To-do’s in the Anthropocene

–Let’s insist the Anthropocene’s rotten core is modernity—international capital, American consumerism, global urbanization, The Enlightenment Project—while in the same breadth insist all this is best described in the very terms of modernity: Anything and everything is at risk; all thinkable risks are premonitory; any can be catastrophic. Ensure this free-floating anxiety has no closure, nothing prevents the proliferation of worst-case scenarios, the dose makes the poison, how then to plan…

Oops, did I write, “plan”? Since when are epochs a planning horizon for anything? And here you thought policy and management in the Holocene were difficult!

–Economists will have to give up their discounting the future into present value terms, as the future is Anthropocene shockSHOCKs. Engineers and ecologists push resilience and adaptive capacity, as if bouncing back or forward is optimal over a longue durée that by definition can’t be optimized. Our predictions—and we do insist on previsioning!—will be as effective as predicting the next poem from the poet’s body of work.

We’ll look back at “progress” relegated to the scare quotes of always-late capitalism as the easiest thing humans did in the Anthropocene. At the same time, a slurry of alarmism fills the vacuum left behind by lack of remedy-and-implementation at a level of granularity that global and planetary explications of cause-and-effect do not have. Consequently, unfold any old postlapsarian analogy, write ad lib, and then declare or confirm a crisis.

–The crux is this: The long-term and the planetary are deployed so as to nail home the centrality of interconnectivity. Everything is connected with everything else—without however acknowledging this must also mean nothing is completely reducible to anything else. Relations stop nowhere, novelist Henry James put it, but they are still discernible relations. We can’t ignore irreducible particularity just as we cannot ignore interrelatedness. The burden of proof, however, is on the universal interconnectionists to detail why and how and in what forms this messy, vernacular particularity—and its allied notions of “case” and “context”—arise and endure.

It’s truer for you to say that in this complex of particularity and interconnectivity the only point at which you really know you’re in a crisis is at the end. Is this too late? Not when—remember complexity?—many major decisions can’t help but take a long time coming and then end up made only suddenly at that.

–What to do at sea in the Anthropocene? We recast how we think about the complexities.

First, we need to de-dramatize the untraceably-thin disaster-mongering going on, call out the chop-logic of global crises scripted solely through analogy, rake away the catchpenny phrases and inlay rhetoric, and resist the cretinism and outright weirdery that come with. . .what? Believing the truly valid way forward is planetary over an epoch?

In other words, specifics matter more than ever.

Below I consolidate points made elsewhere in this blog on the blast-power that comes with a more granular focus on real-time operations of key critical infrastructures within a regional context—especially if your concern is as environmental as those that drive the Anthropocene:

  • Granular because risk and uncertainty are always with-respect-to specific failure or accident scenarios—and the devil is in the details of the scenarios;
  • Real-time operations because the measure of effectiveness is to manage effectively now, not over the Anthropocene;
  • Operations of key infrastructures because the reliability and safety of these large socio-technical systems—think critical energy and water supplies—are not only vital to society, right now as you read these words, but are often based in ecosystem services mandated for restoration or sustainability; and
  • Within a regional context because Global Climate Change modeling and other types of environmental modeling accept the region, as the unit of analysis for near-term planning and risk management. (High-resolution models using LIDAR data and other GIS approaches already exist that provide climate-related flooding and wildfire information useful for critical infrastructures when it comes to their nearer-term cycles, e.g., for investment and depreciation purposes.)

To conclude, we make ourselves ridiculous when doing otherwise, and being ridiculous is radically beside the point in the Anthropocene.

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