Review: The Shock of the Anthropocene

A polemic on climate change and the impact of humanity on the earth. Very wide ranging in its scope running through the history of those who have challenged the climatic impact of industrialisation from before the industrial revolution, as well as the basic science behind the description of a new geological era where humanity dominates the globe – the “anthropocene”.

The very sweep and scope of this book means that the treatment of is sometimes quite brief. It would benefit for example from a more comprehensive engagement with Marx bearing in mind the importance of capitalism as a system, which Bonneuil and Fressoz do acknowledge, for the impact of industry on the climate.

Bonneuil and Fressoz do succeed in at least one of his stated goals – echoing EP Thompson – to rescue earlier challenges to the impact of human activity on the climate from the “enormous condecension of history”. The call to action is also clear. Humanity is now in a position where it controls the future of the planet. Perhaps the most challenging part of the book is where Bonneuil and Fressoz argue that humans have not suddenly become aware of the climate crisis, and that therefore we cannot look to a newly engaged science to simply reverse the situation. More fundamental change is needed, starting with an acknowledgement of the new situation. Bonneuil and Fressoz makes the case, but more work is needed to develop a programme for future action.

An important book then. Not the last word on the subject, but rather perhaps the beginning of something that needs to become much more mainstream and influence all our thinking in the future.

Bonneuil C., and Fressoz J-B The Shock of the Anthropocene (Verso, London, 2017)

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