Ecosocialist Notebook
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Again: Does Anthropocene Science Blame All Humanity?

New scientific papers explode a myth that refuses to die


It’s a myth that won’t die. Because the word “Anthropocene” is derived from the Greek word anthropos, meaning human being, some radical critics charge that Anthropocene science blames all of humanity for the global environmental crisis. Some even claim that naming the new epoch Anthropocene is part of a deliberate effort to distract attention from capitalism’s responsibility.

As  I showed in Facing the Anthropocene, that’s simply not true. Earth System scientists have specifically and repeatedly rejected the “everyone is responsible” narrative, pointing out that a few rich countries and a minority of the world’s people are driving environmental destruction.

Anyone who still has doubts should read two recent scientific papers.

In the August 2018 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sixteen of the best-known scientific experts on the Anthropocene write: “different societies around the world have contributed differently and unequally to pressures on the Earth System and will have varied capabilities to alter future trajectories.” And in the supplementary information section they write: “the wealthiest one billion people produce 60% of GHGs [Greenhouse Gases] whereas the poorest three billion produce only 5%.”

This year, the Anthropocene Working Group published The Anthropocene as a Geological Unit, a book they describe as “an authoritative review of the Anthropocene.” In it, Will Steffen, who led the research programs that identified the Great Acceleration and defined the Anthropocene, writes: “industrial capitalists of the wealthy countries, not ‘mankind as a whole,’ are largely responsible for the Anthropocene.”

Those may not be perfect Marxist analyses, but they certainly explode the myth that Anthropocene science blames everyone. Let’s put that confusion to rest.

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Posted in Anthropocene, Ecosoc Notebook

One Response to Again: Does Anthropocene Science Blame All Humanity?

  1. Tyrone Mayo September 5, 2019 at 3:44 pm #

    The facts are there, and have been there, for all to see. It is indeed global financial/industrial capitalism that is responsible for the disruption of the 8 earth systems and is rapidly destroying the planet as a habitat for the great majority of species, including humans. The Great Acceleration did begin in 1950 and has been identified worldwide by leaving geological markers.
    The book The Anthropocene as a Geological Unit is essential as a reference because the various sciences are represented and each discipline backs the facts Mr. Angus puts before us here.

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