more metaphorical ink is being spilled on conceptualizing the Anthropocene. Given the numerous articles, books, and edited volumes (this one included) theorizing and retheorizing the Anthropocene, it’s little wonder that there is no agreement about precisely what it is or what it means. There is no single Anthropocene narrative to be told. Rather, there are, as scholars have noted, a plurality of Anthropocenes. There are a plurality of interpretations of the Anthropocene concept and an abundance of proposed uses for it. Among the various narratives, differences often lie in who or what is blamed (humanity; capitalism; fossil fuels), when it began (the Neolithic Revolution; the Industrial Revolution; the post-WWII “Great Acceleration”), and what is to be done (alter human activities to reduce the negative effects; embrace and expand the human potential to better manage and control the planet). A common thread running through the many disparate Anthropocene stories is the very general point that at least some human activities have effects on the planet that are both large-scale and deleterious. The list of offending human activities is probably familiar: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning, altering of land-cover, fertilizer runoff, overfishing, garbage production, natural resource extraction, to name just a few. The undesirable effects include climate change, ocean acidification, sea level rise, lack of potable water, eutrophication, acid rain, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss, the Great Pacific garbage patch, and rivers that catch on fire.

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