“If control is the problem, then . . . still more control must be the solution,” writes Elizabeth Kolbert, who calls this the “logic of the Anthropocene,” the new geological epoch in which we live (”Humans need to remake the planet yet again,” Ideas, Feb. 14). But are we really hearing the dark truth in her remark? As geological eras are measured, the Anthropocene is a newborn, and yet we humans have already unmade and remade vast tracts of our planet, disrupted ecological balances of all sorts, and put in jeopardy not just the Louisiana coastline, as Kolbert reports, but also the atmosphere we live in, the oceans that surround us, and the land that feeds us.
More controls are on the way. Scientists are starting to explore geoengineering as so-called solutions to the problem of our warming planet. Schemes to redesign our atmosphere with reflective particles and remake the chemistry of our oceans are gaining traction as the politics of greenhouse gas reduction looks increasingly futile. Can nothing prevent this clever ape from straining toward its own extinction?
Kolbert’s “logic of the Anthropocene” matches a classic definition of madness. But that madness seems to be part of our nature, and the Anthropocene is at risk of becoming a very brief era indeed. Unless, that is, we can shed our hubris and find our way back to a more wholesome coexistence with the earth as it is.