Current Challenges, Possible Futures

We, academics, thinkers, activists and professionals, Chileans and foreigners, from the broad spectrum of natural and social sciences, the humanities, the arts and the spiritual world, make a call to rethink from its basis the way in which we inhabit “the human” and its place in the history of the Earth. Our call emerges in response to the Anthropocene, a notion proposed recently by the Subcommittee on Stratigraphy of the International Quaternary Union of Geological Sciences to refer to a geological epoch that would follow the Holocene. As its name reflects, the Anthropocene would be defined by the irreversible changes in the biophysical and geological conditions, at a planetary scale, as a consequence of human actions.

In contrast to climate change, the notion of the Anthropocene refers to human influence at a planetary scale. That is, the Anthropocene signals a process that involves the Earth system as a whole and not only some of its components. Similarly, the Anthropocene refers to a process over a significant timescale in the history of Earth and, therefore, beyond specific ecosystemic transformations. Lastly, the Anthropocene indicates the potential extinction of the conditions of the biosphere that enable human life on Earth.

Since the changes in the conditions of the biosphere are the result of colonialism, capitalism, and a consumption-oriented society, the Anthropocene has generated an intense debate not only in the field of earth sciences but also in the social sciences, humanities, and the arts. This debate has revolved around the need to rethink the relationship between nature and society; the cohabitation between human and biophysical processes; and the types of knowledge that are required to understand and confront planetary changes.

As a concept, however, the Anthropocene risks falling into the anthropocentrism and biocentrism that is precisely at stake. Taking seriously the challenge of the Anthropocene and the need to generate a pact that would be genuinely radical, this manifesto views the Anthropocene as a space to debate and not as a closed scientific category to be accepted. The Anthropocene, as those who sign this manifesto attest, is a call to invent new possible futures.

Living Together: Principles for a Pact of Coexistence

We are convinced that the Anthropocene summons us to rethink, at a deep foundational level, the meaning of humanity and the way in which it integrates into the history of the Earth. Specific interventions are not enough, since discourses on “sustainability” and “ecology” are not able to respond to the scale of the challenge. We are convinced that the Anthropocene requires establishing a new pact of coexistence: a treaty to redefine the way we live together, all of us—animals, vegetables, minerals, and microorganisms—on Earth. This pact is based on five basic principles:

Interdependency

We make a call to recognize that our existence, as well as the existence of all species, alive and to come, are necessarily and vitally entangled in relations of interdependence. Despite the dominant tendency of the Western world to narrate the human as a phenomenon that occurs over nature, the Anthropocene obliges us to recognize ourselves as beings within nature: we are elements depending on a complex and changing web of forces and entities—organic and inorganic—that constitute the planetary system. The Anthropocene invites us to problematize the epic narrative of autonomy, recognizing with humility that our existence is a precarious ecological achievement.

Diversity

The Anthropocene calls on us to recognize the intrinsic and noninstrumental value of the immense variety of life-forms and invites us to cultivate a profound respect for the diversity of species with which we share the planet—as well as the multiplicity of modes of living and thinking that flourish across class, gender, and ethnicity lines. To think from the perspective of the Anthropocene requires celebrating the heterogeneity of knowledges, identities, and doings. For the same reason, the challenges of the Anthropocene considerably exceed the capabilities of science and technology, claiming recognition of the diversity of ethical, political, social, ecological, cultural, and spiritual aspects of the situation that our planet currently confronts.

Situated Action

We are convinced that although the Anthropocene is a planetary phenomenon, its manifestations are always local: we must think and act in and with the communities, ecosystems, and specific institutions that live and suffer in the Anthropocene. Even if the Anthropocene makes it impossible to trace the boundary that separates the history of Earth from the history of humanity, the configuration in Chile of this era is indivisible from our particular political, geological, ecological, and cultural history. The Anthropocene forces us to think from here, that is, from the specificities of the regional and the local, and not from the abstractions of a planet and a generic “anthropos.”

Creativity

The Anthropocene forces us to move away from the solutions (and the questions) that have often guided our political, cultural, and scientific practices. It is not about improving our analytical abilities but, instead, about reformulating the ways of knowing that we have naturalized in the West. It is about daring to explore, experiment, and speculate in a creative and collaborative manner. The Anthropocene pushes us to revise our demarcation between valid and illegitimate knowledge, experts and nonexperts. It invites us to cultivate a profound humility and a careful and constructive opening in the context of multiple sensibilities, practices, and knowledge that have been eclipsed by our technocratic logics.

Hope

These are not times for deserting. The Anthropocene is a call for action and reflection, not for falling into a dystopic apathy. While a large number of the narratives about ecological crisis and climate change orbit around pessimism and catastrophes, we follow other imaginaries and alternatives. We wager on the ability of planetary changes to create new relations and possibilities, and to open more integral horizons of action, to bring together new political and social institutions, to redefine scientific practices and our way of everyday living. This manifesto is not to weep for what has been destroyed or to submit to the weight of melancholy: it is to CREATE, and to do it NOW.

Feet on the Ground: Some Proposals for Thinking and Living the Anthropocene in Chile

Governance: Reorganizing Collective Life

A New “Us”

  • Redefining what brings us together. If the Anthropocene impels us to think about who we are and how we want to live in and on the Earth, then it also challenges the robustness of our liberal-democratic arrangement. Voting, by itself, is not sufficient to sustain the connections that unite us in a social pact. We have to create other spaces—deliberative, broad, and inclusive—in order to make new collective compromises flourish and to create new definitions of our position in and our responsibility to the planet.

  • A time for solidarity. The planetary transformations and the precarious nature of our situation demands for solidarity to become the heart of this new “we”: the recognition that we have something in common to nourish and defend and that this something is not an abstract idea but the fact that we become with multiple beings and forces to which we are vitally connected. Solidarity is, for us, the recognition of codependency as an existential condition. All of us are called to be participants of this collective redefinition, beyond any distinction of culture, age, gender, or class.

  • A new constitution. We must rewrite the standards of daily life, and not in a figurative sense: we need a new fundamental document to retrace the guidelines for more mutually binding and radically sustainable futures. The existing one does not serve our purpose. It is not synchronized with the urgency of the challenges of the geological time in which we are living. Fundamentally, this new constitution should establish another definition of what is human and the principles that rule the rights and duties of living together.

Common Goods, Rights of All Species

  • Redefining what we understand by “common goods.” In the context of planetary changes, the redefinition of “we” forces us to reestablish the commons, particularly in what pertains to nature. Faced with the urgency to recognize ourselves as an interdependent species, we cannot keep maintaining a regulatory scheme that provides legal prominence to private property, translating it as an unlimited right over beings and nonhuman forces on Earth. To whom belong the mountains, rivers, seas, and all the animal, plant, and mineral species that animate and populate them?

  • Radically changing the law’s anthropocentrism. This means to expand legal rights to all species on multiple time and spatial scales. This is not only about recognizing that some nonhuman animals have feelings, identities, and cognition, but also that our life depends on the web that we establish with entities in all of nature’s kingdoms. Furthermore, in the moments in which our existence on the planet is at stake, the expansion of legal entities should also include all the beings, of any species, including those that are yet to come.

  • To abandon the term natural resources. Widening the notion of rights in order to recognize our ecological interdependency obliges us to redefine the relationship between nature and economic development as it has been understood in Chile. Extractivist capitalism that sees the environment as “resource,” always ready to be exploited, must be reformed from its foundations—in the same way in which the technopolitical discourse that positions the extraction of these “resources” as a condition sine qua non for our growth.

Public Policies for the Anthropocene

  • Acting now. Slogans and good intentions are not enough. The Anthropocene demands a transformation NOW, through visionary, concrete, and decided actions, in the way we organize our collective life, present and future. We live in “critical times,” not only in the sense of urgency, but also from the perspective of the narrow lead of time that we have to change our pact of coexistence.

  • A new generation of private and public policies. To think of new ways of inhabiting the Earth requires a profound change in the way in which we design, execute, and monitor private and public policies in Chile. A first challenge is integrity: to stop designing fragmented policies that are not able to address problems in their real complexity. On this last point, it is worth mentioning, for example, the contradiction that exists between the efforts to reduce pollution in Chilean cities, on the one hand, and the continuous state subsidies to fossil fuels, on the other. A second challenge is the need to sustain the design of policies with scientific evidence produced by researchers from all over the country.

  • A focus on socio-environmental justice and adaptability. The Anthropocene will not be suffered homogeneously across the globe, nor within our country. Chile will experience the Anthropocene in particular ways, and we need to know how, where, and who will experience it in order to design effective public policies. To start with, the design of public policies for the Anthropocene should always take an ecological starting point—that is, where the unit of analysis is always the interdependency between organisms and environments—as well as environmental justice as a paradigm for action. This is an understanding of planetary changes as phenomena geographically and historically located, and with an unequal distribution of effects. In the same line, the design of public policies for and in the Anthropocene must assume that while our national contribution to planetary changes might be minor, these will have substantial effects in our own territories and communities. This forces us to locate adaptability at the center of our actions.

Learning: New Modes of Knowing

Ecological Education

  • Introducing children early to planetary challenges. The Anthropocene requires us to create a new ecological consciousness and culture: one with new definitions of what is, for example, “life,” “human being,” “rights,” “community,” “responsibility,” “knowledge,” “history,” and “planet,” as well as one that locates interdependency and solidarity at the center of collective life. In this respect, school has a fundamental role. It is there where children must start building a new conception of the Earth’s challenges, as well as the possibilities for change. Living in the Anthropocene, therefore, implies continuing to redesign the school curricula.

  • To experimentalize the school. Redesigning the school curricula starts from understanding that what is needed is not an addition of new subjects. Much more fundamental and urgent, what is needed is to transform the whole school system that sustains a reductionist idea of an “individual” that relates to an “environment,” as if these were two different entities. Hence the critical change is methodological: we must promote learning that is not about nature, but in and within nature; “hands-on,” in media res, knowing in practice and teaching about global phenomena within the particular ecological context of each region, province, and community. The focus must be on dynamic and changing processes and not on a final and static result. The Anthropocene forces us, in other words, to revise the “scientific method” that is being taught, empty and abstract, for one that returns to the situated and curious experimental origin of scientific knowledge.

Start from the Bottom: Geological Time and Minimal Conditions

  • Locate ourselves in the timescale of the Earth. A fundamental change to create a new education in the context of new challenges is to understand human history as part of a more extended history, featured by more actors, unfolding in more locations and over geological time spans. We have to create a new culture, starting from the school, anchored in the geological timescale of the Earth: the scale of deep transformations of the planet, those that settled, before any glimpse of human activity, the basic conditions for life. A broad and integral perspective about the processes and conditions that enabled the constitution of the Earth is a fundamental step toward forming citizens able to confront with humility, gratitude, and a vision of complexity the past, present, and future of the planet.

  • Dignifying education. Nothing of the above-mentioned is possible if we do not start by recognizing and celebrating the capacities of our teachers and researchers, at all educational levels and disciplines. At the school level, Chile must ensure basic labor conditions for its teachers, giving them all the necessary resources such that they can successfully confront the upcoming curricular challenges. At the same time, we need quality universities where researchers are valued and cared for. The challenges of the Anthropocene from Chile, the reconstruction of an ecological culture that reconsiders what we are and how we relate to the rest of the Earth, is a task that demands us to rethink the way in which we value the educators of our country.

Transdisciplinarity: Expanding Ways of Knowing

  • It is time to collaborate. The Anthropocene indicates that nature and politics are inseparable, therefore, it obliges us to break with the disciplinary boundaries that have set the production of knowledge in the West and particularly in Chile. Interdisciplinarity is a concept that has been used and abused in our country, proliferating in centers and projects with the label “interdisciplinary” but that stills remain anchored to a nineteenth-century view of scientific labor. The Anthropocene summons us to take seriously the need for inter- and transdiscipline. This involves transforming the whole apparatus of scientific creation: rethinking the pedagogical curricula; changing the contents and organization of the “departments”; restructuring the administration and management of universities; focusing scientific production around complex problems; eliminating the obsolete division between applied and basic science; generating a new scheme of incentives for transdisciplinary projects; reformatting the national research funding system; creating spaces for collaboration with citizens and other types of knowledges; and creating genuine arenas for dialogue between knowledge and politics.

  • Art and science. The transformations of the Earth and the challenges that these transformations bring require us to develop new ways of knowing. It is not about making more sophisticated models, methodologies, or theories: it is about deeply questioning to what extent our way of knowing has enabled the ecological collapse that we are now confronting. In other words, the Anthropocene requires us to open the epistemological palette to other forms of producing knowledge that have been subjugated to the hegemony of the “scientific method” as the only legitimate mechanism to learn about the world. We must embrace speculation, experimentation, and even contemplation. We are convinced that a fundamental step in this direction is to bridge the collaboration between art, other creative practices, and science. The arts provide logics of research and representation that establish an exploratory relationship with the object of study, but which we have systematically ignored. If the sciences are at the center because of their role in ecological devastation, the serious and continuous inclusion of the arts in the modes of producing knowledge is fundamental.

Spirituality: Re-enthusing Ourselves with the World

Other Relations with a Vibrant World

  • Re-enchanting the world. If the Anthropocene calls on us to recognize a sense of symbiosis with multiple species and ecosystems, understanding ourselves as beings in relation of interdependency with other more-than-human entities, then the Anthropocene is also a call to recover a spiritual dimension of life and of our ecological relation with the planet. Spirituality is not religion. It is not about embracing a particular creed, nor about sanctioning punitive and disciplinary moral rules. It is about breaking with the functionalism and utilitarianism that has guided our relationship with the Earth, and about understanding anew our connection with her from and within the mystery of life.

  • Acting with care. The crisis that has led us to a state of ecological devastation is, ultimately, a crisis of care: the crisis brought by the dynamic of capitalism that forces us to function under the logic of consumption and constant acceleration. Caring for ourselves and for our environment requires an ethical relationship that is radically sustainable. We must recover in Chile ways of coexistence that are more loving, attentive, and intertwined with the beings and things that surround us: from recycling to social justice, from urban gardening to the conservation of marine, fluvial, and mountain ecosystems. Making this happen requires rethinking the way in which we consume (ourselves), the ways in which we work, the ways in which we intervene in our surroundings, and the ways in which we conceive “development” and its distribution of winners and losers.

Return to Basics

  • Buen vivir as a guide. The Anthropocene impels us to bring a spiritual sensibility to concrete policies. To this end, it is possible to adopt to our context some concrete expressions of the so-called buen vivir—as some countries in the region have already done. Different from the “well-being” of the Western world, buen vivir focuses on the community (and not the individual) and on the respectful coexistence with its surrounding. Buen vivir has concrete applications for public policy, for example, by changing the figure of “private property” of the Earth for the figure of “stewardship.” According to this figure, human beings do not own the Earth, we only take care of her (see also above starting with “As a concept, however, the Anthropocene risks falling . . . ”).

  • Recognizing ancestral knowledges. The turn toward a more careful and spiritual relationship with a changing planet, or more specifically, a turn toward buen vivir, implies a profound recognition of indigenous people and their ways of knowing and doing. Chilean society has been particularly active in hiding its ancestral cultures, and the Anthropocene demands us to revert this material and symbolic violence. Indigenous communities throughout the whole country embody knowledge and sensibilities about human-nature interdependencies, environmental management, the vitality of the natural world, communal solidarity, and care for the beings and forces that must be incorporated in our political guidelines. Recognizing their language, territory, and lifeways is only the first step: we must be capable of including their knowledge in the concrete design and application of public policies.

In late April 2017, and in an unprecedented initiative, a group of twelve academics, thinkers, activists, and professionals from different disciplines and from different traditions met in the UC Coastal Station for Marine Research in Las Cruces to think about how the Anthropocene questions Chilean society (see www.antropoceno.co/encuentro for more information on the meeting).

Each participant brought to the table his or her discipline, world, and experience, and we let this be the basis for a conversation that flowed at its own pace. This broad conversation showed us a profound agreement with the pillars of this manifesto. To be sure, the agreements behind this manifesto are preliminary, incomplete, and tentative; they do not intend to enact truths or to establish moral guidelines. As an intellectual experiment, we understand this manifesto as an invitation to add actors, voices, and conversations, and to multiply experiences like the one in Las Cruces.

  • Catalina Bauer (art)

  • Catalina Correa (art)

  • Laura Gallardo (atmospheric sciences)

  • Gabriel González (geology)

  • Román Guridi (theology)

  • Claudio Latorre (paleoecology)

  • Sergio Navarrete (marine biology)

  • Eric Pommier (philosophy)

  • Sebastián Riffo (art)

  • Bárbara Saavedra (conservation biology)

  • Cristián Simonetti (anthropology)

  • Manuel Tironi (sociology)