a new era in human-environment relations

Andrew Revkin


“Some of the best times in history are some of the hardest times.”

Andrew Revkin, “Dot Earth” blogger for the New York Times, kicked off Miami University Humanities Center’s lecture series on “The Anthropocene: A New Era in Human-Environment Relations.” Known for his optimistic take on the global climate change crisis, Revkin showed no signs of faltering during this visit, urging his audience to stay “positive… with reservations.” Revkin finds that we should stay positive through upholding constructive communication. He notes that some of the best times in human history are reflected through our triumphs during difficult times. He uses the example of the black plague to reflect that while population numbers were dwindling, humanity grouped together to find a solution to the pressing matter. And times are not even so bad right now, Revkin finds, because the conditions provide an opportunity for humanity to band together.

An important question remains however: “Where do we focus our attentions?” Revkin argues that it is here that optimism needs to shine through. He finds non-constructive discourse discouraging (although he admits that this sort of discourse does highlight the “grayness” of the issue at hand; indeed, nothing is so black or white). While much of this discourse adds a counterproductive “noise” to the conversations surrounding the Anthropocene, he does think that there are ways to cut through the accumulating voices; if we filter the input, we can rely on a stronger output. While many approach this crisis with a sense of angst, Revkin finds that being downcast is simply a waste of time.

So, then, how do we move forward? Do we really have time to collect all of the conflicting views of the Anthropocene? Revkin finds that here it is important to get back into the science (natural science, social science, and political science are the three sciences he references here). Yet while the sciences, he argues, should be the driving force for solutions against a ticking clock, we should not forget about moral views. He brings to light the fact that the United States has no right to tell developing countries not to burn fossil fuels–as it did so in the past. To do so would be hypocritical. Moreover, Revkin notes that we should not describe the era of the Anthropocene as “good” or “bad”; this sort of description is problematic. It is, he argues, all about good behavior in a dark time.

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