At some point in the last few hundred years, our species pushed the thin veneer of life that coats our planet past its breaking point. We broke the biosphere, and now we own it.
That's the defining premise of the epoch that some say we're now in: the Anthropocene. It's also the editorial stance of a blog/newsmagazine I'm experimenting with called The AnthropoZine. This is not a project of Forest Trends (at least, not yet), but rather a site by and for people who take it as a given that we now live on a managed planet, and there's no turning back. We either manage this mess right, or we lose it. Others can debate whether the mess exists; we take the mess as our starting point, and if that's where you're at, we'd like to hear from you.
How We Got Here
It was a very young Bill McKibben who introduced many of us to the concept of the Anthropocene in 1989, but he didn't call it that. He called it "The End of Nature".
"In the past, we spoiled and polluted parts of that nature, inflicted environmental 'damage,'" he wrote. "But that was like stabbing a man with toothpicks: though it hurt, annoyed, degraded, it did not touch vital organs, block the path of lymph or blood."
But with climate change, he said, we seemed to be touching those organs and blocking those paths -- and in ways that meant the world would never be the same. If we didn't begin reducing emissions, he wrote, we'd eventually have more erratic hurricanes, crazier winters, longer droughts, mass migrations of animals, shortages of water, and crop failures -- all beginning a few decades into the new century.
Twenty-five years later (and just one decade into the new century), we've had the harshest of seasons and mildest of seasons for both hurricanes and winters, and the the US Climate Assessment says we'll soon be facing crop failures that are unprecedented in their severity and regularity. There's good news, too -- if you're a bug. The Northern Pine Beetle, for example, now has two breeding seasons per year, enabling its young progeny to feast on forests across the northern US and Canada.
The list of early warning signs goes on and on, but as our scientific certainty has increased, our vigilance has plummeted. Instead of rising to this challenge, many of our species cling to the belief that it's something we can easily adapt to by moving away from the coasts or migrating to the north -- ignoring the fact that others have the same idea, and that soils up north aren't nearly as rich as those of the global breadbaskets. Still others among us deny the reality of climate science -- a development McKibbon foreshadowed back in 1989:
"We never thought that we had wrecked nature," he wrote then. "Deep down, we never really thought we could: it was too big and too old; its forces -- the wind, the rain, the sun -- were too strong, too elemental."
So here we sit: petrified. Old-school environmentalists cling to a Utopian dream of returning to Eden while policymakers remain fixated on the short-term costs of meeting the challenge but oblivious to the long-term consequences of doing nothing. Even climate scientists, for the most part, have failed to communicate the severity of our situation or the radical changes we must undertake if we're to get ourselves out of this mess.That's what prompted me to start The AnthropoZine.
The Interconnectedness of All Things
As editor of Ecosystem Marketplace, the environmental news service launched by NGO Forest Trends a decade ago, I've had a unique opportunity to see what works, what doesn't, and why. I've seen cities like Philadelphia harness environmental finance to develop their nature-based "green" infrastructures, and I've seen farmers in Kenya restructure entire valleys to protect themselves from the risks of climate change. I've seen projects work because they are developed systematically -- with people and nature in mind -- and I've seen projects fail because they miss one part of the equation.
I've also come to realize that on all scales and in all ways, we are altering the planet's living ecosystems to help us adapt to the changes we have already made, and we've already crossed several points of no return. We will soon cross more, and no one knows where this will end. In the process, we are mapping and managing the entire surface of the planet, identifying the ways all of our systems interact with each other and altering the mosaic of interlocking ecosystems on which we depend. We are in the midst of a massive and now-necessary re-engineering of our planet's surface, and few people outside a small echo chamber of practitioners and policy wonks really understand it.
The AnthropoZine aims to change this by acting as a conduit among existing efforts and a bridge to the larger world. We are unique because we will focus on practical, real-world solutions like those we cover at Ecosystem Marketplace, but from the explicit philosophical frame currently being forged in scientific and technical journals like this one. Like Ecosystem Marketplace, we focus on efforts to maintain our planet's Green Infrastructure -- the forests, farms, and waterbodies that keep us alive -- but we do so by taking into account all of the elements that impact it: the science, the finance, and the psychology. By examining real-world solutions through the philosophical frame that says, "We broke the biosphere and now we own it", The AnthropoZine aims to help identify lasting, systemic solutions to the greatest challenge of our day: the threat to our plane'ts life support system.
Our mission, in short, is to support the restoration of the biosphere by examining its degradation in the context of the man-made systems that impact it. Our focus is on the interplay between economy and ecology, between ecology and psychology, and among all of these fields and the hard sciences. Our aim is to express our findings and those of others in ways that are concrete and easy to understand, and our founding principle is simple: we cannot return to Eden, but perhaps we can reinvent it.
For now, this is a voluntary effort, but it's one we're looking to kick around and scale up. We invite everyone to visit the site -- www.AnthropoZine.com -- and send comments, questions, or suggestions to me at SZwick@ecosystemmarketplace.com. Thanks!
Steve Zwick is Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace. The views expressed here are his and his alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of Ecosystem Marketplace, Forest Trends, or their affiliates. This text has been adapted from two pre-existing posts on The AnthropoZine.