Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene
June 2017, Polity
Humans have become so powerful that we have disrupted the functioning of the Earth System as a whole, bringing on a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – one in which the serene and clement conditions that allowed civilisation to flourish are disappearing and we quail before 'the wakened giant'.
The emergence of a conscious creature capable of using technology to bring about a rupture in the Earth's geochronology is an event of monumental significance, on a par with the arrival of civilisation itself.
What does it mean to have arrived at this point, where human history and Earth history collide? Some interpret the Anthropocene as no more than a development of what they already know, obscuring and deflating its profound significance. But the Anthropocene demands that we rethink everything. The modern belief in the free, reflexive being making its own future by taking control of its environment – even to the point of geoengineering – is now impossible because we have rendered the Earth more unpredictable and less controllable, a disobedient planet.
At the same time, all attempts by progressives to cut humans down to size by attacking anthropocentrism come up against the insurmountable fact that human beings now possess enough power to change the Earth's course. It's too late to turn back the geological clock, and there is no going back to premodern ways of thinking.
We must face the fact that humans are at the centre of the world, even if we must give the idea that we can control the planet. These truths call for a new kind of anthropocentrism, a philosophy by which we might use our power responsibly and find a way to live on a defiant Earth.
1 The Anthropocene Rupture
A rupture in Earth history
Volition in nature
Earth System science
The ecomodernist gloss
An epoch by any other name
2 A New Anthropocentrism
To doubt everything
The antinomy of the Anthropocene
The new anthropocentrism
The world-making creature
The new anthropocentrism versus ecomodernism In praise of technology
3 Friends and Adversaries
Grand narratives are dead, until now
The freak of nature
The ontological wrong turn
Recovering the cosmological sense?
4 A Planetary History?
The significance of humans
Does history have a meaning?
An Enlightenment fable
‘Politics is fate’
5 The Rise and Fall of the Super-agent
Freedom is woven into nature-as-a-whole
Responsibility is not enough
Living without Utopia
"For those entertaining the idea that we should just rocket away from an overheated planet to some new world, or perhaps fill the atmosphere with sulphur to block out the sun, here's a remarkably powerful accounting of our actual responsibility--past, present, and future." - Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
"Earth system scientists' idea of the Anthropocene has given rise to two seemingly rival camps of thought in the humanities: there are those who want to fold the idea back into new histories of global capital, and those who have used the debate to move towards a new philosophical anthropology. Clive Hamilton has been an original, important, and distinctive voice in this debate. Defiant Earth goes a long way towards bridging the distance between these rival camps while generating insights of its own into the meanings of being human in an age of planetary climate change. An essential reading for our times." - Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago
"Drawing his observations from the humanities as much as the sciences, Hamilton offers a robust view of the current state of play; not a warning – we’re past that stage – but an attempt at understanding." - Geographical Magazine