Geosciences Seminar Series: Welcome to the Anthropocene

Background:

Humans are changing the Earth at the scale of the planet. Welcome to the Anthropocene! Since the evolution of modern Homo Sapiens, people have been at the mercy of planetary processes. However, we stand at the point, unique in geological history, where a single species has begun to change the Earth at the scale of the planet and shape its physical and biological processes. The arrival of the so-called ‘Anthropocene’ (if we accept such a construct) presents a myriad of philosophical, economic, practical, scientific, moral and political issues amongst others, for contemporary societies to consider and debate.

In this Special Lecture Series, a range of experts drawn from numerous disciplines present and debate the meaning and consequences of the arrival of The Anthropocene.

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Image Source: Google Images

Schedule

Date Title Presenter Venue Time
August 2, 2016 A geological perspective on the Anthropocene Dr Sabin Zahirovic, EarthByte, The School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175 2-3pm
August 16, 2016 Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene Professor Lesley Head, School of Geography and Resource Management, The University of Melbourne Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175 2-3pm
August 30, 2016 Ironies of the Anthropocene: working through the pitfalls and potential of the idea Dr Lauren Rickards, RMIT Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175 2-3pm
September 13, 2016 Climate crisis, corporate imaginaries and creative self-destruction Professor Christopher Wright, The University of Sydney Business School Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175 2-3pm
September 20, 2016 The elusive Anthropocene: Challenges of climate change ethnography Professor Linda Connor, Department of Anthropology, School of Social and Political Sciences, The University of Sydney Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175 2-3pm
October 4, 2016 Coasts in the Anthropocene Dr Ana Vila Concejo, Geo Coastal Group, School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175 2-3pm
October 18, 2016 The Anthropocene, Solastalgia and the urgent need to enter The Symbiocene Dr Glenn A Albrecht Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175 2-3pm

Organiser:

Presenter Profiles

Dr Sabin Zahirovic

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School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney

Sabin received his PhD from The University of Sydney in 2015. He currently works as a post-doc at the School of Geosciences, with his research focusing on global and regional plate tectonic reconstructions. Sabin also works with the Deep Carbon Observatory in linking deep-time plate tectonics, the carbon cycle and long-term climate change. As part of his first-year teaching in GEOS1001, Sabin presents a lecture on the Anthropocene from a geological perspective, which forms the inspiration for this introductory talk.

Title: A geological perspective on the Anthropocene
When: August 2, 2016 @ Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175, 2-3pm

The Anthropocene has been proposed as a new epoch within the geological time scale. As the dominant species, we have been engineering the environment to sustain ever-growing populations, and in doing so, we have contributed to fundamental changes in the Earth system. Our activities and the resulting environmental changes are being captured by the geological record, such as the incorporation of anthropogenic lead, plastics, radioactive isotopes and other components into the sedimentary record. In this introductory talk I will cover the origins of the human species, and how we have left a permanent mark on the planet. In addition, I will discuss what parameters and markers in stratigraphy can be used to define the onset of the Anthropocene.

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Professor Lesley Head

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Professor Lesley Head

School of Geography, The University of Melbourne

Lesley Head is Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor and Head of the School of Geography at the University of Melbourne. She was until 2015 ARC Australian Laureate Fellow and Director of the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research at the University of Wollongong, where the book on which this talk is based was written. Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene. Rethinking human-nature relations was published earlier this year by Routledge.

Title: Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene
When: August 16, 2016 @ Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175, 2-3pm

I explore how responses to Anthropocene challenges are hampered by grief for a pristine and certain past. We in the affluent West are grieving for the loss of modernity and its investment in a future characterised by hope, seen most particularly in the idea of everyday denial. More open acknowledgement that grief will be our companion will strengthen our collective capacities.

Much of our environmental thought is anchored in aspiration towards pristine past baselines. This is historically inaccurate and of limited assistance in times of potentially rapid threshold changes requiring transformative socioecological action. More contingent and dynamic understandings of both past and future are important. Australian evidence and perspectives are well placed to help articulate such understandings.

Hope is conceptualised as a risky and complex process of possibility. I decouple hope and optimism to recognise that a broader range of emotions, including painful ones, are entangled in hope. Hope is conceptualised as embodied practice – it is something to be practised rather than felt.

Dr Lauren Rickards

RMIT University, Melbourne

Lauren Rickards is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, Melbourne, where she also co-leads the Climate Change and Resilience research program of the Centre for Urban Research. Lauren was the inaugural coordinator of the Sustainability in the Anthropocene research cluster at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne and in her current research continues to explore the Anthropocene as concept, scientific debate and social and material condition.


Title: Ironies of the Anthropocene: working through the pitfalls and potential of the idea
When: August 30, 2016 @ Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175, 2-3pm

Working out how to handle the Anthropocene story is a real challenge for academics. With its apparent inducement to hit the alarm button, the Anthropocene can seem a ridiculous melodramatic flourish, or a dangerously misanthropic, hyper-anthropic or scientistic message that drowns out critical thought. For this and other reasons, many scholars warn us to be skeptical of the Anthropocene idea. But is there also a risk that we miss the Anthropocene’s vital message and retreat into constructivism and cynicism at the very moment that we need to collectively act? In this talk I explore how the concept of irony may help us negotiate the many academic and practical challenges the Anthropocene poses. Drawing on Bronislaw Szersynski’s idea of an ironic world relation, I outline the various forms, risks and potentials of irony to help us unpack some of the specific ironies of “the Anthropocene”, and the bigger conundrum of how we might respond to them in a critical, ethical manner.

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Robyn Woolston

Professor Christopher Wright

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The University of Sydney Business School

Christopher Wright is Professor of Organisational Studies and leader of the Balanced Enterprise Research Network at the University of Sydney Business School. His current research explores organizational and societal responses to climate change, with a particular focus on how managers and business organizations interpret and respond to the climate crisis. His research has appeared in a broad range of leading journals including: Organization Studies, Journal of Management Studies, Research Policy, Environment & Planning A, Human Relations, Organization and the British Journal of Sociology. As well as chapters in edited collections, he is the author of several monographs including The Management of Labour: A History of Australian Employers (Oxford University Press, 1995), Management as Consultancy: Neo-bureaucracy and the Consultant Manager (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and most recently Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations: Processes of Creative Self-destruction (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Title: Climate crisis, corporate imaginaries and creative self-destruction
When: September 13, 2016 @ Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175, 2-3pm

We are now living in a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene (Crutzen, 2002; Steffen, Crutzen, & McNeill, 2007). It is an epoch in which fossil fuel exploitation is reshaping the Earth’s systems, exceeding the boundaries of what constitutes a ‘safe operating space for humanity’ (Rockström et al., 2009). However, the fundamental environmental destruction that global capitalism has unleashed is a change so profound and so all-embracing as to be almost incomprehensible. Humanity’s place in the universe now seems far more uncertain. So how has it come to this? How to paraphrase Elizabeth Kolbert (2006) has a technologically advanced society chosen in essence to destroy itself? In this paper I argue that the particular neoliberal variant of late capitalism that now dominates global political-economy not only obfuscates the need for a fundamental questioning of the capitalist imaginary of endless growth, but exacerbates the problem by framing business and markets as the only means of responding to the crisis. In essence, the prevailing political view is that capitalism should be seen not as a cause of climate change but as an answer to it (Wright & Nyberg, 2015). In this paper, I focus on three core imaginaries that underpin our creative self-destruction: ‘business as usual’, ‘green business’ and ‘natural capitalism’. The presentation also explores alternative imaginaries that are likely to emerge as the climate crisis worsens.

References:

Crutzen, P. J. 2002. Geology of mankind: The anthropocene. Nature, 415(6867): 23.
Kolbert, E. 2006. Field notes from a catastrophe: Man, nature, and climate change. New York: Bloomsbury.
Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin, F. S., Lambin, E. F., Lenton, T. M., Scheffer, M., Folke, C., Schellnhuber, H. J., Nykvist, B., de Wit, C. A., Hughes, T., van der Leeuw, S., Rodhe, H., Sörlin, S., Snyder, P. K., Costanza, R., Svedin, U., Falkenmark, M., Karlberg, L., Corell, R. W., Fabry, V. J., Hansen, J., Walker, B., Liverman, D., Richardson, K., Crutzen, P., & Foley, J. A. 2009. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature, 461(7263): 472-475.
Steffen, W., Crutzen, P. J., & McNeill, J. R. 2007. The anthropocene: Are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature? AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, 36(8): 614-621.
Wright, C., & Nyberg, D. 2015. Climate change, capitalism and corporations: Processes of creative self-destruction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Linda Connor

Department of Anthropology, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney

My main research focus since 2003 is the ethnographic study of environmental change and energy transitions in rural and regional communities. I analyse political contests, practical understandings and cultural values in relation to resource extraction, climate change and energy futures. I am currently an investigator on an ARC funded project The Coal Rush and Beyond: A Comparative Study of Coal Reliance and Climate Change (www.coalrush.net ). This inter-disciplinary project investigates the political economy and socio-ecological processes of increased coal extraction and burning, in the context of international and societal pressure for carbon emissions reduction. We are comparing local sites, national contexts, and transnational connections to analyse coal dependency and futures beyond coal in three countries: Australia, Germany and India.

Recent publications include:
Climate Change and Anthropos: Planet, people and places
Environmental Change and the World's Futures: Ecologies, Ontologies, Mythologies

Title:The elusive Anthropocene: Challenges of climate change ethnography
When: September 20, 2016 @ Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175, 2-3pm

Evidence for human-caused changes to the Earth system warranting the declaration of an Anthropocene epoch is still under scientific review. Social scientists debate the economic and historical conditions of critical changes in a post-glacial world. The elusive Anthropocene is reflected in the shifting and varied evidence from social surveys of public climate change concern across many geographic and social locations. Anthropological studies based on participant observation in diverse cultural contexts contribute a different form of knowledge. Ethnographic evidence is derived from the direct, multiple and often contingent interactions in different contexts with participants who are connected by virtue of common interests, problems or predicaments that they or the researcher have defined. In quotidian worlds, anthropogenic climate change is often an absent problem for participants, despite its growing salience in public discourse. This seminar reflects on some methods and findings of ethnographic research in settings where participants variously accept, deny, suppress, or contest the reality of anthropogenic climate change but where forms of environmental change are starkly manifest in consequential ways.

Associate Professor Ana Vila Concejo

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Associate Professor Ana Vila Concejo

School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney

My career started in Spain, where I did my undergraduate and MSc studying urban beaches at the University of Vigo; and Portugal, where I completed my PhD at the University of Algarve investigating the short and medium term evolution of tidal inlets in a barrier island system. Then I moved to Australia and started looking into the morphodynamics of flood-tide deltas in wave-dominated coasts within the framework of an ARC funded linkage project which was based in Port Stephens. In 2010 I started researching the morphodynamics of sand aprons in reef platforms. In 2011 I was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship to continue the studies in the dynamics of coral sands. I am the Deputy Director of One Tree Island Research Station; between 2012 and 2015 I was the Director.

Title: Coasts in the Anthropocene
When: October 4 2016 @ Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175, 2-3pm

Humans have altered the coast. But, how much and what can we do about it? This lecture shows some of the challenges that human influence present to the coast focusing on temperate sandy open coasts and estuaries, and, coral reefs. Human effects include direct coastal alteration and also indirect changes affecting sediment fluxes. Pollution and contamination do not only affect the coasts but coastal environments are seriously affected. Human induced climate change and its associated effects including global warming, sea level rise and ocean acidification, are changing the coasts. This lecture shows some of the enormous changes to the Earth’s coastal systems.

Dr Glenn A Albrecht

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Dr Glenn A Albrecht

Glenn Albrecht is now a self-defined ‘farmosopher’ who lives on 5 acres at Duns Creek in NSW. He retired as Professor of Sustainability at Murdoch University, Perth, WA in mid-2014. He is an environmental philosopher and transdisciplinary thinker who has created the academic domain of psychoterratic (psyche-earth) emotions and feelings. A major contribution to this emergent domain is the concept of solastalgia. Solastalgia is the lived and emplaced experience of negative environmental change. It is the “homesickness you have when you are still at home”. A decade since its creation, solastalgia has now received widespread acceptance as a defining emotion of the twenty-first century under the negative impacts of climate change and other global development pressures. Glenn is still research active and is a member of a UWA-based team for a 2017 ARC Discovery Grant application DP170104682: Climate Change and Custodians of Place in Western Australia.

Title: The Anthropocene, Solastalgia and the urgent need to enter The Symbiocene
When: October 18 2016 @ Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175, 2-3pm

The Anthropocene epoch is based on the dominance of human affairs over all natural processes at a planetary scale. It is characterised by anthropogenic global warming, climate chaos, the 6th Great Extinction, ocean acidification, plastic contamination of fish and countless other biocidal catastrophes worldwide. Those sensitive to the scope and scale of these insults to life feel waves of distress in the age of solastalgia. We need to get out of this period in Earth history as soon as possible. I suggest that we enter a new era I call ‘The Symbiocene’. The Symbiocene will be characterised by human intelligence that replicates in all aspects of social life, the symbiotic and mutually reinforcing life-reproducing forms and processes found in all living systems. Given that we have evolved as a natural species within the pre-existing evolutionary and ecological matrix, such intelligence lies within us as latent potential. I shall discuss the manifestations of Symbiocene thinking in key aspects of human enterprise and offer tentative thoughts on how intellectual and cultural life will be enriched by our entering The Symbiocene.

CONTACT US

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Past Geosciences Seminar Series:

Theme: Big Environmental Data:

Date Title Speaker Location Time
April 26 2016 Introducing Geospatial Open Source Technologies Cameron Shorter Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175, University of Sydney 3-4pm
May 10 2016 0 to 10 Petabytes: A Decade in the Story of "Big Environmental Data" Dr Bradley Evans Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175, University of Sydney 3-4pm
May 24 2016 Big Data and Urban Research Dr Rae Dufty-Jones Carslaw Lecture Theatre 175, University of Sydney 3-4pm
June 7 2016 Big Data: Can it Tame a 'naughty world'? Dr Jennifer Salmond New Law Lecture Theatre 101, University of Sydney 3-4pm