In recent years there has been a groundswell of the notion that we are now living in the Anthropocene, the age of man. This is based on strong evidence that humanity is now leaving a very detectable footprint in the earth geological record on a global scale. This includes the fall-out of the atomic tests of the 20th century, climate change is altering the chemical composition of the oceans, and we are shifting more material per year than all natural erosion processes combined. These human activities will leave a signal in the geological record of the planet and be there for millions of years.1
The Anthropocene is the culmination of millions of years of human expansion and increased technological prowess. Initially, the human species lived on the savannahs of East Africa, the original human environment, on which they had no detectable impact because of the low population numbers. Over time the human species migrated out of Africa and by about a thousand years ago they had invaded almost every biogeographical region of the globe, except for Antarctica. When entering new areas humans deliberately or by accident altered local environments to suit their needs. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution this process speeded up with the help of energy available in the form of fossil fuels, culminating in what many now regard as the Anthropocene.
Environmental Humanities are rethinking the
place of humanity in the environment.
Source: Elias Schewel/Flickr.
Solutions to environmental issues such as climate change, toxic waste, deforestation and species extinction, have been mainly framed as scientific, technological and economic problems. The slow progress of dealing with these issues has made us realise that science and technology do not have all the answers. Increasingly the humanities are called upon to provide perspectives on the environment and natural world that includes humans and human cultures. In response the environmental humanities have emerged as a new research arena that aims at infusing a humanities perspective into complex issues surrounding environmental problems and questions of the place of humans in the environment itself and of what the human actually is.
The Hawaiian Crow or Alalâ
In this edition of the podcast Thom Van Dooren, Senior Lecturer in the Environmental Humanities at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, explores what the environmental humanities are and why it has so rapidly emerged in recent years. Thom’s current work focuses on the philosophical and ethical dimensions of species extinctions. In the second half of the podcast Thom discusses his work on the Hawaiian Crow or Alalâ, which is extinct in the wild, and how this research connects the humanities with ecology, biology, and ethology.
Sites mentioned in the podcast & relevant links
Blog by Thom Vandooren
Environmental Humanities at the University of New South Wales
Journal Environmental Humanities
Environmental Humanities Now
Thom Vandooren, “Science can’t do it alone: the environment needs humanities too“, The Conversation, 2 October 2012.
Jennifer Hamilton, “Explainer: what are the environmental humanities?“, The Conversation, 3 December 2013.
“Where You Are Now” by Zapac, available from ccMixter
“Ch’i Burger” by panu, available from ccMixter
“Extinct” by unreal_dm with vocals by Kara Square, available from ccMixter