Wednesday, 29 May 2013

"I Don't Like the Idea of the Anthropocene"

This argument, a sort of argument from optics, is a typical at present humanities response to this term.

It's a reaction to the use of "anthropos."

In form it is precisely the conservative argument against global warming (the same thing, or a symptom of it): "Humans are so arrogant to presume they can change nature/be a geophysical force."

The humanist reaction is a symptom of its sclerosis. Exactly the wrong ideas at the wrong time.


Eco Humanities Symposium CFP

Come one and all!

Rice University English Symposium

September 13-14, 2013
Ecology and the Environmental Humanities
Keynotes: Prof. Claire Colebrook, PennState University
Prof. Timothy Morton, Rice University

The 2013 English Symposium at Rice University invites responses to the ecological and nonhuman turns in the humanities. These turns are undoubtedly responses to environmental crises, food shortages, global warming, factory farming, and species extinction, but this symposium is also interested in discussing the emergence of nonhumans, such as matter, objects, animals, systems, technology, and media, in our critical conversations surrounding these problems.

While the humanities have an opportunity to challenge the problems and solutions put forth by scientific discourses, the Anthropocene, the post-Natural, and the Posthuman come to challenge humanism. What are humanities scholars able to contribute to the conversations concerning ecology and nonhumans?

Papers can address these topics across a variety of periods, genres, disciplines, and theoretical frames, such as:

Affect Theory
Capitalism and Political Economy
Critical Animal Studies
Critical Race Studies
Cybernetics and Technology
Disability Studies
Environmental Activism
Food studies
Gender and Sexuality Studies
Green Capitalism
History of Science
Medicine and Disease
New Materialism
New Media
Object Oriented Ontology
Population Studies
Settlement Studies
Social Movements
Systems Theory
Proposals (max 250 words) are due on July 1. Papers should be readable in 20 minutes, but shorter pieces are encouraged to allow more time for discussion. Please email proposals to as a word document or pdf file.

Tuned City Brussels 2

Here are some more details about my talk.

Tuned City Brussels: Sound, Philosophy, Space

Here are some short details about my contribution, "Earworms." My panel is called "Operative Ambience" and I believe it's on Saturday 6.29 at 11am.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Copy Editing Hyperobjects

The press did a great job choosing a very good copy editor, I reckon. Not all are as good as that. I should have this part done by tomorrow I think, having started today.

10 Days 6 Talks

Chicago, Sussex (x2), The Hague, Rotterdam (x2).

That was a real humdinger of a trip. I'm going to space them out a bit after this. It was incredibly educational for me. But I'm pretty tired now!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Anthropocene OED

I think I've successfully persuaded my friend John Simpson to put the term Anthropocene in the Oxford English Dictionary. Result!

I do occasionally get words put in the dictionary. Chasp was quite a recent one, as were some etymological discussions of dude.

Martin Amis Gets It Right

I like how explicit he gets about American health care in this interview in the Financial Times Sunday

“There are several veins of madness in American life. Health is another one. Can’t the bloody fools see they pay more than anyone else for this absolutely vile and gangsterish system?”

He just moved to New York,  you see. I remember when I first showed up. Deeply deeply shocking to see Penn Station: all the disabled homeless people shuffling about like in New Delhi. 

Sunday, 26 May 2013

"All Entities Have Dasein"

A little light went on over the head of the very very kind Heideggerian at EUR in Rotterdam as I delved into OOO. This is what he said. He was into it!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Andre Ling's Fuzzy Objects

Andre reminded me of this when I'd posted my talk "Things Are Fuzzy."

Some Problems in Ecological Philosophy (MP3)

Two hours of fantastic conversation, I thought. Hosted by the Philosophy Department at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. Sjoerd van Tuinen presiding.

What Is Ecological Philosophy? Q&A

It was long and thanks to Henk it was very detailed. Featuring drawings on blackboards!

What Is Ecological Philosophy? (MP3)

Henk Oosterling is

(1) A very nice chap
(2) An excellent mind
(3) Deeply interested in martial arts and Buddhism
(4) Last but not least, someone who has created the most extraordinary school, sort of Plato's academy for 4 to 12 year olds in a struggling neighborhood of Rotterdam. Earth measuring (geometry) as philosophy, judo and growing things class(es).


Anyway--more on that in another post. Here is what we did last night.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Things Are Fuzzy Q&A

This was a short but very helpful (for me) Q&A from my talk at Yes Naturally.

Things Are Fuzzy (MP3)

This is the Yes Naturally talk. It was extraordinary as I've said to see the art of Ai Wei Wei and so on, all exploring the idea of ecology without nature, which was the brief of the exhibition. I was struck by the exemplarity of Person Broersen and Margit Lukacs's movie Mastering Bambi, which was by turns an idyllic pastoral and a horror movie—yet without actors and with only one single shot, simply changes in color and music, a Möbius journey through a dark forest. Wow. I'll post more on everything as time goes by. Q&A mp3 to follow.

Thursday, 23 May 2013


Yes Naturally is an incredible exhibition. It was profoundly touching and also very humbling to see one's ideas expressed in a nonverbal form, so much better than one could have done oneself. If you are near it you should go. Ai Wei Wei is in there. This incredible video piece is there--I shall try to describe it later. And on and on. Infrastructural art that points out how things just function in our background ("nature") is there, being all object oriented. I couldn't believe it.

Also, scholarly life has started working even better now I talk about the lineage of French feminism. More soon.

Environmentality (MP3)

This was a "masterclass." Nicholas Royle opened the discussion by asking what I thought of the notion of "mastery." Wow! There thus devolved an enormous excursus on this issue that blended strangely nicely into the discussion of weird environmental poetics...

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Reflections on Creativity in the Anthropocene (MP3)

Sussex University is incredible and Lewes is incredible and Nicholas Royle is incredible. And the Q&A was incredible!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A Primer on Ohio Millipedes

Millipede - Abacion sp.

I've been doing some research lately on a few millipede genera and have found myself lamenting the lack of well-written and accessible resources for millipedes. I have a good enough knowledge base to navigate through the published literature, but it's too inaccessible for general audiences. BugGuide's millipede page is probably the best online resource, but it still lacks good introductory resources for people wanting to learn more about the many-legged critters. You're able to submit a picture, and if you're lucky, someone will help you get it down to genus and maybe tell you how they identified it.

Concise keys for the millipedes don't really exist like they do for other arthropods, due to the characteristics used to identify millipedes. It's not like identifying a moth or a beetle, where coloration, pattern, and overall look can go a long way. You can get to Order from a photograph relatively easily with millipedes, but any deeper can be a problem without (1) very detailed photos or (2) the specimen in hand. If you're interested in taking a millipede down to species, you're most likely going to need a microscope, because at that point they're identified by the male gonopods (sexual structures). If you have a female, you'll probably have to settle for genus.

But to get to that identification, you'll need the help of a millipede expert (starting off, at least). There aren't all that many out there, and not many amateurs focus on millipedes. Instead, most beginners opt for flashier species like dragonflies or butterflies, groups which have wonderful field guides already published.

To break down a few of the hurdles that stop people from learning about millipedes, I've been gathering together some nice photos and information about my local millipede species to share, one of my goals for this blog. So far in this post, you've seen a millipede in the genus Abacion (Order Callipodida: Family Abacionidae) crawling around on the ground. I found this specimen last week in some wood frass at the base of a dead tree. I haven't keyed it out, but I'm 85% sure about my identification (Long millipede, dorsal crests, etc.). I found a similar millipede last summer, so now I know these guys can be found in the eastern and western parts of the county. I'm not sure if I'll get it down to species anytime soon since even I'm lacking resources for this genus, but it's fine for now.

I originally meant for this post to simply cover the new Abacion specimen I caught, but I can't just complain about the lack of millipede identification resources without trying to fix I might as well post my other local species too! Maybe this will help other would-be millipede enthusiasts get started. You can find some more info in my previous posts about millipedes, such as Mushroom & Millipede Hunting and A Calm Millipede's UV Fluorescence. These images were all taken in southeast Ohio, but these millipedes occur in many other states in the eastern US.

We'll start off with the easiest millipede to identify: Narceus americanus (Order Spirobolida: Family Spirobolidae).

Curled up in defensive position.

This species is actually a species complex referred to as the Narceus americanus-annularis-complex, since the two species aren't taxonomically differentiated yet, but that's a technicality that I'm going to ignore for now because it's not helpful for beginners. This millipede can grow up to 4 inches long, making it the largest millipede you're likely to see in the eastern US. It can live up to two years, as I found out when I kept one as a pet. Like most millipedes, it feeds on dead leaves and other detritus on the forest floor, and it can be found under the bark of logs and by turning over the leaf litter from spring through fall.

I've often posted about the above species: Semionellus placidus (Order Polydesmida: Family Xystodesmidae). It exhibits fluorescence under UV light and can also be found in leaf litter. It's about 1.25 inches long and is mostly brown with pinkish-orange stripes on the sides and back of its paranota (the extensions on its back). This species has a wide range in the eastern US, but occurs sporadically. The easiest way to find it is to go out at night with a UV flashlight and shine it over fallen leaves in a forest. If you refer to my second blog post I linked to above, you can see photos of what it looks like under UV light and photos of the male's gonopods.

 Another common species I see is Pseudopolydesmus serratus (Order Polydesmida: Family Polydesmidae), a pretty pink millipede about the size of Semionellus placidus. It can be found under rocks, under the bark of dead logs, and in leaf litter, so it's cosmopolitan in its habitat as far as millipedes go.

Its legs look very needle-like as they taper down to the millipede's feet. Its paranota taper back more on the segments closer to the millipede's posterior.

One of our prettiest millipedes is Euryurus leachii (Order Polydesmida: Family Euryuridae), which may also be the one millipede you can set out to find when you go into the woods. I've always found it in decaying logs, but it can also be found in leaf litter sometimes. (Still though, if you for sure want to find this species, just peel back the bark on a dead log.) Its main body color is purplish-black, with orange spots down its back and on its paranota. It's another that fluoresces under UV light. This species and the previous two are all in the order Polydesmida, which includes many UV fluorescent species--always keep your black light in your insect bag! Don't be too hasty with identifying this species from photos, however: the similar-looking Auturus evides is tough to separate unless you know your stuff.

Here's another entry for the Polydesmida: the Xystodesmid millipede Apheloria virginiensis corrugata. This is a rather large millipede, with a length of about 1.5 inches, and its body is quite broad. It's another UV fluorescent species, though the fluorescence is mostly limited to the underside of its body. The yellow and black coloration is a warning to predators: like many other millipedes, this one has chemical defenses. This species can emit cyanide in response to an attack, so it's not recommended to pick it up. That's not to say it's very dangerous if you do--just wash your hands afterwards. Interestingly enough, I recently found three individuals of this species: two were dead from drowning in puddles after a rain, while the other was waltzing around in some leaf litter. They were all near the same location, and I was surprised to find three in the span of about 16 hours. Usually I have to go hunting for a while to find them. Note that this species has many look-alikes, especially in the Appalachian mountains. There's a good amount of variation even within the species, so remember that this is just one subspecies of Apheloria virginiensis.

And now it's time to introduce a few less photogenic millipedes. The above species is in the genus Cleidogona (Order Chordeumatida: Family Cleidogonidae) and is small compared to the previous species in this post. The first photo doesn't show its exact features terribly well, but it shows both its size in reference to dead leaves and its colors during life. Its body is brown with white spots poking through, and it has short setae along its back. The close-up in the second photo is a dead specimen after being preserved in ethanol.

Next up are a few non-native species.

The first is Ophyiulus pilosus (Order Julida: Family Julidae), an imported species from Europe. It's usually found in yards rather than forested areas, but the specimen I've found was collected from leaf litter in a forest in late fall. It's a slender dark brown/black millipede, and its epiproct is useful for identification: that's the part at the end of the body that looks like a pointed tail (blurry in the first photo).

Another non-native species is the ubiquitous Greenhouse Millipede, Oxidus gracilis (Order Polydesmida: Family Paradoxosomatidae), imported from Asia. It's common throughout the US, and can be recognized by the transverse grooves on its back. It's a thin millipede about an inch long, and can usually be found mating. You've probably come across this species if you've done some gardening or turned over a rock or two in your yard. I personally am sick of seeing this millipede all over the place.

I've included some diagnostic characters for identifying these millipedes, but keep in mind that for most millipedes, you'll need to use a microscope to positively identify them. Some are distinctive enough to identify just from a photo, but even then you can get look-alikes (such as Euryurus and Auturus). However, once you become accustomed to working with millipedes and spend some time identifying your local species, it gets easier. For now, these are photos that you can trust are identified correctly--that's better than what Google will give you.

For more resources on millipedes, check out BugGuide's Millipede Hub, which is the most accessible online resource for millipedes. Rowland Shelley, who frequently helps to identify millipedes on BugGuide, has a nice collection of millipede photos on his site here. That is a resource you can DEFINITELY trust, Shelley is a world expert on millipedes. For published literature sources, you can find older articles about millipedes by searching through the Biodiversity Heritage Library, a wonderful site that has provided me with a ton of primary literature on millipedes--which is often where you need to go for keys, illustrations, and general biological information. Milli-PEET is another site with useful information, including a good key to order for millipedes. Milli-PEET is a project that was funded by the National Science Foundation, with the goal of making millipede research more accessible and succeeded in reaching that goal.

I hope that this post is helpful to those of you interested in learning more about millipedes, and that it inspires you to start taking photos of the millipedes in your area, wherever that may be. The millipedes are in the taxonomic class Diplopoda (that's a taxonomic position on the same level as the Insecta, which we definitely devote a lot of research to), and that includes about 10,000 species, with many more to be discovered. Millipedes are important organisms for nutrient cycling in terrestrial ecosystems, yet they're criminally under-studied. The best way to change that is by making it easy to break into millipede research, so why not start at the most basic level? People need to have the resources to identify these organisms, and photos are some of the best sources for identification (even with their limitations for millipede taxonomy). If nothing else, they can help people get a better feel for the overall "look" of different millipede taxa. So get out there and start trying to identify your local millipedes. Take some photos, put them online, and let's give some names to our many-legged friends!

Of course I had to include a photo of millipede UV fluorescence! Not all millipedes exhibit it, but the ones that do look spectacular.

This Today

Gil Sans! And very good design.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Mark Payne

One of the great benefits of being in Chicago was to have hung out just now with Mark Payne, a classics scholar and old and rekindled friend. We used to live adjacent to one another in New Buildings 1 at Magdalen College. He is a very very smart guy. And a very very funny guy. It turns out we are both fans of Joe Wenderoth, the Ali G of agonized laughter. And we both think about ecology.

Symposium wrap up soon. It was incredible, is the headline.

Concentric Temporalities

Friday, 17 May 2013

History and Politics of the Anthropocene: Anya Zilberstein

C17 and C18 North America
variations on themes in cultural history of climate
Samuel Williams, “Change of Climate in North America and Europe” (1790)
“The whole earth is less subject to extreme cold than it was formerly. Every climate has become more temperature, and uniform, and equal and this will continue to be the cse so long as diligence, industry, and agriculture shall mark the conduct of mankind”

1988: “Since greenhouse gases are chiefly the result of human industry and agriculture, it is not an exaggeration to say that civilization itself is the ultimate cause of global warming”

Colonial elites had a stake in talking about climate
1638: descriptions of New England include language about the climate
to produce feeling of security
Edward Long C18 response to Buffon, 1784: “phlogistic particles from myriads of reeking dunghills, from the fumes of furnaces from the fire s and smoke of ten thousand crowded cities...”
He can’t believe humans can change climate

Nova Scotia and New England thought too extreme for comfort; too cold
political decision to say it’s temperate
ideas << classics + empirical samples: Samuel Williams
center hot; poles very cold (extreme where no one wants to live, uncivilized, unable to engage in higher thought)
you want to inhabit the temperate zones

>> latitude a bad guide for guessing about climate on other side of Atlantic

1. acclimatization schemes: transportation of people, transplanting of seeds
Scots and North Britons, who don’t survive in tropical climates
arguments about bringing a certain type of person...

2. cold-climate denial
“it’s not that cold”

3. material climate change (Samuel Williams, Thomas Jefferson)

That’s the overview. Then how to link to the Anthropocene? From the proliferation of texts about the temperate zone there is a persistent ambiguity. 
C18 example: Rome, Constantinople, New England (!); Paris, Vienna, Nova-Scotia (!)
Humboldt, isotherms: New England in cold and wintry regions, not temperate at all
>> more and more global maps of climate
all models are anthropocentric: temperature, torrid, frigid defined in terms of human need
some maps depend on agricultural plants, seeds
emerging notion of nature as subject to change; unstable, uncertain
>> naturalizations of concept of temperate climate; these have become invisible to us

Q: The writers all seem in favor of climate change! Are there any antagonists? 

A: Daniel Webster. In the short term an instability might cause erosion they think. But overall, no. There has been a real reversal. Industry moderates and tempers. Wholly positive. It’s deliberate and done by human agents! vs our sense that there is an unintended, bad side effect. 

Q: climate and character? Temperate vs tropical for instance. 

A: I have looked at Samuel Johnson’s definition of “temperate.” Stereotypes about torrid people. Moderate behavior etc. I’m interested in settler colonies. Difference between settler and plantation colonies. 

Q: >> defense of liberal capitalism. Torrid zone: defense of environmentalism. 

Q: Were the French at St. Lawrence also denying cold? 

A: Yes. 

Q: Those voices who saw climate change--did they all see the same or have inconsistent notions? 

A: Yes mostly. 

Ecology and the Environmental Humanities CFP

We are extending the deadline for applications for this year's Symposium to July 1. Here's a copy of the CFP. Note that we have decided on our keynotes: Prof. Claire Colebrook from Penn State, and our own Prof. Tim Morton. We're very excited to have them keynote!

Ecology and the Environmental Humanities
Keynotes: Prof. Claire Colebrook, PennState University
                Prof. Timothy Morton, Rice University

Rice University English Symposium
September 13-14, 2013

The 2013 English Symposium at Rice University invites responses to the ecological and nonhuman turns in the humanities. These turns are undoubtedly responses to environmental crises, food shortages, global warming, factory farming, and species extinction, but this symposium is also interested in discussing the emergence of nonhumans, such as matter, objects, animals, systems, technology, and media, in our critical conversations surrounding these problems.

While the humanities have an opportunity to challenge the problems and solutions put forth by scientific discourses, the Anthropocene, the post-Natural, and the Posthuman come to challenge humanism. What are humanities scholars able to contribute to the conversations concerning ecology and nonhumans?
Papers can address these topics across a variety of periods, genres, disciplines, and theoretical frames, such as:

Affect Theory
Capitalism and Political Economy
Critical Animal Studies
Critical Race Studies
Cybernetics and Technology
Disability Studies
Environmental Activism
Food studies
Gender and Sexuality Studies
Green Capitalism
History of Science
Medicine and Disease
New Materialism
New Media
Object Oriented Ontology
Population Studies
Settlement Studies
Social Movements
Systems Theory 

Proposals (max 250 words) are due on July 1. Papers should be readable in 20 minutes, but shorter pieces are encouraged to allow more time for discussion. Please email proposals to as a word document or pdf file.

Adam Nieman on Very Large Finitude

Imagine rolling all the water on Earth into a sphere. What would it look like? And the air?

History and Politics of the Anthropocene: John McNeill

I want to reflect on what we’ve just heard. It began with the proposition that this term isn’t useful for public policy. But I can also see the reverse. Cost benefit analysis as conventionally undertaken seems not all that useful for problems of the Anthropocene. Maybe we need to change the concept! 

People’s discount rates are even steeper than economists’: 50 years from now, who cares? 

My own topic here is going to be a bit disorganized. I haven’t spoken on this theme before. Stray thoughts on cases for the term. 

Agassiz, Vernadsky, Stoppani (the most crucial that Jan mentioned): the Anthropozoic (1873)
humans acquired power that they did in modern times
Word cropped up 1958 (first of all) according to Google. 
becomes part of vocab after Crutzen
Journal of the Anthropocene
Anthropocene Review
Elementa: J. of Anthropocene Science

Duetsches-Museum Munich/Haus der Kulturen der Welt
National Geographic

I’m going to begin with a very theoretical case
One should expect Anthropocene like events on any planet that has life. Dead planet >> dumb planet >> smart planet >> managed planet (Vernadsky, Grinspoon)
monkeying accidentally >> monkeying with intent

Now for some more conventional cases
atmospheric chemistry case
another bioregional case: nitrogen flows
biological case: bio-globalization since 1492 (Columbian Exchange)

Charlres Mann, Homogenocene since 1492 (Orion science journalist)

Geological case: humans in late C20 the most active geological agent than any other force in Earth system (moving rock around etc) (Roger Hooke)

Land use case: land cover >> human artifact (Ellis et al 2013)
agriculture has taken over planet; Ruth De Fries, Columbia

A general case: 24 indicators IGBP (; gigantic upsurge around 1950

Steffen, Crutzen, McNeill (2007), p. 617

If it exists when did it start? 
Rival versions: Late Pleistocene Extinctions (Erle Ellis); ecosystems reshuffled before agriculture; before Holocene

Ruddiman’s early Anthropocene: land use, GHGs, temperature 5-9kyr BP (onset of agriculture, rice, 5-800 years ago)

Certini and Scalenghe (2011): 2kyr BP because of anthropogenic soils that become pervasive then

Then we have the new Anthropocenes: 
Crutzen (Industrial revolution; GHGs, temperature)

Mid C20: fuzzy mix of criteria but least illogical of the bunch (emphasis on scale of impacts); nuclear age = Anthropocene; maybe you don’t need a marker; maybe it’s just the aggregation showing major disruptions that matter; I’m (McNeill that is) impressed with that as a disjuncture, more than with 1800

Paleo vs. modern Anthropocenes

Who gets to decide? 
Geologists: clear and rigorous standards
Historians: anarchic process of decision; French and Italian idea that “contemporary period” of 60s and 70s is now over (!), a conundrum; “post-contemporary” history
(literary scholars can make the same claime)
Philosophers and journalists: all using the term (can’t be stopped)

the illogical and undisciplined people will be sovereign over the term
We are going to use it whether the stratigraphers say yes or no
get used to it! it’s like what historians have to put up with from film makers

Is there a conscious versus unconscious moment in the Anthropocene? Not really. Consider the Stalin Plan. Spain 1911: nature not good enough. Can we say when intentional planet management begins? 

Multiple cases
struggle for authority
terms are uncontrollable
heart of the matter: energy and population (McNeill is a modernist); the curves are highly conspicuous


Q: This goes back to Eric’s skepticism. I share the idea that no one can legislate powerful words. But when you bring the term back into the university, you can’t have a proper conversation unless you stabilize the word

A: That’s why you argue. 

Q: But if we have different criteria we can’t argue. We talk past one another. In Berlin we got precisely to this point. The term is powerful but not precise enough. The term will spread. But in cloistered spaces where we want to stabilize the word for a while...The Great Acceleration seems very persuasive with or without the Anthropocene concept. Then there is the question of interference by humans with Earth systems: when? What is at stake in letting a concept be undisciplined? 

[me: you can think it as fuzzy yet precise in another sense, as a series of concentric loops]

Q: Thanks so much. I had not realized Stoppani had been thinking of the future as well as the past. Geologists don’t have a say in the use of the term. But this is not their battle. It’s fine to have the word out there. But the caution is to do with a very restrictive concept. One good thing about any formalization is what Dipesh is saying: it’s best to have a word that is reasonably restricted and clear. So the term shouldn’t mean anything from 60 000 years ago to some time in the future. The Stratigraphers can help discussion. Looking for signals in the strata: the 1950-ish moment seems to be the least worst. The one that has the least problems. No stratigraphic boundaries are perfect. And human consciousness is irrevalent--it could have been caused by my cat ganging up on us! 

Q: What we are starting to see in early Anthropocene hypotheses are ways of reframing. Normalizing it. No radical break of industrialization. No big deal. It’s better to claim that criteria depend on belief. Ellis: the “good Anthropocene.” A good epic. No limits to human expansion. “We will be proud of the planet we create.” A higher stage of human destiny. Triumphalism >> determination of when it began. 

A: He does have some anxieties about it too. 

Q: The critical thing is that there needs to be something non-arbitrary. 

A: You can argue about it. Think how historians have wrestled with “modernity.” The collective argumentation does narrow the range of acceptable usage. We haven’t even taken that first stage. An explosive stage is necessary: concept subject to ever more and new definitions. Then there comes an implosive stage, narrowing it down. 

Q: Perhaps one way is to come back to ppm question. We could periodize that easily. The 1950 story expands; McDonalds (a factor in the McNeill chart) is a moment << cornucopianism, ideology of growth different from “making a second world” (Francis Bacon); unintended consequence of second-creation-thought

Q: But there is a difference between a geological stratum and an “age of humans” concept: “when do we begin to rule.” Jan is saying that if a geologist came from Mars and all humans were gone, would she develop roughly the same concept? 

A: One defense of McDonalds: if you pen a paper with a Nobel prize winner you don’t always get the last word!

Q: The unstated issue is accountability. It matters if we can trace it to the human. Some moments are also correlated with empire (the exchange of species). Expansion of Europe >> industrial revolution (empire); or  1950s, Americanization (atmospheric nuclear testing)

A: We can bring in issues of accountability. If the concept does successfully colonize social science and humanities, it’s going to happen. It could be a pandora’s box. We may make interdiscipinarity more difficult. Historians will want to talk about x, geologists about y and z. The concept invites people to talk in mutually comprehensible terms. But if the term succeeds there will be costs. [He seems less aware of speculative realist develoments in his worry here]

Q: But it’s necessary as well. But humans are currently driving the Anthropocene. So we have to know what drives humans. 

The History and Politics of the Anthropocene: Eric Posner and David Weisbach

“Public Policy over Massive Time Scales” 

David and I are law professors focused on public policy. How to make the world better through it. My first reaction was that the idea was not useful at all. But this is a topic we can discuss. There is a related issue of massive time scales. 

I’m not going to say the word Anthropocene again. But you’ll see why what we say might be relevant. 

Question: when the government implements a project, how far into the future should it calculate the costs and benefits? 
Amortization rate of benefits: economists assume this
Examples: bridge (ca 30 years)
Reform of judiciary (<100 font="" years="">
Radioactive waste (lasts 10 000 to 1 million years)
Power plants (climate change--indefinite time scale)

future benefits discounted by economists; build bridge, or you can set aside money in bank let it accumulate interest then 10 years from now people can use that to benefit themselves
3% growth >> .97 discount factor

Discounting: typical project has current cost and future benefits
Calculate social value by subtracting costs from discounted benefits
if you have a project that has effects 100 years out, you have to take into account that you might get a better outcome by simply investing money

Uncertainty: increases further into the future
suppose we are considering a project with payoff of $1bn in future, and are deciding how much today to spend
If you assume discount is very low, then the $1bn is worth a few hundred million; but high discount rate >> far lower payoff

social cost of carbon (SCC)
government uses a 300 year estimate
CAFE standards (fuel emissions in vehicles), fluorescent and incandescent lamp standards; small electronic motor standards; at least eleven others
every ton of carbon has a social cost to be factored in
EPA will issue major regs that include social cost of carbon

Government estimated range of uncertainty by varying discount rates; how much temperatures will go up for a given scenario; how big damages will be for any given temperature increase. Relatively tight range of estimates. 

Liz Moyer geophysicist, draft paper

how does uncertainty propagate over time? exponentially because there is an exponential function
same thing can happen in any economics model of climate change
base case: climate change reduces usable output but growth continues. Errors have no long term effects. 
Idea that not that much will change. Growing corn today, same as tomorrow. 

Alternative A: small fraction of damages from climate change reduces growth rate. Errors here >> exponential errors over time. 

Government model:
Base scenario: from 30 to 27 times richer in 300 years. Why would we sacrifice today to help people who will be that much richer no matter what? 

Alternative A: take a percentage of damages and apply to growth rate. At just 1% the damage is doubled. At 5% the damage is such that the economy starts collapsing by 2300. Then 10% >> subsistence economy by 2300. 
Anywhere from 25 times richer to dark ages! 

SCC with no change to growth is $16. At 50% it is $100 000. At 100% it is $130 million! 

>> the timescale for thinking about policy must be very project specific
how important is discounting?
how does today’s uncertainty affect estimates

efforts to calculate the impact are largely worthless (Posner)
efforts are highly sensitive to initial assumptions (Weisbach)

The concept of the Anthropocene is not helpful for making policy choices
Deep uncertainty but also because climate change problem is one of energy transition
source of our wealth is fossil fuels >> energy transition in about 100 years; that is an engineering problem


Q: The term “uncertainty” needs to analyzed. There is something like exponential growth and there is also something like a tipping point. Because things haven’t panned out. How insert that into an equation? 

A: We didn’t even include tipping points. You can add a damage function that increases as temperature goes up.

A: Marvin Weitzman (Harvard). There can be tipping on both sides. You can have huge growth. Or war. 

Q: Then doesn’t Anthropocene become irrelevant? 

Q: I agree with the Posner logic but the Weisbach conclusion. The uncertainty is at least as great. US only 50% likely to exist 300 years from now! It’s absurd. But the conclusion is energy transition, and we need a reason to do it. The reason can’t be rational calculation of long term benefits of long-term policies to >> conclusion of Weisbach. I don’t know that we have it yet. They are moral rather than rational calculation; playing with fire is a bad idea. 

A: We do think we are using a moral argument--to enhance human well-being. Idea of sustainable development. But I don’t think that works conceptually. There seems to be no alternative to this way of thinking. [me: which is agrilogistical]

Q; Are we thinking of a no-growth economy? Creating junk we don’t need. 

A: A low growth economy would be horrible. You have 7 billion people living subsistence lives right now. Many are living on $1 a day. You would be condemning them to subsistence. To say we should stop growing condemns them to horrible lives. 

Q: But stuff we don’t need? 

A: One problem is distribution. Given how much the economy can produce now, if distributed fairly, that would be sufficient. Junk for one person is valuable for another. 

Q: oh come on. How many people need to eat steak every day? 

A: You can’t just tell people to stop consuming. The solution is to try to put in place policies that will redistribute wealth within the constraints we are willing to tolerate. 

A: If we stop growing you still have to find a way to replace the energy. If you don’t you shrink back to subsistence. 
[but ironically, though you wish to avoid it, “the bad level” is built into the default well-being utilitarianism used in this argument! loop!]

Q: You guys are both lawyers. The question of whether it’s human made climate change is a factor? For insurance purposes we have acts of God etc. 

A: That’s not correct. You can get insurance for natural disasters unrelated to human activity. It just depends what the probability of the outcome is. People cause climate change >> you can give incentives to reduce. But even if people had nothing to do with it, you would still want to take that into account for public policy purposes. 

Q: DoD predictions of future based on half life of radioactive materials. Does radioactive waste provide a model for thinking far into the future? 

A: benefit of nuclear: less greenhouse gases. cost: accidents, waste. Future warnings such as target that gets super hot in the sunlight. 

Q: The idea of tipping point. One can make guesses as to when alternative fuels will come online. Hansen and so on: what they can’t model for is exactly when the tipping point comes. Too many equations to solve. Uncertainty you can’t make into risk. Does policy have to be blind or neutral to that? 

A: not at all. This is why we want to start energy transition now. 

Q: But the problem is that we need 6 or 7 decades to get from lab to online energy. While India and China have all the policies for more food and car production. 

A: I don’t know what to say other than we need to start right away. Conservation can start right away. No fossil fuels by 2100. How do you get there at lowest cost? Precisely that we don’t know when the point will be is why to be urgent. We are trying to estimate the costs of energy transition at different moments. You have to replace $5 trillion worth of energy stuff. As fast as possible. That’s just the USA!

A: I take your question to mean that ignoring the tipping point will estimate SCC too low. Maybe it should be $100 or whatever. The question is what should the number be? I think you have to ignore it...

History and Politics of the Anthropocene: Jan Zalasiewicz

Dipesh: the way to make this work is not to have discussants and respondents
Now Jan Zalasiewicz will speak, the only non-social science/humanities scholar here
geologist at U of Leicester
The Earth after Us (2008)
he is part of the push to make the Anthropocene acceptable >> International Stratigraphy Association
this is as political as naming something “genocide” or “famine”
he will address us on the history of the term and the current status of the concept

It’s useful to study this phenomenon not simply in terms of rock! 
International Stratigraphic Chart. There is a problem in the study of Earth. We have to deal with 4.5 billion years of complex history. No way to deal without resorting to some means of trickery. 
We take dynasties of time and simply categorize them into successive units that we can handle. To give us labels that we can use. It simply tries to represent the major events and turning points in Earth history. 
Where are we? Currently we are at the top of this mountain of time, divided hierarchically. We are in the phanerozoic eon in which creepy crawlies have been on the planet. There are three eras. We are in the Cenozoic era, in the Quaternary period when ice has been dominant on Earth. 
The very last 11 and a bit thousand years (when the ice last retreated) is now called the Holocene epoch. Vietnam, Louisiana, etc made of Holocene deposits. 
Now on top of this do we put another geological time interval? This idea has been around for quite some time
The first person who specifically developed such an idea was Buffon. Les epochs de la nature. First stratigraphic history of the Earth. 7 epochs. The last of these “Lorsque la puissance de l’homme a seconde celle de la Nature.”
Included ideas of global warming (a good thing, he thought, to postpone deep freeze)
Stoppani, Anthropozoic era; Vernadsky was also getting onto these ideas
But geologists said “nonsense.” Earth is very old and powerful. Colliding continents must be far more powerful than anything humans can introduce. Jokes about the Coke bottle layer in the strata. 
This changed. Paul Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist. 2000: suggested Holocene had finished. Human impact on cryosphere, ocean, land. Anthropocene concept. 
2002 Nature paper. 
>> eventually term used without inverted comments in the literature, as if it were a real geological term
(even though it still isn’t)
we discussed it on the Stratigraphic Commission. We have the privilege of a free lunch with wine! We wrote a position paper on the term. 21 out of 22 serious non radical often commercial geologists said there is merit in the idea and it should be examined further. So evidence for and against is now being gathered
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Engineering Sciences 369.1938 

it is now in popular media: National Geographic article on it etc

So what is it?
last 200 years: human population rose above 1 billion then climbed very steeply
energy use climbed even more steeply
climate change: not significant yet...
sea level change: yet to budge...

new minerals: histories of growth of minerals
4500 natural minerals probably doubled by humans
metals like to combine with other things in nature; aluminum is present in micrograms, vanadium and molybdenum not at all
growth of aluminum since 1950: we have produced 0.5 billion tons of aluminum, enough to cover whole USA in kitchen foil!
synthetic minerals; garnets for lasers; tungsten carbide; carbon fiber, graphene
mineraloids: ceramics, glasses
polymers, plastics; there is nothing quite like that in nature; 280 million tons a year, hardly any of which is recycled
it’s everywhere now, land and sea; almost all since 1950
by 2050 you can wrap Earth six times over in plastic wrap
rock: concrete; 2 billion tons a year produced. 
bricks: one trillion bricks each year...

minerals and rocks make strata
new strata: artificial hill in Cracow; holes in the ground (1km in Siberia)
holes filled with sediment
just about every major river has got one dam on it now
that is geology; it can be classified geologically
meters thick strata formed very rapidly, orders of magnitude faster than most geological processes

chemical signals: global warming at the moment is a small part of the Anthropocene yet may become dominant
fossil air in arctic ice: temperature fluctuation has gone up in lockstep with CO2
often metronomically
clearly we are changing that
Transport: since 1950, motor vehicles
it is surprisingly easy to change earth

Adam Nieman: took all earth on earth and made it be a sphere, ditto with earth
>> it is fairly easy to change the composition
>> 400bpm

we are now in the Pleiocene epoch (3 million years ago) and we are waiting for the atmosphere to catch up
the climb is irregular; the Earth has a complicated plumbing system but the climb is for real
Antarctica is clearly losing mass now
5 meter sea level rise is trivial but for humans it would be uncomfortable
strata change: Triassic-Jurassic boundary in UK

chemical signals 2: acid oceans
bigger than climate change
the other CO2 problem: acidification
down 0.1 of a Ph point: 30% more hydrogen ions in the ocean
we don’t yet know
at 500ppm coral will stop growing and start shrinking probably mid-century

phosphate connection
we need lots of it to keep ourselves alive; mid C19 turnips << fertilizers: bone meal; raiding skeletons from battlefields of Europe to grind up and put on fields
mummified cats ground up 1880 ground up and put on fields (wow)
dinosaur bones, feces (coprolites)
and we are still extracting phosphate; this appears to be near peak levels at the moment

nitrogen spike
we can take out of atmosphere; we have doubled the amount at Earth’s surface
1950: input of nitrogen in areas far from civilization
a global nitrogen signal

dead zones growing: everything bigger than a bacterium dies
Cretaceous: sea also died << lack of circulation; gray layer in rock

radionucleide signal
since 1945 and more so 1956 (air bomb tests)

trace fossils
footprints; but also wasps’ nest; equivalent would be the building we are in at the moment! 
we are creating trace fossils made of minerals and rocks, eminently traceable
Shanghai “trace fossil” that goes on and on and on...
we are converting the surface into a rural trace fossil (me: agrilogistics!)

body fossils
diversity of “shelly” marine vertebrates can tell time
zoologists, botanists, ecologists use different numbers than geologists
golden toad of Costa Rica: discovered 1964, extinct by 1990s
do we have an era scale extinction event? not yet--but masses of things critically endangered
we are within a couple of centuries of it! 

McDonaldization of life, spreading species across world
rabbits, cats, zebra mussel (took over USA)
New Zealand: 1790 native, 1570 invasive species

mass of humanity
wet weight, dry weight, simple bulk
biomass: humans are roughly 32% of vertebrate biomass
other 65% is creatures we keep to eat
vertebrate wildlife <3 font="">

we have bulked up: nitrogen and phosphorus >> increase land vertebrate count by an order of magnitude

and of course we should consider our machines, such as cars

Stockholm Memorandum
Nature: strong case

Q: what is the other side?

A: it is simply too soon. Geologists are very conservative, particularly stratigraphers; reluctance, slowness. This term is rushing up there. Also, how do you define it? So many things going on. Where does it begin? Can we recognize the strata above Holocene strata? Yet even the critics would say something is happening. The big idea has gone out before the spadework has been done. 

Q: But what you just said doesn’t sound like controversy it sounds like great care. So where is the controversy?

A: Within stratigraphy, there are humans (!). E.g. debate about shifting the boundary of the Quaternary Period. Words were shouted. Blood pressures were raised. “You are taking part of my timescale.” Reluctance to change. But we must thus deal as diplomatically as we can. Many people who work on Holocene say “Why bother?”

Q: What is at stake in the change and how will it change practice for geologists? 

A: I have always liked the focus on the science. To put the boundaries in you must understand the history very well. Without that driver we probably wouldn’t be here. We can take, name, have, crystallize an idea, a paradigm. Specifically there is eg law of the sea. All of previous laws of the sea have been based on stable sea. Now we have changing sea. Thus we must change our legal framework. (Nature speak of liberatarians who have taken to the ocean.) 

Q: Powerful image of atmosphere and water as small spheres. The great value of artwork. Do we also need artists in this room? 

A: Yes of course. Dipesh and I met at an art exhibition in Berlin. Even scientists need this. To have a visceral understanding. 

Q: I can imagine another case for the defense. “It’s not going to last long enough to count.” Do geologists think along these lines? Can we imagine our disruptive high energy society lasting long enough to count?

A: This has been greatly on our minds. It must last geologically. We are the driver. But let’s say we all get wiped next year. Some effects will be very short lived. Buildings will form a layer. But the CO2 will take 100 000 years. This will probably have knock-on effects. Biology is forever. Once you make something extinct or transplant something, it will influence future as well as current biology. We have already changed the future fossils of the Earth. We are like someone who has taken a hammer and has hit a very complicated machine. We are waiting to see what will happen. 

Q: Do other stratigraphers accept that? 

A: In terms of atmospheric chemical change, there are some who debate (deniers) etc. I can’t see how the biological can be so denied unless we mean to genetically re-engineer the Holocene! I can’t see how one would undo that. 

Q: What does the model do for the discipline? Working downward you make geology a political hotbed in the process. 

A: It’s a label. They are about as fundamental as it gets. The first year students learn. There is always a change in consciousness when a label is changed. Anthropocene doesn’t represent humans on Earth, but simply humans as driver of systemic change. 

Q: I loved the opening on bureaucracy. This period is awkward: has it started yet? We don’t have hindsight. We have a historical problem. But if you think about the bureaucracy issue--you have a case for a heuristic device for non-geologists. This is the best argument yet for cross disciplinary research. If one considered this not a geological category only but a useful heuristic device anyway...surely we can keep using it so that people like historians and museums have something to talk with. It is at any rate a fabulous metaphor. Will this insult geologists?

A: We do have informal time terms in geology: pre-Cambrian. Tertiary is not formal but in widespread use. Let’s simply have the term informally and try and have some formal definition. 

Q: Then you don’t have to worry when it starts. 

A: Yes you do. You have to understand it << you want to find out when it starts. Aliens would recognize big boundaries. To what extent are we looking at a non-arbitrary, “big” boundary? A phenomenon that is real. 

Q: A counterpart, “we have always had the Anthropocene” etc. Does stratigraphy show what is really unique? Not simply a spreading of human impact. But transformation of natural processes that govern Earth systems. It’s only in the last 70 years since WWII that this has truly been happening. 

Q: You seem to be identifying a research program to identify effects of humans on Earth. But the relation to periodization puzzles me. Early epochs have incredibly banal names. What strikes me is that it has a kind of pushiness. It is trying to persuade all geologists to adopt this research program. 

Q: I was most interested in what had happened since 1800. But particularly in Buffon. What was he looking at? 

Q: The narrative. Affect of the talk: charts, compelling and alarming stats. Use of term “extraordinary.” Can you press that a bit? 

A: (To all these) Yes we do need a research program. It’s not a case of trying to subvert the whole of geology. It’s currently a cottage industry with zero funding. We do this almost as a thought experiment. We simply invite people to join us or even throw tomatoes from the side. 

In terms of concepts such as “early Anthropocene” we need to think about human influence on geology, eg 60 000 year burning of forests. There has been a “human effect” since then. But we are looking at how geology has changed. It is incidental that humans have been drivers. In a sense the Holocene has been stabilized by human activity: CO2 kept Earth in balance (!!) then there is a shift in 1800. (So Nature as human product again!)

Buffon was looking at fossils. He saw different types of strata. He plugged human history on to the end of his sense of carbon in swamps. Pre-Anthropocene activity that he described as one seventh of his history. 

The posh word is “unprecedented” rather than “extraordinary.” We have burrowed into Earth’s crust deeper than any animal burrow (usually only 4 meters, deepest). We go down over 5km now. Fifty million miles of bore holes since 1950 (from here to Mars) to drill for oil. Not counting all the gold mines, stuff we put in the ground for fracking etc. That has no precedent. The scale of species invasions. There is nothing like the urban strata. New Orleans will preserve beautifully and will create a strange new geometry in the strata. 

History and Politics of the Anthropocene: Fredrik Albritton Jonsson

I’m going to give an autobiographical slant. 
I started as Scots Enlightenment historian >> environmental history
I was often disappointed by US environmental historians
Preservation (Muir >> Carson); sustainability, equilibrium ill defined
global transnational history not there
race, cold war science, etc etc not quite there
this scene has changed drastically in the last decade or two
“envirotech” historians do draw attention to the social bases of forecasting
we are also moving from an ethos of false clarity of preservationist idealism towards a much more pessimistic and anxious recognition of moral and political complexity and failure
it’s a dark picture but it’s also a salutary one
dubious distinction between human society and pure wilderness must go
economy <> geophysics <> ecology
how to manage over the very long run
pandora’s jar of unexpected and wicked trade offs
can we curtail emissions without abandoning human rights and social justice? 
must we abandon economic growth?
or is some kind of geoengineering required?
how do we form an effective policy on a quasi geological time scale? 
this offers an exhilarating intellectual moment for the humanities and social sciences
rethink history, modernity, energy, nature, growth, politics, species, scientific authority
we mean to begin and carry on this conversation

History and Politics of the Anthropocene: Dipesh Chakrabarty

Dipesh welcomes all of us. What a fantastic chap he really is. 
What is fascinating about climate change is how different disciplines have to scale the problem up or down and do different things with their tools. 
While David Archer will talk about 100 000 year scale, some will talk about global warming archive
Then economists speak of decades until the end of the century
Politicians will speak of electoral cycles
Scalar aspect of the problem: Tim Morton’s expression of feeling “outscaled”
I represent a discipline that is not particularly useful, history (!), there are some who are even less useful (literature) (!). (Of course Dipesh doesn’t agree.)
Sahlins: “just look at U Chicago. We don’t do anything that is fashionable or useful. 
Climatologists who think in terms of millions of years. They don’t obviously lend themselves to policy decisions. 
David Archer: is it possible for human beings to care beyond three generations?
Can you care for humans who come thousands of years after us? Or is it a constraint of human nature? Clearly these are questions that come up in thinking about global warming in general. 
Questions in one discipline can open up questions in another discipline. Questions of care or persuasion; we tend to trust anecdotes, not science. 
Lovelock: anecdotalism as a researchable question. 
The problem creates grounds for conversation within the disciplines. 
Some disciplines come to the problem thinking “here is another challenge to prove the efficacy of pre-existing tools”
Others come to it with a sense that “My discipline is now inadequate for this”
Archer: working on global warming is humbling
Triumphalism of geoengineering
we make different beasts out of it
Anthropocene: the term. As a student of human history, the problem is whenever we think of what we could do about climate change as a problem, to mitigate (or prevent, though now impossible), we think through different figures of sovereignty: purposive entities who can project out of their own being a kind of action oriented image of themselves, working with a sense of purpose
Whereas the very idea of being a geophysical force changes the metaphor. Force. How a theological category became a secular category in Newton
need to move away << sovereignty
humans now can think of themselves as a huge object exerting forces on other objects
most of human history that I do (last 500 years) is seen as the struggle for freedom and liberty. 
But that is thinking through sovereignty. 
To think as geophysical force is to entirely change the metaphor