Theater of Cruelty

The nature/human web

Responding to the Antropocene
ANTHROPOCEN / The combined effects of our environmental impact have become a force on a par with volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, ice ages, floods and droughts. Can the 'anthropocene' as a concept, time phase and reality be interpreted at the intersection between (natural) science and politics today?


There is hardly any place on the planet that has not been touched by us humans. Think of the plastic that spreads in nature, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, until it can be found everywhere, even in small organisms.

Over time, the sum of humanity's activities has become so extensive that we have disrupted the overall functioning of the planet, in an irreversible and destabilizing way. The combined effects of our influence have become a force on a par with volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, ice ages, floods and droughts.

On the road has the term anthropocene arose, as a sign of a new era in the history of the globe. Some believe that the term's message is that we can "manage" nature and the climate. The point is rather the opposite. Our planet is a complex system, in which humanity has ended up becoming a subsystem in itself. This has unleashed movements that for thousands of years to come will affect nature's various spheres, mechanisms and forces.

The combined power of humanity was greater than we thought. A nature that has been awakened from its long slumber turns out to be both more unstable and powerful than we realized. This creates a paradox that we struggle to understand. The humans have become more powerful, and more insecure. Natures falters, and has become more threatening.

The Anthropocene is illuminated from different disciplines

In the book Responding to the Antropocene researchers explain University of Oslo this reality from varied points of view, with roots in both archaeology, biology, geology, political ecology, geography, law, anthropology, cultural history, literature, art history and science and technology studies.

Dag Hessen, Kristin Asdal, Thomas Hylland Eriksen and a number of other writers assume that the Anthropocene exists in varied forms. It should therefore be illuminated from different professional fields, at the same time that researchers must break out of silos and interact with professionals from other arenas. The challenges we face are ecological, technological, political and social and must therefore be met both from here and there.

In this we should realize that the terms we use shape our thoughts. The anthology's opening chapter therefore presents a number of alternatives to the Anthropocene, for example the 'Capitalocene' or the 'Homogenocene'. Each term channels our gaze in a distinct direction. I allow myself to think that my down-to-earth concept 'nature/human tissue' should be included in this whole, since it embraces all the variants. The anthology's main message is precisely that nature and human life are woven together in a complex, multifaceted, moving whole, which challenges us to illuminate the world with new perspectives.

Between climate and culture

Day Hessens contribution, for example, looks at the meeting between climate and culture and states that we should actively moderate the world along three main tracks: 1) biochemical cycles around emissions of greenhouse gases, 2) cultural feedback through changed norms and practices, and 3) political measures on local, regional and global level. That the biologist Hessen is so clear that nature, culture and politics must be seen in context is important, because isn't this precisely where the solution work has failed?

For a long time we have believed that natural science and engineering would provide us with the knowledge and recipes we needed. We have talked too little about society's too orientering, our ways of thinking and the way power functions must be adapted to a changed future. It is only to see what kinds of books are attributed the status of important. Social sciences and the humanities are continuously underestimated and thus also end up underestimating themselves.

About control and linear progress

Against such tendencies, Thomas Hylland Eriksen states that we cannot achieve change without understanding culture and society. Andrea Nightingale and Muriel Côte add that the term Anthropocene must embrace more than the planet as a whole, since humanity's practices and impacts are not a universal dimension, but on the contrary accommodate both geographical and cultural variations.

Several of the texts criticize our culture's idea of ​​human mastery and control, which in our modern society is locked into the idea that science and technology can offer universal solutions. Anyone who is able to realize how complex the nature/human web is, will understand that the solutions must rather be shaped from within and along multiple tracks, and free themselves from the illusion that everything can be fixed in one go.

Here I would like to highlight Marianne Elisabeth Lien's text, which takes as its starting point how since the agricultural revolution we have domesticated plants and animals and turned them into useful plants and livestock. This domestication has given rise to a narrative of control and linear progress that characterizes how we orientate ourselves in the world. If we instead manage to recognize that nature and culture have always functioned as a mutual fabric, our way of thinking will change, and we will be better able to face the climate and nature crisis in a balanced and wise way.

A dynamic mosaic

I have here swiped through four of the anthology's twelve chapters. The other texts contribute to creating a dynamic mosaic of perspectives. The book's most profound article is delivered by Helge Jordheim, who with a historical perspective considers the Anthropocene as a concept, time phase and reality, at the intersection between (natural) science and politics. As I round off this review, I realize that both this and a number of other chapters are worth an extra read.

Svein Hammer
Svein Hammer
Hammer is a dr.polit. in sociology and regular reviewer in Ny Tid.

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