Will the future be like the past? Analogues, complexity & uncertainty in the Anthropocene

I am presenting the following seminar in our “Shaping the Earth’s surface” discussion group on Friday September 21 4.30pm, 41.153

Keen to hear if any blog readers or tweeps have ideas to share?

Many a good Quaternary grant application has snuck over the line by talking in the national significance section about ‘learning lessons from the past’. But – whether that talk is of extinctions, CO2 levels, drought and flood, or hunter-gatherer tolerance of risk – just how relevant is such knowledge to the challenges ahead of us?

Regardless of whether the Anthropocene survives to formal definition by the International Commission on Stratigraphy as a geological epoch, it has entered public debate to denote a stage of human history where stability can not be assumed. New forms of human-environment partnership are identifiable in the literature; for example anthropogenic biomes and novel ecosystems. Others will need to be developed, especially if the conditions that have supported agriculture throughout the Holocene no longer pertain.

The last few decades have seen the rise of non-linear dynamics in a range of scientific disciplines – ecology, hydrology, climate modeling, to name a few that geographers are connected with. But the findings of complexity theory, and the arguments for specifiable uncertainty, are still in contest with a reductionist and determinist view that science is predictive. This is a tension, and arguably a burden, for the IPCC and the climate change debate more broadly, which have been forced into a framing about the settledness of science.

I aim to start a genuine discussion by presenting a short provocation and then opening it up to the floor. Leave behind your grant-speak, bring along your research examples and be prepared to discuss them.

Food and refreshments will be available to stimulate the discussion (gold coin donation for drinks). See you on Friday in 41.153 at 4:30PM.

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