We moderns are so self-important that we’ve even named a geological epoch after ourselves, the Anthropocene. Sure, human civilization has massively transformed and destabilized the planet’s ecosystems. But Anthropocene is ultimately a misleading moniker because it implies that we humans are the driving force on Earth.
How self-regarding! As a parade of wildfires, floods, droughts, and extreme heat are showing, it’s Gaia who is calling the shots. She’s making her own fierce, non-negotiable demands on us. She’s bursting the frames of order that humans have long used to shape civilization, capitalism, the state, and culture. That’s why Mihnea Tănăsescu, a brilliant Romanian-born, Belgium-based academic, urges that we instead recognize this geological era of Earth as the Ecocene.
Locked in our anthropocentric bubble, we humans have failed to see that we are deeply entangled with nature and not separate and superior to it. If humanity is to survive, it will have to learn how to get in sync with natural systems, culturally and economically, and actively contribute to the flourishing of earthly and human systems in tandem.
Hence the title of Tănăsescu’s 2022 book, Ecocene Politics. Our epoch is “characterized by the increasingly frequent intrusion of ecological processes into political life,” as the book puts it. If you can recognize this reality, it becomes clear that our politics, economy, and culture must actively learn new post-modern ways of being and doing, and adapt appropriately. That is the task ahead. Trying to shore up or restore the collapsing edifice of modernity is a fool’s errand.
Impressed by the precision and passion with which Tănăsescu addressed these issues, I spoke with him in Episode #43 of Frontiers of Commoning about his book. Tănăsescu is Research Professor of the Fund for Scientific Research at the University of Mons, Belgium, where he writes extensively about human relations with nature, drawing deeply on anthropology, sociology, politics, and law.