Reply To: Joachim Radkau – The Era of Ecology

Author Replies # Posted on November 17, 2014 at 18:00

Morag Ramsey- Radkau Reflection

Meeting with Radkau was a nice way to tie up this last year of Global Environmental History. We were introduced to Radkau’s Power and Nature last September in the course Modern Natures, and since then we have immersed ourselves in diverse and exciting aspects of this discipline, so it was interesting to come back to Radkau after a year of discovery. This response is a bit scattered, but I guess one can imagine it in three sections: 1) anthropocene, 2) time, 3) Maria’s question. (Everyone knows you can solve how scattered a paper is by just dividing the scattered thoughts into numerical groups.)

1) It was interesting to see how Radkau expressed his dissatisfaction with the term Anthropocene, as it tied in to how he cautions against simplifying relationships between humans and nature. In particular, Radkau seemed dissatisfied with how the Anthropocene suggests a dominating human agency over nature. He writes “an impartial environmental history does not recount how humanity has violated pure nature; rather, it recounts the processes of organization, self-organization, and decay in hybrid human-nature combinations.” (Radkau 2008, p.4) In general I quite like getting to hear different academics’ take on the Anthropocene. Libby Robin for example uses the idea to advance environmental work, while acknowledging the problems inherent in the concept when it comes to responsibility. In any event, I find the different emphasis scholars place on the Anthropocene a revealing peak into their philosophies.

2) Something that has been on my mind of late is time. (How we use it in writing, how we use it as a scale, how we access history chronologically, etc.) Last week there was a Historical Ecology conference where Paul Sinclair advocated for a paradigm shift when it comes to time. He referenced Einstein’s concept of time and how the past, present, and future are all of the same weight and significance. To me it is an intriguing and yet rather inaccessible idea. I cannot find a way to reimagine time. Today Radkau brought up time in reference to climate change. I believe he was commenting on the future, and how we are negotiating that outcome. He also wrote in his conclusion about Hegel, how “man is essentially here and now.” (429) I wonder if we were able to reimagine time if it would have a profound impact on our present actions or not. Part of the perceived issue when it comes to the environment is human’s short sightedness. I am not entirely sure how paradigm shifts of any kind are implemented, or how one can forecast the outcome. But it is intriguing nonetheless.

3) I enjoyed thinking over Maria’s questions, they were thought provoking and tied to current events. In particular Maria’s question on ‘act locally, think globally’ logged itself into my head. Perhaps as I have become preoccupied with time as a concept, and this seems like a re-imagination of space.
Maria described how Radkau says that acting locally and globally simultaneously is not possible, and that imagination is needed for inventive solutions and that it is a long process. Perhaps this is true. But I cannot easily imagine the damage of ‘acting locally’ while trying to be a responsible global citizen in the interim. If there is no alternative solution available, and it will require inventiveness and a long time to settle, what can individuals do in the meantime? Removing agency from individuals because there needs to be a different way to conceive of space and sharing of space seems problematic.