I’m one of those people who doesn’t like the term “environmentalism.” I think every human should take care of her home, want to be mindful of other forms of life on Earth, and should conserve the fabric of life as we’ve inherited it for future generations. This all flows from being a decent human being.
I also don’t like the term “Anthropocene.” I think it’s being used inaccurately before we have a strong geological consensus on where we are and imports scientific authority into places where that authority is not actually behind the claims being made. It also pins a problem on all of humankind when that problem really belongs to specific social processes-–like horribly regulated capitalism or the modernist project of industrial production that was also found in state communism.
All the same, we are now aware that planetary processes are shifting on a planetary scale-–spatially and temporally. The biochemistry of the atmosphere has changed enough that the planetary climate is shifting, and the extensiveness of habitat destruction and use is such-–combined with the shifting chemistry of the atmosphere and the oceans–that life forms are going extinct left and right around us. We don’t know-–actually, we can’t know until it is too late–whether we are in period of mass extinction, but there is a legitimate fear that we might be sliding into one and risking extinction cascades that will change the rules of life irreversibly and risk our own extinction.
This socially caused physical event unfolding around us demands fundamental change in our form of life. Irreversible and extreme effects are in the offing as a result of the social processes of many nations that permit, among other things, extremely powerful transnational actors to influence and shape the political economies of nations as well as the dominant infrastructural, settlement, and energy forms of the world. It is reasonable to believe that the world would be very different if it reflected the actual preferences of people. We the people might accept some of the effects being caused on a planetary scale, on reflection, collectively, but at present neither reflection nor collectivity characterize the social processes in which the problematic patterns are embedded. Things are being brought about that bear on the future of humans and other forms of life but about which the majority of human beings and no other forms of life have any choice. This abominable situation demands that we increase the true democracy of the world.
Now, Allen Thompson and I have called for “ethical adaptation” regarding planetary-scaled environmental changes. We do not mean simply ethically using the infrastructure and economic tools so common to the IPCC discussions on adaptation. Instead, we mean adapting our ethics themselves, changing who we are, what we are about, and how we think we ought to live together going forward. We focused on virtues with some nods to the civic space needing to be filled with thought about political virtue and institutional reorganization to enable a decent form of life. But we did not squarely address the much needed scope and form of collective democracy called for by socially-caused, planetary-scaled, environmental change. This is what I am doing now. I am calling for civic adaptation by marking out the big picture frame for such a needed change to our ethical form.
I don’t like it, but I have found the need to use one big and ugly word to orient me in the massive democratic deficit that characterizes our planetary situation. This word is anthroponomy. Anthroponomy is the collective self-regulation of humankind as a whole. About the only thing that has become clear to me in the big picture of how we ought to change our lives is that our lives ought to-–actually, must–become “anthroponomic,” i.e., oriented by anthroponomy in our civic identities. Otherwise, we risk allowing powerful interests to continue the unjust inertia of our existing social orders, dominating the powerless-–especially in the future–and rushing to extinction the order of life we have inherited, all without our say in the matter.
The paths that lead to anthroponomy are simple. On the one hand, all human beings, not just some of them, should have a say in how the social processes that speak for them go. And we all should have a say in how we affect the world of life and future generations. To leave our societies up to a select few is oligarchic, and to let those few decide the fate of life on Earth for the future is oppressive of the rest of us. Humankind as such did not cause the planetary change we are in–pace the discourse of the “Anthropocene”–but humankind as such had better decide what we do going forward. If we don’t situate decision-making with humankind as such, we will be treating some of our brothers, sisters and agendered partners as less than human. This is the path of equal dignity.
On the other hand, the situation that characterizes the mess we are in is shocking and simple. In planetary-scaled, environmental change, we largely witness an aggregation of effects that undermine the commitments and values most human beings hold. Human cultures widely are concerned with future generations, just as families typically are. What is more, the major religions of the world-–to take just one indication–all espouse some form of reverence of life beyond the human. Attention to early childhood development shows that connection with the world of non-human life is basic to childhood as well. There is a colossal disconnect between the apparent commitments and values of most people on the planet and the actual effects of the dominant social processes of the planet.
Take climate change. Its acceleration is largely the result of unintended, indirect, incremental effects at a small scale that add up to a shifting planetary climate. We are locked into these effects by way of agency capture of our economy by powerful transnational actors that intend on profiting from the energy use that causes the unwanted effects. So we have a situation where we are collectively producing effects that we didn’t intend and which are truly questionable on the whole–and we are locked into them by an oligarchic deficit of democratic equality. Our societies are thus wanton to themselves, producing effects that undermine the commitments of the many. This suggests the path of collective integrity: our societies should reflect our commitments, not distort or undermine them.
Equal dignity and collective integrity both lead straight to anthroponomy. Anthroponomy thus has basic and powerful moral rationale behind it. I think our discourse around planetary environmental change ought to reflect this moral reality. After all, there is nothing more authoritative than the moral. But our discourse of the “Anthropocene” is not clearly moral in the way that it should be, and it is also not political enough.
In saying all this, I in no way wish to offend the many, many passionate voices who have organized their concern with the present social orders of our world by pointing to the possibility of a geological shift created by those social orders. The discourse of the “Anthropocene” has managed to focus people’s attention on the power of the effects being generated by the dominant social processes of our world. It has underlined the irreversibility of the effects, too, which translates into their potential to dominate all those who have to bear them, human and non-human alike (even more non-human than human). Talking about the “Anthropocene” has also gotten many humanists out of their gyres of language and identity to think about ecology and geology. This wonderful website is a case in point on all these accounts: a site where the term “Anthropocene” can organize far-reaching, critical and much needed interdisciplinary discussion of socially-caused, planetary-scaled, environmental change.
Nonetheless, I respectfully submit that the term “Anthropocene”-–besides being scientifically questionable and suspiciously hasty–is not political enough. What we are now in, globally, is not simply a physical world which we are at risk of suffering; we are in a social order that is producing domination and wantonness affecting all of humankind and our inherited order of life. This is the situation, a social situation, and we should focus all our attention on the real causes of it-–not “the human,” but oligarchy and social disconnection produced by vested interests that do not want all people to have a say. Respectfully, I propose that we shift the discourse of the “Anthropocene”-–already so questionable- to focus instead on the task of anthroponomy.
I will say more about this suggestion later this summer.
The ideas in this post can be explored further at:
 See my (2006) The Ecological Life: Discovering Citizenship and a Sense of Humanity (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield)
 See my and Chris Haufe’s (2016) “Anthropogenic mass extinction: the science, the ethics, and the civics” in Gardiner and Thompson’s, The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Ethics, online at: http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199941339.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199941339-e-38 (May 31, 2016).
 See our (2006) Ethical Adaptation to Climate Change: Human Virtues of the Future (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).
 John Levy Barnard suggested to me that “anthroponomy” might simply imply “economy” as Thoreau understood it-–living well within our common household. I like the suggestion, but the fact remains that the scalar issue is the big one: we need this common household to include humankind as such-–and almost certainly representation of other forms of life as extensions of our human commitment to respect life.
 And, as John Levy Barnard points out, by agribusiness and the meat industry that exhaust habitats and species in production of monocultures and-–land and sea–meat (a different kind of energy consumption, industrial all the same).