Last time I checked, the word Anthropocene was still not recognized by the spelling thesaurus, although we’ve been living in it for many decades now. A mash of the Greek “anthropos” (human) and the Latinized Greek “kainos” (new), the word, very narcissistically, is meant to read as “the time of humans”, to denote the fact that humanity is now the major natural (or un-natural) force on the planet.
And this is true of course. The shift that humans have brought about was a truly momentous one. We changed how the entire Earth machine works, turning it from a self-sufficient, self-perpetuating one, to one that gets closer to death with each spin around its axis. A self-sufficient machine can live forever. A dysfunctional one gets rustier and rustier with every spin. Like with smartphones, computers and other devices that are purposely made to breakdown after a few years or months, we condemned Earth to obsolescence.
In scientific terms, what has happened was the conversion of Earth’s systems from a series of perpetual, cyclical processes, to that of linear ones. Cyclical processes are immortal: they can run forever, into infinity, like ice turning to water and then back to ice. This is an immortal process that can run forever, composed of two linear, one-directional processes that are time-limited: ice to water and water to ice. In chemistry terms, linear processes are usually quite fast and can take place in a split second, or as soon as they run out of substrates i.e. the raw materials of the reaction. Cyclical processes, however, are the definition of immortality and regeneration. Before humans, Earth was the perfect immortal process, whereby with each cycle the entire system was returned to its original state: the seasons, the fruit on the trees, the fish in the ocean. They all returned, looking more or less exactly as they did in the previous year. We have obviously changed this over the millennia.
Turning a cyclical process into a linear one is much easier than one may think, even if we are talking about an entire planet. All you need to do is linearize just one of the key processes, in this case the CO2 cycle. From a cyclical process, whereby CO2 concentration was more or less stable within upper and lower limits, it became a linear, or even an exponential one. And since everything in a cyclical closed system like Earth is interconnected, this had a domino effect. Pretty soon all other processes became non-linear, i.e. time-limited. The climate, water cycle, flow of nutrients and their impact on the 8 million species inhabiting Earth have all become time-limited processes. The future existence of pretty much every natural process we know of on Earth is now in doubt.
This is why climate scientists talk about “tipping points”. Earth’s system may appear to be cyclical, but in reality it consists of a number of linear processes configurated in a circle. You make just one of them linear or exponential, all these other processes immediately run out of control as well. What appeared to be balanced, immortal, isn’t anymore, just like that. As we take this planet to a place where it has never been before, in an exponential fashion, the effects are not visible over geological epochs, but over decades and human lifetimes, which is a “blip” in geological time standards. The Anthropocene probably does not deserve its given name as a discrete geological era, probably because its duration will be infinitesimally small by geological history standards. This is because, unlike immortal cyclical processes, linear ones complete their lifetime very quickly, like all ice on the planet turning to water. It will never turn back to ice again, as we have now made this a linear, one-way process.
From the original perfect circle of the Earth’s immortal natural systems, we have evolved into imperfect circles at best: loops, spirals, gyres, permanent traps and cesspools that are “leaky” processes at best, failing to bring back the system to its original state without leaving behind accumulated raw materials or by-products. The knock-on effects to all other systems create the notorious Feedback Loops.
Humanity has indeed become the dominant force on the planet. It has replaced its cyclical systems with feedback loops. You may recognize most of them, as these processes represent the values upon which our fragile civilization has been built: Growth. Profit. Colonialism. Exploitation. Single-Use Consumption. Extinction. Without these linear processes, our civilization would not have flourished. These time-limited processes have taken over the planet’s formerly immortal processes which used to regulate climate, resources, and the living ecosystem. They move information, misinformation, hate, consumer products and digital money across the planet, parasitizing its natural systems. Ultimately, it is the concept of profit which is the most non-linear of them all. Our greedy nature has accustomed us to expect that our life gets bigger, better, wealthier with every spin of the Earth’s axis. But this is neither a natural or viable process, as it is time-limited. The entire narrative upon which the foundations or our civilization rest is linear, as opposed to cyclical. This is nothing short of a death cult.
2 thoughts on “The Anthropocene Death Cult”
Daniel Quinn’s wise gorilla (lshmael) had human’s pegged quite well. We are caught in a selffulfilling prophecy. Love Rick