The Shock of the Anthropocene

Issue section: 
(426)

This book provides a very detailed history of the Anthropocene — the current geological era in which human activity has become the main driver of climate change — and makes some interesting points about how we should view it.

However, it is let down by its failure to provide any real solutions. This is particularly striking as they start the book by, rightly, reminding us how severe the crisis is.

But if you’re going to start by reminding readers of how humanity’s very survival on this planet is threatened, it’s probably a good idea to give them some idea of what to do about it.

Additionally, although they do identify capitalism as part of the problem they fail to locate it as the source of the problem, which is probably what hampers them in finding a solution.

To the authors’ credit they are very scathing of any supposed market solutions to the Anthropocene.

They are clear that the problem is not going to be solved either by the market or scientists proposing clever technological solutions.

They reject the idea of an errant humanity sleepwalking into climate catastrophe. They also dismiss the idea that we all collectively bear the same responsibility for the crisis. They rightly point out the huge disparity between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by the richest in society, and that produced by the poorest.

There is a lot of useful information here about the different ways human society has impacted on the environment.

The authors go through in great detail the ways that energy consumption has changed with time, and the reasons behind some of those changes. There is also much detailed discussion about the impact of war and consumerism, particularly in the case of the latter after the Second World War.

However, this is when the authors’ analysis begins to fall down. While they discuss war at some length, they do not see it as arising out of the capitalist system; in fact they don’t offer much explanation for why it occurs at all.

Similarly when they talk about consumerism, they see it very much as being about a drive to consume, rather than seeing it as a result of the drive to make profit.

The authors do argue at the start of the book that the Anthropocene began with the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and industrial capitalism, but they don’t see capitalism as fundamental and reject Marxism after some very superficial criticism.

There is plenty of useful material in this book, but its dismissal of Marxism lets it down and stops it providing any real answers to the crisis it seeks to address.