Training for the Anthropocene
The extreme dangers of the future, absent concerted and universal efforts to slow accelerating greenhouse effects, are well documented. Also well documented are ecosystems under strain or collapsing , such as the Amazon rain forest, the arctic ice system, droughts that result in massive forest fires, and the continuing damage to ocean systems from over-fishing and plastics (see extensive documentation, this website). Of central importance to life and human life is the displacement of nature by humans, who use spaces, once providing ecosystem services of importance to everyone, for private gain. Barely discussed in the literature is the substitution of non-renewable fossil carbon, for sustainable production of wood, plant products, and earth products like clay, metal, and the nitrogen fixing mycorrhizae, thus supporting otherwise unsustainable human populations. Because fossil carbon can be used to increase production and extraction, extend supply lines, and grow more food, the consumption of fossil fuels permits populations to grow much larger than could be sustained in its absence, and thus portends a period of war, disease, famine, the next great extinction, and ecosystem collapse. The capacity of Earth to support life is thus at risk.
Furthermore, these ecological trauma are unequally distributed spatially and temporally. Spatially, developed countries, whose leaders wield the most power to do anything, and which have had the easiest access to carbon-fuels, have developed infrastructure, education, health, and distribution networks which insulate and mitigate against the effects of climate disruption, and continue to benefit most from high rates of extraction. Developing countries, which by definition have had less access to carbon fuels, and have had less opportunity to develop, are more exposed to the effects of climate disruption, reflecting the injustice produced by the colonial arrangements imposed on them by the developed world. Moreover, intra-coloniality burdens communities of color and indigenous communities within the developed countries with the after effects of mining, highway construction, water and air pollution, displacement, enslavement, and a long list of other evils. Temporally, there is very little difference climatically in the short term between aggressive efforts to reduce carbon, and the effects of no effort at all, giving no information to the current generation of what is to come, giving all of the rewards for doing nothing, and none of the reasons for doing anything, to the one generation that could do something.
This is the short term promise of the global fossil carbon pulse. Politicians are able to avoid the trauma to their careers of trying to lead on resource exhaustion, and trauma to humanity of famine, war and misery, within their windows of accountability, by exploiting non-renewable fuels and non-renewable minerals, thus deferring to future generations that trauma. Given the force exerted by, first, the common idea that economic growth solves all problems and has no limits, and then, the political pressure exerted by populations to fix economic problems in the short term, there is very little promise that humanity will deal with Global Climate Disruption and Ecosystem Collapse in a timely way. In the long term, even after humanity has been reduced to a remnant, and nature has begun its restoration of natural systems, the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere will, on the scale of hundreds of years, heat Earth to such temperatures that the equatorial and temperate zones will be uninhabitable, and push the survivors toward the poles. Assuming that a runaway greenhouse effect does not turn Earth into a Venus-like planet.
Without this detailed analysis, youth of the world are already aware of the dangers posed by global overheating, and are experiencing significant anxiety and psychological trauma. Many advocates in the field advise communicators to emphasize positive visions of the future, to sustain mental health and encourage youth to engage and mobilize. This study challenges this strategy. Positive visions that are not realistic merely obscure the future. Youth do not need illusory positive visions which unrealistically portray the future as merely an extension of the world we already know. They need the sense of urgency and agency from which action and change are produced. Agency then, is produced by engagement with youth in a deep and personal way, that way which affirms judgement, which affirms that errors of judgement are survivable, and identifies their emotions as elemental to their internal guidance systems, and which builds the communities of support that humans always rely on. The youth of the present and the future will need to understand that grief will be a normal part of living, and that the will to live, together with the communities they build, will be the most important resources they have. Thus it is the role of the youth educator to cultivate this internal guidance system in every student. There is no time left for us to coddle our youth on promises of a life better than their parents had. Not all will survive. They must enter the future clear-eyed and with their survival instincts activated. They must be trained to operate effectively in the Anthropocene. Perhaps they can lead us to the Ecocene.