Anthropocene Transition Project
The title of Naomi Klein’s acclaimed book on the politics of climate change well sums up the challenge of the Anthropocene. The arrival of the age when human activity has come to dominate and seriously compromise the stability of the Earth System poses fundamental questions for our professions, key cultural and social institutions, our communities, and our systems of governance. In Klein’s words, this changes everything.
The Anthropocene Transition Project 2016 is a collaborative inquiry under the auspices of the UTS Business School in Sydney, Australia. Its aim is to stimulate, support and connect generative conversations by linking research networks with specific areas of professional and social practice in order to explore the nature of the changes required by the Anthropocene.
"This Changes Everything"
One Earth System
The concept of the Anthropocene draws together our thinking about specific aspects of Earth System disruption — like climate change or biodiversity loss or ocean acidification — to focus on their interconnections. It encourages us to see the Earth as a single socio-ecological system.
It also helps us to broaden our view to include the cultural drivers of this disruption -- deep conflict between the core values of a dominant global monoculture and the life support systems of Earth.
Even as the magnitude of the Anthropocene challenge becomes clearer, in our everyday professional and social lives we continue to reproduce the status quo. We say business as usual is over, but business as usual remains very much the order of the day — perhaps with some “sustainable” trimmings at the margins.
A Values Framework for the Anthropocene
As we set about preparing for the long-haul of the Anthropocene Transition we may feel the need to frame our experimentation. The following four principles are offered as anchors for our explorations:
1. Earth sovereignty
Sovereignty is a foundational concept for our systems of jurisprudence and international relations. But its expressions in the sovereignty of the nation state and the individual have become inimical to the viability of our own species and many others as well.
A new conception of sovereignty vested in the Earth and asserting the preeminence of respect for all life and the integrity of the biosphere has become a necessity. Such a definition of Earth sovereignty as prior to and more fundamental than human agency would provide a basis on which to reframe all our doctrines of authority, justice and responsible governance.
Eco-mutuality is a core relational principle that recognises the need to nurture and sustain a mutually enhancing human-Earth relationship as the very basis of human cultures. It incorporates the principle of equity but extends it beyond the sphere of social relations to embrace our inter-dependence with all living creatures and the eco-systems of which they are an integral part.
Eco-mutuality transcends the essentially human-centred and utilitarian concept of sustainability to recognise the intrinsic value of all life within the wholeness of the Earth System.
Holism is an epistemic principle that emphasises the intrinsic coherence of complex systems and their emergent properties that cannot be understood from a knowledge of their parts. It implies that the system as a whole determines in important ways how the parts behave, even while the parts condition the nature of the whole.
As an approach to inquiry and learning, holism does not displace other modes of knowing but transcends them and opens the door to a more creative engagement with change in complex systems at all levels from the planetary to the micro-organic.
4. Eco-social resilience
Resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disruption and reorganise itself under conditions of turbulence and on-going change. Eco-social resilience must be a core organising principle for the Anthropocene Transition. It establishes eco-systemic integrity as a fundamental design criterion for human technologies, economies, habitats and systems of governance.
Eco-social resilience focusses attention on the critical relationship between human systems and the eco-systems in which they are embedded and on whose vitality they ultimately depend. Within this context it values the preservation and enhancement of both social and ‘natural’ capital and favours distributed networked technologies with localised capability and control instead centralised, capital intensive systems.
Shaping a Future
So what does the Anthropocene Transition mean for our communities of practice?
Mitigating our dangerous disruption of the biosphere and adapting to profound changes we can no longer avoid are now urgent priorities for all humanity. But what we could call ‘Anthropocene thinking’ looks beyond mitigation and adaptation to consider the transformation of seriously dysfunctional human cultures. This is the central task of the Anthropocene Transition. It is a transition away from professional and social practices and cultural values fundamentally at odds with the continuing viability of our species and many others as well.
Our ‘professional and social practices’ are all the activities, both paid and unpaid, in which specialised knowledge and skills are used to achieve socially and culturally valued outcomes. These activities are often collaborative in nature and usually involve some degree of critical reflection and collective learning. ‘Community of practice’ refers to the social and professional networks that link people involved in similar activities. It is through these activities and networks that most of us participate in both continuously reproducing and reinventing the institutions and values of our society. They are the ways in which we most directly contribute to shaping the future.
History teaches us that periods of transition are characterised by great intellectual ferment and social conflict. But these times when the old order strains and fractures can also be ages of great creativity, of intellectual and spiritual breakthroughs, of new cultural syntheses. This is the challenge of the Anthropocene Transition — to equip our communities, our professions, and our institutions with new tools for thinking, doing and learning.
When nothing is sure, everything is possible.
The objective of The Anthropocene Transition Project is to inspire and inform new thinking and experimentation in the redesign our professional and social practices.
The main vehicles for the project in 2016 will be:
These offer a transnational repository for relevant information, links to relevant research networks, and venues for discussion, analysis and the sharing of ideas.
• Networking between researchers and communities of practice.
The aim here is to link research networks with diverse areas of professional and social practice in order to stimulate, encourage, challenge and support new thinking and experimentation.
• Regular forums/workshops for network participants and an on-going series of roundtables, potentially in different institutional or community settings.
These gatherings will be the vehicle for co-learning, stretching our collective thinking, encouraging critical reflection, and building and maintaining networking processes.
Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.
If you think your professional network, organisation or community might be interested in participating in this collaborative inquiry, please use this form to let us know.