Christophe Bonneuil & Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Anthropocene Event. Earth, History, and Us, ed. du Seuil, 2013, 304 pages.

In 2000, during a famous conference, the Nobel Prize of chemistry Paul Crutzen pronounced for the first time the word « Anthropocene » to designate this new geological period which succeeded the Holocene. By this he meant that humanity has become a force of telluric magnitude capable of profoundly upsetting the great global balances (physical, biological, chemical) and of initiating feedback loops which clear minds know where they will lead us — to the final catastrophe — but not precisely by which paths. 

Scientists generally agree that the Anthropocene began in the 18th century, with the entry of the industrial era, and that there was a « Great Acceleration » after 1945 with the access of the Western masses to consumption. They also announce that this is a point of no return — at least on the scale of civilization — that we will have to live with, and try to survive. This notion is certainly useful to ecologists to denounce the damage caused to the Earth, but it is also used by the oligarchy to justify its crazy projects of geo-engineering and cybernetic management of the biosphere,  » [car] Quantifying nature is today the great business of the world’s elites, just as quantifying the economy was during the Second World War » (p. 70). This nature, seen as a « system », is called to a « maximum sustainable yield » (p. 108). Some philosophers, such as Bruno Latour, announce its disappearance as an entity independent of humanity. There would be only one bio-sociosphere, hybrid and dynamic. (From then on, why bother? Is Latour here aware that he is endorsing green capitalism?). 

Bonneuil and Fressoz are historians and present numerous facts that contradict the dominant narrative spread by « anthropocenologists », such as that of a supposedly sudden and belated « awareness », at the end of the twentieth century, of the consequences of man’s action on the earth’s ecosystem, after two hundred and fifty years of misguided growth and development. On the contrary, they show that resistance to technical innovations, to machines, to forced industrialization, to railroads, to water, air and soil pollution, to deforestation, to the privatization of the commons, to the uglification of landscapes, etc., has been concomitant with modernity itself. But official history, steeped in the ideology of Progress, has generally ignored these facts. Certain bangs of society (among workers, scientists, philosophers and ordinary citizens) have been opposed from the start to political choices that degrade their living conditions and those of the planet. « It is obvious that moderns had their own forms of environmental reflexivity. The conclusion is obvious, quite disturbing in truth, that our ancestors destroyed the environments with full knowledge of the facts », the authors underline (p. 221), before coming to another conclusion: « And if the entry into the Anthropocene, rather than an unconscious shift or the simple result of technical innovation (the steam engine), was the result of a political defeat in front of the forces of liberalism? (p. 229). This re-politicizes the issue! 

Bernard Legros

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