The End of Abundance: Water Infrastructure and the Culture of Cornucopianism by Jason M. Kelly

watercolor of river by Re McBride

We are living in a profoundly disorienting and disquieting historical moment. Populist authoritarianism is on the rise around the globe. We have seen leaders of supposedly liberal states attack the press and flout norms that have been mainstays of politics for generations—actively attempting to undermine trust in the very institutions it is their duty to preserve. We have seen children put into cages. We have seen white supremacists terrorize communities. All the while, these leaders cajole their xenophobic, misogynistic, and racist followers to intimidate and murder vulnerable populations. A surge in nationalism has seen leaders refuse aid to immigrants, use their armies to invade and occupy neighboring regions, and dissolve longstanding agreements. The gulf between the wealthiest and the poorest is growing ever wider, sustained by the political assault on unions, the expansion of corporate power, and the disintegration of regulatory frameworks. The veil of liberalism is disintegrating, exposing the deep structural inequities and latent hatreds that define late capitalism.

All this is set against the background of a rapidly changing climate, which promises to further destabilize societies across the globe. The most optimistic forecasts—those that assume massive, global cooperation to rapidly decrease carbon emissions—promise widespread disruptions of the planet’s ecosystems. We have already begun to experience the first effects of these changes: unpredictable weather patterns, drought, high-intensity storms, sea level rise, and the acidification of oceans.

In the best case scenario—one that assumes governments across the globe will enact the Paris Agreement developed at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21)—humans across the globe will be forced to live through unprecedented environmental upheavals and their unpredictable societal consequences. Unfortunately, though, key signatories (most notably the United States), have abandoned their obligations, in part, at the hands of populist leaders who deny the realities of anthropogenic climate change. The best case scenario is unlikely to be the one we live through…

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Film Announcement! ANTHROPOCENE: The Documentary will feature that the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)

Opening Title Shot to Anthropocene Documentary



(Text Originally Published:

A cinematic meditation on humanity’s massive reengineering of the planet, Anthropocene is a four years in the making feature documentary film from the multiple-award winning team of Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky.

Third in a trilogy that includes Manufactured Landscapes (2006) and Watermark (2013), the film follows the research of an international body of scientists, the Anthropocene Working Group who, after nearly 10 years of research, are arguing that the Holocene Epoch gave way to the Anthropocene Epoch in the mid-twentieth century, because of profound and lasting human changes to the Earth.

From concrete seawalls in China that now cover 60% of the mainland coast, to the biggest terrestrial machines ever built in Germany, to psychedelic potash mines in Russia’s Ural Mountains, to metal festivals in the closed city of Norilsk, to the devastated Great Barrier Reef in Australia and surreal lithium evaporation ponds in the Atacama desert, the filmmakers have traversed the globe using high end production values and state of the art camera techniques to document evidence and experience of human planetary domination.

At the intersection of art and science, Anthropocene witnesses in an experiential and non-didactic sense a critical moment in geological history — bringing a provocative and unforgettable experience of our species’ breadth and impact.

Mongrel Media / Mercury Films Inc. / Edward Burtynsky

#AnthropoceneProject #TIFF18

An Anthropocene Primer Syllabus in the Literature Classroom

An Anthropocene Primer Syllabus in the Literature Classroom
David Rodriguez

I am particularly fond of “an” in the title An Anthropocene Primer as a signal that it is a medium that suggests use rather than determines use. The precise definition of the term “Anthropocene” is debated, so the variety of routes and approaches–rather than an implicit argument about golden spikes or timelines–is an effective way to communicate, to students in particular, that the participation in discourse relating to the Anthropocene is part of the present constitution of its meaning. I think my students were also interested in this open approach, which they curiously identified and formulated that An Anthropocene Primer “lacks bias.” This impression, I suppose, likening the site to the experience of an encyclopedia even though it looks much different, toned their encounter with it.

I have just wrapped a climate change themed, introductory-level “Literature, Science, and Technology” course in the English Department at Stony Brook University. I used the syllabus from An Anthropocene Primer to organize the independent work that my students did to prepare for group presentations, which ran parallel to our reading and discussion schedule. As the semester progressed, the work they did in groups with the Anthropocene Primer syllabus outside of class inevitably made its way into daily class discussions.

I intended the course to be an opportunity to encounter the environment and climate change in their imaginary form, which I see as primary, as opposed to foregrounding mimetic or representational interpretations of environment in literature and film. I introduced the class by emphasizing fictionality and the imaginary as the main resources for negotiating the boundaries of aesthetic and extra-aesthetic engagements with the environment. This afforded us the opportunity to talk about literary texts as a unique form of research into the Anthropocene as the dominant concept organizing contemporary scientific and popular thinking about the environment. Michel Butor’s 1968 essay “The Novel as Research” provides the guiding principles:

“Even though veracious narrative always has the support, the last resort, of external evidence, the novel must suffice to create what it tells us. That is why it is the phenomenological realm par excellence, the best possible place to study how reality appears to us, or might appear […].”[1]

We studied one novel, Ben Lerner’s astounding 10:04, and other texts with various degrees of fictionality, such as Climate Changed by Philippe Squarzoni, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, and Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee. These narratives engage with the question of how reality might appear to their subjects and narrators; my students’ work was to tease out why the environment appears to become foregrounded in these texts and the implications of the strategies used to arrange this “internal evidence.”

The class was structured by three sets of student presentations that sequentially engaged with the “beginner,” “intermediate,” and “advanced” questions on the Anthropocene Primer syllabus. They were organized into five groups of three or four students to match each of the five modules. For each presentation, they chose one of the questions to use as a framework to interpret examples from the texts we had been studying up to that point in the semester. A benefit of the Anthropocene Primer syllabus is that it prescribes no answers. The questions in each “difficulty” section of the syllabus have varying degrees of specificity, but each invites more questions rather than straightforward answers. This fits into a useful paradigm for humanists engaging with Anthropocene issues, as Janet Fiskio puts it: “not-solving the problem of climate change.”[2] The part of the research process in which humanists join study of the Anthropocene is this negative position, critically thinking with the ways in which the environment possibly appears in our literary imagination and using the negation of the present to open up new ideas about the future.

My students had the choice of engaging with the resources on the syllabus to enrich each question, but many found the organizing principles of questions such as “In which ways do issues of responsibility and stewardship in the Anthropocene vary according to scale?” (an “Advanced” question from the “Scale” module) enough to find connections with the discussion of the literary texts from our course. During their presentation, this particular group broke the class up into smaller sections to brainstorm how the particular subjects of the texts we had studied are partially determined by scale: Does the national scale of Carson’s critique of specifically U.S. American values influence her images? Or, how does the ideology of globalism constrain how Jennifer Baichwal treats Edward Burtynsky’s photographs in her film Manufactured Landscapes?

Another group used the question, “How does the meaning of the Anthropocene change if we define it as either a: hyperobject, process, concept, framework, or something else entirely?” from the “What is the Anthropocene?” module to analyze how these conceptual forms are also identifiable across narrative forms: Anthropocene as process is exemplified in James Balog’s glacier time-lapses in the film Chasing Ice; as a framework, the Anthropocene is diligently outlined in Squarzoni’s graphic memoir Climate Changed.

The questions and resources on the Anthropocene Primer may be basic for the educator, or have mixed origins and histories, but presented in this format they delivered apparently revelatory information accessibly to my students. I had just one student who was an Environmental Humanities major in the Sustainability Studies program at Stony Brook, but none of my other students had encountered “Anthropocene” as a term, in any context. Though the work with the Anthropocene Primer syllabus was independent, and spaced out through the fifteen-week course, the site had the cumulative effect of broadening the kinds of discussions my students were willing and able to initiate.

My maybe too-strictly aesthetic context for studying literature and environment alluded to above was met by my students’ willingness to engage openly and playfully with political, social, and economic issues raised by the syllabus. An Anthropocene Primer afforded pathways for my students to transit between the literary texts and their daily lives. The concerted effort to present to the class, for example, how a specific aspect of “polycentric governance” (from the “Policy” module) is related to the political issues raised by Encounters with the Archdruid stretched them (and me) to consider new ways in which the text proposes that the encounter with the environment is always mediated through the various politicized narratives embodied by figures on all sides of the conservation / preservation / responsible-use debates.

I am interested in how open resources like this will continue to influence pedagogy for the variety of disciplines now invested in engaging with the Anthropocene in a dynamic classroom. Another pattern that my students noticed from the texts in our course was the prevalence and value of of autodidacticism for Thoreau as he builds both his house and his home in Walden, for example, or in the representations of research in the reflexive memoir form for Squarzoni in Climate Changed. Both Thoreau and Squarzoni engage with their vastly differently scaled environments by following paths through literary as well as scientific texts. An Anthropocene Primer models this same practice; it shows students and teachers alike a variety of paths for answering difficult, new questions and feeds back into a reflection on past and present methods for learning about our environments.


David Rodriguez is an English PhD candidate at Stony Brook University. His dissertation, “Spaces of Indeterminacy” studies aerial descriptions in American novels as a keystone to the environmental imagination in the 20thcentury. He has forthcoming articles on econarratology in English Studiesand geographical narratology in Frontiers of Narrative Studies. He is currently editing a book with Marco Caracciolo and Marlene Marcussen, Narrating Nonhuman Spaces: Form, Story, and Experience Beyond Anthropocentrism, which is currently under review.


[1]Butor, Michel. “The Novel as Research.” Inventory: Essays by Michel Butor. Ed. Richard Howard. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968. 26-29.

[2]Fiskio, Janet. “Building Paradise in the Classroom.” Teaching Climate Change in the Humanities. Eds. Stephen Siperstein, Shane Hall, & Stephanie LeMenager. New York: Routledge, 2017. 101-109.

“Fittingly, This Sad Tree May Define Our New Geologic Epoch” by Ari Phillips in Earther (Feb 20, 2018)

The loneliest tree on the planet, on Campbell Island in the Southern Ocean. Image: Pavla Fenwick. From:

“A team of scientists have a new contender for determining the precise date that we entered the so-called Anthropocene: A lonely spruce tree on an island 400 miles south of New Zealand.”

Read more here:

COP23: The 10 Science ‘Must Knows’ on Climate Change

Read a new statement from Future Earth and the Earth League called “The 10 Science ‘Must Knows’ on Climate Change” delivered at the Bonn Climate Change Conference on 13 November.

Prepared by the Earth League and Future Earth for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23), 2017.

The Paris Agreement aims to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”. In 2016, global average surface temperature reached about 1.1 °C above pre-industrial levels, making it the warmest year on record1. Globally averaged concentrations for carbon dioxide (CO2) reached 403.3 parts per million in 2016, up from 400.0 ppm in 2015. This is a record annual increase2. The science is clear that meeting the Paris Agreement will require rapidly ridding society of fossil fuels. In addition, the world will have to safeguard and enhance existing carbon sinks, and major efforts will be needed to build societal resilience in the face of unavoidable climate change . . . .

(continue reading here)

“Environmental Humanities and Climate Change” by Libby Robin

Libby Robin has recently published “Environmental Humanities and Climate Change: Understanding Humans Geologically and Other Life Forms Ethically” with WIREs Climate Change. Here’s the abstract:

The task of reconceptualizing planetary change for the human imagination calls on a wide range of disciplinary wisdom. Environmental studies were guided by the natural sciences in the 1960s, and in the 1970s broadened to include policy and the social sciences. By the 1990s, with global environmental changes well-documented, various humanist initiatives emerged, expanding the idea of ethics, responsibility and justice within the transdisciplinary mode of environmental studies. Shared problems, places, and scales form the basis for collaborative work in the environmental humanities, sometimes in partnerships with natural sciences and the creative arts. Experiential learning and trust in judgments based on different methods typically guide humanities interventions. Shifting the frameworks of environmental research to be more consciously inclusive and diverse is enabling concepts of the physical world that better include humans and taking ethics beyond humans to consider more-than-human Others. This review considers historically how the environment and the humanities became conceptualized together. It then explores three emerging fields in transdisciplinary environmental scholarship where environmental humanities are playing major leadership roles: (1) climate and biodiversity justice, both for humans and for other forms of life; (2) the Anthropocene as a metaphor for living with planetary changes and (3) life after ‘the end of nature,’ including rewilding and restoration. While environmental humanities also work in many other fields, these cases exemplify the crucial tasks of situating the human in geological and ecological terms and other life forms (the ‘more-than-human’) in ethical terms.

The article is open access and available here:

The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health Report

The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health has recently released a report examining the relationship between environmental pollution and public health.   Their Executive Summary is below. To read the full report, visit the commission’s website at

Executive Summary

For decades, pollution and its harmful effects on people’s health, the environment, and the planet have been neglected both by Governments and the international development agenda. Yet, pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths.

The Lancet Commission on pollution and health addresses the full health and economic costs of air, water, and soil pollution. Through analyses of existing and emerging data, the Commission reveals pollution’s severe and underreported contribution to the Global Burden of Disease. It uncovers the economic costs of pollution to low-income and middle-income countries. The Commission will inform key decision makers around the world about the burden that pollution places on health and economic development, and about available cost-effective pollution control solutions and strategies.

The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health 

Philip J Landrigan, Richard Fuller, Nereus J R Acosta, Olusoji Adeyi, Robert Arnold, Niladri (Nil) Basu, Abdoulaye Bibi Baldé, Roberto Bertollini, Stephan Bose-O’Reilly, Jo Ivey Boufford, Patrick N Breysse, Thomas Chiles, Chulabhorn Mahidol, Awa M Coll-Seck, Maureen L Cropper, Julius Fobil, Valentin Fuster, Michael Greenstone, Andy Haines, David Hanrahan, David Hunter, Mukesh Khare, Alan Krupnick, Bruce Lanphear, Bindu Lohani, Keith Martin, Karen V Mathiasen, Maureen A McTeer, Christopher J L Murray, Johanita D Ndahimananjara, Frederica Perera, Janez Potočnik, Alexander S Preker, Jairam Ramesh, Johan Rockström, Carlos Salinas, Leona D Samson, Karti Sandilya, Peter D Sly, Kirk R Smith, Achim Steiner, Richard B Stewart, William A Suk, Onno C P van Schayck, Gautam N Yadama, Kandeh Yumkella, Ma Zhong

Are We all Living in the Anthropocene? by Matthew Henry for the OUP Blog

A new blog post by Matthew Henry (PhD candidate in English and Environmental Humanities at Arizona State University) for the Oxford University Press blog is worth checking out. Asking the question, “Are We all Living in the Anthropocene?,” he challenges readers to remember that

the Anthropocene operates under the assumption that the human species as a whole is responsible for potentially irreversible environmental catastrophe without acknowledging that some (read: industrialized Western societies) are far more responsible than others (developing nations, indigenous peoples) for rising carbon emissions, ocean acidification, industrial pollution, and the like.

Read the entire post here.