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Authenticity, Earth Systems Engineering and Management, and the Limits of Trading Zones in the Era of the Anthropogenic Earth Brad Allenby Introduction: The Anthropogenic Earth Humans now live in a world that is fundamentally different from anything known from earlier experience. It is a world where the critical dynamics of major earth systems—whether they are predominantly atmospheric, biological, or physical, or, for that matter, cultural, economic, or technological—increasingly bear the imprint of the human. Indeed, the anthropogenic earth is characterized by large and complex integrated human/natural/built systems, with complicated biological, physical, governance , ethical, scientific, technological, cultural, and religious dimensions and uncertainties (Allenby 2005). As Nature put it in a 2003 editorial, “Welcome to the Anthropocene”—roughly translated, welcome to the Age of Humans. This does not mean “deliberately designed by” humans, for many aspects of these systems, although human in origin, have not been consciously designed by anyone: the Internet, for example, is clearly purely human in origin, and yet its complex information and physical frameworks, like its broader social and cultural implications, have not been designed by anyone; rather, they are emergent characteristics of this very complex system. Nonetheless, it is apparent that a principal result of the Industrial Revolution and associated changes in human demographics, cultures, technology, economic systems, and belief systems has been a world increasingly dominated by human activity . This world is characterized by three major factors—accelerating change, complexity , and radical contingency. Each is critical in its own right, and all interact with each other in increasingly unpredictable but fundamental ways. A few examples may help make the somewhat vague concept of the Anthropocene a little more concrete. Start with what is perhaps the most fundamental physical aspect of a planet, its characteristic radiation emissions spectrum. The earth’s spectrum, however, is not just a matter of reflections from clouds, emitted infrared radiation, and the like. Rather, it includes television and radio broadcasts, and leakage from all 7 126 Brad Allenby sorts of technologies. The most accessible image of this emission is the well-known picture of the earth from space at night, showing electric lights spread over North America, Europe, and Asia (NASA 2008). In the Anthropocene, even the radiation spectrum of our planet carries a human signature. Similarly, almost everyone is aware of global climate change. Stand away from the Kyoto Protocol—the international attempt to reduce climate-changing emissions —and its surrounding hysterics, however, and a longer perspective is revealed: that process, fitful and ad hoc as it is, represents the dawning of a realization that, regardless of what happens in the short-term negotiations, the connection between climate (and other natural systems), human economic and technology systems, cultural and psychological patterns, and the built environment is so complete that there are no solutions, only ongoing adaptation—there is no endpoint, no solution, only dialog. This process is not an interaction among human communities, but a continuing interaction within the human species, and between it and many other natural and built systems that will continue so long as humans exist in numbers anywhere close to our current population. The current negotiations surrounding the Kyoto Protocol have been problematic in part because they involve only a few of the affected communities, such as environmental and sustainability advocates, but not others, such as those whose lives would be significantly affected by some of the proposed responses. In some ways, the negotiations represent an enforced trading zone and are unlikely to be successful, because widespread acceptance of the results of the dialog is necessary (Collins, Evans, and Gorman 2007; and see chapter 2 of this volume). Equally problematic, however, is that the Kyoto Protocol has been approached as a stand-alone initiative, rather than as the beginning of a process that, at this point, can have no foreseeable end. Policies can reduce—more likely, redistribute—some of the human impacts on complicated and interrelated earth systems, such as the climate system, but the growing human influence cannot be eliminated (Allenby 2007a). Moreover, these particular perturbations are all part of interconnected global systems, and a population of well over six billion humans, each seeking a better life, ensures that the human role in global systems will only continue to increase, absent some sort of population crash. The human relationship with these global systems is not something that can be “solved”; rather, it is at this point in our history an existential aspect of human existence (Allenby 2005). Thus, even at the very...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780262289436
Related ISBN
9780262514835
MARC Record
OCLC
698103837
Pages
312
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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