ON On the Possibilities of a Charming Anthropocene


In our composting group, hedgehog, galah and I recently read this paper. We did it with reservations, trepidation and palpitations. It was very far out of our comfort zone that is exactly what we needed.

I commend her for writing this paper because it brings up the things that are uncomfortable. This is a dangerous paper. It is a terrifying paper in that it can allow us off the hook and enable us to feel ok about what we are doing to our world. Regardless of what we do to it, the planet is going to die at some point like every other living thing that has or will ever live. We often forget this fact that our planetary destiny is to collide with the sun, or have a meteor collide with us or to spin off away from the sun…death is due all life but it doesn’t mean we need to encourage or hasten its occurrence. We shouldn’t be shouting at the suicidal jumper to meet us on the pavement 20 floors down.

This paper is a brave new way to look at doom but it may just be what late capitalist forces are waiting for, a free pass to not only continue business as usual but to accelerate it and operate without the need for restraint or forward thought.


Homo sapiens sapiens are a geological force enacting change. Buck talks of us as “a collectively bland actant” which perhaps not accidently brings up the ideas of the banality of evil (Arendt, 1963) but Buck is talking about it as a binary opposite to graphic stories of destruction like say, Chernobyl or what is happening to the Great Barrier Reef. The slow, usual destruction we no longer see such as agriculture and electricity and housing, the necessities of our modern lives are still forms of destruction – albeit, not the type that shouts from front pages and sells papers, but destruction. Whether we are destroying in immediate graphic technicolour sound-bytes or slow grinding almost invisible mechanisms, we are still destroying and it is difficult for many of us to find any enchantment in it.

This type of discourse bristles and chafes against our sensibilities – it is uncomfortable, difficult and haunting and the very reason for this is that it may be inevitable. This type of discourse may enable corporations like Shell and BP to sponsor the tracking of the last whales and sharks and quolls and the museum-ification of whatever happens to remain.   It can be clearly seen, “The Last Ones: This zoo enclosure is fuelled by solar energy proudly provided by Shell and BP.”

I want to believe what she is saying, that this re-enchantment is possible, because life would be easier, we could be happier and less worried and we could accept destruction and death as a natural and inevitable part of anthropocenic life.   Hard as I have tried, I can’t buy it. The acceptance of living with anthropocenic loss is not a bridge I am willing or able to cross, not just yet at least. I don’t want to encourage the jumper to jump, I don’t want to be silent about Abbott Point coal mine, I don’t want undersea oil exploration to continue…This feels eerily close to Banksy’s Dismaland theme park, but it feels like a genuine option in this paper instead of a scathing comment on business as usual as it is for Banksy.  When I am willing to accept these things I will buy my ticket to see the Last Ones exhibit and like a princess in a child’s story, I will let myself be enchanted.



Banksy’s Dismaland (photo courtesy CBC)



On the Possibilities of a Charming Anthropocene

by Holly Jean Buck (2014)

Cornell University


Culture: the stories we tell

As I sit here in the library availing myself of the free wi-fi and the wonderful benefits of tax dollars well-spent, I have been pondering the argument I have been trying (and not very successfully conveying) about my problems with culture.  I am going to use this post to think out loud about the argument I am trying to put in my thesis about the problematic nature of culture and its repeated trumping of nature.

Culture is the story we tell ourselves.  They are the stories of bringing an evergreen bough into the house in winter to symbolise that despite the death outside in the depths of winter, life persists and spring will come again.  It is a moon with a rabbit and a beautiful woman on it.  It is three young sisters turned into stone for their own protection.  Yes, they are comforting to those who know them and interesting to those who do not and they were at one time necessary but these are not truths, they are stories told to teach us lessons, give us hope, provide meaning…they are myriad in their uses but basically, they were ways of making sense of huge abstract ideas which were then unknowable and unknown by science.  They were also used to form belief systems and systems of control which are often one and the same.   Culture has become shorthand for othering because in a globalised world, culture is now providing division not unity.

All of these stories and basically all culture came from  distinct regions and these stories united people and kept people together.  They come from a time where the earth was flat and monsters existed and retribution from spirit(s) holy or otherwise was possible and inevitable.

All of these stories from all the cultures all around the world have the same three things in common:

They all come from a patriarchal perspective

They all come from the time period 40,000 years ago – 1900

They all come from a relatively stable world population of approximately 2 billion people


All world culture stems from known human time.  The human population of the world was  for a very long time, geographically isolated and thus culturally isolated.  Land bridges and seafaring helped to shift populations out of Africa to spread around the world.  Human cultural stories range from 40,000  years ago to about the 1930s all during a human population timeline of about 2 billion people.  To put this in perspective, while the human population of the planet has remained relatively stable for about 40,0000 years, it has now more than tripled in my mother’s lifetime.  She is 74 years old.   It has grown from 2 billion to almost 8 in 74 years.  Unprecedented in the history of humans on Earth.

Yes, culture was an essential tool for human survival in the pre-globalised world.  The stories kept children safe, gave meaning and purpose and controlled masses with fear and rules.  It kept us from sailing off the edge of the map and it averted any existential crisis.  It kept communities together in a geographically isolated world.

Now, in a globalised world of both multiculturalism and cultural imperialism, instantaneous and non-stop information, these cultural stories no longer unify, they separate and divide and add to the hyperseparation Val Plumwood so beautifully warned us of.  This continual separation of culture between groups of humans is also fuelling the separation of human animals from the natural world we evolved from and are a part of.  Culture is continuously held up as a sacrosanct norm which must never, ever be criticised or diminished.  And it is done so as felled rainforests logs pile up for palm oil, beef and sugar cane and coconuts, and as oceans are emptied of sharks for soup and savannahs are cleared of elephants and rhinos for boner pills.  Why on Earth do we think this is acceptable?  Why do we continue to hold up our rights to do things over the planet’s right to continue its evolutionary work of keeping itself and all living things alive?

As long as we hold human mastery over nature and certain forms of culture over others we will keep killing, destroying and denuding the very systems we depend on.  Until the power of the sun as an energy source becomes a universal cultural norm, coal oil and gas will continue to kill us.  Until the evolutionary integrity of our biospheric others and their ecological services are acknowledged and honoured and their lives are respected as equal to ours, we will continue to extinguish them and relegate them to the confines of extinction.

Culture must be seen for what it is – stories.  Yes, stories are important.  As a story-teller, I hold them dear.  But I don’t want to hear stories that contribute to the continued mastery of this planet by us.  I want to hear stories that unify us through the only things that truly DO unify us; the systems of this planet.  We all rely on the sun’s rays to keep us alive, to melt the glaciers that provide our fresh water, to feed the plants we human animals and our biospheric others rely on to live.

This story belongs to ALL of us and in this age of the anthropocene, it seems to be the only story worth telling because it is the only story which is universally true and that is something we can ALL believe.