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The Elachistocene Epoch of the Chthulugene Period of the Ecozoic Era November 26, 2014

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, Chthulugene, Ecozoic, Elachistocene, Eremozoic, geologic time.
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Era: Eremozoic or

Ecozoic

(after E.O. Wilson

or Thomas Berry)

 

Period:

Chthulugene

(after Donna Haraway)

Epoch:

Elachistocene

(Schneiderman 2014)

If one accepts the idea that there is indeed convincing geological evidence for a new geological epoch (and I place myself in that camp) then there is obviously a need to name that epoch. However, geoscientists are not the only people who are entitled to challenge the proposed name and suggest alternatives. The history of science has shown that it is healthy for science to endure questioning about nomenclature from within and outside of the scientific community. I agree with those who critique the proposed term “Anthropocene” for using the species category in the Anthropocene narrative. Inequalities within the species are part of the fabric of the planetary environmental crisis and must be acknowledged in efforts to understand it.

 

Perhaps we should propose a name that is consistent with previous schemes of naming segments of the geologic time scale. Understanding the consistent semantics (as opposed to the inconsistent rationale for names of Periods of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic) is an important tool for settling on a name that achieves the purpose of acknowledging a new epoch while at the same time avoiding the pitfall of the homogenization all of humanity.

 

As many people know, the suffix –zoic means “life” thus, Paleozoic is ancient life, Mesozoic equates to middle life, and Cenozoic refers to new life. The epochs of the Periods of the Cenozoic Era are named to indicate the proportion of present-day (Holocene) organisms in the fossil record since the beginning of the Cenozoic era roughly 65 million years ago. Paleocene is derived from the Greek word palaios, meaning “ancient” or “old,” and kainos, meaning “new”; Eocene from eos meaning “dawn” of the new; Oligocene from oligos meaning “few” or “scanty” new; Miocene from meion meaning “less” new; Pliocene from pleion meaning “more” new; Pleistocene from pleistos meaning “most” new, and; Holocene  from holos meaning “whole” or “entirely” new. Therefore, why not label the new epoch with a name that acknowledges the much less contested sixth extinction and increased diminishment of species on Earth in this epoch? What could we name such an epoch?

When I asked my colleague Rachel Friedman, a classicist, what would be the Greek for diminished amount of new life she explained that the antonym of pleistos (as in Pleistocene) would be elachistos  and would be the prefix that might help me come up with a name that would acknowledge the diminished amount of species compared to the Holocene epoch. Though it isn’t the most elegant English, Elachistocene would mean “least amount of new” and I propose that name instead of Anthropocene for it adheres to the geological schema yet avoids the homogenization of humanity so problematic in the term Anthropocene.

Though I would make a friendly amendment to feminist scholar Donna Haraway’s suggestion to name the new epoch the Chthulucene (“subterranean born”) and propose Chthulugene as the name for the Period to which the Elachistocene belongs, might we take the opportunity of naming our new geological epoch to consider the designation of the Era as well? Theologian and scholar Thomas Berry wrote prolifically, pushing what he called “The Great Work” — the effort to carry out the transition from a period of devastation of the Earth to a period when living beings and the planet would coexist in a mutually beneficial manner; the result would be the erosion of the radical discontinuity between the human and the nonhuman. This vision of the Ecozoic stands in stark contrast to the notion of the Eremozoic Era imagined by renowned entomologist E. O. Wilson – the Age of Loneliness when other creatures are brushed aside or driven off the planet.

 

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More Than Old Bones November 18, 2014

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, earth community, Ecozoic, geologian.
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Copyright: Senckenberg Forschunginstitut Frankfurt

A recent Scientific American article published the remarkable image of a fossil of the early horse species Eurohippus messelensis unearthed from strata at a one-time site of oil-shale mining in Messel, Germany. Though well-known for the remarkable array of Eocene epoch (roughly 48 million years ago) organisms entombed in those strata, the early horse fossil standouts among the others; the fossil preserves the bones of a mare and her unborn foal (circled in the image above) in their correct pre-birth anatomical positions.

The find reminds me that fossils of extinct organisms are the remains of entires species, not just the bones of individuals.  Each organism traversed an arc from birth to death and in the process reproduced members of its own species. Darwin helped human beings see this and evolutionary biologists and paleontologists that succeeded him have theorized the mechanisms that allow the reproduction of species. But this fossil makes visible reproductive capabilities of our more distant vertebrate ancestors. What’s more, the fossilization of a pregnant foal calls to mind the reality that, in the Anthropocene epoch marked by the sixth major mass extinction of life on this planet, human beings must admit the questionable ability of organisms living today to reproduce and survive extinction.

One Earth Sangha January 22, 2014

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in 'Eaarth' Day, Anthropocene, Buddhist concepts, earth community.
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The Earth as Witness:
International Dharma Teachers’ Statement on Climate Change

OES-Header

I learned of this initiative via a dharma talk podcasted from Spirit Rock. It is right up my alley and probably that of those of you who read this blog. I invite you to sign on.

Listen! The Earth Breathes! November 8, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, climate change, earth system science, Ecozoic, environmentalism, global warming, Hurricane Sandy, hydrologic cycle, science, sea-level rise, Teilhard de Chardin.
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This piece appears in Shambhala SunSpace.

Like many millions of people around the world, I was captivated by President Barack Obama’s election night victory speech. And my heart cheered when I heard the President say, “we want our children to live in an America that…. isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” Maybe the Earth has now, finally, made itself heard on the issue of the disastrous implications of global warming for all beings that live on this planet.

I’ve always favored scientist James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating complex system that contributes to maintaining conditions for life on the planet. And I’ve also been a big fan of Vice-President Gore’s book,   An Inconvenient Truth, especially because he makes so clear that the Earth actually breathes. “It’s as if the entire Earth takes a big breath in and out once each year,” he wrote in referring to the Keeling Curve, the diagram by scientist Charles David Keeling that shows not only the overall increase in CO2 in the atmosphere starting in the late 1950s based on measurements of atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa, Hawaii but also the annual cycle of increase and decrease of CO2 in the atmosphere that results from the growth and decay of vegetation.

And now at the risk of committing the sin of anthropomorphism (attributing human motivation to an inanimate subject), I’ll suggest that Earth itself cast a vote in this election.

Some pundits say that “Superstorm Sandy” helped the President win the election partly because of his compassionate and competent response to the crisis. I’m no poll, so I don’t know. I hope only that this election marks our movement into a new geologic Era thatJesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) once proposed:  the Ecozoic, a new era of mutually enhancing human-earth relations.

In The Long Road Turns to JoyThich Nhat Hanh wrote:

You will be like the tree of life.
Your leaves, trunk, branches,
And the blossoms of your soul
Will be fresh and beautiful,
Once you enter the practice of
Earth Touching.

May the re-election of Barack Obama usher in the Ecozoic Era, a period in which we listen attentively to what the Earth tells us and live the understanding that we breathing humans are the breathing Earth.

From Science and Art, Global Warming is Real November 2, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, art, climate change, disasters, global warming, Hurricane Sandy, science, sea-level rise.
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Friday, 02 November 2012 13:14 By Jill S Schneiderman, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

So what if global warming isn’t directly responsible for “superstorm Sandy”? Let’s not get hung up on that minor detail.

Because the planet has warmed–the average surface temperature of the Earth rose 1.08°F to 1.62°F (0.6 to 0.9 °C) between 1906 and 2006— the cryosphere has melted, moving H2O from the ice caps to the oceans.

Markers show the dramatic retreat of the
Athabasca Glacier, photo Judd Patterson

And seawater has literally expanded. As a result, sea level has risen—worldwide measurements of sea level show a rise of about 0.56 feet ((0.17 meters) during the twentieth century.

Earlier this week Hurricane Sandy pushed the sea onto land in coastal regions that are today more “low-lying” than they were a century ago. Images are still coming in of the devastation caused by such mass movement of water along parts of the northeastern coast. Earth behaved as predicted and revealed the increased risk to which we have subjected ourselves.

At a time when scientists have been convicted of not making good predictions may I be the first to congratulate Dr. Jianjun Yin, a climate modeler at the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS) at Florida State University, and colleagues Michael Schlesinger of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Ronald Stouffer of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University? In 2009 these folks published their analysis of data from ten state-of-the-art climate models and warned that, considering its population density and the potential socioeconomic consequences of such changes, the northeast coast of the U.S. is one of the areas most vulnerable to changes in sea level and ocean circulation.

Yin and his colleagues advised that, since much of the New York City metro region is less than 16 feet above mean sea level—with some parts of lower Manhattan only about 5 feet above it—a sea level rise of eight inches could be catastrophic. New York City would be at great risk, they added, for damage from hurricanes and winter storm surge (emphasis mine). Yin et al are the Hurricane Sandy analogs of scientists at Louisiana State University whose models of storm tracks led a reporter for Scientific American to presage in 2001 “New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen.”

Yin’s study, “Model Projections of Rapid Sea-Level Rise on the Northeast Coast of the United States,” produced this artist’s rendering of a flooded Manhattan.

But the images below are no artist’s rendering. They are photographs of water inundating the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new South Ferry Terminal.

The trees and map along the walls are part of a site-specific art installation, See it Split, See it Change (2005-2008) made of fused glass, mosaic marble, and stainless steel by Doug and Mike Starn. The work of these artists has articulated themes of impermanence and transience.

Let’s heed the message from both science and art. Can we all just pay attention to the Earth?

Militaries, Mammals and Spiritual Science October 14, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, earth community, earth system science, environmentalism, science, slow violence, Thomas Berry.
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This piece is cross-posted at Truthout.orgThough not as closely related as they are to hippos, whales have much in common with elephants. Speaking scientifically, they belong to different taxonomic orders–whales to the taxonomic order Cetacea and elephants to the order Proboscidea, but they come from a common ancestor with hoofs and are therefore distinct from other orders of mammals such as primates or rodents. Of course, they both are large, intelligent, social mammals and they share a precarious existence.

Therefore, I was glad to read a New York Times op-ed this morning that condemned the plan of the U.S. Navy to carry out tests and exercises using explosives and sonar devices in the Earth’s major oceans during the five-year period 2014-2019. The Navy estimates that this military activity will negatively affect 33 million marine mammals. Reading this caused my mind to wander back to the stories I read in the Times last month about the widespread slaughter of elephants by members of African militias who remove the ivory tusks and sell them to purchase weapons. Though the butchery of elephants by African militaries is bloodier business than effects such as temporary hearing loss and ruptured eardrums of marine mammals that the U.S. Navy deems “negligible,” I can’t help but think that Earth is in the dire shape it is today because of this type of behavior.

Listen to Krista Tippett’s interview with Dr. Katy Payne, an acoustic biologist attributed with discovering that humpback whales compose ever-changing songs to communicate, and understanding that elephants communicate with one another across long distances by infrasound. One can’t help but be heartbroken at the suffering experienced by these sophisticated beings as a result of such unjustifiable military activities–legal and illegal, in the sea or on land, by developed or developing nations. Dr. Payne comments:

“My sense is that community responsibility, when it’s managed well, results in peace. And peace benefits everyone. That taking care of someone or something to which you are not immediately genetically related pays you back in other dimensions, and the payback is part of your well-being. Compassion is useful and beneficial for all.”

In my opinion, human societies must grow a generation of spiritual scientists who, like Katy Payne, respond emotionally to their scientific work and can try to help change the path down which this planet is headed.

I don’t know if he knew her but I bet Thomas Berry (1914-2009) would have loved Katy Payne. Berry, a leading scholar, cultural historian, and Catholic priest who called himself a “geologian”, spent fifty years writing about our relationship with the Earth and urging humanity to save the natural world in order to save itself. In his last book, The Sacred Universe, he wrote that we must respond to its [the Earth’s] deepest spiritual content or else submit to the devastation that is before us. He dreamed of a new geological Era, the Ecozoic, in which “humans will be present to the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.”

When it comes to other beings on planet Earth, scientists must do more than articulate their observations of other organisms as if with objectivity. Elephants and whales, along with other marine mammals, are more than “stocks” of resources, as some governments would have us believe. They are living beings with systems of communications and social relations to whom we are connected. Recognition of such connection puts us in touch with the fact that, in Berry’s words, “the universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” Can someone please tell the Navy?

Ecological Buddhism July 3, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, Buddhist concepts, Buddhist practice, environmentalism, geologic time, mindfulness practice, science, slow violence.
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This piece is cross-posted at Shambhala SunSpace.

 

Earth Dharma: “Awake in the Anthropocene”

The Indus and the Karakoram highway in N. Pakistan

By Jill S. Schneiderman

Because of the extended time frame over which they occur, human-induced environmental changes—increased temperature, rising sea level, high-energy storm patterns, desertification and drought—are out of sync with human lives lived in an age of short attention span. The violence exacted on all living beings by these changes poses real representational challenges to our abilities to address it. Are there any tools within Buddhist view and practice that can help us work progressively at the intersection of violence and environmental degradation? How can Buddhism facilitate the work of awakening human beings to violence that is potentially catastrophic, but so slow that it’s difficult to discern and counter?

 

The Realm of the Eternal Moment
.
From perches that encompass great swaths of space, geologists view changes of landscapes over vast sweeps of time. In outcrops of rocks, forgotten fossils, and minute mineral fragments, they find evidence of earlier events on Earth. It is a cultivated skill that requires patience, grown from sitting still or walking slowly in the field, and watching nothing happen rather than observing processes in “real time.” Yet geoscience can also  elucidate the interrelation of all existences and phenomena, enriching a compassionate, time-transcendent vision and Buddhist-inspired systems thinking.

Mircea Eliade retold how Indra, King of the Gods, came to understand the importance of engaging compassionately with the responsibilities of the historical moment, while keeping in mind the perspectives of Great Time. That time and timelessness can lose their apparent opposition has a geological resonance, for in some ways geologists experience the flow of time differently than other people. They let the earth teach them. I have walked up arid slopes on the Caribbean island of Barbados that reveal that the land underfoot once was beneath the sea. Old coastal features some distance above the modern coastline tell of tectonic uplift, changed climate, and sea level fluctuations that caused the extinction and succession of coral reef colonies. A mountain exemplifies equanimity, because it remains unwavering amid the tumultuous activity of atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere and biosphere. Those coral reef paleo-communities also display geological equanimity and tenacity.

In the 13th century Zen master Dogen devoted The Time-Being, an important fascicle of his Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, to the recognition that “time itself is being, and all being is time.” For him, time consisted not of the past, present and future so much as events, moments and movements: “See each thing in this entire world as a moment of time… Do not think that time merely flies away… In essence, all things in the entire world are linked with one another as moments.” It is in the realm of eternal moment that the thinking of geology and Buddhism overlap.

Slow Violence & Environmental Degradation
.
Robert Nixon has written evocatively about slow violence, acts whose “lethal repercussions sprawl across space and time;” oblique, unspectacular and amorphous. Its results are “attritional calamities” with “deferred consequences and casualties” that “pose formidable imaginative difficulties…(since) they star nobody.” The most ominous example is the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and consequent climate change.

Slow violence is synonymous with global environmental degradation in general. How do we bring to life catastrophes that are “low in instant spectacle” but “high in long-term effects”? They pose overwhelming representational challenges, and we must summon exceptional creativity. It is out of sync with human lifetimes, difficult to represent, and presents motivational challenges—yet we must render slow violence both actionable and visible.

Norwegian peace scholar Johan Galtung pointed out that personal violence entails an immediate connection between the perpetrator and recipient of violence, but structural violence involves no direct relationship between perpetrators and recipients. It is built into economic, political, or social systems at multiple levels. It occupies the interstices of a system’s framework, often manifesting as unequal power and unequal life chances.

Galtung also described a cultural violence that obscures both personal and structural violence. This operates through norms or ideologies that promote a culture of impunity among perpetrators: as in racism, sexism or homophobia. The slow violence of creeping environmental degradation endures because it is supported by cultural violence. Here we are talking about an ideology asserting that greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting climate change are “inevitable” products of modern society.

Scientists have been heard most loudly on the subject of global warming, and because of a professed divorce of head from heart in the scientific enterprise, ethical conduct has not been at the forefront of the conversation. But compassionate heart, a fundamental element of Buddhism, is important for people to attend fully to the slow violence of climate change. Society today also requires startling icons to vivify environmental degradation, and narratives that communicate urgency. A film like Avatar imaginatively, if imperfectly, communicates the slow catastrophes of deforestation, extreme resource extraction and ecological collapse.

Awakening to the Anthropocene
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In 1990, I worked with colleagues to geologically map part of the Karakoram Range in North Pakistan. There I saw Nanga Parbat, at 26660 feet, the ninth highest peak in the world. The Raikot glacier yawned beneath its north face. The glacier, more ice than moraine, was healthy and frozen so that we could walk across portions of it in search of outcrops that would give us clues to the history and rate of uplift of the Karakorams.. Twenty years later, I drove from Lhasa to Shigatse, just north of the crumpled zone where the Indian subcontinent smashes into Asian lithospheric plate and saw the glaciers of the Himalaya once again.  I dared not approach the Kharola glacier. Feeble in extent, this shrunken and dripping remainder of a once sturdy sheet of ice and rock manifested the slow violence exacted by human beings on the planet. We need no further data to confirm what is visibly evident. We must awaken to it.

With the greatest concentration of glaciers outside the poles, and rising at geologically rapid rates (near ten millimeters per year) to the highest elevations on Earth, geologists call the meeting of mountain ranges of the Karakoram, Pamir, Hindu Kush and Himalayas the Earth’s Third Pole. Its height affects atmospheric circulation, the breath in and breath out of our planet. How shall we, with head and heart, regard the melting glacial reservoirs of fresh water for the great rivers of the world?

A skillful approach to our environmental woes can emerge from combining scientific knowledge with compassionate ethical conduct. The first decade of the 21st century gave us record-breaking temperatures and huge breakaways from continental ice sheets. Yet the Copenhagen climate conference produced no signed agreement—the distance between the expectations of developing and developed countries was purportedly too great. That nations are so far from one another when it comes to the ethical conduct of right speech, right action, and right livelihood is itself a manifestation of slow, structural, and cultural violence.

In geological terms, we are living in the Holocene epoch which began with the ending of the last (Pleistocene) ice age. Some have suggested that we have moved into another epoch called the Anthropocene, after the dominance of human effects on this planet. The Hindu concept of Kali Yuga suggests that we live in the fourth and last of a complete set of cosmic cycles of periodic creations and destructions of the Universe, in which humans and society reach the extreme point of disintegration. The 21st century already provides us with many examples of disintegrative power: Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean and Japanese tsunami, the Haiti earthquake, and the disastrous “technological accidents” of Deepwater Horizon and Fukushima-Daiichi. If we are to counter slow violence with skill, courage and creativity, we will need to combine the discipline of “beginner’s mind” with wisdom learned from modeling the Earth system and with heartfelt ethical conduct.

Originally posted at — and published here with thanks to — Ecological Buddhism.

Turtle Liberation in the Anthropocene June 13, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, Buddhist practice, earth community, Evolution, geologic time, Hudson Valley, science, Turtles.
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This piece is cross-posted on Shambhala SunSpace.

Earth Dharma: Turtle Liberation!

In some Buddhist traditions, liberating captive animals is an act of compassion, a way to “make merit” for long life. Releasing turtles, in particular—symbols of patience and resilience—is considered an auspicious act.

This morning I woke up and let our household dog Molly outside in the backyard. She ran down the path towards the pond and stopped abruptly to sniff at something dark at the corner of our garden. I’d gone out with her to prop up the tomatoes that have been growing well, protected by the scents of bee balm, borage, sage and mint, as well as a delicate mesh netting I’d wrapped around four posts to exclude grazing deer and woodchucks.

What at first I thought might be a dark muskrat shocked into stillness turned out to be a snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentinaNew York’s state reptile. During the night, it must have crept out of the muddy, shallow pond behind our house, crawled up the brushy bank, and asserted itself beneath the netting into the garden.

Now although the so-called common snapper is not listed as an endangered or threatened species—the species is a prominent member of many North American ecosystems—this particular individual was struggling against the mesh that entangled her.

Having spent nights observing nesting sea turtles in the southern Caribbean and tracing the tracks they leave in the sand after laying eggs, I was able to make out the path this snapping turtle had taken through our garden.

.

She had buried her eggs in one of our raised beds but the netting that I’d used to protect the plants barred her return to the water.

The opportunity to engage in the Buddhist practice of releasing this trapped turtle felt not so much like an opportunity to make merit as it seemed a privilege to encounter this remarkable being of ancient lineage. But most importantly the experience provided a vivid reminder of the tenuous position of some living beings at the juncture between the deep geological past and the uncertain future of the Anthropocene.

Nature essayist Bil Gilbert vividly described snapping turtles as “creatures who are entitled to regard the brontosaur and mastodon as brief zoological fads.” From the look of the one in the garden, I could see why: with sharply clawed feet; hard, pointed beak; dark and dented carapace; sharp, bony-plated jaws; and thick, spiky tail she certainly looked related to the dinosaurs—yet they’re gone and her branch on the tree of life still thrives.

Chelydra serpentina has barely changed in the 210 million years since the first appearance in the fossil record of Proganochelys, the most primitive turtle we know. The most substantial difference between Proganochelys and our garden snapper is that she could pull her head and legs into her protective shell—clearly a helpful innovation as snapping turtles are the ancestors of about 80% of all turtles alive today.

Whether or not the motivation to release trapped endemic animals is the desire to make merit, the traditional act can serve positive ecological purposes. For example, in some rural communities as seasonal bodies of water shrink during the dry season, aquatic creatures trapped in isolated water bodies make easy prey. By returning some of these critters to larger year-round bodies of water villagers help individuals and species to survive. Although compassionate acts, such releases also help to protect the food supply into the future.

I brought Molly back to the house and called up to my partner and ten year old to come down to the garden. Together with our neighbor and her young child we gingerly and respectfully separated the turtle from the netting then silently marveled at the size and apparent age of this being.

After a short while, we went up to the house to get a ruler intending to measure the length of her shell; but when we returned she had gone leaving us to admire her swift stealth—that, and her family’s ability to survive asteroid impacts and ice ages. We wished her good fortune in the Anthropocene and hoped that the merit that had accrued from her release would benefit all living beings.

This entry was created by Jill S. Schneiderman, posted on June 13, 2011 at 11:42 am and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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The Economist on The Anthropocene May 27, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene.
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Please read this important article from the May 26, 2011 issue of The Economist that focuses on the Anthropocene. I’ll have more to say about this soon.

Awake in the Anthropocene May 12, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, Buddhist concepts, earth cycles, geology.
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Indus Karakoram highway.jpg
The Indus and the Karakoram highway in N. Pakistan

Because of the extended time frame over which they occur, human-induced environmental changes—increased temperature, rising sea level, high-energy storm patterns, desertification and drought—are out of sync with human lives lived in an age of short attention span. The violence exacted on all living beings by these changes poses real representational challenges to our abilities to address it. Are there any tools within Buddhist view and practice that can help us work progressively at the intersection of violence and environmental degradation? How can Buddhism facilitate the work of awakening human beings to violence that is potentially catastrophic, but so slow that it’s difficult to discern and counter?

Read the rest of this piece, a featured article from Ecological Buddhism: A Buddhist Response to Global Warming, here.