THIS PARTICULAR TERMINOLOGICAL GAME seems to be about up, and it’s no surprise that Old Man Anthropos has won again. I don’t think we’ll be using any word except Anthropocene to describe the ecological present anytime soon. More’s the pity, perhaps, but the Age of Man seems here to stay. The dominance of this term may not only be a bad thing; the term “Anthropocene,” despite its problems, can serve as insecure password opening into new ways of thinking the human. I crave many flavors and textures, including posthuman varieties. If many wanderers can fit through the Anthropocene door, our task should be to make room for them all.
But as environmental humanists embark on the necessary labors to #pluralizetheanthropocene, it seems worth documenting some alternatives. There are many other ’cenes in the salad. No list is likely to be complete, since there may never be a more neologism-filled moment in the environmental humanities than now. A tally of the preterite ’cenes that are even now being passed over in favor of the familiar postures of Old Man Anthropos will not by itself accomplish the necessary pluralization, but this list can provide a skeleton key to intellectual variety. These are some of the pluralities we can labor to recover while facing the onrushing tide of the Anthropocene.
The current incomplete count sits at twenty-four ’cenes, in alphabetical order, Agnoto- to Trump-.
- Agnotocene: Derived from the term “agnotology” in sociology and the history of science, which studies “the production of zones of ignorance” (198), this jaw-breaker is one of the many alternative ’cenes suggested by Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz in their wide-ranging and brilliant book, The Shock of the Anthropocene (2016).
- Anglocene: In a side note to their chapter on the Thermocene, Bonneuil and Fressoz remark that another viable term would be “Anglocene,” a name chosen to emphasize the outsized contributions of the United Kingdom and the United States to global carbon emissions. Or, as they put it in more politically charged terms: “The overwhelming share of the responsibility for climate change of the two hegemonic powers of the nineteenth (Great Britain) and twentieth (United States) centuries attests to the fundamental link between climate change and projects of world domination” (117).
- Anthrobscene: Coined by media ecologist Jussi Parrika, this term, which appeared in 2015, emphasizes the obscenity of today. He doesn’t mince words: “To call it ‘anthrobscene’ is just to emphasize what we knew but perhaps shied away from acting on: a horrific human-caused drive toward a sixth mass extinction of species.” Linking current fascination with data mining to “the sort of mining that we associate with the ground and its ungrounding” (56), Parrika, whose elaborations on these ideas appear in his subsequent book A Geology of Media, deftly explores our continued dependence on the material underground, including the scramble for the rare earth elements that power the “geological extracts” (37) that are our iPhones.
- Capitolocene: The preferred term of the eco-Marxist historian Jason W. Moore, this ’cene argues that the environmental villain is Capitalism, not Humanity or even Man write large. Moore’s Capitalism in the Web of Life explores the increasing force and disruption driven by capitalist exploration of the natural world from roughly 1500 through the present. Working in the tradition of “world-ecology” thinking, Moore defines our current crisis as the “end of Cheap Nature” (108) and the reckoning of a bill coming due after five hundred years of frontier exploitation.
- Chthulucene: Donna Haraway’s term, from Staying with the Trouble, asks for more-than-human alliances with “diverse earthwide tentacular powers and forces” (101). She pointedly rejects the label “posthumanist,” and she also claims not to be invoking Lovecraft’s cosmic figure. Her Chthulu does not equal his Cthulhu: “note spelling difference” (101). She proposes the slogan “Make Kin not Babies!” (102). She also suggests that the Chthulucene may be aspirational, and our current era of transition may be best described by Kim Stanley Robinson’s term “the Dithering,” from his sci-fi novel 2312.
- Econocene: Coined by the environmental economist Richard Norgaard in 2013, this term shifts the focus from Anthropos to Oikos—or, to put it colloquially, it’s the economy, stupid. According to Norgaard, the rapid growth of economic activity during the twentieth century has become the driver of climatic changes. He suggests that modern political and bureaucratic leadership must change the way it manages economic practices in order to come to terms with the new reality.
- Homogenocene: I first discovered this term, which strikes me as one of the most sinister in the lexicon, in Charles Mann’s brilliant work of popular history 1493: Uncovering the New World that Columbus Created. Mann cites among his scholarly sources M. J. Samways, in a 1999 article in the Journal of Insect Conservation. The Homogenocene presents a terrifying vision of a world in which all things in all places grow increasingly the same in physical, ecological, and even cultural terms. Homogeneity represents a form of ecological death. I worry about this one every time I travel to some remote part of the globe and see people wearing New York Yankees caps.
- Jolyonocene: A late addition to the salad, this odd-sounding ’cene refers to a new generation of anti-Brexit UK activists, several of whom share the first name Jolyon, a now-fashionable antiquated way of spelling the name Julian that, according to geography professor Alex Baker of the University of Durham, “reeks of middle class indulgences in child naming and cultural superiority.” The activation of this formerly content generation of “suddenly disenfranchised centrists” ushers in a “new, tragic, age of activism” that remains uncomfortable with older radical traditions.
- Manthropocene: Oxford economist Kate Raworth’s call to arms in the Guardian in 2014 emphasizes the overwhelmingly male composition of the Working Group for the Anthropocene. She suggests that gender bias might distort the group’s methods and conclusions, and she further hints that a northern-hemisphere bias—“the Northropocene”?—may be at work. Such male-dominated groups also characterize the committee that chooses the Nobel Prize in Economics and similar awards.
- Misanthropocene: The economist Raj Patel, who has recently collaborated with eco-Marxist Jason Moore on the book History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, also coined the term “misanthropocene” as a way to imagine what happens if we do nothing. “We’re surrounded by catastrophic narratives of almost every political persuasion,” he writes, “tales that allow us to sit and wait while humanity’s End Times work themselves out. The Anthropocene can very easily become the Misanthropocene.” “At the very least,” he continues, “we have been warned.”
- Naufragocene: I coined this one in Shipwreck Modernity to leverage shipwreck as metaphor and material reality for the age of catastrophic environmental change that emerged with ecological globalization during the early modern period. Global maritime traffic during this period increased the perennial risk of travel by water, and the experience of early modern sailors expressed themselves in dialogue with ancient and then-contemporary literary narratives in which shipwreck represents divine revelation, mortal hubris, and the dilemma of humans who interpose their own fragile bodies in more-than-human environments.
- Necrocene: Justin McBrien’s notion of “the Necrocene—or ‘New Death’ . . . reframes the history of capitalism’s expansion through the process of becoming extinction.” By generalizing extinction as both cultural and biological process, McBrien argues that “the process of Necrosis is central” (117) and that the modern dilemma has at last “inverted” Benjamin’s famous Angel of History: “now we hurl forward, ignorant of the past, eyes fixed on catastrophe upon catastrophe piling up ahead” (120).
- Phagocene: Another ’cene from Bonneuil and Fressoz, the Phagocene puts consumerism and “disciplinary hedonism” (157) at the center of climate destruction. They diagnose modernity as “throw-away culture” (159), which they connect primarily to twentieth-century American mass production of consumer goods, especially the automobile and its cognate, the suburb.
- Phronocene: One of Bonneuil and Fressoz’s more paradoxical coinages, the Phronocene explores the longstanding awareness by Europe’s central planners and early ecologists of environmental vulnerability. They conclude ruefully that “our ancestors destroyed environments in full awareness of what they were doing” (196). In this view, efforts to increase “environmental awareness” seem futile, because although such awareness has been plentiful in the historical record, it has not yet succeeded in slowing humanity’s destruction of nonhuman systems.
- Plantationocene: I first spotted this one on twitter via Tobias Menely, but it also appears in print in recent work by Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing. In Tsing’s compelling formulation, “Plantations are machines of replication, ecologies devoted to the production of the same.” (See also the Homogenocene.) The Age of the Plantation reformulates the Capitolocene so that the slave plantation, rather than the factory, represents the dominant economic and ecological model of progress and disaster.
- Planthropocene: A recent coinage of medievalist ecocritic Rob Barrett, for his work in progress on premodern engagements with vegetable life.
- Polemocene: Bonneuil and Fressoz use this ’cene to emphasize a long history of political struggle motived by social justice and what Rob Nixon calls “the environmentalism of the poor.” Resistance to industrialization and “progress,” they show, is as old as the industrial revolution, which suggests to them that historical and political resources remain available to continue this struggle today.
- Sustainocene: As championed by Harvard chemist Daniel G. Nocera, this neologism proposes an era of “personalized energy” made possibly through compact photosynthesis devices.
- Symbiocene: I found this one via the artist Cathy Fitzgerald, who cites Glenn Albrecht, a retired professor of sustainability from Murdoch University in Western Australia who also coined the term “solastalgia” for the mental distress caused by environmental destruction. As an alternative to the “ecocide of the Anthropocene,” the symbiocene “emphasizes ideas and practices to enhance the mutual flourishing of all life.”
- Thalassocene: My other coinage from Shipwreck Modernity, I adapt this neologism by way of the “new thalassology” of the environmental historians of the premodern Mediterranean Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell. In my global rather than Med-centric sense, the Thalassocene writes human and environmental history through and on the World Ocean, whose currents, storms, and massive capacity as a carbon sink shapes cultures, climates, economies, and futures.
- Thanatocene: Bonneuil and Fressoz’s term for an Age of Death reads the twentieth century’s signature contributions to climate catastrophe through deadly global wars and ecological devastation. They emphasize that the crucial and catastrophic “petrolization of Western societies” owes a powerful debt to, and is perhaps unthinkable without, the global mobilization of the Second World War (138).
- Technocene: Swedish ecologist Alf Hornborg diagnoses the uneven spread of technological expertise and circulation as a driving factor in today’s ecological crisis. He calls for a closer exploration of the mutual entanglement of social and scientific concerns in exploring the modern environment.
- Thermocene: In Bonneuil and Fressoz’s “political history of CO2,” the familiar hockey-stick climate curves get placed in the larger context of industrial modernity. Insisting that we must “denaturalize the history of energy” (107) requires that we also acknowledge that the history of energy is “political, military, and ideological” (107).
- Trumpocene: When first putting this lexicon together at the end of 2016, I included this ’cene as a painful joke and exercise for the reader. The past two years have seen a predictable boom in thinking about the Age of Trump. Perhaps the sharpest and angriest elaboration of the ecological subtext of Trumpism has come from Kyle McGee, whose open-source book Heathen Earth: Trumpism and Political Ecology radicalizes our sense of the U.S. president’s climate policies: “By way of geoengineered global warming, the climate itself can become the principal American weapon in the endless war on terror.” Or, to put it more starkly: “the real Death Star is already here, in our abundant fossil fuel extraction” (98). It falls to us now, McGee insists, to respond with the forces of community: “alliance, assembly, occupation, strike, protest, march, demonstration, above all appearance” (144).
Crafting adequate responses to the vast plurality of the ’cene salad comprises the quixotic task of this moment in the environmental humanities. Let’s get started!