Thoughts on the Anthropocene

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Posted on March 27, 2015

It’s official now, that the current era is the Anthropocene – ‘The Age of Man’. Wind back the clock to the late 1760s when a writer called Thomas Gray wrote a journal of his tour of the English Lakes. The result was what was to become the first true ‘guide to the lakes’ and a very popular one at the time. Last weekend, Gray’s guide was one of several shared and discussed at The Wordsworth Trust. William Roberts, who edited a version of Gray’s Journal published in 2001, shared his thoughts. He pointed out that Gray’s perception of the environment of what is now the Lake District could barely be possible in this, the Anthropocene.

daffodils in the Duddon ValleyWherever we go, almost without exception, we have impacted and affected the natural world – buildings, roads, plastics, mobile phones, (and frequent tweeting or blogging as I am doing now), cameras, maps, Google maps, GPS , radio waves ... The list goes on.

Can our view of this part of the world ever be as uninterrupted as Thomas Gray’s? Or was he simply a romantic in what was an imperfect world then, among an industrially upward region of black lead mining, coal carts, beggars and bad teeth? Maybe we can be equally romantic today.

modern technology - iphone and map of the Lake DistrictWe could even be romantic about the Anthropocene - well maybe optimistic is a better word. The naming of the Anthropocene recognises that human life is not so much about encountering our environment, but really about being part of it - being in our invironment. And yet there really is no change there, between 2015 and the eighteenth century when Thomas Gray was writing, and Wordsworth too (remember it wasn't all prettiness and daffodils - he was concerned with the French Revolution, the abolition of slavery, and pollution and held dreams of pantocracy in his own imagined form of utopia).

We are of nature, part of nature, ultimately natural - it's just that we clothe ourselves and surround ourselves with constructs we and our ancestors have fashioned that are manufactured and processed, and we fashion earth and its materials to suit us. But as natural beings, we are amalgams of chemicals, we have energetic flow, and finite lives, and we ultimately seem to be here to reproduce. We are part of nature, part of its physics, its chemistry, its spirit.

Young girl and child, Markha Valley, IndiaCall me an optimist, or even a romantic, but the Anthropocene is not simply a time to begin the countdown to devastation - it is an opportunity to harvest the knowledge we have about what hurts and what heals, and aim for some open-eyed living within the invironment that the whole planet shares .

The Marine Conservation Society found almost 2500 pieces of litter per kilometre on a recent beach comb … Read more about it here

The Anthropocene is the theme of this year’s annual conference at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Find out more here

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