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Opti-mysticist? Pessi-mysticist? What is the Fate of Planet Earth?

Has the apogee of human ‘progress’ coincided with the collapse of civilization?

Is the imminent collapse of global ecosystems accompanied by a comparable collapse of the human spirit?

The immense roster of international artists who are addressing prospects for the future of planet Earth demonstrate that there a manifold answers to these questions. Since they are based more on belief systems than verifiable facts, those at one end of the spectrum might be called “opti-mysticists” and those at the other “pessi-mysticists”.   It is yet to be determined which side will win the tug of war between those who cite promising behavioral reforms and beneficial new technologies and those who focus on evidence of mounting system failures.

Paul Crutzen, who was awarded a Nobel prize for research on depletion of ozone layer, coined the term “anthropocene” in 2000 to identify the most distinguishing characteristic of the current era - humans have become most powerful geological force on planet. Human-induced events occurring at the present time loom as the dominant forces on planet Earth. In other words, humanity’s impact on sedimentation, for example, causes more geological shifts than the oceans’ tides or the movement of mountains.

Furthermore, humanity’s impact is not limited to global warming and climate change. Global geological conditions are also being affected by deforestation, acidification of ocean, mass extinction, urbanization, relocations and dislocations of living populations, homogenization of environments.

In response to factors inferred by the term ‘Anthropocene”, geologists have chosen NOT to limit their research to biological fossils such as dinosaur vertebrae frozen in amber or ancient leaf imprints found on stone. For the first time ever, many believe that accurate indicators of earth formations will be derived from cultural infrastructures, such as subways, that support centers of human habitation, such as cities.

Another ‘first’ involves a shift in geologists’ temporal focus. Instead of studying past geological artifacts, the artifacts that are now under scrutiny are not only human-induced, they are not historic. Indeed, they are currently functioning!

These insights originated in an article entitled, “Notes From the Anthropocene” by Stephanie Wakefield and Glenn Dyer. Wakefield and Dyer explain the dire significance of the material and perspective changes that are reconfiguring geo-scientific analysis by notinig “…the perceptible triumph of man and his civilization, its coming to the fore as the most powerful force on earth, can best be measured in a catastrophic impact”. The prospects they describe vividly portray the meaning of ‘catastrophic’. They note that by “conjuring future geologists from outer space to study a world in which this civilization has completely vanished, these geologists have called our entire civilization and its requisite way of life a ruin.”

The questions posed at the beginning of this essay are not only directed at geologists. They engage us all.

Has the apogee of human ‘progress’ coincided with the collapse of civilization?

Is the imminent collapse of global ecosystems accompanied by a comparable collapse of the human spirit?

Are you an opti-mysticist or a pessi-mysticist?