Year of Living the Community: Week 37


posting by Jana

What's better over a cold but beautiful long weekend than to curl up in a sunny spot on the couch with a good book? My choice for the Queen's Birthday weekend was as shown above, Clive Hamilton's latest: Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene. 

I don't actually remember the last time a book made me so mad. Hamilton's blatant misogyny ('feminism set out to cut men down to size') and near constant assertion of his own brilliance whilst almost spitefully dismissing swags of work by other prominent scholars who are also 'groping toward an understanding of what it means after 200,000 years of modern humans on a 4.5 billion-year-old Earth to have arrived at this point in history'... well, I'll say this for his style: it made me read the book at record speed. Good thing I was reading on my Kindle or there would have been some page tearing as I tore through the pages. 

All that fury not withstanding, and even with the added grumble of awareness that Hamilton would probably delight in making people furious as proof of his aforementioned singular brilliance, there was a lot in this book to think about. I'm really glad one of my PhD supervisors recommended it (thanks, Peter.)

Hamilton's thesis is that most people apply Holocene thinking to the Anthropocene, misreading the scale and scope of the reality. We can no longer think about ecosystems but must engage with the Earth System as a whole.

The scale and scope of the reality, he indicates, is that human beings as the geo planetary force we are and have been since 1945* means that for the first time and from now on human history and Earth history converge. We are dealing now with the Earth as a whole system and the reality of volatility of that system that we ourselves have created.  

Earth Systems science  evolved into a discrete field of inquiry in the 1980's. 

Earth Systems science evolved into a discrete field of inquiry in the 1980's. 

Hamilton argues persuasively that: 'We must face the fact that humans are at the centre of the world, even if we must give up the idea we can control the planet. These truths call for a new kind of anthropocentrism, a philosophy by which we might use our power responsibly and find a way to live on a defiant Earth.' He calls for radical rethinking of what it means to be human in this meta reality. (Sounds like Berry's insight about 'reinventing the human'...though of course, Hamilton likes to dismiss Berry's body of work as 'mystification.')

Hamilton calls for rethinking the human and then summarily discounts the interiority that rethinking who we are and how we shall live will depend upon. How will we 'mature' into accepting the bounded/severely limited freedom of the world we have instigated if we don't discipline ourselves to patterns of grounded presence? If we don't grope around, learning to be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner?

But exploring ways forward is not Hamilton's project. His project is to shock the reader into paying attention to the true scale of what is going on with the Earth. Job done. I suspect he'll move on to his next blockbuster book and leave the rest of us to figure out what it means as the sun sets on The World as We Have Known It.

*In order to qualify as a new geological era, the Anthropocene has to be evidenced by stratigraphic changes: the rock record must exhibit a sharp marker differentiating one period from another. In the case of the Anthropocene, the rock record indicates the 'sudden deposition of radionuclides across the Earth's surface as a result of nuclear explosions in 1945. Although the nuclear age has not itself changed the functioning of the Earth System, the layer of radionuclides laid down in 1945 does mark the dawn of the era of US global hegemony and the astounding period of material expansion of the post-war decades, that is, of capitalism's sublime success.'