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.


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