One recasting not to favor: Anthropocene as wartime

[S]eeing the Anthropocene more as a ‘boundary’ position that intersects with histories of capitalism, empire and the evolution of human life on earth, rather than a clearly distinct new epoch. . .allows more room for experimentation with the various processes of re-orientation that might be required of politics within, rather than beyond, these boundary lines, by not pre-determining one singular course of action as unambiguously correct.

In recasting the epoch as boundary process, it also reflects another connection back to World War I, when analogous ideas of revolution as processual events, instead of one-time incidents, became part of the mainstream. Indeed, the concept of wartime itself suggests a processual and extendable temporality, rather than a straightforward binary. This is the case since the division between wartime and peacetime is never as clear cut as any formal cessation of hostilities or signing of a treaty would suggest. World War I clearly did not end with the Armistice, and neither did it cease with the signing of the Versailles Treaty. For some, the World War has never really ended at all given that its promises of meaningful forms of (particularly racial and gender) equality as recompense for serving one’s country have still failed to materialize. The war had an enormous impact both upon the fabric of the earth and natural resources, while its legacy for the ways such categories as state, democracy, representation and capitalism, have become fixed parts of Euro-American political thinking, has been equally profound. It might therefore be productive to think about the Anthropocene as a form of ‘deep-war time’, both practically and intellectually. This means considering the Anthropocene as an ongoing battle over what it means to think across both planetary and global perspectives, and across the arc spanning World War I and into the present.

D. Kelly (2022). Wartime for the Planet? Journal of Modern European History (DOI: 10.1177/16118944221113281; excerpted above without embedded footnotes)

Emergencies are one thing, like that for the climate. But not all emergencies are wars. If the Anthropocene is recast as its own wartime, then how is this war different than all the other wars, namely, as massive engines of unpredictable, unimaginable and ungovernable contingencies? We might as well recommend more poverty and hunger as ways to accentuate the contradictions and “thereby” bring about a war sooner. Why ever would we say wartime better captures there being no real boundary between war and peace, when the Anthropocene is also about neither human war nor human peace only?

If the “planetary” is as much a human construction as “local” and “global” are–or if you prefer, planetary and global and local are not thorough-going human constructions (remember “the irreducible particularity of being”?)–then we’re well advised not to dismiss policy and management as if they were the low and mean cunning of local and global alone.

Indeed, cunning looks much the viable option when compared to This war has to be different! Failure is not an option! We just have to have the political will to make it happen! These claims to exceptions deny that we can better prepare for other unavoidably broad patterns we see and other unavoidably local scenarios we face, when both clearly contradict “There is no alternative but to do. . .”

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