Everything Is Environmental In The Anthropocene
This coming June will mark a year since the publication of Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene. The occasion of Earth Day this April gives me some time to reflect on how it was around this time last year when we put the finishing touches on the book. My chapter was aimed to offer a positive, even utopian, vision for a society that would be fit for the Anthropocene. Needless to say, providing such a vision is a daunting task that no single individual can reach.
When I wrote my chapter, I was guided by this wonderful quote from none other than Greta Thunberg, who said: "Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling." It is of some comfort that, even as we remain far from reaching such a vision, we have still made some tiny steps since.
One fact that many wouldn't know is that I was quite a late addition to the book. Matthew, the editor, had reached out to me because he had the idea that such a chapter might be a nice way to conclude the book. Readers might notice that my chapter, aimed at imagining a positive vision for the future, is a fair bit different from the eco-cultural approach found in the rest of the chapters. Because my chapter was so different from the rest, I had very little sense of the themes of the book as a whole while I was writing. In some sense, when I read the book in full for the first time, I was coming into it with as fresh a perspective as you, the reader, would have had.
Indeed, the most pleasant surprise for me throughout the project was to see how the other chapters turned out, and to read all their wonderful insights.
To me, the biggest contribution Eating Chilli Crab has given us is proving that the environment isn't an abstract idea. Too often it seems like what the environmental philosopher Timothy Morton calls a hyperobject - an object so large and ever-present that we can barely comprehend it in any concrete way. If the "environment" is everywhere it is also nowhere. The environment is therefore left in a hidden abode, averted from our gaze. The book has done a tremendous service by bringing them into view, and then showing the histories and relations of power that they are inevitably entangled with. To paraphrase the old adage, everything in the world is environmental – except the environment, which is about power.
Eating Chilli Crab has introduced to us the idea of anthropocened thinking - to find bits of the environment everywhere we look - including, as the chapters in the book illustrate, crabs, mynahs, airports and waste. No longer is the Anthropocene pitched at the level of high-brow abstractions, reserved for scientists and theorists. Instead, it is something we find in the practice of everyday life.
So what I’d like to invite you to do is to give some examples of how the most basic, mundane objects in our everyday life are, indeed, deeply environmental. What is this object, and in which subtle, hidden ways is it environmental that most of us would not realise?
(From April 17, 2021)