What does it mean to be living in the anthropocene?

Humans are destroying the Earth. This is a popular view of the effects of humans on the land, animals, and overall chemical makeup of the planet. On September 15, I attended a lecture on Human/Nature in the Anthropocene, where Professor Jim Fleming discussed differing definitions of and responses to the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is a term developed by Eugene Stoerner in the 1980s that describes a new epoch where human activity is considered the dominant influence on the environment. Through digging up the earth, creating chemical weapons, and constructing new technologies, humans are shaping the composition and growth of the Earth and everything on it.

However, the dominant perspective of the relationship between humans and nature is framed in a negative way. Humans are polluting the air, water, and constantly dumping their trash wherever they see !t. Humans have decreased the biodiversity of plants and animals, slowly eliminating species through inhumane and excessive practices. Humans have increased ocean acidi!cation and the amount of carbon, nitrogen, and other gases in the atmosphere, creating a hole in the ozone layer. Pretty much, humans are contributing to the Earth’s, and thus their own, downfall.

Although I do not disagree that humans have had a negative impact on the Earth, all of these ideas distinctly separate humans from nature, as if they are not a part of it, but something that acts against it. However, humans and their interactions with the environment are equivalent to those of any other animal trying to sur- vive. The act of plowing dirt for farms is just one mechanism that humans have learned to adapt to the environment in order to feed the growing population. Yes, humans have a larger impact on the environment than a squirrel digging up acorns, thus posing a larger threat; however, they are still a part of the ecosystem, a part of nature.

I would like to believe that not all of humans’ interactions with the Earth are necessarily bad. Humans have altered the environment and people claim that because of that they are going against nature, that their habits are “unnatural”. But that’s advocating for no change, as if the best thing for nature is for it to stay the same, as if that is “natural”. But humans are a part of nature; we live and breathe it every day. All of our actions have an impact on the environment, as does the environment on us.

There is no denying that humans have neglected the environment and that habitat destruction has occurred. We are not the best at managing resources. Nonetheless, we have to stop looking at humans as outside of nature, in order to work together with nature to satisfy both sides. Humans have built roads and bridges, cities, and towns, but they have also rerouted rivers, stopped wildfires, and regrown forests. We may be changing the environment, but it doesn’t have to be for the worse. Living in the anthropocene means that we can make a meaningful impact on the planet. So let’s move forward, taking into account how our actions affect nature, in order to move towards a more mutualis- tic relationship, one that brings a brighter future.

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