Which is powerful man or nature


Gabriele Dürbeck

To person

is professor for literary and cultural studies at the University of Vechta. She heads the DFG project "Narratives of the Anthropocene in Science and Literature. Structures, Topics, Poetics" (2017–2019).

The term "Anthropocene" denotes a new geological age in which mankind has the dominant geophysical influence on the earth system and from which man's responsibility for the future of the planet is derived. At the same time, the concept contains an invitation to redefine the position of man towards nature and in the cosmos and to deal responsibly with limited natural resources. The debate about the conditions, scope and limits of human agency has in a relatively short time produced very different, sometimes contradicting stories in which different interests and values ​​are articulated and which are therefore of considerable political relevance.

The atmospheric engineer and Nobel Prize laureate Paul J. Crutzen and the biologist Eugene F. Stoermer introduced the concept of the Anthropocene into the environmental debate 18 years ago, [1] in order to grasp the serious effects of anthropogenic, i.e. human-influenced climate change on a planetary scale. The name is intended to signal that the Holocene - the warm period that has lasted for almost twelve millennia with relatively stable environmental conditions that made the emergence and development of human civilization possible in the first place - is over. In 2002, Crutzen followed up in an article in the renowned journal "Nature", which has since been widely cited: "In the past three centuries, human impacts on the environment have increased massively. Due to the anthropogenic CO2Emissions, the global climate could deviate significantly from its natural evolution for many millennia. It therefore seems appropriate to designate the current geological epoch, which is dominated by humans in many ways, as the 'Anthropocene'. "[2]

The drastic increase in CO2Emissions since the Industrial Revolution and the devastating effects of human activities on the global climate have profoundly changed the Earth system. The idea of ​​a resilient, slowly and predictably changing nature becomes obsolete. [3] According to calculations by the cultural geographer Erle C. Ellis, at least 75 percent of the habitable surface of the earth is now human-reshaped nature, which Ellis calls "anthromes" - derived from biomes, ecological large habitats. [4] Accordingly, "nature" has meanwhile become, on a large and planetary scale, an anthropogenic nature that has been culturally and technically reshaped by humans: the earth system and humanity can no longer be thought of separately, humans have become a geological factor.

In recent years, the concept of the Anthropocene has spread rapidly in a wide variety of sciences - from geology and environmental systems sciences to social economy, law, social and political sciences to archeology, philosophy, theology as well as history and literature - and cultural studies. The original thesis has long since developed into an interdisciplinary web of discourse that is difficult to understand, in which the Anthropocene is a bridging concept between different sciences, a cross-sectional task for science and society and a concept of reflection for the relationship between man and nature. [5]

The idea of ​​a new earth epoch has meanwhile also reached a broader public through the media, popularizing science communication and numerous documentaries. The British weekly "The Economist", for example, had a programmatic headline on May 11, 2011: "Welcome to the Anthropocene", [6] and this "Welcome to the Anthropocene" was also the subject of an exhibition at the Deutsches Museum in Munich that was developed jointly with the Rachel Carson Center ( 2014-2016). At about the same time, a large-scale "Anthropocene Project" (2013-2014) that transcended scientific boundaries took place in the House of World Cultures in Berlin under Crutzen's patronage, and has since been continued with "Technosphere" (2015-2019) and the "Anthropocene Lectures" "(2017-2018). The exhibition "We Are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene" (2017-2018) at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh also explores the mutual relationship between man and nature.

The broad response in the media and the public shows that the originally geological concept also functions as a "cultural concept" by blurring the "established boundary lines on many different levels between science and the public (...)" [7] and the human one New narratives put cultural activity in its grave effects on nature into a different perspective.

In the meantime, a polyphonic, sometimes controversial discourse about the concept of the Anthropocene has developed in the sciences and media publics. In order to get a better orientation and to understand the environmental policy implications, it is helpful to understand the contributions to this discourse as narratives, i.e. as narrative stories that serve to create social and political meaning. In the following I will first briefly introduce the concept of the Anthropocene and show that - even if it comes from science - it has a narrative structure. Building on this, five different narratives of the Anthropocene are distinguished and discussed.