The Anthropocene and the New World

In recent decades all but the wilfully ignorant have had to face two facts: that climate change is taking place and that it is the result of what we humans are doing. The term Anthropocene was coined in 2000 in recognition of that latter hugely important fact. When had this new era began – and with it the end of the Holocene epoch that had been around for some 11,000 years of climate stability, a transition out of the Ice Ages, that then facilitated the spread of farming and permanent settlements. Some said it was the Industrial Revolution beginning ca 1750 and the enormous increase in the burning of coal and of carbon emissions. Then at a global gathering in 2016, geologists who decide this matter by examination of the earth’s strata ruled by majority vote that this new epoch of the Anthropocene had not actually begun until 1945. Two things were said to be causal. The first was the testing of the first atomic bomb in 1945 and its immediate use and then further testing which left radioactive evidence in the planet’s atmosphere. The second was what has come to be called the Great Acceleration, the leap in global economic growth and in world population post the Second World War facilitated by new global arrangements, and the even more rapid growth of carbon emissions.

At the same time that a consensus was forming on this, it became evident that  human effect on the atmosphere had first happened some five centuries ago with the impact of the Old World of Europe on the New World of the Americas. European disease to which the new world had no immunity was utterly devastating. Fifty to sixty million people died, ninety percent of the population. In consequence, the way of life was pervasively disrupted and destroyed and with that withering of farming and settlement carbon emissions declined drastically. The result was not today’s global warming but global cooling. It was a one-shot event, sharp but short-run , but that it effected climate change in its time tells us how the ‘discovery’ of the New World was the destruction of its population.

2 comments

  • Why do most of the other contributors/economists on this site promote evermore economic growth in light of this? They praise rises in GDP and lament a drop in this statistic. There is enough wealth and production in the economy if distributed more evenly and fairly.

  • The real questions this forum should address are: how much of the economy is based on built-in obsolescence, unnecessary conspicuous consumption (Veblen), pure waste (lack of conservation in energy, packaging, disposable production, single-use plastic, etc.) and how much of this type of production can be reduced while simultaneously distributing ‘useful’ production and income in a far more balanced way. This would include a basic income, among other measures. Further, how much of the economy involves activity that is of no benefit to society or is even harmful – advertising as just one example. Thank you to Mel Watkins for starting to move this forum more in this direction recently.

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