The Eco-Humanities as Literature: A New Genre?

We have recently entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. There is now considerable evidence that humanity has altered the biophysical systems of Earth, not just the carbon cycle which has been the focus of much recent politics, but also the nitrogen cycle and ultimately the atmosphere and climate of the whole globe. It was Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize- winning chemist, who coined the term 'Anthropocene', somewhat to the surprise of geologists, who had not considered humans as an 'epoch-defining' biophysical force. Ice core evidence showed dramatic changes in carbon outputs since the time of the industrial revolution, so Crutzen chose 1784 - the date of James Watt's steam engine - as the beginning of the Anthropocene, (Crutzen 23). Some have argued that human-driven change dated further back, to the agricultural revolution (5,000- 8,000 years ago), but evidence for this is equivocal. What is generally agreed is that human influence on biophysical systems has increased markedly in the past halfcentury or so. During the 'Great Acceleration' (1945- 2015?), sometimes called the Anthropocene Stage II, humans have emerged as clearly the most dominant species on Earth (Steffen et al. 615-16). We humans are no longer just biological creatures amongst others, but potent physical agents for change on Earth.

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Published 1 October 2008 in Volume 23 No. 3. Subjects: Environmental conservation, Literary forms & genres, Natural environment - Literary portrayal, Ecocriticism.

Cite as: Robin, Libby. ‘The Eco-Humanities as Literature: A New Genre?.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 23, no. 3, 2008.