Whose Anthropocene Is It, Anyway?: A Review of HON 201 with Prof. Jacob Stump

An•thro•po•cene

noun

“The current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.”

I took AP Macroeconomics in my senior year of high school. How I viewed the economy in 2019 was far different from how I see it now, having lived through a major recession and currently staring down the barrel of another national economic crisis. Now as someone who has a lease and bills to pay, I find economics to be a much less abstract concept. Part of adulthood is participating in the economy, whether you want to or not. We all have a mouth to feed.

Something that you don’t really see covered in a high school economics class is the human toll of market fluctuations. “Good” and “bad” economies are more or less abstract notions to either aim towards or away from. But who suffers most in a “bad” economy? And is a “good” economy universal? History would indicate not.

These are concepts we explore in Professor Stump’s HON 201 class, officially titled “Politics, Economics, and Societies at the End of the World”. We specifically relate current economics to the ongoing issue of climate change, seeing as that our economy is heavily dependent on massive carbon emissions. America has the second-largest carbon footprint in the world, only falling behind China, yet it is not the country currently facing the brunt of climate disaster. Instead, countries like Haiti or Pakistan are constantly subject to natural disasters that weaken their infrastructure and worsen national poverty. Political trends indicate that the countries that already benefit from releasing carbon and do not yet face the consequences of it are not willing to participate in any collective action to mitigate global warming. It’s a disastrous cycle and one that reflects the history of colonialism.

An interesting dimension of the class is that it is structured around the throughline of Kim Stanley Robinson’s science-fiction novel, The Ministry for the Future. The book depicts a dystopian future after a massive heat event kills 20 million people in India. In the wake of disaster, on-the-ground activists combat Western bureaucracy, raising the question “If human fatalities will not inspire collective action, then what will?” This then communicates with other class readings like Tzvetan Todorov’s The Conquest of America and Icíar Bollaín’s film Even the Rain, both of which engage with the history of European colonialism in the Global South. The history of colonialism is a history of senseless hierarchies. When exposed to cultural differences, human beings have historically prioritized their individual experiences at the expense of others. In the time of Christopher Columbus, this manifested in genocide and the attempted erasure of indigenous cultures. Centuries later, colonialism would take the form of European empires and economic exploitation. Now, colonialism manifests as environmental destruction. Parts of the Amazon Rainforest have been so heavily farmed that foliage will never fully recover. The islands of Tuvalu are disappearing under rising sea levels. Abandoned uranium mines are poisoning the Navajo Nation’s water and resulting in startling cases of renal disease and lung cancer. What, then, will drive those who have the power to change to live up to their responsibility?

I found this class both relevant and accessible. While ostensibly a class about economics, it was more based on discussion than the analysis of numbers or charts. I also appreciate the diversity of materials the professor used to teach the material. A novel and a film are both more approachable than scholarly articles alone. There was a wide range of majors in my class and it seemed that everyone was able to engage with and understand the material. Because of this class’ contemporary relevance, discussions were always lively and interesting.

I cannot think of a topic that is more prescient than climate change and hopefully, an international consciousness of the issue will fan the flames of real change. Individual responsibility can only go so far. If any issue is capable of inciting global unity, one would certainly hope climate change will be that issue. For now, time can only tell.

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