Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Unpacking the Anthropocene

Keywords: Anthopocene / Shadowtime / Epoquetude / Slow Ennuipocalypse / Neopangea / Teuchnikskreis / Blissonace / Shinrin-yoku / Solastalgia / Atmorelational / Apex Guilt / Stuplimity

As I continue to consider my work from an ecological perspective I have decided to further 'unpack' ideas, contexts, and terminology concerning the Anthropecene. 

The term Anthropecene was coined by atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and bilologist Eugene Stoemer in a article in Global Change newsletter of May 2000. It was used to describe the dawn of a new age, distinct from the Holocene the official current epoch. The Holocene stretches from the present back 10-12 thousand years, defining the time since the ice sheets retracted at the end of the last ice age and mankind began to better colonise the earth. They believed the formation of a new age was needed to define the impact of mankind's recent activity citing.. 

mankind will remain a major geological force for many millennia, maybe millions of years to come
Earth System Science in the Anthropocene: Emerging Issues and Problems - ed Eckart Ehlers, Thomas Krafft - 2006

This geological impact is seen in our use of finite resources and the irreversible damage we have caused to ecological systems, Crutzen and Stoemer use this as justification for a new epoch.

'They pointed to the explosion in the human population, the mass use of fossil fuels, demands on fresh water, the destruction of habitats and the dramatic loss of species as evidence for “the central role of mankind” in shaping the Earth’s geology and ecology. The word joins the Greek word 'anthropos', for human, to the suffix 'cene', meaning new or recent, to suggest an epoch defined by recent human activity.'
Ian Sample https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/oct/16/-sp-scientists-gather-talks-rename-human-age-anthropocene-holocene

The exact start date of the Anthropecene is much debated, the dawn of a new age is usually denoted by geological changes in the fossil record, but these kinds of shifts happen over thousands if not millions of years. The changes caused by mankind are affecting the ecology of the planet in a myriad of ways, each new ecological intervention offers us with a different start date.

'One marker for the start of the Anthropocene that the group will consider is the sudden and global arrival of radionuclides left over from atomic bombs in the 1940s and 1950s. One advantage is that plutonium, caesium, strontium and other substances can be linked to a specific date in time as well as a clear line in rock, called a golden spike, in the business. “The boundary might be set at 1945 when that started,” said Zalasiewicz......Other options are the widespread use of plastic, the release of polyaromatic hydrocarbons from the burning of fossil fuels, and lead contamination from petroleum, which all leave stark traces in the Earth. Crutzen argued for the late 18th century as the start of the industrial revolution.'
Ian Sample - https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/oct/16/-sp-scientists-gather-talks-rename-human-age-anthropocene-holocene

In his article 'Generation Anthropocene: How humans have altered the planet for ever' Robert Macfarlane indicates that the Anthropocene Working Group of the Subcommission On Quarterly Stratigraphy are likely to decide that... 'the “stratigraphically optimal” temporal limit will be located somewhere in the mid-20th century. This places the start of the Anthropocene simultaneous with the start of the nuclear age. It also coincides with the so-called “Great Acceleration”, when massive increases occurred in population, carbon emissions, species invasions and extinctions, and when the production and discard of metals, concrete and plastics boomed.' 
Robert Macfarlane - https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/01/generation-anthropocene-altered-planet-for-ever

The working group tasked with deciding if the Anthropocene is adopted offically by the scientific community and are due to report their findings in mid 2016. More information about this project can be found at: http://quaternary.stratigraphy.org/workinggroups/anthropocene/

The Bureau of Linguistical Reality

The Bureau is run by artists Elicia Escott and Heidi Quante, it is a repository for terms which help describe feelings and processes linked to the ecological changes caused by mankind's recent activity. Anyone is able to nominate a new term for the collection which is made up of offerings from scientists, artists, environmentalists etc... 

'The Bureau of Linguistical Reality was established on October 28, 2014 for the purpose of collecting, translating and creating a new vocabulary for the Anthropocene.
Our species (Homo Sapien) is experiencing a collective “loss of words” as our lexicon fails to represent the emotions and experiences we are undergoing as our habitat (earth) rapidly changes due to climate change and other unprecedented events. To this end the The Bureau of Linguistical Reality is solemnly tasked generating linguistic tools to express these changes at the personal and collective level.
Cartographers are redrawing maps to accommodate rising seas, psychologists are beginning to council people on climate change related stress, scientists are defining this as a new age or epoch. The Bureau was thus established, as an interactive conceptual artwork to help to fill the linguistical void in our rapidly changing world.'


It is worth noting that the Bureau of Linguistical Reality was preceded by Robert Macfarlanes own crowdsourced Anthropocene glossary called the “Desecration Phrasebook” which he describes as
'a glossary of the Anthropocene: a lexicon recording the particularities of the environments and phenomena that our actions as a species are bringing into being. It would gather terms that describe a heavily harnessed or drastically deranged “nature”: a “Desecration Phrasebook”, as it were.'
Robert Macfarlane - Desecration phrasebook: A litany for the Anthropocene - New scientist - Dec 2015

This he created in reaction to Finlay MacLeod's proposal for a "Counter-Desecration Phrasebook” which was intended to denote all which we perceive as vital in the natural world and in need of protection. The genus of this idea went on to become 'Landmark', Macfarlane's own glossery of terms which detail little known and specific terms for natural conditions. This is drawn from contemporary and historic langages of the British isles.  

'This wordhoard included such terms as rionnach maoim, Gaelic for “the shadows cast by clouds on moorland on a sunny, windy day”; ammil, a Devonshire term for “the ice-film that covers rocks and vegetation when a sudden freeze follows a thaw”; and zawn, Cornish for “a wave-smashed chasm in a sea-cliff”.
Robert Macfarlane - Desecration phrasebook: A litany for the Anthropocene - New scientist - Dec 2015

As my investigation continues I increasingly reference terms such as; Shadowtime, Apex guilt, and Solastalgia. The following is the definitive definition of these and other terms as recorded in the Bureau's collection, I have selected terms here which I feel correlate with my practice.

(I have changed text to blue to denote all information is in effect one long quote, drawn from the Bureau's glossary of terms.)


Definition: A parallel timescale that follows one around throughout day to day experience of regular time. Shadowtime manifests as a feeling of living in two distinctly different temporal scales simultaneously, or acute consciousness of the possibility that the near future will be drastically different than the present.
One might experience shadowtime while focused on goal oriented conversations, tasks and planning for life as we have known it—(college, career or occupational ambitions). During such moments there is a creeping sense of concerns that would make all said planning obsolete or seem unimportant, i.e. the collapse of the Larson B Ice Shelf that will accelerate sea level rise. Shadowtime may also occur when one is preparing a meal for their child and suddenly realizes that an endemic flower that had evolved over 42.7 million years has gone extinct within their child’s lifetime.
Shadowtime is not exclusively a negative experiences demonstrated with epoquietude. It can make one reflect quietly on the tricksterish desire and escapism lying behind apocalyptic vision, as well as catalyzing an embrace of the unknown and a counteraction to anthropocentric hubris. While one may feel that shadowtime follows them always, the sudden experience of the presence of shadowtime amid day to day activities is often extremely disorienting.
Usage: Kane was intently working on his presentation which was due the next morning, but as he looked up and saw the moon it occurred to him that the moon had been rising and setting for 4.5 billion years, moving ever further away, he felt shadowtime for the rest of the evening.

Origin: Ranu Mukherjee, Alicia Escott, Field Study #009 Participants, California 2015


Definition: An antidote to crushing anxieties over the deteriorating state of the world, epoquetude is the reassuring awareness that while humanity may succeed in destroying itself, the Earth will certainly survive us, as it has survived many other cataclysms; and that, in the endless chambers of time, the lives of individual species, vast civilizations, and even entire worlds are merely brief notes in an inconceivable symphony, each sounding its distinct voice and then fading out, so that the music may continue.
Usage: As she gazed at the waves crashing to the shore, contemplating the ocean’s four billion years of existence, some of the pain and horror of the unfolding global catastrophe receded, and a sense of epoquetude settled over her.
Origin: Anthony Discenza, California, 2015


Slang: Slowpocalypse Definition: While media often depicts the apocalypse as a sudden and dramatic event, Slow Ennuipocalypse, or Slowpocalypse (slang) offers the concept of a doomsday that occurs at an excruciatingly slow day to day time scale. Slow Ennuipocalypse, may occur in a geologic blink of an eye, but for the Homo Sapiens in urban/suburban settings who are often disconnected from the natural cycles— it is painfully boring. As a result of the perceived slow pace of the apocalypse or Slow Ennuipocalypse those who live through it feel a compulsion to distract themselves with ever faster technology, media and economic systems— all of which feed back into a disconnect from the pace of the natural systems we need to survive.
Usage: Edgar escaped into his instagram account to distract himself from the news reports about the epic California drought that he had been listening to for four years straight.
Origin: Mike Arcega and Field Study 007 Participants, August 2015.


Definition: A hypothetical way of thinking of the world as no longer geographically separated. Neopangea, borrows from the concept that there was a “supercontinent” that existed approximately 200 to 300 million years ago, named Pangea. Neopangea, is the concept that because of global trade routes and the regular use of cargo ships, planes, cars, trucks ex cetera, once insurmountable geographic barriers (like the separation of continents) no longer exist in the way they have in the past, and we have returned to what can be thought of as a supercontinent like state. This affects how we think of species that are endemic to certain locations.
Usage: The Cutbow Trout is a species that can be thought of as endemic to neopangea, it is a hybrid between two separate trout species the Rainbow and the Cutthroat Trout’s that had, in the past, been geographically separated. The human induced introduction of the rainbow into the Colorado Cutthroats habitat poses a “serious threat to native cutthroat population” as the two mate and produce the hybrid Neopangean Cutbow.
Synonym: Repangea, Globalism.
Origin:  Jason Groves, Alicia Escott, Anthony Shore, California, 2015.


Definition: Using new technologies to tackle environmental symptoms and byproducts caused by other (possibly older) technologies, which will in turn eventually produce their own unintended by-products and problems— for which newer technologies will then need to be produced. Teuchnikskreis is characterized by a sense of being stuck in a vicious cycle or spiral, thinking technology will be the solution to the problems created by technology.
Origin: Andre Baier, Germany, during Paris COP21 Field Studies, 2015.


Definition:1. When an otherwise Blissful experience in nature is wedded to or disrupted by the recognition that: — One is having an adverse impact on that place they are enjoying by being there.— The understanding of how the place will be negatively affected in the near future by: urbanization, climate change or other disrupting factors. 2. The blissful short term experience of sunny, dry, pleasant weather that can accompany severe drought or other longterm climate changes — for which, the experiencer,  has long term concerns and which portends doom for all living creatures that depend on water in that area. In this context Blissonace can be used synonymously with Psychic Corpus Dissonance or Schadenfebruary. sometimes termed Blissodissonance (bliss.o.diss.onace)Origin: Stiv Wilson, and all participants in Field Study #004: Oceans, California, 2015, Portmanteau of bliss and dissonance

Shinrin-yoku (森林浴)

Definition: A Japanese term that means “forest bathing”. The idea being that spending time in the forest and natural areas is good preventative medicine, since it lowers stress, which causes or exacerbates some of our most intractable health issues. The “magic” behind forest bathing boils down to the naturally produced allelochemic substances known as phytoncides, which are kind of like pheromones for plants. Their job is to help ward off pesky insects and slow the growth of fungi and bacteria. When humans are exposed to phytoncides, these chemicals are scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress and boost the growth of cancer-fighting white blood cells. Some common examples of plants that give off phytoncides include garlic, onion, pine, tea tree and oak, which makes sense considering their potent aromas.
Usage: Jasmine became depressed as she was no longer able to partake in Shinrin-yoku after they cut down her local forest to make way for new high rise condos.
Origin: Japanese 森林浴 (shinrin-yoku しんりんよく, “forest bathing”), from Middle Chinese 森林 (ʂim-lim “forest”) + 浴 (jowk“bathe”). Existing word.


Definition: Derived from nostalgia, Solastalgia is a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home, but the environment has been altered and feels unfamiliar. The term is specifically referencing change caused by chronic change agents like climate change or mining. Used primarily to describe the negative psychological effect of chronic environmental destruction on an individuals homeland, or the place they call home. The condition is often “exacerbated by a sense of powerlessness or lack of control over the unfolding change process.*”
Usage: Samuel noticed no one seemed to say “the fog is rolling in” any longer. Most people around him delighted in the sunny weather that was increasingly common as the drought progressed, but he experienced a mild form of solastalgia, longing for the often termed “marine layer.”  The speed of the city itself seemed different now— faster without the fog. He couldn’t compare this feeling to the experience of those whose homes were forever affected by mining or deforestation, yet still a sort of melancholia and longing hung over him, and places that he knew so well seemed foreign and unfamiliar.
Origin: Glen Albrecht, 2003, Australia. Derived from the Latin solacium (comfort) and Ancient Greek algia (pain)

The At·mo·re·la·tion·al

Definition: A relationship with, or interpretation of the world that is relational, and not object based. The Atmorelational Looks at the space or relationship between things as the primary point of focus. This idea offers that it is impossible to determine the exact beginning of a thing or its precise end and that there is a fluid porousness between where the body/self ends and another begins. The term The Atmorelational can be used in place of the term Nature. IE “let the atmorelational take its course”. The Atmorelational was influenced by the ideas conceptualized by the work of Caribbean poet and philosopher Édouard Glissant.Usage: Faiza could feel the atmorelational at work all around her.
Origin: Léopold Lambert and Field Study 010 participants, during Paris COP21 Field Studies, 2015

Apex Guilt

Definition: Ones contemplation of a deep understanding that humans are the apex predator on our planet and what that feels like to be very in-tune and self aware of this; how this knowledge impacts our decisions or enjoyment; the implications, responsibilities, and deep and real concerns that has for our own species and those we consume or kill for our own existence.


The term Stuplimity has a different lineage and was first coined by Sianne Ngai in her 2006 paper 'Ugly things', It is generated as counterpoint to the Kantian sublime which is “involving an uplifting transcendence” – rather than the postmodern works which “tend to draw us down into the sensual and material” Sianne Ngai - Ugly things - p267

For Ngai's the stuplime is “The aesthetic experience in which astonishment is paradoxically united with boredom… This term allows us to invoke the sublime--albeit negatively, since we infuse it with thickness or even stupidity--while detaching it from its spiritual and transcendent connotations and its close affiliation with Romanticism” Sianne Ngai - Ugly things - p271.

This is a different kind of experience to the immediacy of a Kantian Sublime, It is not a moment of revelation but a “a series of fatigues or minor exhaustions, rather than a single, major blow to the imagination” Sianne Ngai - Ugly things - p272

I feel the phrases or words defined above help better describe/define existential concerns which my recent work touches upon. A new vocabulary appears to more succinctly convey the sensations of living in a new Epoch. It also has a political function, more explicitly relating that while things appear to be changing slowly we are racing through the 6th great extinction, and altering the environment at ecological breakneck speed. Welcome to the '

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