Anthropocene Grief for Nature

In a recent comment in Geoforum, Todd Walton and Wendy S. Shaw pick up on Zizek’s 2010 comment that we are beginning to grieve the loss of environments, the

“relationship between society and the (impending) ‘death of nature’ in the epoch referred to as the ‘Anthropocene’ that includes a specific engagement with the psychological. We ponder on societal death anxiety as a coping mechanism for what is widely perceived to be an era in which ecological catastrophe is imminent and suggest that geographical engagements need to draw more specifically on psychology and psychoanalysis to better understand responses to the Anthropocene, from the individual to the highest levels of governance.”

But this reverses the usual discussion that climate change is to the detriment ultimately of humans. Nature will continue as bios, life, even on a less biodiverse planet. I’m not sure I grieve the death of Nature, unless this is for the loss of a particular ‘settlement’ with an ecological context. Nor am I sure that grief is the best response: presumably future generations will be as canny and adaptable as in the past. Its a bit early to predict the end of the human relation to the environment. Only narcissism and concern for our own privilege seems to fit with grieving. Or, we can grieve the death of a loved one from pollution-induced asthma, of a frog, of a species perhaps, but how to ‘grieve’ for an environment or an ecosystem? ‘Melancholia’ seems a better term than anthropocene grief — perhaps we need a new repertoire of ideas to contemplate the implications of the anthropocene?

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)