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  • Reconfiguring Temporality in the AnthropoceneColoniality and the Political Ecocrisis
  • Adam Wickberg (bio)

Decolonial History and Ecopolitical Resistance

In this article, I will argue for the need of a new form of history writing that takes into full account the environmental impacts of human history over the past five centuries. The purpose of this is to contribute to substantiating the Anthropocene as a new temporal unit beyond its origin in the geological sciences. I call this history writing attuned to human impact on the planet Anthropocene historiography. Such history could also be useful in response to the need to historicize the present ecocrisis, acknowledging that it did not emerge overnight or even just in the past two centuries but appeared as a new world order in the sixteenth century and to a large extent followed on the mutual developments of coloniality and mercantile to market global capitalism. Another benefit of an Anthropocene historiography could be to inject critical thought on temporality into the future dimension of climate change policy, which is currently governed by global climate models projecting changes according to different emission pathways.1

Historians have often been understood to engage with time and temporality. But what is time? Beyond the many philosophical, physical, and theoretical answers that have been put forward since time immemorial, it can be said to be an elusive concept bringing together the dimensions of past, present, and future as its main vectors.

Today, many historians believe that we are facing a crisis of temporality constituted by a rupture in our sense of orientation in time. This has been discussed extensively by historians like Aleida Assman, [End Page 37] Francois Hartog, and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, without any of them having addressed the Anthropocene debate that has simultaneously raged in the geological sciences and spilled into the humanities and social sciences.2 These historians have described this crisis as an end to the linear past-present-future continuum in which we inhabit the present, learn from a past we leftbehind, and orient ourselves toward an open future to come. They all draw on the work of Reinhart Koselleck, who famously diagnosed a new sense of time pertinent to modernity. The modern conception of time did away with futurity as something that could be known, as had been the case in religious and mystical practices of prophecy for instance, and replaced it with a vast unknown, an open future to be inhabited by modern man.3 Intimately tied to this modern concept of futurity was a strong notion of progress, which has until recently prevailed.

Koselleck also detected a relocation of the experience of time past, which was transformed into history as an accumulation of events pointing toward this open-ended future. It is this regime of historicity that is coming to an end in the Anthropocene. The aim of this essay is the to sketch what an Anthropocene historiography might look like.

On May 11, 2019, the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii recorded that the air contained 415.26 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide, the highest level in millions of years. For perspective, it stood at 280 ppm in 1958 when record keeping in Mauna Loa began, and it breached the 400 ppm limit in 2013. This increase in carbon dioxide traps more heat in the atmosphere, which is what is generally meant by global warming, and is mostly caused by human activities like burning fossil fuel to sustain a global infrastructure of free market capitalism. In the last two decades, geologists have been considering the adoption of a new geological time unit for which the word Anthropocene was proposed. The debates of the term have included a poignant critique of the narrative of a collective humanity equally responsible for the changes in the earth system.4 The main point of the quarrel could be summarized as having to do with who is responsible for the current ecocrisis and when the actions leading to it started.5 The debate thereby effectively lands outside the confines of geological concerns, which is only interested in detecting, delineating, and naming a qualitatively different signal in the durable record of the planet in which the mark of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-8117
Pages
pp. 37-59
Launched on MUSE
2021-03-09
Open Access
No
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