Making an Anthropocene
It’s a bright September morning in the early Anthropocene and we are in the back of a Maxi Taxi heading west towards the lowest point in Narrm, near where the Birrarung and the Maribyrnong flow together in the shadow of the Westgate Bridge. Our destination is Scienceworks in the Melbourne suburb of Spotswood; our goal for the day is to see what we can learn from the museum’s collection about the world we live in now, and (more concerning) turn it into a performance to be delivered at a “slam event” in the evening.
The field trip is occurring under the auspices of the Anthropocene Campus Melbourne, a four-day conference of anthropologists, scientists, artists and other scholars hosted by Deakin University. As the name suggests, the event focuses on the idea of the Anthropocene, the proposed new epoch in Earth’s history in which people – through burning fossil fuels and rapaciously upending ecosystems, as well as through sheer weight of numbers – have become a dominant planetary force.
As the world warms, it will undergo a phase change: like water molecules falling out of their crystalline patterns in a melting iceblock, everything we know will shift and rearrange itself. Flows of air and water will wander, rainfall will migrate, seas will rise, cyclones will range further from the equator, old ways of living will become impossible, and habitats and societies will transform and collapse.
“We thought we could control the environment, but our tools have turned against us,” says Tim Neale, the anthropologist who organised the conference. “So the idea is to use this as a moment to reflect on what kinds of knowledge we need to get us out of this crisis.”