Geology is Written by the Victors?

Indian troops, Cyprus
Troops from Indian under British rule are forced to do manual labor (Getty Images)

In her book, “A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None”, Kathryn Yusoff argues that geology, particularly the new geologic era of the Anthropocene, normalizes historic marginalization of minority groups. While I agree that the propagation of western culture and globalization has disregarded numerous justice and equity issues, her analysis of geologic process and social injustices was too broad to have significant meaning. Yusoff’s comparisons between the extraction of slave labor and of coal and colonial violence and geophysics are analyzed from a perspective too far removed from the root of the problem. Her attempt to “naturalize” human actions and “humanize” geology is both offensive to those who she is talking about and to geologic science. Understanding and acknowledging our history of colonial violence and minority injustice is a crucial part to moving forward in society, but geology is not the mechanism to do so. 

As Yusoff notes “the Anthropocene proclaims the language of species life – anthropos – through a universalist geologic commons”, however she then goes on to explain how this “geologic commons” obscures historic racism in modern day society. There is nothing inherently incorrect in this statement, and I think that there is an ethical dilemma in placing blame on all humans for the environmental damage that we have caused when the majority of the damage originates from industrialized nations, however geology is inherently inhuman. The Anthropocene is characterized by human impact in rock formations and climactic patterns within our biosphere, not racial injustice, colonialism, nor slavery, nor should it be. 

However there are a variety of other fields dedicated to evaluating these human-nature interactions, including environmental justice, human geography, and most relevant to Yusoff’s book environmental determinism, which delves deep into how physical environments have supported colonialism and eurocentrism. These three fields of study along with social justice movements, the increase in vocalization by historically marginalized populations, and historical revisions to acknowledge of the horrors of colonization have had drastically higher benefits than abstract juxtapositions of social justice violations and geologic processes. 

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