The Holocene or the Anthropocene – Are we serious about the climate change?

“A committee of roughly two dozen scholars has, by a large majority, voted down a proposal to declare the start of the Anthropocene, a newly created epoch of geologic time.”

By Om Prakash Dwivedi

We have just entered that moment where the cure for the planet is supposedly found, not in our actions, but in identifying a name. The fertility of the academic mind has flattened the complexities of our environmental deterioration by pinning it down to a specific name.  Climate change has spawned a new crisis, that is, the crisis of a name to capture planetary deterioration.

A recent article published in the New York Times (March 05, 2024), “Are We in the ‘Anthropocene,’ the Human Age? Nope, Scientists Say,” reports:

“A committee of roughly two dozen scholars has, by a large majority, voted down a proposal to declare the start of the Anthropocene, a newly created epoch of geologic time.”

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While scientists at the International Union of Geological Sciences debate the planet’s history to identify the specific characteristics that define a particular age, they need to be reminded what the French Philosopher, Henry Lefebvre’s warning that “the word has never saved the world and it never will.”

No wonder, climate change has been driven so long by an acute silence of the culpable groups and communities, even nations. This silence has spelt violence for the planet for so long and we are all to be blamed for this, albeit in different ways.

Naming is an act of identification and, therefore, also of recognition. While we witness this ongoing debate, people are dying or suffering severely due to extractive ideas and practices, which are yet to be acknowledged, at least in words. Can choosing an appropriate name be a panacea to the ongoing environmental crisis? Does the Holocene or for that matter Anthropocene offer different pathological treatments of the planet? Or is the case that the Holocene is better suited since it diverts attention from cannibalistic capitalism? If replacing the Anthropocene with the Holocene can address humanity’s problem, we must do that immediately.

That, however, is not the case. The singularity of a name cannot resolve the universal problem of ongoing climate change. For, we do not breathe names, we breathe in and are constituted by the environment around us. That environment around us is itself, a product of the capital-state nexus, thus dividing the planet into “liveable” and “non-liveable zones”.

Perhaps, the holders of the monopoly of name are also the bidders of what qualifies as climate crisis, or for that matter who are the agents of this crisis. The ontology, therefore, itself becomes a puzzle through which epistemological abandonment of climate crisis is being promoted, even legitimized. Precisely what capital needs to build and stoke its never-ending fairy tales of progress. Just like modern capital flows invisibly, climate violence is also rendered through invisible actors.

Perhaps, the Holocene is okay for us, perhaps not. 

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Maybe, the Anthropocene is a more appropriate term, who knows and why does one want to know at a time when 315,000 humans are dying (airclim.org) every year, and about 42,100 species are at risk of extinction just because of the climate crisis?

One must also not forget that not all humans are equal on the balance sheet of the present climate crisis, in the same way, that not all humans face the impact of climate change equally on this planet.

It is also reported in an article published in Science.org, “Anthropocene is Dead. Long Live the Anthropocene”:

“the Anthropocene backers will now have to wait for a decade before their proposal can be considered again. ICS has long instituted this mandatory cooling-off period.”

While we may have a cooling-off period in our institutions, can we also think of a cooling-off period for the ongoing extractions ongoing in the global south?

It looks as if words are being deployed to sell us another version of the climate crisis. When we listen more attentively to these gaps and silences we realise reality has become existential despite for the planet. The cover of the book has changed while the content remains the same.

Neither does one need the Anthropocene nor the Holocene, what is needed badly at this juncture is commonsense and a collective movement against the global proponents of climate crisis. We are not living in a fictional world where we can change the name conveniently.

Contributing Author: Om Prakash Dwivedi tweets @opdwivedi82. His interests lie in the field of postcolonial theory.

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