The Anthropocene is perceived as a new geological era, succeeding the Holocene, a discrete age in which human beings have affected the world. Some scientists suggest it dates from the beginning of agriculture and human management of the land; some from the inception of the Industrial Revolution, which began to pump exponentially greater quantities of carbon into the atmosphere. And some source it to the middle of the last century: the dawn of a new nuclear age and the start of the ‘Great Acceleration’, which has witnessed an exponential increase in the exploitation of resources and extinction of species. Indeed, in her recent book, The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert notes that the legacy of our own species’s brief reign on the planet will be a stratum the thickness of a cigarette paper.
The Anthropocene has become a fashionable term. Earlier this year I spoke at a conference in Sydney, ‘Encountering the Anthropocene’, which drew together scientists, historians, writers, artists and filmmakers – a motley crew whose disparity underlined the all-encompassing appeal of the new term. Such studies of the Anthropocene offer a