Let’s Get Serious About the Anthropocene

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Original Air Date: 
August 12, 2017
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Historian Iain McCalman’s Dangerous Idea? The Anthropocene — the idea that humans have fundamentally changed our global climate. It’s scary, but we’re also seeing people come together in unprecedented ways to solve planetary problems.

My name's Iain McCalman and I'm an Australian environmental humanist or historian.

My Dangerous Ideas — not one I thought of —it's the idea of the Anthropocene.

The term was coined by Paul Crutzen who is a physicist. He said that we have become a force of nature. That's the simple idea: that once we were tossed around by forces of nature. Now humans have become a force of nature. We can overwhelm nature, we can change it.

This is one of the most extraordinary and awesome and fearful ideas that you can possibly imagine. But it has some good implications for me as a historian and a humanist.

It is so large an idea, and trying to solve it is so difficult that there is no single discipline that can do it. We really need to put the whole lot together—from art to history to science to engineering to architecture. You name it, those disciplines have to be welded together, work together, in order to solve the problem of us as a force of nature.

We're starting for the first time in my lifetime and in many other people's lifetimes to work together in a cross-disciplinary way to solve what I believe is the most terrifying problem the earth now faces.

When we have become forces of nature, we can create new climates that we can no longer control, we can create new changes in the sea level that we can't control, we can melt the ice flows that we can't control. We generate these problems but we don't have the capacity to solve them.

And that's what I'm talking about. The Anthropocene means we've got to get together to solve them.