Dead or alive

Image by JonHee Yoon from NY Times article, “The Earth Is Just as Alive as You Are”

To say that geology is a study of non-life or the inert would be the same as qualifying the geologic science as the study of the current state of the planet, thus viewing the planet as a static system. 

Even from an elementary level, school curriculums teach the basics of the geologic rock cycle. This process started with heat and the formation of the first minerals and igneous rocks, and over billions of years has decayed into cycles of heating and cooling. Heat from the earth’s core radiates outward, bringing energy to matter, so much so it becomes liquid. This liquid heats and cools, convecting and bringing heart to the plastics above (core and mantle processes). These material cool at varying rates depending of their properties, and this forum unique solids (Bowens mineral series). This underlying heart allows large masses of these soils top move, colliding in to one another (plate tectonics). These collisions are capable of forces strong enough to build the highest mountains, where matter, once to hot to solidify, now reaches high enough into the atmosphere to store the coldest regions of the solid surface (mountain belts and metamorphic rocks). These landscapes bring energy of their own in the forum of potential energy. Here, erosive forces create sedimentary rocks. This new form of the same matter is transported to the lowest reaches of the surface, where the heat created from the same matter gives rise to more tectonic activity, returning the matter to whence it came. 

Without this internal heat, there would be no new rock formation, no liquid core to create a protective magnetic field, no covective mantel to give rise to plate tectonics, minimal mountain building, minimal terrain alteration, no dynamic earth systems, no life. The heat that makes this cycle all possible is derived from small particles of a deceist start, drawn back together by the gravitational fabric we can barely observe.

To see ourselves – as humans – as independent of interstellar and geologic processes is to view the universe as a static and dead system; and yet we see ourselves as the life (the one true light in this world). This is the mindset that Lynn White argued was fostered by religion, a mindset that encouraged individuals to view all external things as tools to the self, resources to exploit, an earth made for us. If this same mindset is now being used to link geology and racial exploitation (and thus a dive into an unconscious anthropocene), it is likely that neither is the root cause of the other, but rather our narcissistic and greedy nature/tendencies that are at fault. 

It seems that neither geology or religion have given rise to the mindset which has guided us as a species to exploit, but rather our is our nature – as collectives – to desire to conquer all things. Human nature is responsible for the possessive properties and interpretations of religion, the extractive curiosities that infiltrate geologic science, the urge to dominate all things and people deemed different; human nature was destined to give rise to the anthropocene. If we apply our character defining mindset to anthropogenically driven disasters, there is yet hope that we are self aware.

Mistreatment of Humans and Land: The Causes of Our Ecologic Crisis

In Kathryn Yusoff’s first chapter of her book A Billion Black Anthropocene’s or None, she addresses geology as well as how racism in colonial times, has negatively impacted the Earth today; her primary argument is that black and brown peoples being treated as inhuman has resulted in the current population treating their environment inhumanely. However, to be frank, I feel as though I only understand the basics of Yusoff’s work despite reading and re-reading over sections multiple times.

Yusoff goes into deeper detail of justifying her claim by utilizing slavery of African Americans as a prime example of the mistreatment of “inhuman objects”. She iterates that the mistreatment and domination of an entire population through slavery has influenced others’ mindsets of believing that they are not only able to, but also encouraged to subjugate inanimate objects or other beings to whatever treatment they deem reasonable. Another example of this being when Christopher Columbus first discovered the Americas. Although it wasn’t African Americans being taken advantage of, he forcibly took control of the Native American population that he came upon due to him viewing them as weak and savage. As a result of this misguided mindset, he enslaved the natives and forced them to find and excavate gold, and when they didn’t fulfill their quota, he often severed off their hands as punishment. This act of extorting both the native peoples and the land supports Yusoff’s claim of geologic and racial issues being the stem of the current environmental deterioration attributable to the people in these examples possessing self-righteous mentalities.

This common mindset relates to the poor treatment and current ecological crisis by the past ill treatment of land while being colonized by the Americans. For example, during the 1800s, Americans killed millions of bison, nearly wiping out an entire species which would’ve severely damaged the ecosystem if preventive efforts hadn’t been made by President Roosevelt. This was largely the cause of hunting for sport, however this also occurred because of the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad. Both elements were committed purposefully and with full knowledge of what negative outcomes could come out of them emphasizing the selfish and tunnel-vision perspectives that the Americans had while trying to attain their goals.

All in all, Yusoff explains that geologic and racial factors in the past have negatively influenced the modern world. Hopefully, by bringing awareness to these possible contributions to the damaged environment we have today, people will be able to prevent any further damage from happening as well as possibly finding a way to reverse the current level of destruction.

Anthropocene: a human issue?

Kathryn Yusoff offers an interesting and eye-opening perspective in her book “A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None.” She argues that the field of geology erases its history of racism by normalizing the historical mistreatment of minority groups. Particularly, the framing of the Anthropocene epoch as a “‘new’ condition that forgets its histories of oppression and dispossession” serves to further this historical erasure (Yusoff 15). The term “Anthropocene” itself, the root of which is “Anthropos” or “human” implies that all humans are at fault. This framing of the issue both “fails to name the masters of broken earths” and “fails to grabble with the inheritance of violent dispossession of indigenous land” (Yusoff 13). Yusoff claims that this nomenclature “neatly erases histories of racism that were incubated through the regulatory structure of geologic relations” (Yusoff 14).  By framing the Anthropocene as a “human” issue, geologists fail to acknowledge the historical racism that is inseparable from the issue.

Furthermore, Yusoff argues that the aforementioned historical racism is inseparable from the climate crisis. She claims that the cultural notion of separateness from our environment that now fuels the climate crisis was born of the incorrect separation of “human” and “inhuman”, which began when slaves were labeled as inhuman to justify them being treated as such (Yusoff 16).

She claims that we cannot move forward in facing the climate crisis without acknowledging the reality of its history. While some may feel that her ideas are too esoteric to be useful in the face of the impending emergency at hand, I feel that it’s not only possible but important to acknowledge the past while simultaneously facing the issue of the present. What matters currently is that we, as humans, are faced with a common problem–whether it was caused by all humans or just some. Working together to solve it requires facing the harsh reality of where we are and how we arrived there. Only then can we move beyond the issues of the past and look to the future.

Make no omissions

Image: “White Cotton, Black Pickers” / Courtesy of the Library of Congress

For context, geology is defined as “the science that deals with the earth’s physical structure and substance, its history, and the processes that act on it” (Oxford Dictionary). What I find particularly enlightening about Kathryn Yusoff’s “A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None,” (particularly the chapter titled “Geology, Race, and Matter”) is the discussion of geology as a subject. Prior to reading this chapter, and subsequently researching to find the most accurate definition of geology, I was under the impression that geology solely dealt with the earth’s structure. I believed that geology simply dealt with topography and earth’s natural phenomenon. I wasn’t entirely incorrect, but I was omitting an entire topic focused on by geologists. So, as I’ve learned, geology not only deals with topography but it deals with the history of the earth and “the processes that act on it” (which can be expanded to include the actions of humans). Knowing the true definition of geology and having the entire picture allowed me to understand the article at a greater capacity and truly interact with its contents. 

In “A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None” Kathryn Yusoff argues that our concept of what the Anthropocene is is limited. The world’s view (or the majority of the world’s view) of the Anthropocene is lacking, just as my concept of the definition of geology was. Yusoff argues that this omission is harmful. Yusoff argues that the history of slavery is incredibly important to the idea of the Anthropocene. Europeans colonial desires (which displaced native peoples and fueled the destruction of the planet by humans) were enabled by slavery and that it must be discussed. The idea of an Anthropocene is incomplete without a reason as to why and how we started this ecological crisis. Additionally the effects of slavery can be seen today, especially in the modes that we use to destroy the earth. In the publication Yusoff wrote, “the complex histories of those afterlives of slavery continued in the chain gangs that laid the railroad and worked the coal mines through the establishment of new forms of energy, in which, Stephanie LeMenager (2014, 5) comments, ‘oil literally was concieved as a replacement for slave labor.’” Along with the idea of Europeans using slavery as a means to wreck havoc on nature, Yusoff argues that we must talk about the social side. We must acknowledge the effect that slavery has had on the Afircan American population and the “Antiblackness” that followed.

A section of the publication that I felt summarized that point (or at least part of it) that Yusoff was trying throughout to make clear is as follows: “ Rendering subjects as inhuman matter, not as persons, thereby facilitated and incorporated the historical fact of extraction of personhood as a quality of geology at its inception.”