Steve Thairu Mbaki

Anthropocene Bodies

The term “Anthropocene,” which literally means “the time of humans,” signifies that humans have significantly altered the chemical and geological makeup of Earth. Humans are now considered the main driver behind global geological change on our planet. This alteration encompasses both the physical and social dimensions of the body, as well as the ways in which we experience and understand our bodies in relation to the natural world.

Geologists of the future will identify our activities as a characteristic band in the soil. A widely accepted theory suggests that the Anthropocene began during the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s when human activity had a significant impact on Earth’s atmosphere, particularly carbon and methane levels. In 2016, the Anthropocene Working Group determined that the Anthropocene differs from the Holocene and officially started in 1950 when the Great Acceleration, a sharp increase in human activity affecting the planet, began.

The Anthropocene is influencing our bodies, Anthropocene Bodies, in evident ways, such as the rise in chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, often associated with unhealthy lifestyles and environmental factors like air pollution and climate change. Additionally, exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants can lead to various health issues, including cancer and neurological disorders. 

Another way in which the Anthropocene is affecting our bodies is through exposure to toxins and other environmental pollutants. These pollutants can have a wide range of health effects, including cancer, reproductive problems, and neurological disorders. In addition to these physical effects, the Anthropocene is also changing the ways in which we experience and understand our bodies. For example, the rise of new technologies such as genetic engineering and artificial intelligence is challenging traditional notions of what it means to be human. Additionally, the climate crisis is forcing us to rethink our relationship with the natural world and our place within it.

The concept of Anthropocene Bodies is gaining attention from scholars and activists. Recognizing the impact of human activity on our bodies urges us to develop strategies to mitigate negative effects and create a sustainable future. My interest in the Anthropocene revolves around seeing how we live as bodies on Earth in this present moment and what makes us rethink our choices.

The announcement of the Anthropocene presents a choice: we can reflect on our current ways of living or continue as usual, possibly changing energy sources without fundamentally questioning our lifestyles. This choice, as Bruno Latour puts it, is between being humans in the Holocene or being earthbound in the Anthropocene. To choose the latter means understanding the critical systems within which we live and attempting to coexist with them, rather than exploiting them. This choice prompts us to explore new possibilities for human society and challenges traditional notions of what the future holds.

Realising that this is a choice – whether we choose to live roughly as we have done,  or whether we choose to explore new possibilities for human society – is to engage with the notion that we must not talk about what the future is, but rather what prospects there might be. Bodily metaphors already abound in work about the Anthropocene. To bring the metaphor back to its bodily origins, one way to think about the human body in the Anthropocene is in terms of metabolism. How does the body use energy and where does this energy come from? 

Metaphorically, the human body in the Anthropocene can be understood in terms of metabolism, connecting us materially and ideologically to the world around us. Genes, the fundamental units of bodies, ride us from generation to generation, indifferent to our happiness or well-being. The Anthropocene challenges our understanding of the body, casting doubt on ideas of agency and human exceptionalism.

“The Problem of Nonhuman Agency and Bodily Intentionality in the Age of the Anthropocene” addresses agency and elaborates on Bruno Latour’s conception of posthuman agency. Environmental epigenetics, the study of environmentally induced heritable patterns of gene regulation, challenges traditional genetic models. The simultaneous emergence of Anthropocene and epigenetic thinking offers an opportunity to comprehend the unprecedented impact of human activities on geophysical and biological bodies. This interdisciplinary approach is crucial for studying how human bodies are adapting to environmental changes, exploring the physiological and genetic shifts in populations, and understanding the social, economic, and political factors influencing vulnerability to these changes.

In summary, understanding the impact of the Anthropocene on human bodies is vital for developing policies and practices promoting public health, environmental sustainability, and social equity amid ongoing environmental challenges. Researchers, scientists, and policymakers are actively studying and addressing these issues to mitigate the negative effects of the Anthropocene on human populations and the planet.

Understanding the impact of the Anthropocene on human bodies is crucial for developing policies and practices that promote public health, environmental sustainability, and social equity in the face of ongoing environmental challenges. Scientists, researchers, and policymakers continue to study and address these issues to mitigate the negative effects of the Anthropocene on human populations and the planet as a whole.