Religion and the Anthropocene

I recently returned from an academic conference that examined conceptions of and responses to the Anthropocene. Many of you have heard this term already: it was coined over ten years ago by geologist Paul Crutzen to describe the impact that human beings are having on the deep structure of the globe. In geological time the Anthropocene is a mere eye-blink, a punctual supplement of maybe two hundred years. Human beings have altered the relative balance of the Holocene – the previous geological epoch, one that lasted ten to twelve millennia – in ways that we cannot foresee. The most we might expect is a future world of radical volatility.

My question and topic for discussion is deceptively straightforward: What is the proper Christian or even Catholic response to the Anthropocene? What does (our) religion tell us about a world that is fundamentally (and maybe even totally) dominated by human beings? Those of us on the religious left have already heard calls and exhortations to act. I’m not interested in hearing another exhortation. The Anthropocene emphasizes that we’ve already changed the globe. How does religion illuminate this particular past and its potential future? How does it shed light on a world without nature, a post-natural globe? How does it orient us in that speculative space?

Robert Geroux is a political theorist.

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