It is hard for us to take in the reality that the earth is an extinction machine. It doesn’t need us, and we cannot control it. The “ecological crisis” we hear so much about, and which I have written so much about and worked to stave off—well, who says it is a crisis? Humans do—and educated, socially concerned humans at that. For the earth itself, the Holocene Extinction is not a crisis—it is just another shift. Who determined that the planet should remain in the state in which humans find it conducive? Is this not a form of clinging to mutable things, and one that is destined to make us unhappy? When we campaign to “save the earth,” what are we really trying to save? And which earth?
What does this mean? I’m not a scholar, but I can say what it means to me: it means that if you make nature your witness, and if you act as a witness for nature too, there is a truth to be found. It even means, perhaps, that the ultimate witness to who we are comes from the earth itself. When you sit with the earth, when you make it your witness and when you act as a witness for it—what do you see? What are you compelled to do? These are questions that take us beyond political stances, beyond principles, beyond arguments about engagement or detachment. They are questions, it seems to me, that can never be answered in any way other than the strictly personal. Sitting or acting; engagement or retreat; perhaps there need be no contradiction.
So the advent of the Anthropocene shatters the self-contained world of social analysis that is the terrain of modern social science, and explains why those intellectuals who remain within it find it impossible to “analyze” the politics, sociology or philosophy of climate change in a way that is true to the science. They end up floundering in the old categories, unable to see that something epochal has occurred, a rupture on the scale of the Industrial Revolution or the emergence of civilization itself.