The Anthropocene as seen from the Central African Copperbelt: An environmental history perspective
(University of Oxford)
Paper short abstract:
Throughout the twentieth century the Central African Copperbelt has been an example of an Anthropocene site. Using the approach of environmental history reveals that notions of what the Anthropocene entailed and how it should be 'managed' changed significantly over time.
Paper long abstract:
Looking at the Central African Copperbelt, a heavily industrialised mining region, in the twentieth century from the perspective of environmental history has much to say about what the Anthropocene meant on the ground and how its meaning changed over time. Since the beginning of the twentieth century mining activities have profoundly affected the soils, air and water of the region. Yet until 1990 the environmental impacts of mining remained largely unremarked upon. Environmental harm was naturalised as collateral damage of mining profit, or rendered harmless through a belief in technology to solve problems of production. After 1990 this changed quite rapidly, when pollution was 'discovered' as a problem due to international pressures. However, earlier conceptualisations of environmental change continued to permeate even 'new' Environmental Impact Assessments. A case study of the Central African Copperbelt thus reveals much about how humans thought about environmental change and how or why this changed over time. This presentation argues that on the Central African Copperbelt the Anthropocene took on a specific and local meaning. Even if ideas about mining and environmental management were quite internationalised, their application on the Copperbelt depended on specific power relations on the ground. Such local specificities must be taken into account to fully understand the global phenomenon of the Anthropocene.
Multiple African anthropocenes: universal concepts, local manifestations