Humanities in the anthropocene (I): Towards a new environmental coherence

25.05.2016 Jasmin Hettinger


‘Anthropocene?’, you might ask. Well, this expression has come a long way since its very first utterance by Paul Crutzen in 2000.1 Just recently, its career has been crowned by the publication of an article in the renowned Science magazine at the beginning of this year.2 In this article, the authors (mainly geoscientists of different specializations) argue that time has come to name a whole geochronological era after us – the human beings – and our impact on the earth. The reasons for their argument are to be found right under the earth’s surface: In recent geological deposits there are more and more traces of artificial materials produced and – finally – dumped by man, changing the soil’s natural composition to a considerable degree. Starting from this perspective, the anthropocene is more than just a geological time scale. It has rather become a new concept of our perception of human-nature-interaction on the whole, a new heuristic programme, a new way of seeing the world with us living in it.3 The most significant change, though, is the shift in our perception of ‘nature’: from a dangerous one to an endangered one, from natural impacts on society to human impacts on natural environments – subconsciously implying man’s power to shape nature according to his will.


  1. The expression itself has been known and used before, but it was coined and finally spread by Paul J. Crutzen’s work ‘Geology of Mankind’, Nature 415, Nr. 6867 (2002): 23, doi:10.1038/415023a []
  2. Waters u. a., ‘The Anthropocene Is Functionally and Stratigraphically Distinct from the Holocene’, Science 351, Nr. 6269 (2016): 137-148, doi:10.1126/science.aad2622 []
  3. Will Steffen u. a., ‘The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 369, Nr. 1938 (2011): 842–67, doi:10.1098/rsta.2010.0327 []