Week 8: Politics of the Anthropocene

I was not particularly keen to bring up climate change again since we already waded through the gore that is national INDCs.  I was inclined to offer a foray into LSE’s excellent series of retrospective evaluations that they conducted for the UK’s National Audit Office a couple of years ago.  I would still encourage you to look through the report as it provides some nice case studies (which begin on p. 38) and more generally offer a sense of how to do policy analysis well (and how difficult that is).  The NAO also has its own series of excellent reports including several on ST&I.

Still, you have your final assignment ahead of you which is more practical and policy analytical, so I thought I would offer a final blog topic that is instead more reflective and philosophical.   I’ve been reading Jedediah Purdy’s After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene and thought it better to end on a note thinking a bit more deeply about the role that technology plays in our society and our economy.    I can’t quite ask you to read through a 300+ page book for your last week, but Purdy did write a short piece in Salon that at least gives a brief introduction to some of his arguments, which I ask that you all read as a starting point (ignore the US politicians in the opening vignette).

By way of background, the term ‘anthropocene’ began with a short article in Nature in 2002 by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen on the ‘geology of mankind’ and the profound influence humans are having on the environment.  Five years later, Crutzen, along with Will Steffen and John McNeil extended that discussion and wrote of the ‘Great Acceleration‘.  For a brief review of the current scientific debate over the use of the term Anthropocene, Nature has a useful review.   So on to our questions:

  1. Do you agree with Purdy that ‘Technology brings efficiency, but it brings neither restraint nor purpose’?
  2. Purdy also asks whether the emphasis on culture and consciousness is helpful? Well is it?
  3. Fundamentally, this echoes the perennial debate going back to at least Malthus over the saving power of technology and the extent to which we can outwit the damage we do whether intended or not.  Are you a techno-optimist? a techno-pessimist? or some other sort of techno-suffix?

Purdy’s article is slightly more US-centric than I would want, but please do try to bring it back to your own personal, sectoral and national context.