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Thanks, Dave. Really good post!

I agree that trivializing the Anthropocene is intellectual malpractice.

Interesting "human nature" vs "rational actor" model contrast. You are spot on that the "human nature" model implies we are not going to change our behavior (and there is a lot of evidence to support that view).

More broadly, it seems that the human herd is getting spooked by Louisiana flooding, California fires, and no less than 8 "one in five hundred year" events in 12 months in the US. Climate change is breaking through the noise this week according to number of mass media items on the subject.

None of that matters if humans fail to act. Odds are, we are going to fail to act early and strongly enough.

I'm reduced to thinking about this as a probability outcome, with the odds currently heavily favoring catastrophe BUT consistently moving slowly in the right direction.

Question is will we act before time...runs...out?

Best answer to this is NO. Best example is the IPCC taking until 2018 to release a report on 1.5 deg C warming effect (an item that you covered).


as per usual...politicians and scientists splitting hairs...using semantics to shift the blame... and as usual poor people die first, with the rest to follow. nothing new under the black hole.


the big difference in the last 200 years, is that's when humans really turned up the gas. i hope everyone alive today gets to see what we've done as it all boils down to goo. sorry, not in a good mood today.


...and none of this is about human nature...but human nurture has turned us all into greedy pigs.

Ken Barrows

If the various academics could agree on a certain rate of change for various factors that triggered the Anthropocene, this wouldn't be much of a debate (it's now "academic."). It's all hockey stick graphs. We f**ked things up and now we f**k them up more. Erle Ellis would disagree, though. These different disciplines should get a little more quantitative to avoid all the fogginess.

Mike H

Fascinating. Dave, Hamilton has this peculiar bias to hopium or an optimism in the more altruistic and social view of humans. When I first read his 'Requiem for a Species', he outlined very carefully why we are fucked, in other words, flatland thinking but then jumped at the end to a bizarre conclusion that all we needed was a new form of body politic that would solve these problems. I see he has not changed. I have puzzled about this because his message about the dire straights we are in has been consistent over time but he still grasps at the outcome being different and offering what are really weak and unworkable solutions, I guess it is not within his ambit to escape the bind of flatland solutions, thinking that yet another geo-political structure will resolve what is a fundamental issue, human thought processes and responses. I put this down to Hamilton's environment he works as an academic in the nation's capital and he has been conditioned by this to the responses required in Canberra, water down the reality, minimise the bad stuff and offer solutions, in other words write acceptable policy. I worked in the same environment once upon a time and it just produces a suffocating group think that is emeshed with the self interest of the politicians and politics up the hill. In short everyone is one the gravy train and that is how you stay there, or you could call it as it is and clearly and end up like I did, shafted royally by the Canberra Mandarins and regarded as a traitor to the group world view. I now live a much more impoverished life, I call it true post modernism, rural, some times almost medieval without a lot of lifes modern industrial luxuries, but at least it is authentic! Hell is coming and it is going to be very hard, we have prepared and thought hard to mitigate and adapt and if the past five years are any guide it is going to be very very difficult and for most impossible.

One other point, the issue of the so-called fertile crescent and for example Persian civilisations ignores the fact that where those cities were first located (Persepolis) and including the Indus civilisations like Bactria outgrew their environmental bases, were challenged by other tribal civilisations and in the wars and environmental change that followed were destroyed and never rebuilt. The tribes merely moved to more favourable climes, well nobody can do that now without enormous bloodshed and destruction, it is all taken.

Some Guy

I'm reminded of the story of the lily that doubles in area every day and covers the pond in 20 days. On the 19th day, the pond is only half covered.

The lily is just doing its thing all along, but exponential growth makes the final part before the collapse qualitatively different (with respect to the magnitude of change from a macro perspective) from what came before, even though the underlying process is the same.

Mike Roberts

Yes, humans are built that way. The fact that humans have only had the capacity (through fossil fuels) to exponentially speed up their destruction of the earth system relatively recently doesn't alter their essential nature; it just allows it to be expressed in a stunningly destructive way. Having 7.5 billion of them also doesn't help. I guess mankind's destructive nature was not so much of a problem when there weren't many humans and they could move around to let perturbed ecosystems heal, though I'm sure some groups still wreaked havoc locally.

Alexander Ač

Great article, thanks!

It inspired me to write a shorter version of Hamilton's critique to those few czech and slovak (mainly climate) scientists who are able to say something relevant about Anthropocene (even though much less than Hamilton). Predictably, I got almost no response... which only confirms why this species has to go sooner rather than later.



Interesting article, got me thinking about the distinction between contingency and necessity. Speaking of trivializing, I wince whenever I hear the phrase "climate change." Change? As in hope and change? "Climate crisis" is a more honest description.


I watched the Clive Hamilton video. I won't say thanks for that one. It was a slog. It's about the various definitions of how to measure the Anthropocene, with Hamilton arguing his definition is best - that only until 1945 can it be marked, because that was when distinct changes to the globe as a whole (the 'Earth System' - singular) can be measured. It seemed like the type of squabbling that takes place mostly behind closed doors in scientific quarters, with each scientist or group of scientists (although, Hamilton isn't really a scientist) jockeying for status.

Hamilton rules out man-caused ecosystem changes before 1945, as they didn't have lasting effects on the planet as a whole. In the years after 1945, he argues, not only have we been destroying ecosystems, but we've been altering the globe's physical processes as a whole.

In the end, though, does it really matter when it started? Humans are affecting just about every biological and physical system on the planet. That should be the point.

Hamilton is worried that the definitions placing the Anthropocene as starting before the 20th century will cause people to lose sight of how scary and monumental the changes are. I'm sure it will. But, it's not like it's currently scaring us enough to change our ways. We're plowing along either way. I'm reasonably sure we won't start thinking seriously about it until we hit the last stage of the old exponential illustrations, or until it affects food security in multiple parts of the planet at once.

"Others like Andy Revkin or so-called "eco-modernists" refer to a "good anthropocene," which is absurd."

Not just absurd. It should be criminal.

@Katherine: the term "climate change" has a history, and it has become prominent specifically because it is less threatening:



@Katherine, for the first time yesterday I ran into a public official (emergency manager for a regional planning commission) who outlined how bad it's actually going to get. He made it a point to use the phrase climate "disruption".

Hugh Spencer

Maybe something (even more?) sobering is in order - this is a very honest appraisal of what faces us .. and how bloody difficult it is to deal with - it's a long read - but essential .. http://energyskeptic.com/…/telling-others-about-pe…/


Top write-up & analysis Dave!

I love the language in that last paragraph -

"We offer", "we believe", "we embrace"...

Sounds like quite the little movement "they" have got going there. Whod've ever thunk that an Insurrectionary Revolutionary Army of Flatlanders would rise up to save the day! 8-P

I bet #WE is already trending on Space Book/My Face/Whatever...


@Jim thanks, I should have suspected something like this had happened. It's ironic that the phrase now seems to be very popular among liberals. Ah, human nature.

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