Sunday, August 24, 2014
Part of Apocalypse pending
You may be familiar with the concept of the Anthropocene. This is a colloquial term (more formally, we are in the Holocene Epoch) to describe an age of the Earth during which humans are making global changes to the planet’s ecosystems. Succinctly: like it or not, we have begun to terraform Spaceship Earth.
In science fiction, terraforming comprises any processes whereby a planet’s geophysical systems are modified to suit humans. (Crashing water comets on Mars comes to mind; see for example Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy.)
The Anthropocene is a bit different, because so far, changes seem to be unfolding without intentionality (call it bizarro-world terraforming). We humans do not all agree about where we ought to be going, but it does begin to seem that by our own choices, where we’re going may not be a very nice place:
Some say, humans are on the verge of human extinction (the Easter Island story, writ large). For my part, I doubt this; we are a most inventive and adaptable species. However, I think (as do many others) that our global economy may be on the verge of catastrophe. If it goes (that is, the system that is keeping 7 billion of us alive), perhaps a lot of humans will die: enough that the Anthropocene will end. Remains to be seen.
Some say, we’d better get with the (unavoidable) responsibility of terraforming and become intentional (cut the burning of fossil fuels, for example). Others say, God will sort it out.
It occurs to me: ours may be only the first age of terraforming. Perhaps, like ice ages, the Anthropocene will wax and wane over a long cycle, as the planet’s human population rises and falls. Science fiction, of course, has such a trope already: A Canticle For Leibowitz, Planet Of The Apes.