Terminology in the Anthropocene

The world feels overwhelming at times.

We relate everything to everything and problematize without limit. Murder and theft of land can through Adam Smith’s invisible hand, global trade networks and under sea cables be traced to me not recycling thoroughly enough. Not to say that we shouldn’t see the truth of this, just that it’s exhausting. The world is so complex. There is always another angle to everything, always new terminology to comprehend. There are no Simple Truths™.

In the spirit of this mood, while reading Jussi Parikka’s The Anthrobscene [1], I wondered what the point of coining new terminology is. Specifically, why do we need a term like “the anthopocene”, or any of its’ contenders like Parikka’s “anthrobscene”?

While looking for answers to this question I found an interview [2] of Erle Ellis, an environmental scientist who is a part of the Anthropocene Working Group. In the interview he explained his stance on why formally defining and accepting the term is important:
What’s at stake here, outside the domains of geology and stratigraphy, is a new story of human social relations with Earth. The Anthropocene changes the story from one in which human and natural history play out in separate theaters, to one in which humans shape Earth’s past, present and future. In the Anthropocene, it really matters what humans do to Earth. By placing humanity firmly in the role of an Earth-changing force, with all of its complexities, the Anthropocene demands answers to some hard questions – what are we doing with Earth? Are we doing the right things? What can we do better? And the most challenging question of all: Who is or are “we”?

This is the explanation I’d been looking for. Obviously it doesn’t give me any simple truths, but it seems like a good enough reason to add another complex term into this already complex world.

1. Parikka, Jussi. The Anthrobscene. University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
2. futureearth.org: Why efforts to define the Anthropocene must be more inclusive and transparent