(P28)
Anthropocene panic!
Location Chancellery Building, A1-017
Date and Start Time 07 Dec, 2018 at 13:45
Sessions 1

Convenor

  • Matthew Buttacavoli (James Cook University) email

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Short abstract

In this age of environmental change and collapse, people around the world are entering a state of panic. This panel explores the causes, effects, and justifications for panicked action (or inaction). In a calm manner, we will probe the anthropology of Anthropocene panic!

Long abstract

We are currently living in the age of the Anthropocene, where global systems are in flux primarily due to human activity. It is a time of both fear and hope for the future. The environment is changing in unpredictable ways and at unexpected rates. Apathy, denial, and politics have left many communities unprepared for these changes. Dying reefs, dwindling water supplies, and drowning islands have all caught governments off-guard. In many places around the world, we have been left in a state of Anthropocene panic.

This panel examines the role of panic during the current ecological crisis. Panic can inspire action or inaction; it can ignite a populous or discourage the citizenry. Panic in the face of environmental collapse can lead to innovation and the discovery of new sources of knowledge. It can also lead to foolhardy endeavours that only worsen the situation. The papers in the panel will explore how people around the world act (or do not act) through panic for our environmental future. Can panic make us care? How do we control panic and when does it run amok? Can we generate panic to do good? Can we relieve panic? Who has the right to panic? The presenters will challenge these questions as we unfold the nature of Anthropocene panic!

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

A brief introduction to panic in the Anthropocene

Author: Matthew Buttacavoli (James Cook University) email
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Short abstract

What is panic and what is our ethical relationship with it? This paper explores the nature and ethics of panic through the lens of Great Barrier Reef interventions. Through this paper, I will introduce the topic of the panel and provoke questions of the presenters' relationships towards panic.

Long abstract

During a period of increasingly unpredictable environmental crises, panic has become a dominant mode for encouraging and justifying action. Given that panic is a temporally constrained heightened emotional mode of response, little attention is paid to the greater ethics of impact of panicked responses. This paper introduces and defines the topic of panic being discussed by this panel and provokes the questions around the ethics of panic. For this discussion, I am grounding my analysis on my work within the Great Barrier Reef. 2016 and 2017 saw major episodes of mass bleaching that caused tremendous damage to the northern and central sections of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park respectively. In the wake of those events, scientists, journalists and various stakeholders responded with multiple panicked interventions. From fast-tracking questionable technology to generating generous public funding, the response to these interventions have been mixed. The public has also been in a state of panic; panicked into a state of inaction and mistrust. How as anthropologists, social scientists and activists are we to interact and intervene in times of panic? What new relations and responsibilities does panic instil in our field sites and in us as researchers?

Nature, destruction and the sublime -- beyond panic and despair

Author: Mark Wolff (James Cook University) email
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Short abstract

A visual analysis of Western representations of nature, destruction and the sublime reveals conflicting themes of awe and wonder, terror and horror, and the unimaginable and the abject, which take on new meanings in an era of anthopocene panic.

Long abstract

Defined in Kantian terms as the awe-inspiring thrill of the "supersensible" in the face of unimaginable scale or force in nature, the Sublime has been a continuing theme in Western visual art for over 400 years. In this paper, key historical images of nature, destruction and the Sublime are identified and re-examined in their socio-cultural, critical and philosophical contexts. Baroque, Romantic, Victorian, Modernist and Postmodern depictions of nature and the Sublime are discussed. Themes of awe and wonder, terror and horror, and the unimaginable and the abject are explored, informing an analysis of how nature and environmental destruction are represented in contemporary visual arts practice. Drawing on this analysis, the author argues that the unthinkable global scale of climate change, industrial pollution, habitat destruction and species extinction in an era of anthropocene panic and escalating narratives of dystopian futures requires a new aesthetic of the Sublime. The paper concludes that the Sublime aesthetic must move beyond preservation of the autonomy of the subject in the presence of an overwhelming other, and towards a new version of the Eco-Sublime beyond panic and despair.

Panic the Anthropocene and the arts

Author: Robyn Glade-Wright (James Cook University) email
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Short abstract

This paper examines the aesthetic and cognitive strategies artists use to broadcast the impact of the Anthropocene in an attempt to elicit panic in the hope of rescuing the Earths systems that sustain all forms of life on this small plant.

Long abstract

The causes of the Anthropocene have been building for centuries and they are largely known. These causes are firmly entwined in the fabric of society and our lifestyle expectations, therefore, it is not surprising that two decades of facts and warnings from climate scientists have done little to motivate people tact to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Artists, poets and play writers have joined the clarion call from climate communication sciences to disseminate information about climate change in a manner that is culturally appropriate, contains visual and narrative forms and uses emotive content to generate awareness, reflection and potentially to effect behavioural change. Artists including myself may feel a sense of panic when we learn of the devastating impacts of the Anthropocene such as humans consuming 11,000 microfibers per year from mussel's and 200 species being lost to extinction each day. In addition to felling panic some artists seek to generate concern amongst the audience of their work. This paper examines the aesthetic and cognitive strategies artists use to broadcast the impact of the Anthropocene in an attempt to elicit panic in the hope of rescuing the Earths systems that sustain all forms of life on this small plant.

Slow grieving, moral panic and denial amidst the sixth mass extinction

Author: Rachel Morgain (Australian National University) email
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Short abstract

This paper discusses the ethical, moral and affective topography of saving species science, and how scientists, decision-makers and natural resource managers navigate panic and problem-solving on the precipice of the Earth's sixth mass extinction event.

Long abstract

If climate change is the familiar refrain of the Anthropocene, biodiversity loss is its background hum. In debates on environmental policy in Australia in particular, the unfolding of human-induced extinction is a largely specialised concern of ecologists, botanists and under-resourced biodiversity managers. Within these enterprises, panic at mass extinction, and its emotional resonances in awe, grief and fear, is largely channelled through practical problem-solving and scientific advocacy. Yet scientists working in these spaces are also acutely aware that extinction is a human-induced challenge requiring human solutions. This talk therefore explores how scientists experience extinction, with a focus on how they imagine public interest or disinterest in conservation, how social knowledge of the problem (and its solutions) is made through science, and the kinds of social solutions sought by scientists to the social crisis implied in biodiversity loss. It examines the affective implications for scientists as they document the demise of their species and come up against limitations in resources, political will or techno-scientific solutions. It thus offers a gentle meditation of the limits of science in the face of human-induced slow disaster, and the tangled webs of action, inaction, thought, argument, paralysis and motion this gives rise to, mediated through the panic entailed in a human-induced decimation of the multispecies diversity that makes us who we are.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.