The politics of the Anthropocene, by John Dryzek and Jonathan Pickering
The Anthropocene is an awkward and troubling concept that should leave few scholars of environmental politics indifferent. In contrast to the hopeful and reassuring language of sustainable development, the Anthropocene confronts us with the apparent inadequacy and failures of institutionalized responses to global environmental problems. It speaks of a radically transformed world marked by accelerating climate change, melting glaciers, acidified oceans, declining freshwater resources, shrinking rainforests and mass species extinction. In this era of rapid environmental change, humanity is no longer a spectator of a natural drama to which we have to adapt. The fundamental and irreversible human imprint on the biosphere has turned us into earth-shaping agents and inhabitants of a world increasingly of our own making (Hamilton 2017).
The Politics of the Anthropocene is a hopeful tale of institutional self-confrontation and reform. Although informed by an inescapable sense of crisis, it holds the promise that the Anthropocene can initiate a process of reflexive social reorganization that sustainable development did not manage to produce. Unlike many critical treatments of our current epoch, this applied political theorizing does not break with the modern belief in human reason and scientific inquiry as the driver of social development and progress. Rather, it is through informed argument that dominant institutions will understand the damage done to the planet and begin to change course. By elevating the deliberating human subject as the agent of ecological reflexivity, Dryzek and Pickering sideline much of the post-human and new-materialist theorizing that currently infuses Anthropocene debates. The authors do not share pessimistic renderings of modernity as a failed world-making project, neither do they seek to flatten modern ontology and deprive humans of their unique position in the world. The political project is rather to reinvent modern institutions in view of humanity’s immense and dangerous earth-shaping powers.