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Live in Anthropocene, Live in Emergency, What Can We Do? draft

paddington's picture

In both books, the ongoing environmental issues are referred and they alert us that they are not something distant from us but an emergent issue in need of action.


l   “It occurred to me that the frog and their progeny, if they had any … would never again touch the floor of the rainforest but would live out their days in disinfected glass tank. (p22)”

l   “If you want to think about why humans are so dangerous to other species, you can picture a poacher in Africa carrying an AK-47 or a logger in the Amazon gripping an ax or … holding a book on your lap. (p246)”

l   “No other creature has ever managed this, and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy. (p269)”


The whole text is a description of the current environmental issue. Kolbert gives readers an instruction of the big five extinctions occurred on the earth so far before this era, which some scientists define “Anthropocene” and alerts that the sixth extinction is now going on by explaining several environmental issues. As it is obvious from the third quote, Kolbert sets human beings and other species separately. Additionally, she uses “we”, “us” for human beings, who are the cause of the sixth extinction, and uses “you” to readers. It implies that she regards all of us as one group, which set off this rapid extinction.



l   “Indeed, the most startling aspect of this story is just how much these people knew, and how unable they were to act upon what they knew. Knowledge did not translate into power. (p2)”

l   “Even Scientists … felt it would be inappropriate for them to articulate it, because that would require them to speak beyond their expertise, and seem to be taking credit for other people’s work. (p15)”

l   “power did not reside in the hands of those who understood the climate system, but rather in political, economic, and social institutions that had a strong interest in maintaining the use of fossil fuels. (p36)”


In contrast, Oreskes and Conway do not set human beings as ‘we’ group but they classify into scientists, government, and experts in specific area while other people who are under the power are not mentioned apparently. It gives readers a trigger to consider environmental issue but at the same time it serves notice that there are various power related to the movement of environmental issue. The text is written in a unique way that reports the predictable future as past facts. It is a SF but rather like nonfiction. It could be used as a textbook or a guideline to avoid the future that is written in this book to become reality.

We can only do what we can do. Unless I become an expert of these areas it is impossible to solve the issue in a large scale, but I can still refuse plastic bag at the store, take food I can afford to eat in the dining hall, turn off the lights when I don’t need and there are more an more I can do. Though it might be difficult to avert the rapid extinction without action of people or institutions that possess power, I believe that each small action by individual person is still contributable to extend the life of this planet.


Works Cited

Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. New York: Henry Holt, 2014. Print.

Oreskes, Naomi and Erik Conway. The Collapse of Civilization: A View from the Future. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. Print.


Anne Dalke's picture

I see an echo in this draft of what you posted in response to reading about Van Jones' work: that we cannot remove inequity, only make efforts to make the gap as small as we can and "share happiness with people around me." In both postings, you are refusing the terms of the argument made by the authors -- that the issues are structural and institutional, rather than individual -- in order to claim that the only possible action is that made, on a small scale, by individuals in their daily actions.

What I'm also seeing here, though, is a sharp acknowledgement of the different levels of power, and possibilities of effective action, that are available to us as individuals. You report that Kolbert regards "all of us as one group," setting off extinction, whereas Oreskes/Conway distinguish among "scientists, government, and experts," calling attention thereby to "various power related to the movement of environmental issue."

This puts me in mind of those two videos I asked you to view for our third class; do you remember them? It was when we first read Pratt's essay on the contact zone, and I paired Attenborough: the amazing lyrebird sings like a chainsaw! with Israeli attacks on Palestinean olive trees to make the point that not all humans have acted equally to bring about environmental destruction, and that not all humans are suffering equally as a result of those changes.

This is of course also Van Jones' interest: in how the poor and unemployed might act in response to environmental needs, thereby becoming participants in the economy. I wonder if that might be a direction for the next draft of this paper: expanding the 'levels of power' you see Oreskes/Conway identifying to encompass those who are not 'experts,' or power brokers, but rather disenfranchised? (Asking this, I'm remembering, too, your interest in educational inequities...)