Category: Cape Town

The End of the Anthropocene

The End of the Anthropocene, a retort to Stewart Brand.

THAT popular science has a difficult relationship with mainstream research is evidenced by the introduction of a term popularised by atmospheric chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen nearly two decades ago, at the turn of the new millennium.

In recent years, the Anthropocene, a period defined by significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems, has begun to dislodge the long-held view that we are in an epoch known at the Holocene.

I will argue that not only are we in the early Anthropocene, but that human impact upon planet Earth, and hence our own habitat and species, requires that we define what it means to be human in rather different terms. And also, that far from being at the beginning of the early Anthropocene, we are instead approaching the end of this epoch. Human habitat, defined as it is by climate, polar ice, glaciation and weather systems (systems that have remained relatively stable for millennia), is entering a period of rapid change. All leading one to question what it is to be human. Changes that could lead to the sixth major mass extinction event, and along with it, not a de-extinction of mammoths, but rather the complete removal of anthropos by the technium as a defining moment of evolution.

A spate of articles on the subject of the Anthropocene followed its introduction, beginning in 2014  Borenstein, Seth (14 October 2014). “With their mark on Earth, humans may name era, too”.  Edwards, Lucy E. (30 November 2015). “What is the Anthropocene?”Eos96.  Castree, Noel (2015). Associated PressWaters CN et al. (2016). “The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene”Science351 (6269) and “The Anthropocene: a primer for geographers” (PDF). Geography. 100 part 2: 66.

According to the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), the professional organization in charge of defining Earth’s time scale, we are still officially in the Holocene epoch, an epoch which began 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age.

“But that label is outdated” writes Joseph Stromberg in the Smithsonian ” They argue for “Anthropocene”—from anthropo, for “man,” and cene, for “new”—because human-kind has caused mass extinctions of plant and animal species, polluted the oceans and altered the atmosphere, among other lasting impacts.”

Coupled with the emergence of this new epoch, used to define human intervention on our planet, has been the concomitant rise of new terms within popular culture to describe human evolution itself. Thus the rise of the cyborg, transhumanism and post-humanism, ‘concepts originating in the fields of science fiction, futurology, contemporary art, and philosophy’ that literally ‘means a person or entity that exists in a state beyond being human’.

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Freedom Day and all that Jazz

Some highlights from the Freedom Day events from the past week.

Desmond Tutu refers to TRC as “unfinished business

Adriaan Vlok says “perpetrators must apologise”

Brian Mphahlele says he can’t reconcile with his torturers

An interfaith jazz event is held at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town

interfaithjazz

 

“If the Jews disappear, so do we” Farid Esack

Dear Ed,

“If the Jews disappear, so do we” 29/1/2013 refers

I wish to commend those in South Africa’s Muslim community who have chosen to commemorate an event which has particular resonance for Jews, both within and without our borders. We must never forget that communists, gypsies, homosexuals, disabled and the unfit, all died together in the Nazi extermination camps. No one group was singled out for special treatment, and all were exposed to the horrors on an equal footing.

As a person of Jewish descent who grew up in the aftermath of the war, and the unspeakable tragedy which was unleashed upon the world, I believe I am entitled to speak out when members of my own community choose to ignore what is universal about the Holocaust, or Shoah as it is also known. Indeed, never again, should be never again for all people.

The universalism of the moral and ethical issues presented by the Nazi extermination camps and the ideology of eugenics which underpinned race supremacist notions of superiority and inferiority in Germany as too in our own country, have a particular lesson for South Africans. It is therefore no coincidence that hearings into Holocaust denial continue apace in Cape Town, as we as a nation slowly begin to confront the twin issue of Apartheid denial, for example attempts to lay the blame for apartheid on an unrelated group instead of tackling the real perpetrators, the ideologues and generals, the propagandists and politicians.

As Africans we need to reach out to the victims and the survivors of these and other tragedies and we need to be cognizant that as we do so, we are witness to new atrocities, the raging wars in the North – both Mali and Sudan which threaten to unleash further killings. As I write this letter, there is word of renewed offenses against humanity as 20 000 Sudanese are reported to have been massacred in Darfur.

Ideologies of race hatred which lead to such terrible deeds, the killing fields of Rwanda, need to be exposed. Ideologies which preach that a particular soul is qualitatively different from other souls, or that one race should be advantaged to the disadvantage of another, these are the seeds of hatred.

I therefore thank you once again for standing up for universalism in particular and human rights for all.

Yours sincerely,

David Robert Lewis