Beyond Sustainability: The Anthropocene as a paradigm for thinking about the Earth Across Disciplines
I will discuss the concept of the Anthropocene as an organizational framework for a "Human Impacts" course. I will provide examples from my syllabus as to how I have organized the course, with accompanying homework, in-class exercises, etc. I am very interested in opening a broader discussion about teaching the Anthropocene, as (1) it is a novel approach to thinking and teaching geoscience, and (2) based on a recent report by the Anthropocene Working Group, I think there is considerable support for official designation of the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch.
The Anthropocene has been defined as the period during which humans have become a global geophysical force. The concept of the Anthropocene can be expanded beyond this "narrow" definition to a more all-encompassing view of the ethical, social and economic implications of human activity on planetary systems. It is no longer possible, nor desirable to compartmentalize human activity into traditional disciplines. New paradigms for communicating geoscience to our students and the public are essential if business as usual outcomes are to be avoided. As such, I have been developing a "Human Impacts" course over the last two years that uses the Anthropocene as its organizing principle. It is critical and essential that students understand socioeconomic systems and environmental systems are dynamically linked. Discussion of sustainability thus becomes a natural part of the discussion of any linked system. It arises naturally, rather than as a goal in and of itself. The Anthropocene is perforce a global lesson in unsustainable human behaviors. The window of opportunity for human success on Earth has been the Holocene; we have now entered the Anthropocene, an epoch with profound implications for humanity's future. It is now necessary to teach the Anthropocene.
The course is structured to stress the importance of contemporary change in the context of both geologic time and the "normal" processes of Earth Systems. It stresses the importance of telecoupling, the linking of human socioeconomic systems and environmental systems at a distance; e.g., demand for pork products in China drives deforestation in Brazil, where the production of soy for export has resulted in the conversion of millions of hectares of forests, with profound impacts.
Why It Works
The Anthropocene serves as an effective way to incorporate basic geoscience and Earth Systems concepts with relevant socioeconomic and ethical issues. In a globalized, interconnected world, the sound of a tree falling in the Amazon or Indonesian rainforest can indeed be heard--everywhere. This should be the message of geoscience education in the 21st century.
Teaching the Anthropocene (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 139.1MB Jul18 18)