The Anthropocene Crisis

John Bellamy Foster

T
he Anthropocene, as explained by Bellamy Foster, is viewed as a new geological epoch displacing the Holocene epoch of the last 10,000 to 12,000 years, to represent what has been called an “anthropogenic rift” in the history of the planet. He explains: "formally introduced into the contemporary scientific and environmental discussion by climatologist Paul Crutzen in 2000, it stands for the notion that human beings have become the primary emergent geological force affecting the future of the Earth system. Although often traced to the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century, the Anthropocene is probably best seen as arising in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Recent scientific evidence suggests that the period from around 1950 on exhibits a major spike, marking a Great Acceleration in human impacts on the environment, with the most dramatic stratigraphic trace of the anthropogenic rift to be found in fallout radionuclides from nuclear weapons testing."

Bellamy Foster points at the rather evident and urgent need to replace and not fix capitalism, so that we can aspire to "rebuild the house of civilization under different architectural principles, creating a more sustainable metabolism of humanity and the earth. The name of the movement to achieve this, rising out of the socialist and radical environmental movements, is ecosocialism, and Facing the Anthropocene is its most up-to-date and eloquent manifesto." Yet he ponders on the possiblility that many would rather err on the side of denialism than on the side of “catastrophism” and hesitate to take action at this level until we know more. For such possibility he offers very concrete advice quoting Bertolt Brecht’s didactic poem “The Buddha’s Parable of the Burning House”:

The Buddha still sat under the bread-fruit tree and to the others,

To those who had not asked [for guarantees], addressed this parable:

“Lately I saw a house. It was burning. The flame

Licked at its roof. I went up close and observed

That there were people still inside. I entered the doorway and called

Out to them that the roof was ablaze, so exhorting them

To leave at once. But those people

Seemed in no hurry. One of them,

While the heat was already scorching his eyebrows,

Asked me what it was like outside, whether it wasn’t raining,

Whether the wind wasn’t blowing, perhaps, whether there was

Another house for them, and more of this kind. Without answering

I went out again. These people here, I thought,

Must burn to death before they stop asking questions.

And truly, friends,

Whoever does not yet feel such heat in the floor that he’ll gladly

Exchange it for any other, rather than stay, to that man

I have nothing to say.” So Gautama the Buddha.

 

 

For a full read of this essay, click here or on the picture to download the pdf file.

  

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