Do the roots of our environmental concerns date back to the Anthropocene?

This chapter deals with the study of the ecological collapse of the globe and its causes. Many diagnoses have been written concerning the topic, starting from the invention of the written script. A particularly significative work, according to the author, is the description by the bioregionalist Kirkpatrick Sale. In his opinion, the last glacial maximum caused for human-beings a severe and harsh life, characterized by a permanent winter-like weather. According to his studies, all men were congregated in two principal areas: the river valleys of the Russian plain and southern France and Cantabrian Spain. As a consequence, a competition started due to scarce resources. Larger mammals were hunted to local extinction, after which humans at that time moved to smaller game. New weapons were invented and new types of fishhooks were discovered. Such weapons helped spawn new hunting strategies and allowed humans to hunt at a further distance, the results of which include more efficient predation and, importantly, a physical and psychological distancing from the subject of the hunt. For Sale, this transition is key – in sum, his argument is that increased technological capabilities influenced subsequent cultural values, leading to an eventual domination/superiority complex of all humans living in these areas. Such a techno-cultural trajectory directly led to the overexploitation of other organisms. At the same time, human-human violence gained ascendancy, as well as the ability to store calories, which led to hierarchy and stratification in human society and war between bands of humans. From there, it has been an 18,000-year trajectory to modern concepts of private property, nation-state ideology and the sobering environmental metrics of the Anthropocene. All the mentioned events occurred before the typical prescription of humanity’s ‘fall’ from sustainability and an assumed eco-golden age. After that, the planet’s weather began to warm and humans could migrate out of these two areas the concept of human superiority to the natural world was in place. It seems, according to Sale’s studies and other theorists that the values embedded by people in religions, and worldviews broadly, whether these values are economic, political and/or ethical, will be those of superiority over the natural world. According to the above scholars, such superiority justifies the continued exploitation of the natural world. This suggests that at best, humans living within these worldviews will most likely not advocate for a more exocentric understanding of the human animal, where it is hoped that cultural values around teaching restraint in our use of technology and in our fecundity will develop to help ameliorate the Anthropocene. In other words, at possibly the most critical moment of our species’ existence, we might have the wrong cultural narratives and worldviews in place to deal with the enormity of the Anthropocene, given our lifestyles based on old forms of carbon have largely triggered this new epoch.