The Anthropocene is an epoch (like a time period) of specific environmental changes, with the human being as the main drivers of the epoch. Before this huge word was dropped in class, I did not know what it meant to be living in the Anthropocene until I realised that almost everything we as humans do these days, IS exactly what the Anthropocene is.
Osborn Jr. wrote that “it is man’s earth now. One wonders what obligations may accompany this infinite possession”(1948: 66). Humans have the responsibility to take care of the earth and its resources but due to the “Great Acceleration” and technology improving daily, natural resources started decreasing drastically. Waters
(2016: 137) refers to “combinations of plastics, fly ash, radionuclides, metals, pesticides, reactive nitrogen, and consequences of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations”, as being distinctive to the Anthropocene epoch. I also experienced this personally when I paid a visit to Irene Village Farm and noting how the Hennopsriver is polluted with chemicals that are used to treat raw sewage, which then causes big masses of foam to fill the Hennopsriver. This river flows through an estate which can also be harmful to people and animals alike.
Steffen (2011) describes the Anthropocene as an epoch completely driven by the “civilized Man”. In other words, it is a time period where we as humans are in control of nature in terms of conserving it for the future generations, but we tend to develop even more while leaving nature behind or destroying it. George P. Marsh writes in his book Man and Nature that “the earth is fast becoming an unfit home for its noblest inhabitant”. The noblest inhabitant is referring to the human being. We are indeed changing the world for our good but in contrary creating problems for our own future.
I live in an area where trees are still quite prominent. My room is on the second level and close to a couple of trees, which is home to a lot of birds. The task here was to simply listen to the surroundings and then also take a sound recording to document. The first sound recording was taken at 6:30 a.m. and it is clear that there is still a lot of bird life (especially Hadedas and pigeons) in the area but the sound of cars also became constant in the era of the Anthropocene.
However, just an hour later, at the same spot, I took another sound recording where one of the most hated (definitely my most hated) sound dominates the environment and also a poor pigeon’s call. I call it “the-thing-that-always-starts-when-I-have-to-study”. Yes, you guessed correctly: the weed eater. The one thing that is designed for the environment by people who want the environment to be more perfect. This clearly links with the statement by Sorlin and Warde (2009) where they claim that “the environment is the result of human ‘environing ’activities that form the environment”. So basically, we are changing the environment to a better environment while destroying the environment. And like any student would say after that statement: “My brain just broke.”
When listening to birds in the Anthropocene it is quite a difficult task as you should ‘search’ for the good spot where you ‘think’ you will be able to hear some birds. Whitehouse (2015) describes this very well when stating that “the Anthropocene has ambiguity and anxiety at its heart”. This rings true because we actually need to focus intensely to hear the birds and to filter the human-made noises out. When doing this, we actually realise what affect we have on nature. I realised that this IS the Anthropocene, where we are busy silencing the songs of birds by creating our own machine-made sounds or deciding to deforest an area because we want a new shopping centre. I then also realised that there are also only a couple of species birds left in our area. This can be a direct cause of global warming and birds moving to different areas with better living circumstances for them.
Some people get a bit of nostalgia when they actually hear a bird sing again, because that is the environment that they grew up in. An environment where they could listen to the birds without needing to ‘search’ for it. My parents definitely are nostalgic when they hear a beautiful bird’s song. I then asked them whether they can remember some bird songs that they seem to not here anymore. My dad gave it some thought and then replied, ” I think I became more deaf, so the birds may be singing but my ears don’t hear them anymore”. This was the stage where I felt like “thanks Dad, that helped me so much”. Despite of my dad’s dry humour he did help me by pointing out that the human-made noises are so prevalent in the environment that older people, who can’t hear that well anymore, seem to not hear the bird softly in the background that is overpowered by the weed eater.
Then my mom mentioned some more concrete facts (other than my dad who thought that he is hilarious). She told me that she can remember that as a child she would see a lot more swallows than she would see today. The Piet-my-vrou (red-chested cuckoo) is also not heard a lot anymore. And even when I become quiet and listen intensively to hear these birds songs, it is very difficult to filter away all the human-made sounds which is known to the Anthropocene.
All these human-made sounds, like the weed eater, cars, trucks, hooters, lawnmowers, construction mega machines and even that irritating alarm that went off at the house while the people are away on holiday, are all elements and hints of the Anthropocene. We are living in a world ruled by the human being, while degrading nature as being nothing. But we tend to forget that we are so dependant on nature, that it is not even funny. We are responsible for the future of the earth and we just keep on developing for our own good and not taking nature’s future into account. But then you realise that while you are busy planning on how to build your new shopping centre and deforesting a whole area, you are busy breathing oxygen in to get your brain going. You are breathing in the oxygen that is produced by those trees that you are removing to build something better. But how can anything be better than taking away the source of being able to breathe?
Gisli, P et al. 2013. Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research. Environmental Science & Policy 28:3-13.
Steffen, W et al. 2011. The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369:842-867.
Waters, CN et al. 2016. The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. Science 351(6269):[sp].
Whitehouse, A. 2015. Listening to birds in the Anthropocene: the anxious semiotics of sound in a human-dominated world. Environmental Humanities 6:53-71.