Opinion

My Encounters with the Anthropocene

Our competition winner shares her experiences of SEI’s Anthropocene conference.

Image by Bert Knot

The Climate Council’s latest report has found that more than 150 weather records were broken in Australia last summer. The fate of the Great Barrier Reef hangs in the balance. Victoria still reels from its worst day in five years as fires ravage the state. Human beings inspired by hubristic ideals, claims of environmental ownership and aspirations of vast utilisation have come to control the world. These dramatic changes are what marks the new epoch in which we live, the age of the Anthropocene.

The Sydney Environment Institute’s Encountering the Anthropocene Conference brought together the environmental humanities to examine what this new era means from a variety of different perspectives, from geologists and biologists, to artists and historians. It was a powerful attempt to reconcile the natural and technological science of climate change with the environmental humanities and social sciences. These unifying aspirations were explicit throughout the conference as the highly diverse professional and personal origins of the information presented were harmonised by their being rooted in the same issue of origin. This issue being climate change and formalisation of the new geological era in the form of the Anthropocene. This phenomenon, which left more than a few attendees tongue-tide and vocally self-conscious, encapsulates the nature of new acknowledgements of mankind’s role in the environment.

I learnt that the themes of the Anthropocene have been relevant throughout human development, from past emancipation from the connection to nature, to the current advent of potential environmental catastrophe. In this sense the Anthropocene solidifies the place of human beings and society within the environment, where we have figuratively been absent through much of history due to the distancing properties of the term, the ‘Environment’. The ideas explored at the conference where not only enthralling in their enlightening affect and passionate delivery, but in their transportive nature as well. During the conference natural and technological sciences behind the geological era of the Anthropocene laid the foundation upon which societal variables were explored by the environmental humanities and social sciences. The vitality of animals, plants, food and (emphatically also) Fungi were explored through the conference, creating a contextual connection to the natural world, in the midst of politics and economics fuelled discussions. From grave objective determinations about the environmental issues in question, the conference included an exploration into the powerful roles of museum curators, artists and writers in comprehending and popularising the academic ideas in a broader cultural landscape. Finally, voices of those whose lives are truly touched by the effects of man-made climate change were heard in discussing impacts of climate change on country and recovery from natural disaster and consequential loss. Overall, the conference fostered emotional as well as intellectual awareness of the social and cultural significance of the planet’s entry into an anthropocentric epoch.

From these three days, I’ve taken with me a strong sense of urgency. We need to unite across backgrounds and disciplines to close the gap between increasing urbanised life and consideration of the natural world. The Oscar Wilde quote, “nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing” formed a clear backdrop to the discussions and shared ideas. However, this reality has never been truer than it is today in determining how to reconcile increasingly urbanised living and monetary priority with accountability for the ‘soft violence’ of environmental damage.


Mia Shoua is studying a Bachelor of Political, Economic and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney. She won a free pass to attend our Encountering the Anthropocene conference.