Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to University of Pennsylvania climate communicator Hanna Morris, use of the word “Anthropocene” facilitates disregard for the disproportionate suffering of indigenous peoples, and encourages the false belief that we are all equally guilty for the current climate crisis.
The language of climate change—and the Anthropocene
February 5, 2019
Hanna E. Morris, a doctoral student at the Annenberg School for Communication who researches environmental communication, explains the sudden rise of ‘Anthropocene’ as the latest buzzword in the climate dialogue.
Climate change, global warming, climate crisis—the operative term for the most pressing global issue seems to change by the year.
It’s how we discuss climate change that intrigues Hanna Morris, a doctoral student at the Annenberg School for Communication, who will soon present a new paper that assesses climate news frames at the annual International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) conference this July in Madrid, Spain. She tackles the rise of the term “Anthropocene” in climate news, which can be summarized as a relatively new word that is meant to mark the beginning of a new epoch defined by human-caused environmental change.
In the paper, Morris argues that the word not only misinterprets the actual share of blame—the oversimplified notion that humans are all equally responsible for climate change—but ties up the problem in a neat, media-friendly bow.
“By eliminating differences,” she writes in the paper, “histories of colonial violence, and the disproportionate burden of environmental harm felt by Indigenous people is neutralized and therefore evaded. The idea of the Anthropocene therefore validates ‘planetary scale’ projects designed by white male capitalists working from an unaddressed imperial logic.”
Colonialism and capitalism, she argues, drove climate change, and are now deciding how to frame who is responsible for it, who is most affected, how it will be solved, and how we should collectively feel about it.
“So, by saying that we all are to blame and that we all are equally experiencing climate change in a new epoch is a dangerous generalization that wipes away historical context. I worry that European and North American powers are once again perpetuating imperial violence and harm through the idea of the Anthropocene. And I explore this problem across the United States news media in my most recent paper.”
Sadly Hanna’s paper has not yet been released, but Hannah raises an important issue.
When white male climate scientists promote the use of the word “Anthropocene”, are they actually unconsciously assuming the role of an imperialist colonialist capitalist aggressor, and unwittingly facilitating public acceptance of the climate exploitation of indigenous peoples?
UPDATE: Fixed headline to read UPenn rather than Penn State. – Anthony