The planet as an emerging category

October 6, 2022

The notion of the Anthropocene underscores that humans have become natural forces themselves; we are responsible for climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the disruption of biogeochemical-cycles and the depletion of natural resources. In other words, the impact of human activity is planetary in scale and significant to the timescale of the planet’s history.

Currently, we are using the wrong tools to address our planetary impact, because traditional sciences offer an anthropocentric approach. They speak in terms of Earth, globe, and world, when the category should be planet. Earth references the ‘critical zone’: The thin surface of the planet that is critical to the maintenance of (human) life. The globe refers to ‘globalization’, or the mobility and ‘integration’ of humanity through technology. The world is the imagined reality of humans, constructed and experienced through human-made artifacts.

The planet is non-anthropocentric, because it out-scales the human species, considered as one species amongst many others. To think in planetary terms is to understand the Earth’s functioning as a web of symbiotic material and energetic relationships, not necessarily subject to human direction. In this respect, Earth System Science (ESS) provides a relevant approach, as it understands Earth as a system of systems. ESS explores phenomena holistically, as a network of interdependent systems immersed in a planetary-level complex system.

Burning questions:
  • Is ESS a complement or substitute to traditional Earth sciences?
  • Are human beings cognitively able to think in planetary terms? Or is the planet something of a hyperobject, which escapes our comprehension?
  • How should we incorporate planetary consciousness into lifestyle politics and governance?

About the author(s)

With a background in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and a Master’s in History, Martine Dirkzwager Wu is intrigued by researching what the new conditions for the Humanities are in the age of the Anthropocene. In trying to understand a fundamentally unintelligible world, her thought process aims to be as critical as creative. She celebrates an era of post-truth in which knowledge can be traced through academic, but also natural and artistic networks.

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