A new intensification is reshaping the surface of the planet: human changes to the Earth’s climate, land, oceans and biosphere are now so great and so rapid that the thesis of a new geological epoch defined by the actions of humans – the Anthropocene – is now being widely debated and articulated. This thesis is developing across a number of circuits, institutions, organisations, scientific and intellectual fields, all of which are equally affected by this unfolding discourse, as much as the environments in which they act.
Operating as an observatory, a composition of documentary practices and discourses, the project traces the formation of the Anthropocene thesis. Beginning in 2013, the project combines film, photography, documentation, interviews, spatial analysis and fieldwork to form an archive and a series of installations, seminars, debates and cultural interventions.
Across a number of specific international agencies and organisations, information about scientific research is acquired, registered, evaluated, processed, stored, archived, organised and re-distributed. These behind-the-scenes processes and practices, that lead to the equally complex decision making procedures, form new discourses and figures of shift. The Anthropocene Observatory documents these practices in a series of short films, interviews and documentary materials: aim of the project is to illustrate in detail the unfolding of the thesis of the Anthropocene in its many streams of influence.
Anthropocene Observatory is a project by Territorial Agency (John Palmesino and Ann-Sofi Rönnskog), Armin Linke and Anselm Franke. Produced by HKW Haus der Kulturen der Welt.
© Anthropocene Observatory
IIASA International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
“Is it possible that humans are becoming a force which is comparable to a geological force? We put up this hypothesis. Since then, it has become a quite common approach in the investigations into the earth system. If humans are already comparable in terms of intensity and long lasting impact of their interaction with the earth system, to geological forces and planetary forces acting over millions of years, it’s still something which needs to be finally quantified. We believe that in the timescale of centuries and millennia, this is definitely the case.”
BGS, British Geological Survey, National Geological Repository
“We were the first survey in the world to recognise that artificial deposits are geology. They’re not just archaeology. Quite a significant part of my work is trying to map the distribution of artificial deposits and understanding how they formed and how to classify them. I’ve developed a general interest in the nature of artificial deposits and, from that, an interest in the Anthropocene. […] If you do a rough calculation, it suggests that about ten times more sediment is being moved around on the earth’s surface by humans than what is being transported around all the rivers in the world. […] That really means that really is now one of the principal geological factors for the movement of sediment, more than rivers. It’s the first time we have had this major change in geological processes.”
IIASA International Institute for Applied System Analysis and TU Wien
“I think what’s really fundamentally different about the Anthropocene is the acute awareness of the fact that it will probably take a few decades before we cause absolutely irreversible changes. Maybe even a hundred years in some areas, and yet we know that we have to act now. I think that is fundamentally different. We have a “beyond-personal” experience type of development that we have to anticipate that it is global. It affects the whole planet. It is no longer local.”
The first episode outlines the connections and wide-reaching Anthropocene thesis in the practices of policy making, planning, decision making and scientific practices. The episode traces two parallel lines of co-development: on one side the re-composition of post World-War 2 sovereignties and polities, with the long rise of the international space and decolonisation processes; on the other side, the wide re-organisation of infrastructures, cities, networks and procedures of measurement and planning.
From the formation of the United Nations, from Cold-War Game Theory to the works on World-Game of architect Buckminster Fuller, from the scientific approach to human settlement planning of Constantinos Doxiadis, to the interactionist anthropological studies of Margaret Mead, the first episode traces the complex development of the relation between politics, science, planning, humanities and the arts.
Interviews to members of the IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the WMO World Meteorological Organisation, to philosopher Bruno Latour and historian Paul N. Edwards, are assembled together with documents of ongoing climate research in the Antarctic, with historical documentation about the development of the complex knowledge production processes on climate change.
Fieldwork includes: IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 46th Session of the IPCC Bureau, WMO World Meteorological Organisation, Geneva | Bruno Latour during Gifford lectures in Edinburgh | Paul N. Edwards | KIT Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
The Anthropocene is the new geological epoch shaped by mankind, a new epoch dominated by calculus. The expansion of the reach of mankind on the planet is driven by complex calculations and abstractions. Models, predictions, time series, simulations, analytical calculus are what link climate change sciences, Earth-System analysis and contemporary econometric practices.
Following the investigation on the procedures to transform the planet into an object of international planning, the new episode explores how the abstraction of model-making is shaping the decision-making practices and the many polities that characterise the contemporary epoch.
From global centres for climate modelling, to re-insurance companies, from CO2 markets to environmental monitoring, from system analysis to management theory: a series of computers and interconnected systems of calculation are the material basis for the multiple practices and procedures that connect science, finance, telecommunication and public policy at the age of the Anthropocene.
Fieldwork includes: Deutsches Klimarechenzentrum DKRZ, Hamburg with interview to Director Thomas Ludwig | BNP Paribas, Paris | Impacts World 2013, PIK, Potsdam | Carbon Expo 2013, Barcelona with Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC, Dirk Forrister, IETA | IIASA International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Vienna with interviews to Director Pavel Kabat, Deputy Director Nabojsa Nakicenovic | El Ejido, Spain
Measurement of the planetary strata along a trajectory linking a Soviet probe reaching the deepest point on the planet, a vast geological scientific repository, and remote sen- sing satellites, traces the complex relations between earth’s history and human efforts to control and plan its habitat at unprecedented scales.
Different measurement technologies along this trajectory reveal different ways of conceiving the relationship bet-ween scientific evidence and political organization of human action. The Kola Superdeep Borehole in the Russian Arctic was a mission to increase geophysical knowledge. The vast industrial exploitation of mineral resources became the basis for the utopian Soviet project to live rationally with nature, coinciding with the formation of a major role for scientific rationality and evidence-based decision making and planning. Contemporary measurements and inquiries into the core samples of the British Geological Survey reveal the connections of human activities to the material traces of the recent history of the Earth, marking the new stratigraphic evidence of the Anthropocene.
How are the complex systems and measurements of science of global change forming new territorial structures? How are accelerations and long duration shaping contemporary decision-making processes?
Fieldwork includes: Kola Superdeep Borehole, Kola Science Centre, Russian Academy of Sciences, Murmansk Regional Museum | British Geological Survey and National Respository, with Interviews to Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin Waters and Chris Vane
The contested history of geology - as a science of planetary history - has developed alongside the material and social spaces of modernity. Each form of political and territorial organisation - the city-state, colonial empires, nations, the international order - has been linked to different natural resources and maintained different imaginaries of geological time. The Anthropocene Observatory explores how the exit from the Holocene is rapidly intensifying the semi-stable forms that have bound human cohabitation to its material spaces. It enquires into the forms of contemporary life and the spaces it is generating, cutting through established bonds, opening up new connections between science and politics, moulding control structures and shaping new landscapes and territories.
The destabilising conditions entailed by the new geological epoch reverberate across polities,institutions, law, international organisations, infrastructures, war, land, practices of scientific investigation and practices of government, the sea, cities, markets and planning institutions. They reshape human spaces as well as their material counterparts, they form a new mode of operation, where non-human and human agencies interact in unprecedented ways.
Fieldwork includes: Max Planck Institut für Chemie with interviews to Paul Crutzen and Veerabhadran Ramanathan | Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta,Bangladesh | Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi | Institute for Economic Growth, Delhi | Vasadha Foundation, Delhi | The Energyand Resources Institute TERI, Delhi with interview to Dr Prodipto Ghosh | UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Bonn with interviews to Christiana Figueres and Dr Martin Frick | Rhine-Meuse Delta, The Netherlands | Deltares, The Netherlands | International Geosphere-Biosphere Program IGBP, Stockholm, Sweden