According to theoreticlal biologist and science historian Manfred Laubichler, our human domination could potentially cause a new mass extinction that would wipe out every organism on Earth.
There is a very strong link in several of the debates between the Anthropocene and questions of sustainability, which is about values, but it can be misleading [out of a desire to] be provocative. Take, for instance, the extinction debate. Yes, we can count and estimate how many species have been going extinct recently and are likely to go extinct, but we can also focus on how many species we have created and are going to create. In genetic engineering, we can custom-design new microbes — and where’s the end to that? The people who are more connected to environment and sustainability in the context of the Anthropocene would say this is a bad question. I think it’s an interesting question.
Can you talk about the role of capitalism in discussions of the Anthropocene?
Insofar as the Industrial Revolution goes hand in hand with a certain capitalist system, you could say that in some fundamental way, capitalist logic belongs to the history of the Anthropocene. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t say that this is just the way it happened, because one could argue other relevant causative agents. You could imagine that we could have reached our current population size in a non-capitalist system that would have created conditions that mean we would now be talking about the Anthropocene. The way it came about clearly has a capitalist bent to it, but I don’t think we could say that the Anthropocene required capitalism.
In light of recent and seemingly cataclysmic weather events, what are your thoughts on the Trump administration’s approach to climate change and conservation?
On the level of public perception, the effects of withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord are dramatic and bad, but if you look outside of the United States, you might say that what Trump and his cronies are doing unites the rest of the world in a much stronger way than it did before. India, China, Europe, and many other economies have come to a system where they ignore what the U.S. thinks, and do what they think is important on a global scale that might be much more powerful anyway. In that sense, it might have the opposite effect of what Trump intended. It all depends on where you sit on this globe. It might be a good thing that the assumed American dominance comes to an end, and Trump’s policies certainly accelerate that.