Earth was supposed to stay in the Holocene geological epoch for at least centuries to come, but we humans have pushed it out with carbon emissions, land-use change, chemicals, overpopulation, and so on.
While the worst outcomes of the ecological crisis are still in the future tense, we have already left the stability of the Holocene — no matter what we do.
What does this mean? Humans have so immense an impact on the planet that it is comparable to the great forces of weather, material circulations, ocean currents, etc. We move a lot of material, we produce a lot of food, keep animals, build cities. We cannot stop as long as our population is so high. What are our options? Not many, actually — we need to accept our role as a great force of the planet and use it with responsibility. Thus far, humankind as a whole has never been keen to in a responsible manner; it is indeed very hard to do anything in concert and many would argue whether that is desirable at all.
To some extent, it is. Currently, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can understand collectively what it means to have a collective problem and how a solution really looks like. Also, we have seen that solutions that were completely unimaginable become realistic — we have developed vaccines in less than a year and might give them to all 7 billion people in one or two years. Of course, a lot of politics is going on around vaccinations and the distribution might bring even more, yet the big picture is clearly positive.
Imagining a ‘good Anthropocene’ is similar: what if we used our immense potential to restore the planet?
Of course, this opens up the controversial topic of geo-engineering. This post is not a pro-engineering argument, just an acknowledgement that we do influence the planet on a large scale anyway, and that being conscious about this and reflecting on our role would be beneficial regardless of the decision made on specific technologies. Personally, I do hope that carbon dioxide direct removal technologies will become successful soon — scaling them up remains a challenge, though.
In the 'Seeds of Good Anthropocenes' database, we can see a long list of great examples of small starts for possible transformational change. From peace-making in the Middle East to retraining workers in the fossil industry to renewables, from eliminating invasive predator species to new ways of ocean farming, the database lists practical, real-world examples of initiatives that have the capacity to be scaled up and make a significant change. Maybe together they would bring an Anthropocene that is worth living both for humans and non-humans.