After 400ppm

After 400ppm

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It is great to see that academics are increasingly deliberating jointly how to engage critically and innovatively with the anthropocene. Past examples of this are conferences at the University of Bristol and at Science Po in Paris (see my commentary here) as well as forthcoming events such as the Anthropocene Curriculum and the Anthropocene cabinet of curiosities. While no single one of these can grasp the extensive claims underpinning the anthropocene, cumulatively they are able to evaluate the different ‘golden spikes’ of this grand narrative and also suggest suitable counter-narratives. A recent contribution to this effort is the workshop ‘After 400ppm: science, politics and social natures in the Anthropocene’ which I had the pleasure of attending last week at the Rutgers University, New Jersey.

The event began with a key note speech by Sarah Whatmore who connected prominent versions of the anthropocene to her own research on the co-production of flood risk knowledge in England. Moreover, she accounted for the recent academic insights about the anthropocene by devising a threefold typology of geopolitics in which the ‘geo’ respectively refers to ‘the globe’, ’the planet’ and ‘the earth’. In addition, the workshop consisted of three non-concurrent roundtable discussions during which early career scientists presented and debated their own papers.

In order to provide deep theoretical reflections of the politics in and of the anthropocene, the participants of the discussion drew on great variety of case studies ranging from the maize cultivation to international law. It was arguably because of the ethnographic nature of many of these accounts that questions around the definition of a unitary ‘anthropos’ acquired considerable prominence during the workshop. Moreover, there seemed to be a consensus that it is the particular cultural and material practices of capitalist societies that have largely led to the socio-ecological transformations now cumulatively defined as the anthropocene. In comparison to those political implications of the anthropocene, the changing understandings and practices of science received little attention during the workshop. Although Sarah Whatmore had set the stage for a discussion about the role of science in framing and solving environmental problems in the anthropocene, only a few participants such as Theresa Ashe and Jeremy Schmidt (see an outline of his paper here) elaborated on the historical and contemporary understandings of scientific expertise in relation to global environmental change.

Picture by Eric Sarmiento, 2014

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