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Abstract

Articles in this special issue “Lessons of the Anthropocene: Entanglements and Security” invite us to reflect on Anthropocene entanglements - what they have meant, might mean, and perhaps should mean, in order for us to exist securely in the new world.
From passengers to crew: introductory reflections
Cameron Harrington, Emma Lecavalier & Clifford Shearing*
It is only very recently that we humans have come to recognize our place on this Earth.
As Marshall McLuhan once put it: “On Spaceship Earth there are no passengers;
everybody is a member of the crew” (McLuhan, 1974, p. 50). While we have never been
simply passengers, our status as crew has mattered little for almost all of human history;
to paraphrase Harari (2014) we have been decidedly “insignificant” crew members. This
changed drastically with our capture of fossil fuels, or “ancient sunlight” as Hartmann
(1999) calls it, to drive the machine of successive industrial revolutions (Marks, 2006).
Thanks to these developments, the Earth has transitioned out of the Holocene and into
what is now being termed the Anthropocene, an age in which our status as crew members
is hugely significant. We have become “geological actors” (Chakrabarty, 2009) whose
actions have shaped, and are reshaping, the systems that have kept Spaceship Earth on its
course for some 10, 000 years. The consequences of this new era are both profoundly
global and acutely local: with the pushing of our planetary boundaries, safe spaces for
humans and other species are shrinking, giving way to less favourable and less stable
planetary conditions for the lifeforms evolved in the previous Holocene era.
Our Earth has entered “uncharted territory” (World Meteorological Organization, 2017).
The great acceleration of Earth system indicators suggests that a fundamental shift in the
makeup of the planet is ongoing (Steffen et al., 2015). The amount of carbon released
into the atmosphere is unprecedented over the last 66 million years (Zeebe, Ridgwell &
Zachos, 2016). This has precipitated a sharply rising warming trend. In 2016, surface
temperatures were the warmest on record since modern recordkeeping began in 1880
** The guest editors would like to thank the participants and authors for their contributions. Special thanks
go to Ricky Röntsch for managing and editing the Special Issue and Elaine Atkins for her assistance.
We acknowledge funding support from the South Africa-Norway Research Cooperation (SANCOOP)
Fund, the National Research Foundation of South Africa. Any opinion, findings and conclusions or
recommendations expressed herein are ours alone and the agencies do not accept any liability in regard
thereto.
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(NASA, 2017). Beyond the precipitous warming of the oceans and of surface
temperatures, human actions have led to steep declines in biodiversity, atmospheric
increases of nitrous oxide, acidification of the oceans, and much else. Indeed, as some
now argue, the Earth may be in the midst of its sixth mass extinction in its 3.7 billion year
history – and the first to be caused by a single species (Kolbert, 2014). Humans can now
be classified as geological, world-making actors. The scale and complexity of human-
generated shifts has moved us beyond the limits of existing knowledge. We are entering a
new human-made world that we do not understand.
This presents, of course, significant and unique security challenges. While the security
implications of environmental change have been identified and assessed for decades in
relevant literatures such as green criminology and environmental security, environmental
problems are now more severe, increasingly impactful, and perhaps most importantly,
more fully global (though their effects are often local and contextual) than ever before.
Ongoing changes to the climate, biodiversity, and a host of other Earth system processes
hold significant implications for interstate conflict, civil strife, and broader human
development (Green & Hale, 2017). They will produce environmental insecurities that
cause crime and inequality. They will challenge prevailing norms and structures that
order environmental harms, laws, and regulations. An Anthropocene future portends
significant sea-level rise, the displacement of peoples, diminished crop yields, the spread
of disease, and increasing water scarcity in areas already struggling to secure enough
water. These are not typical “everyday” environmental problems; they hold the potential
to radically disrupt global politics, how we govern the public good of safety, and
contemporary logics of security. The Anthropocene does not simply add more
environmental concerns to existing security frameworks, it pushes ideas of security to
their limits. No security theory can make sense of 200 feet of sea-level rise (Winkelmann
et al., 2015). Or, take for instance, scientific estimates that place current extinction rates
1,000 times higher than normal, and future rates that are likely to be 10,000 times higher
(De Vos et al., 2015). If the world is now experiencing a “sixth mass extinction,” the first
to be caused by humans, we need to reconsider the logic of the traditional security
problematique – ensuring the promise of safety and survival (Harrington, 2016). Further,
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if the Anthropocene destabilizes one of the organizing tenets of modernity upon which
security rests — the separation between humans and nature — then scholars need to
creatively confront the empirical and theoretical implications of this new world.
It is this latter disruption — the dissolution of human-nature dualism — that lay behind
our challenge to security scholars to interrogate the role and prevalence of entanglement,
particularly the entanglement of Earthlings with each other and with the Earth system of
which they are a part. The idea of entanglement goes beyond past understandings of
interdependence and networked connections and compels us to question the idea that any
entity — human or non-human, sentient or non-sentient, bio-physical or physical, macro
or nano — can be truly distinct. Entanglement instead suggests that “systems must
always be conceptualized within collective terms” (Taffel & Holm, 2017, p. ix). As the
authors in this Special Issue highlight, the Anthropocene provides us with a striking
illustration of this condition, making apparent the ways in which human societies are
entangled with something we once called “nature”. While nature has never been an entity
that existed outside of humans and society, phenomena such as climate change, ocean
acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, and land-system changes highlight how
deeply human action can, and has, reshaped our biophysical realm, and similarly, how
biophysical systems have shaped human life.
A recognition of entanglement compels us to reconsider the diverse ways in which
subjects and objects co-exist and are co-constituted. Instead of a world comprised of
distinct entities (eg, states, individuals) interacting in the rational pursuit of their interests,
entanglements inform us of the indistinction of actors in the first place. It is not simply
that humans are a part of nature. The social and the natural have become
indistinguishable. In Bruno Latour’s words, “[t]o be a subject is not to act autonomously
in front of an objective background, but to share agency with other subjects that have
also lost their autonomy” (2014, p. 5, italics in original). Our worlds are plural, enfolded,
inseparable — entangled.
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Understanding what this means for security after long imagining ourselves as separate,
superior beings, is difficult. Entanglements are always in flux, and thus we must look at
their different strands, their original preconditions, and their complex, diverging
consequences. For guidance it is useful to look to a domain that has led the way in
exploring entanglements — quantum physics. Quantum thinking has problematized
conventional, atomistic conceptions such as: “large objects are reducible to the properties
and interactions of smaller ones”; “objects have definite properties”; and “objects are
fully ‘separable’, meaning that their identity is constituted solely by their internal
structure and spatial-temporal location rather than by their relationships to other objects”
(Wendt, 2015, p. 60). Within quantum thought — which Einstein famously dismissed as
“spooky action at a distance,” (Born, 1971, p. 158) — entangled particles, existing on
opposite sides of vast spaces might be considered, for all intents and purposes, as one
object (Neep, 2016, p. 21). When one particle is observed/measured, it instantaneously
causes shifts in its entangled other, accordingly, they can no longer be described in the
same way, as separate objects. To know a whole system requires, not the breaking of it
into its constituent parts, but recognizing its entangled relationships.
For some readers our trio of concepts — security, entanglement and the Anthropocene —
may at the outset appear esoteric or disjointed. While green criminology and global
environmental security have research programs that are decades-old, only recently have
scholars in these traditions begun to turn their attention to the Anthropocene crisis (Dalby,
2016; Fagan, 2016; Mitchell, 2014; Hamilton,2016; Burke et al., 2016; Harrington, 2016;
Shearing, 2015; Floyd, 2015; Harrington & Shearing, 2017). As for the implications of
entanglement for ideas and practices of security, these remain largely speculative.1
Yet, given all we now know about the character of the Anthropocene, with its multi-scalar
systems made up of individuals, communities, ecosystems, and technologies that flow
across boundaries, there is a pressing need for interdisciplinary, empirical and theoretical
work that connects security, entanglement and the Anthropocene. This is so despite the
1As always, there are important exceptions. “Project Q”, a transnational research group housed at the
Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney has in recent years examined the
peace and security implications arising from the quantum age.
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fact that many remain sceptical that the either the Anthropocene or entanglement
concepts offer something profoundly new, or argue that it fails to provide the type of
political escape route needed to deal with ongoing environmental catastrophes (Autin &
Holbrook, 2012; Fagan, 2016). Nonetheless, the Anthropocene is more than a fad or
passing trend. To be sure, it contains multitudes and contradictions within it that do not
produce easy or comfortable answers. But it offers us unique ways of seeing and
understanding a wider, more complex and connected ecology than previous generations
of security studies have allowed.
The contributors to this volume – security scholars from different disciplines – were
invited to explore how security might be conceived, reassembled and re-enacted within
an entangled world in which humans are a set of things among many. This presented
three challenges posed by the condition of entanglement:
1. Recognizing our entanglements invites us to rethink our conceptualization of how
“things,” impact security. It requires us to broaden our analyses to include the
“social life” of non-humans, objects, and materials.
2. Entanglement troubles the social scientific idea of the agent and upsets the long-
held assumptions of rational, unified actors, detached from the world around
them. Figuring out the roles and responsibilities of security actors has never been
harder.
3. Finally, the condition of entanglement in the Anthropocene complicates our ideas
about the future. In particular, it requires us to consider how the world is
preparing (or not preparing) for a future that will be radically different from the
past and present.
The authors of this volume have reflected on the following two questions:
How do we bring the Anthropocene into the study of security?
What does it mean to be secure in an entangled world?
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The six articles included in this Issue each approach these challenges and questions very
differently. They construct conversations that include unique, often contrasting, voices,
which reflect the very different perspectives of the authors and their locations across the
field of security studies. They do not all cohere to a single message or advise a uniform
course of action. They rarely overlap in terms of their subject matter. To us, this is not a
problem, but accurately reflects the intellectual diversity that must be built into
Anthropocene studies. There is no single way to bring security into the Anthropocene and
we do not wish to contribute to a singular “Anthropocene School” that orders
interpretation. The new age is too vast, too complex. Instead we believe we should
embrace the plurality of voices and begin building new security edifices that match and
reflect the creativity of the world.
The articles can be thought of as tackling two dimensions of the entanglement and
security question. The first three articles examine different empirical realities that reflect
Anthropocene entanglements. In “Food security and secure food in the Anthropocene”
Scott Lougheed and Myra Hird trace the contemporary Western food systems to shed
light on entanglements of human and others, living and non-living, biological and
inorganic. Via an examination of the flows of food, Lougheed and Hird argue that as
different societies seek to secure their food systems, they enact very different biopolitical
forms. Safety and security become the product of waste, which is itself an encounter
between humans and the inhuman. Jan Froestad and Clifford Shearing focus their gaze on
the entangled relationship of energy and human wellbeing. They trace how Holocene
wellbeing was created through fire regimes, with each different energy enrolment shifting
human ways of being in often quite fundamental ways. In their view, energy security has
emerged as a defining geopolitical issue of the 21st century. The pursuit of ever greater
amounts of energy to provide for human wellbeing has, they argue, led us into an
“entropy trap”. To escape this trap Froestad and Shearing argue that a radically
decentralized, modular and “green” energy infrastructure is required. Emma Lecavalier
and Cameron Harrington take up the challenge of security entanglements by asking what
it means to take materiality seriously. To do so they hone in on the case of energy
transitions in India to trace how the materiality of coal has influenced the character and
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depth of energy transitions. They argue that human entanglement with coal begins long
before the mineral is transformed into energy. They suggest that as societies struggle to
break free of “carbon lock-ins” they might do well to consider the inter-linkages between
coal itself and the social world in which it is enlivened.
The second trio of articles offer theoretical interventions on security in the Anthropocene.
Mariana Valverde’s article argues that our contemporary environmental crises require us
to revolutionize our theoretical toolbox. She employs Foucault’s genealogy of Western
man as a way to reflect on how the Anthropocene challenges key western conceptual
categories of crime and security such as “acts”, “persons” and “institutions.” As we move
further into an age of entanglement, Valverde suggests that scholars must engage far more
with long-existing indigenous traditions that centre relationships rather than individuals
in legal and political thought. In so doing, we will be able to enact new measures to
combat the ongoing damages to the Earth, while simultaneously listening to those
peoples who have suffered the most from environmental injustice. Like Valverde, Marc
Schuilenberg and Rik Peeters also draw from Foucault. They argue that the Anthropocene
demonstrates how classic forms of risk regulation (eg, contracts, laws) have produced
new pressures that in turn create new forms of complex governance modalities. Turning
to other thinkers like Mauss and Harcourt, they focus on the emergence of “gift relations”
as a way for governance actors to manipulate security politics specifically, and human
behaviour more broadly. In this reading, the Anthropocene offers new ways to punish and
reward (often simultaneously) human behaviour. Gift-giving in the Anthropocene ends up
blurring previously demarcated lines between governments and citizens and between
public and private relations. Our issue concludes with Scott Hamilton’s “Securing
Ourselves from Ourselves? The Paradox of ‘Entanglement’ in the Anthropocene.”
Hamilton offers a critique of entanglement discourses. He suggests that ironically the
effects of the Anthropocene may well be leading to a further dis-entanglement of humans
and nature. Hamilton cautions scholars, who are drawn towards quantum and other
forms of entanglement theorizing, to tread cautiously as they enter this new terrain.
Doing so, he argues, often obscures, rather than replaces the neo-Newtonian, Western
cosmology, and endangers any hope of adequately responding to Anthropocene crises.
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Taken together, the articles in this issue invite us to reflect on Anthropocene
entanglements - what they have meant, might mean, and perhaps should mean, in order
for us to exist securely in the new world.
8
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Article
Full-text available
The Anthropocene is described as a dangerous and unpredictable era in which fossil-fueled ways of life undermine the planetary systems on which human societies depend. It speaks of a new world of globalized and manufactured risks where neither security nor environment can be interpreted or acted upon in traditional ways. In this paper we examine how debates on the Anthropocene unfold in global politics and how they challenge core assumptions in International Relations. Through a structured analysis of 52 peer-reviewed journal articles, we identify three Anthropocene discourses that speak of new environmental realities for global politics. These are referred to as the endangered world, the entangled world, and the extractivist world. While each discourse describes an increasingly interconnected and fragile world in which conventional binaries such as inside/outside, North/South and us/them can no longer be taken for granted, disagreement prevails over what needs to be secured and by whom.
Chapter
This chapter examines the disappearing Arctic as a criminal anthroposcene, one frozen in the imagination by Holocene-bred understandings of (in)security even as it is currently being reshaped by the effects of global warming in the Anthropocene. Due to the rapid melting of ice, the Northwest Passage has become increasingly accessible to Arctic cruise ships. For affluent passengers, the Arctic is staged as a site of last chance tourism and plotted in itineraries as a series of overlapping chronotopes of (in)security. Because such contemporary Arctic expeditions follow in the wake of European explorers, these chronotopes emerge at the intersection of colonialism and climate change. Aboard the cruise ship, passenger security is prioritized in ways that can introduce new insecurities or amplify existing ones for local Arctic inhabitants.
Chapter
The conclusion summarizes the main tasks and themes of the book and offers some future-oriented reflections.
Book
Full-text available
The belief that »Nature« exists as a blank, stable stage upon which humans act out tragic performances of international relations is no longer tenable. In a world defined by human action, we must reorient our understanding of ourselves, of our environment, and our security. This book considers how decentred and reflexive approaches to security are required to cope with the Anthropocene – the Human Age. Drawing from various disciplines, this bold reinterpretation explores the possibilities for understanding and preparing a future that will look vastly different than the past. The book asks to dig deeper into what it means to be human and secure in an age of ecological exception. The pdf below is an extract from the book. - See more at: http://www.grgp.uct.ac.za/news/security-anthropocene-reflections-safety%C2%A0and-care#sthash.uWTBsI9X.dpuf
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Full-text available
Planet Politics is about rewriting and rethinking International Relations as a set of practices, both intellectual and organisational. We use the polemical and rhetorical format of the political manifesto to open a space for inter-disciplinary growth and debate, and for thinking about legal and institutional reform. We hope to begin a dialogue about both the limits of IR, and of its possibilities for forming alliances and fostering interdisciplinarity that can draw upon climate science, the environmental humanities, and progressive international law to respond to changes wrought by the Anthropocene and a changing climate.
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We are now told to welcome ourselves to the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch where humanity is ‘literally making’ the planet (Dalby, 2014). Yet, the underlying philosophical foundations of this human-made epoch remain relatively unexplored. This article makes a new contribution by problematizing the Anthropocene using the philosophies of Arendt, Foucault and Heidegger. It argues that the Anthropocene is a new and global form of biopolitics that asserts the essence of all (human) life and industry — the carbon atom — as the measure and centre of everything. When Nature is pre-reflectively projected, quantified and conceived as a calculable and carbonic human construction, then every thinkable object becomes related back to the human as its creator and steward. This is argued by tracing the entwining of computerized general circulation models, nuclear technologies and Earth system science, as well as by critiquing applicationist uses of biopolitics and governmentality in International Relations. What emerges in the Anthropocene, therefore, is an implicit yet powerful form of subjectivism ranging from atomic to global scales, or what is defined here as ‘relationality’. Echoing Heidegger (1977a: 27), in the Anthropocene, ‘It seems as though man everywhere and always encounters only himself’. Welcome, Anthropos, not to an epoch you are making, but to your new global biopolitics of carbon.
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Despite the increasing urgency of many environmental problems, environmental politics remains at the margins of the discipline. Using data from the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) project, this article identifies a puzzle: the majority of international relations (IR) scholars find climate change among the top three most important policy issues today, yet fewer than 4% identify the environment as their primary area of research. Moreover, environmental research is rarely published in top IR journals, although there has been a recent surge in work focused on climate change. The authors argue that greater attention to environmental issues—including those beyond climate change—in IR can bring significant benefits to the discipline, and they discuss three lines of research to correct this imbalance.
Article
The Anthropocene has become a key theme in contemporary speculations about the meaning of the present and the possibilities for the future. While ecomodernists argue that current circumstances present opportunities and possibilities for a thriving future for humanity, a ‘good Anthropocene’, critics suggest that the future will be bad for at least most of humanity as we accelerate the sixth extinction event on the planet. The geopolitics of all this, which may be very ugly in coming decades, requires much further elucidation of the common Anthropocene tropes currently in circulation. As with the classic Western movie, in the search for the gold neither ‘the good’ nor ‘the bad’ have the whole story; ‘the ugly’ will probably turn out to be decisive in determining how things play out. How the Anthropocene is interpreted, and who gets to invoke which framing of the new human age, matters greatly both for the planet and for particular parts of humanity. All of which is now a key theme in the discussions of political ecology that requires careful evaluation of both how geology has recently become so important in global politics, and in discussions of humanity’s future, and how scholars from various disciplines might now usefully contribute to the discussion.
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Neo-Weberian historical sociology and political science establishes that territory is a defining feature of the modern state. Drawing on insights from political geography, I argue that 'territory' is not a pre-existing physical location, but an effect produced by state practices and technologies. The spatial fetish of territory, moreover, distracts analytical attention from the equally important non-territorial dimensions of the state. To map these new and unfamiliar dimensions, I propose three analogies from the study of physics - wormholes, gravitational fields, and quantum entanglement - as powerful conceptual devices with the potential to reorient social scientists towards a fuller understanding of state-space.
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The concept of the Anthropocene – the geological epoch defined by human action – has so far remained largely absent from International Relations (IR) analyses. This is perplexing given the monumental stakes involved in dealing with planetary change and the discipline’s overriding focus on crisis. This silence may exist, however, because contemporary studies of international relations are troubled by the Anthropocene, which shifts basic assumptions about how humans live in the midst of perpetual danger, harm, and risk. It also presents us with the prospect of failure in existential terms, if indeed we are living in (and causing) ‘the sixth mass extinction’. The focus of this article, therefore, is threefold. First, to consider the challenges to environmental IR that the Anthropocene concept presents; second, to probe what it means for IR to respond to the end of nature; and third, what is required of IR to deal with the prospect of mass extinction. It is argued that Earth system changes wrought by human action require the discipline to demystify its own ontological, epistemological, and ethical approaches that are culpable in ushering in the Anthropocene. Doing so may allow IR to provide necessary insight into the contemporary and historical effects of the state system as an enabler of planetary change, and the future possibilities for global politics within the Anthropocene.
Article
The anthropocene poses a set of conceptual challenges for the study of security in the discipline of International Relations. By complicating the distinction between human and nature, the concept of the anthropocene puts into question one of the key organizing logics of upon which much security discourse is built: what would a security look like whose subject was not modern man? This article offers a reading of environmental and ecological approaches to security as two potential avenues for rethinking security in the context of the anthropocene. This is done in order to demonstrate the dominance and centrality of the nature/culture binary for conceptualizing the environment, ecology and security. Such a common philosophical horizon problematizes and undermines the scope for a critical reorientation of security thinking from either perspective. Drawing on R.B.J. Walker’s concept of the politics of escape, the article suggests that in attempting to escape the nature–culture binary, the move to ecology in fact, simultaneously reinscribes and obscures this distinction, thereby limiting the potential of the concept of the anthropocene to offer a critical framework with which to analyse the interplay of nature and culture in contemporary security politics.
Article
Carbon release rates from anthropogenic sources reached a record high of ∼10 Pg C yr-1 in 2014. Geologic analogues from past transient climate changes could provide invaluable constraints on the response of the climate system to such perturbations, but only if the associated carbon release rates can be reliably reconstructed. The Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) is known at present to have the highest carbon release rates of the past 66 million years, but robust estimates of the initial rate and onset duration are hindered by uncertainties in age models. Here we introduce a new method to extract rates of change from a sedimentary record based on the relative timing of climate and carbon cycle changes, without the need for an age model. We apply this method to stable carbon and oxygen isotope records from the New Jersey shelf using time-series analysis and carbon cycle-climate modelling. We calculate that the initial carbon release during the onset of the PETM occurred over at least 4,000 years. This constrains the maximum sustained PETM carbon release rate to less than 1.1 Pg C yr-1. We conclude that, given currently available records, the present anthropogenic carbon release rate is unprecedented during the past 66 million years. We suggest that such a 'no-analogue' state represents a fundamental challenge in constraining future climate projections. Also, future ecosystem disruptions are likely to exceed the relatively limited extinctions observed at the PETM.