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1.3 The role of the Anthropocene/Capitalocene

Late Capitalism’s political economy in the exploitation of “Cheap Nature [22]

Much of the argument for the start of the climate crisis of the Anthropocene has been focused on the onset of the industrial revolution in the late 19th century (due to the use of fossil fuels and the rapid increase of resource extraction during the mid-20th century). However, scholars such as Moore (2017) critique the shallow periodisation of the Anthropocene. While Moore (2017) agrees that human-induced environmental impact accelerated drastically after the industrial revolution, he argues that the Anthropocene disregards the onset of the origins of “today’s crises in the epoch-making transformations of capital, power, and nature[23]”, especially of “early capitalism’s environment-making revolution, greater than any watershed since the rise of agriculture and the first cities” (Moore, 2017). Therefore, Moore argues the importance of addressing the historical pattern of the modern world as the “Age of Capital”, established four centuries earlier than the Industrial Revolution in the 16th century (ibid.). This was an era where power, class, capital, dualistic framing of nature and culture, commodification, roles of empires and nation-states laid the groundwork of late capitalism. Thus, Moore (and other notable scholars such as Justin McBrien and Donna Haraway, to name a few) call for the term Capitalocene as the age we are currently living in to bring focus to how capitalism’s systems of global power and relentless goal of profit through the exploitation of natural resources and human labour is driving the extinction of both of living beings and cultures (Moore, 2016). The Capitalocene does not only stand for capitalism as an economic and social system. Rather, the Capitalocene indicates capitalism as a way of classifying and conceiving nature as a whole that reinforces the co-production of nature in the pursuit of power and accumulation of capital (Hartley, 2016; Moore, 2016). Anthropocene also fails to differentiate between the different “Anthropo” (i.e., man[24]) and inequalities associated with the contributors of climate change, but more importantly, the economic and political systems that have taken an agency of their own, almost to the extent that humans struggle to halt the wheels of its force.



Who will pay for it [25]?

The importance of acknowledging and focussing the attention on capitalism in this research becomes progressively clearer as one delves deeper into the complex workings of urban development in the age of the climate crisis. Any form of action and thinking that does not fit within the dominant capitalist[26] culture and structures are met with the common retort, “who will pay for it? There is no market demand for that (green solution); therefore, it cannot be done[27]”. However, as we start to initiate the true cost of “climate change, massive biodiversity loss, toxification, epidemic disease, and many other biophysical costs” (Moore, 2016, p.11), questioning the increasing ecological debt, new movements are emerging. They not only challenge capitalism’s unequal distribution and its core value of the attainment of capital at the expense of nature but also “the very way we think about what is being distributed” (ibid.).

   Considering the difficult challenges posed by these contextual issues, the current research occupies an inherently compromised position of suggesting actions and strategies that may not fit the current capitalist paradigm. However, there are possibilities for proposals to be implemented within the Capitalist system to incite incremental change while critiquing its barrier to more meaningful change (i.e., systems change). The structures of the Capitalocene have an impact on the limits and opportunities of what can be implemented in coastal cities, and thus, stakeholders responsible for making decisions at the coast and citizens who occupy these spaces need to be wary of design solutions and narratives that perpetuate the status quo packaged as a green solution. Therefore, researchers need not shy away from acknowledging and discussing the subject of the Capitalocene, especially when engaging with meaningful solutions and strategies for the future.

    Nevertheless, going forward, I will continue to use the term Anthropocene due to its broad recognition in the general discourse, which has an important role to play (despite the critique mentioned above). Moreover, it is worth acknowledging how the other various -cenes[28] (such as Chulucene[29] by Haraway (2016)) play an important role in contributing to transforming the contemporary discourse around the climate crisis. Thus, the intention of this section is not to point out the relevance of one over the other but to emphasise the profound influence these complex bigger systems hold for what remains possible in today’s context of urban transformations in which economic growth holds importance for what proposals get implemented and what does not.



Moving forward - My research stance

The last three years have taught me about the persisting forces that seek to maintain B-A-U as we edge closer to the climate deadline. The very idea of being “too radical” stands short of the increasing urgency of the climate crisis as these “radical ideas” are increasingly becoming the necessary steps that we are reluctant to take. Fortunately, as we face greater climate-related catastrophes, these instabilities open a new window for regime change by destabilising dominant frameworks and making space for innovative speculation and, thus, room for transformation. For instance, there is progress in recognising other non-normative voices in academia, such as the values of marginalised groups (i.e., the indigenous people) and representing voices of nonhumans in the way we practice envisioning future cohabitations.

    Furthermore, even though we have been talking about the climate crisis and the impact of humans for half a century, we have only recently grappled in the past decade with the exponential increase in complexities in this entangled information age. This paradigm is made especially salient by the fact that “the interrelated nature of urban and natural systems at all scales is still only becoming apparent to landscape architects” (Ervin, 2014; Chen and Lee, 2015, p.344). Moreover, inter-and transdisciplinary thinking is becoming more of a norm, reflecting the increasingly intertwined mesh of knowledge and problems addressed in my research questions. Thus, there is a call to the research community to explore new ways of thinking and new ways of doing to reflect our changing realities, bearing in mind that there is no single, universal, black-and-white solution. My research will not be able to solve the big, wicked problems I seek to address but is a contribution to the ongoing dialogue and exploration of how to live not just by the sea but with the sea in the age of the Anthropocene.


[22] “Cheap Nature” is a term used by James W. Moore (2014), in his article: “The End of Cheap Nature. How I Learned to Stop Worrying about The Environment and Love the Crisis of Capitalism”. It discusses how the capitalist model that “puts nature to work on the cheap”, causing “biospheric instability reveals modernity’s accomplishment as premised on an active and ongoing theft: of our times, of planetary life, of our and our children’s futures” (Moore, 2015; 2016).

[23] Nature here is in reference to the common western notions of nonhuman aspects of the living world.

[24] For instance, it is inaccurate to point the blame to all of mankind as a whole, as the ecological footprint of different nations and communities have significantly different impacts on the planet, indicating the inequalities in the contributors of the climate crisis (European Environment Agency, 2021).

[25] “It” refers to sustainable measures (green transition) that will help drastically reduce GHG emissions to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius of warming and measures protecting and restoring crucial ecological systems critical to the survival of many living beings.

[26] According to Moore (2016), “current efforts to limit and surpass capitalism in any egalitarian or sustainable manner are hindered due to our economic and political structures that confine reality into discrete categories of nature and culture.”

[27] The common retort is heard from various experiences dealing with stakeholders responsible for implementing strategies towards green transition. It is important to note that there are complexities surrounding who should be responsible for paying for costs (for green transition) due to different expectations from various stakeholders and current regulatory and funding frameworks.

[28] Furthermore, there have been many other less popular terms other than the Anthropocene dealing with a different focus on the current epoch – Anthrobscene, Econocene, Technocene, Misanthropocene, Manthropocene, Plantetocene, Kleptocene and Wastocene (Moore, 2016; Armiero, 2021).

[29] For instance, Donna Haraway also presents a critique of the too anthropocentric focus of the Anthropocene. She claims it displays a level of human-centric arrogance that humans are the only real impactful agents in this age. There are microbes and viruses invisible to the human eye that have the power to put humans at a standstill, as there are agents beyond human control (i.e., natural disasters). She also points to the Chulucene as a way forth from the doom and gloom of the Anthropocene to acknowledging the current and future role of nonhumans (Haraway, 2016).



Section 1.3 footnote
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