The early Anthropocene paradox

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In this eight-minute speech, US academic Noam Chomsky articulates one of the most remarkable paradoxes in the early Anthropocene  (28 April, Annual Pen World of Voices Festival).
“There are some that are devoting serious efforts to avert impending doom. In the lead are the most oppressed segments of the global population, those considered to be the most backward and primitive, the indigenous societies of the world. In countries with influential indigenous populations like Bolivia and Ecuador there is now legislative recognition of the rights of nature.

In sharp contrast, the race towards the cliff is led by the most advanced, educated, wealthy and privileged societies in the world, primarily in North America.”

Everything is awesome

The Lego Mo

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The Lego Movie is this generation’s Animal Farm: an allegorical tale ostensibly for children but in reality a clever polemic railing against corporate greed, globalization and general maleficence, and…er…produced by a large corporation. 

The Lego Movie opens on a dark and dreary dystopian future. “Another Brick in the Wall” booms out over a concrete wasteland. The rain pelts down.

Not really. Everything is literally awesome. The film explodes to life with a thumping great bubblegum-laced-with-ecstasy pop classic that builds insanely quickly to the immortal chorus: “Everything is awesome.” Repeat to fade.

The inhabitants of Lego world are totally pumped. All the time. It’s the law. “Everything is Awesome, when you’re living our dream,” says the song.

But the veneer is gossamer thin. In this world, hero Emmet follows a manual to be “happy”, have “friends” and be part of the “team”. Conformity isn’t just expected: it’s mandatory. Lego surveillance cameras capture everything. Anything deemed “weird” is destroyed.

In a coffee chain, a barista hands Emmet his coffee. With monumental irony deficiency Emmet fires back: “Over-priced coffee. AWESOME!”

Emmet does not need more caffeine.

It becomes apparent the proles in this world are not living the dream, they are living in the United States of Unconsciousness, their minds controlled by Lord Business. Lord Business has manufactured a culture of consumption and uniformity to create a feedback loop that endlessly fills his coffers. Worse still, “Lord Business plans to end the world as we know it.” Cue megalomaniacal laughter.

The Lego Movie works as a strange hybrid between two George Orwell novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four. Orwell’s masterpieces focussed on the dangers of fictitious totalitarian regimes, based on the Soviet Union. The makers of this new postmodern masterpiece, however, save their vitriol for the colossal corporations bestriding Earth whose weapons of thought control range from powerful marketing and advertising techniques targeting our weaknesses, to buying the media and paying off politicians.

At its core, the film questions what it means to live in a capitalist society. It attempts to examine what we have given up to live in this world, how the public are cynically manipulated, and what Noam Chomsky describes as the manufacture of consent. What makes this all the more beguiling is that the film has been made by the world’s second largest toy manufacturer and is, essentially, a feature-length advert. Go figure.

Anyway, the kids loved it too. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Everything is indeed awesome.

CODA

Everything is Awesome lyrics

(Composers: Tegan & Sara, the Lonely Island and Mark Mothersbaugh)

Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream

Everything is better when we stick together
Side by side, you and I gonna win forever, let’s party forever
We’re the same, I’m like you, you’re like me, we’re all working in harmony

Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream

(Wooo)
3, 2, 1. GO

Have you heard the news, everyone’s talking
Life is good ‘cause everything’s awesome
Lost my job, it’s a new opportunity
More free time for my awesome community

I feel more awesome than an awesome opossum
Dip my body in chocolate frostin’
Three years later, washed out the frostin’
Smellin’ like a blossom, everything is awesome
Stepped in mud, got new brown shoes
It’s awesome to win, and it’s awesome to lose (it’s awesome to lose)

Everything is better when we stick together
Side by side, you and I, gonna win forever, let’s party forever
We’re the same, I’m like you, you’re like me, we’re all working in harmony

Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream

Blue skies, bouncy springs
We just named you awesome things
A nobel prize, a piece of string
You know what’s awesome, EVERYTHING

Dogs and fleas, allergies, a book of Greek antiquities
Brand new pants, a very old vest
Awesome items are the best

Trees, frogs, clogs
They’re awesome
Rocks, clocks, and socks
They’re awesome
Figs, and jigs, and twigs
That’s awesome
Everything you see, or think, or say
Is awesome

Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream

s Animal Farm: an allegorical tale ostensibly for children but in reality a clever polemic railing against corporate greed, globalization and general maleficence, and…er…produced by a large corporation.

Google to power Botswana

Headlines I’d love to read Image

This week Google announced it was investing $100 million in a project to install and lease solar systems to homeowners in the US.

The deal with the Sun Power Corporation, which also throws $150 million into the pot, makes it easier for people to switch to renewable energy and save money. The web blurb gushes: “Using the fund we buy the solar panel systems. Then we lease them to homeowners at a cost that’s typically lower than their normal electricity bill. So by participating in this program, you don’t just help the environment—you can also save money.”

Google is a company with a heart and an embarrassingly huge wad of cash. The internet giant has already committed over $1 billion to wind and solar projects.

As it explains on its website, this is enough to power 500,000 US homes for one year. Or, a car to travel around the world 190,000 times. Or, 70 billion episodes of your favourite TV show. Or, the Sydney Opera House for 312 years.

Yes, Google. Or Botswana.

Botswana is in dire straits. The lights are going out. The nation with more sun than you could shake a stick at imports much of its energy from South Africa. And this is dirty energy from coal-fired power stations. But South Africa’s appetite for electricity has grown and now it has little to spare.

Botswana knew this day was coming but failed to prepare adequately — its single power station is beset with technical calamities. Now, the lights in the capital Gabarone have begun to go out. Homes, businesses, government offices, universities have endured regular blackouts. The management team at the Botswana Power Corporation has been axed. Irish contractor the Electricity Supply Board International is taking over to sort out the mess.

Botswana needs to become energy self sufficient. The priority for Botswana is energy access to relieve grinding poverty and allow the country to develop.Its vast coal reserves will last decades making coal the prime solution. Climate change is a low priority. This is entirely justified given the country’s paltry emission rates compared with the US. But the strategy does not entirely make sense, not least because, while coal may not run out any time soon, the sun, like Botswana’s diamonds, is forever. Besides solar is perfectly suited to low energy usage.

Many in Botswana have no power or rely on oil generators. To deliver energy for all, Botswana not only needs a reliable power supply it needs an updated national grid network. Solar power could bypass all of this. The levels of investment Google is capable of make it a game changer. But things need to happen fast or Botswana will be locked into a coal-driven future. Luckily, Google is no slouch when it comes to delivering on grand visions.

This would also tie in with one of Google’s other plans. Botswana has limited internet access and Google wants to bring broadband to the rest of the world. If Google can deliver sustainable energy to Botswana, it can at the same time build the infrastructure for reliable internet connectivity opening up a whole new market.

Google, make the next $1 billion in Africa.

And finally, the Wall Street Journal recently published this graphic communicating the power imbalance between the US and Africa. For example, Montana with a population of one million has the same power generating capacity of Nigeria – population 174 million. 

Wall Street Journal power trip

Striking distance

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Striking distance

Between 2000 and 2013, a global network of sensors recorded 26 major asteroid explosions in Earth’s atmosphere. Felix Pharand Deschenes created this useful infographic for the B612 Foundation to plot the size and location of each asteroid when it struck Earth’s atmosphere. The city of Chelyabinsk Oblast in Russia narrowly escaped disaster when the largest asteroid in this time screamed overhead on 15 February 2013 but causing some injuries.

Climate change data visualization launched

Félix Pharand-Deschênes and I have just produced a new data visualization on climate change for the UN’s climate negotiations taking place in Warsaw, Poland right now. It was commissioned by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and funded by the UN Foundation.

The visualization is a summary of the findings presented in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Working Group I, Summary for Policymakers, the Physical Science Basis).

The wonderful Gizmodo has covered it in its own inimitable style. In the article I try to explain what we were attempting to do. We wanted to find a way of communicating climate risks in a way that showed exactly what climate scientists mean when they say likely or unlikely. While the terminology used by researchers can sound a little vague, it is more precise than most people realize.

It was important for us to try to find a way of simplifying the complexity of fossil-fuel emissions, temperature rise and future carbon budgets to keep within policy targets. The ending is a little bleak: societies are running out of time, and running in the wrong direction. Sorry.

Urbanization in the Anthropocene

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We live in a rapidly urbanizing world. But some of the world’s most biodiverse hotspots are adjacent to urban areas. This incredible data visualization from Felix Pharand Deschenes and the Stockholm Resilience Centre captures the scale of the problem, and how to solve it. In three minutes. (I get a credit at the end for my very minor role – I’m very proud to be associated with it.)

State of the art

A growing number of artists are turning to the Anthropocene for inspiration. Here, I’ve brought together several artists who explicitly reference the concept for the first online Anthropocene Exhibition.

All images kindly reproduced with the permission of the artists. 

Image: Radhika Gupta

Some years ago, a celebrity chef in the UK proclaimed cooking had attained the status of high art. Art critic Brian Sewell quipped that the day a Michelin-starred meal could be described as “profoundly disturbing” was the day these chefs could call themselves artists. Sewell was right to ridicule. Art has an emotional impact like no other.

Among many other things. the concept of the Anthropocene is profoundly disturbing. If the Anthropocene was simply a matter of geological classification it would remain hidden in a distant corner of dusty academia. Instead, the word captures who we are. It captures how far we have come. It separates us from all previous generations. It helps us make sense of our world and our new responsibility. The concept is beyond geological hair-splitting. Artists have struck a rich vein.

Not all the artists here would describe themselves as artists. 

Félix Pharand-Deschênes

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Félix Pharand-Deschênes is an anthropologist and data visualizer living in Canada. He is founder of Globaïa. (Felix is also a close collaborator and friend of the author.)

David Thomas Smith

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Image: David Thomas Smith

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Image: David Thomas Smith

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Image: David Thomas Smith

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Image: David Thomas Smith

David Thomas Smith biosphere 2

Image: David Thomas Smith

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Image: David Thomas Smith

David Thomas Smith is an Irish documentary photographer. More.

Stephen Walter

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Image: Stephen Walter

Abbey Mills. Credit: Stephen Walter:

Abbey Mills. Credit: Stephen Walter:

THE ISLAND-Zoom3

The Island. Credit: Stephen Walter.

LON SUB-Zoom3 copy

London Sub. Credit: Stephen Walter.

LON SUB-Zoom4

London Sub. Credit: Stephen Walter.

Throwaway whole. Credit: Stephen Walter.

Throwaway whole. Credit: Stephen Walter.

WHITEHALL

Whitehall. Credit: Stephen Walter.

VENICE OF DRAINS

Venice of Drains. Credit: Stephen Walter.

Stephen Walter lives and works in London. In July 2013, Walter’s solo exhibition Anthropocene opened at the Londonewcastle Project Space in London. More. 

Jason deCairesTaylor

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Image: Jason deCairesTaylor

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Image: Jason deCairesTaylor

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Image: Jason deCairesTaylor

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Image: Jason deCairesTaylor

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Image: Jason deCairesTaylor

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Image: Jason deCairesTaylor

Jason de Caires Taylor is based in Cancun, Mexico and combines diving with sculpture. The sculptures pictured here have been designed to be assimilated into the environment and will eventually promote coral reef growth and so challenging the viewer to see the positive attributes in humanity’s creativity in the Anthropocene. More.

Radhika Gupta

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radhika gupta anthropocene

Radhika Gupta

Radhika Gupta is a recent graduate in design from the Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore, and is based in India. More.

John Stockton

Cartritus 1

Image: John Stockton

Cartritus 2

Image: John Stockton

John Stockton is an artist based in Nottingham, England. The images above come from his “Cartritus” collection. They are formed from objects found on roadside verges that have been discarded, ejected or otherwise fallen off cars and other vehicles. More.

LandSat

landsat garden city Kansas landsat bolivian deforestation NASA’s LandSat Earth as Art courtesy of the US Geological Survey.