Kieran Suckling, “Against the Anthropocene”

Posted by on Jul 31, 2014
Kieran Suckling, “Against the Anthropocene”

This content is re-blogged from Immanence: Eco-culture, Geophilosophy, Mediapolitics. You can read the remainder of the article here.

Kieran Suckling

Against the Anthropocene

In considering why the name “Anthropocene” has been proposed, why it has been embraced by many, and what might make a better alternative, it is instructive to look at how geologists have named previous epochs. From such a view, “Anthropocene” immediately stands out as an anomaly.

There are ten named epochs covering the last 145 million years. None are named for the cause of changes to the planet. Instead, all the names refer to the changed composition of species present in each epoch. (*See Note 1.)


  1. Mark
    August 3, 2014

    “Instead, all the names refer to the changed composition of species present in each epoch.”
    In that case Anthropocene is perfect. Since the “Anthro” refers to humans and since we have gone from less than 1 billion minimally affecting the planet to over 7 billion of us destroying it, the term Anthropocene works on both counts. We are the changed species and we are the cause of ecological change.

    • Steve
      August 10, 2014

      The naming convention is not to describe the state of one species (e.g. anthros) but of all species collectively. Globally, the big change for species is homogenization: all continents becoming more similar due to extinction of regional endemics and introduction of species from other regions. Homogenocene would name name this planetary change in the fossil record.

      The question Suckling raises is given that Homogenocene is more in keeping with geology nomenclature, I.e. it is earth centric, why have some instead proposed to forgo the convention to describe a single species? Which just happens to be the species proposing the name?

      To put this in context, he points out that geologists since the 18th century–having adopted the Christian idea of the earth being created providentially for humans–have constantly proposed calling the current epoch the Age of Man. We can’t proceed to adopt the name “Anthropocene” as if we just invented it de novo on the basis of some newly discover fact. Indeed the last big proposed name was the Anthropogene in 1920. It differs by a single letter. It is still used in Eastern Europe and China. It is simply not tenable to say “this is not part of historically determined thinking, it is a new, science-only concept.” It is a very traditional anthropocentric gesture that has existed with great constancy since Buffon first proposed it in 1778.

      Geologists, finally, have rejected all these overtly anthropocentric terms for formal names for the last 350 years. They have instead relegated them to informal names (age of dinosaurs, ages of reptiles, age of mammals, age of man, etc.). They should, and I expect will do so again now. Quasi-religious, deeply western, anthropocentric terms have no place in a global science.