[Marxism] Mike Davis on Humanity's Meltdown

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jun 26 09:14:27 MDT 2008

Living on the Ice Shelf
Humanity's Melt Down
By Mike Davis

1. Farewell to the Holocene

Our world, our old world that we have inhabited for the last 12,000 
years, has ended, even if no newspaper in North America or Europe has 
yet printed its scientific obituary.

This February, while cranes were hoisting cladding to the 141st floor of 
the Burj Dubai tower (which will soon be twice the height of the Empire 
State Building), the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society 
of London was adding the newest and highest story to the geological column.

The London Society is the world's oldest association of Earth 
scientists, founded in 1807, and its Commission acts as a college of 
cardinals in the adjudication of the geological time-scale. 
Stratigraphers slice up Earth's history as preserved in sedimentary 
strata into hierarchies of eons, eras, periods, and epochs marked by the 
"golden spikes" of mass extinctions, speciation events, and abrupt 
changes in atmospheric chemistry.

In geology, as in biology or history, periodization is a complex, 
controversial art and the most bitter feud in nineteenth-century British 
science -- still known as the "Great Devonian Controversy" -- was fought 
over competing interpretations of homely Welsh Graywackes and English 
Old Red Sandstone. More recently, geologists have feuded over how to 
stratigraphically demarcate ice age oscillations over the last 2.8 
million years. Some have never accepted that the most recent 
inter-glacial warm interval -- the Holocene -- should be distinguished 
as an "epoch" in its own right just because it encompasses the history 
of civilization.

As a result, contemporary stratigraphers have set extraordinarily 
rigorous standards for the beatification of any new geological 
divisions. Although the idea of the "Anthropocene" -- an Earth epoch 
defined by the emergence of urban-industrial society as a geological 
force -- has been long debated, stratigraphers have refused to 
acknowledge compelling evidence for its advent.

At least for the London Society, that position has now been revised.

To the question "Are we now living in the Anthropocene?" the 21 members 
of the Commission unanimously answer "yes." They adduce robust evidence 
that the Holocene epoch -- the interglacial span of unusually stable 
climate that has allowed the rapid evolution of agriculture and urban 
civilization -- has ended and that the Earth has entered "a 
stratigraphic interval without close parallel in the last several 
million years." In addition to the buildup of greenhouse gases, the 
stratigraphers cite human landscape transformation which "now exceeds 
[annual] natural sediment production by an order of magnitude," the 
ominous acidification of the oceans, and the relentless destruction of 

This new age, they explain, is defined both by the heating trend (whose 
closest analogue may be the catastrophe known as the Paleocene Eocene 
Thermal Maximum, 56 million years ago) and by the radical instability 
expected of future environments. In somber prose, they warn that "the 
combination of extinctions, global species migrations and the widespread 
replacement of natural vegetation with agricultural monocultures is 
producing a distinctive contemporary biostratigraphic signal. These 
effects are permanent, as future evolution will take place from 
surviving (and frequently anthropogenically relocated) stocks." 
Evolution itself, in other words, has been forced into a new trajectory.


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