Problematizing the ‘Anthropocene’

In his essay, The Anthropocene Myth, Andreas Malm argues that “blaming all of humanity for climate change lets capitalism off the hook.” Indeed, while referring to our new, climate change entrenched, geological epoch as the Anthropocene might be radical in its assertion that humanity’s actions are the primary source of climate change, Malm is keen to point out how this generalization of the problem misses the key issue.

“Climate science, politics, and discourse are constantly couched in the Anthropocene narrative: species-thinking, humanity-bashing, undifferentiated collective self-flagellation, appeal to the general population of consumers to mend their ways and other ideological pirouettes that only serve to conceal the driver.”

Arguing over the semantics of climate change might seem silly, but Malm makes a crucial point about why this distinction is necessary:

“Without antagonism, there can never be any change in human societies. Species-thinking on climate change only induces paralysis. If everyone is to blame, then no one is.”

Should we already rename freshly dubbed Anthropocene to something more specifically targeted, such as the Capitalist epoch? It seems unlikely that any such name will be accepted by the mainstream discourse. Naming things is fickle business, and although sometimes useful for establishing a point, is rarely more than a way of summarizing content. Regardless of what we call the current epoch, however, Malm is right to suggest that how we conceptualize this epoch is important if we want to change the way things are headed.  If the Anthropocene must be understood as involving humanity in its totality, then it must be in recognition of the complicated and varied relationships between climate change and humans, not as cause for universal blame.

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