The measure of all things? The Anthropocene as a global biopolitics of carbon
(2018) European Journal of International Relations, 24 (1), pp. 33-57.
We are now told to welcome ourselves to the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch where humanity is ‘literally making’ the planet (Dalby, 2014). Yet, the underlying philosophical foundations of this human-made epoch remain relatively unexplored. This article makes a new contribution by problematizing the Anthropocene using the philosophies of Arendt, Foucault and Heidegger. It argues that the Anthropocene is a new and global form of biopolitics that asserts the essence of all (human) life and industry — the carbon atom — as the measure and centre of everything. When Nature is pre-reflectively projected, quantified and conceived as a calculable and carbonic human construction, then every thinkable object becomes related back to the human as its creator and steward. This is argued by tracing the entwining of computerized general circulation models, nuclear technologies and Earth system science, as well as by critiquing applicationist uses of biopolitics and governmentality in International Relations. What emerges in the Anthropocene, therefore, is an implicit yet powerful form of subjectivism ranging from atomic to global scales, or what is defined here as ‘relationality’. Echoing Heidegger (1977a: 27), in the Anthropocene, ‘It seems as though man everywhere and always encounters only himself’. Welcome, Anthropos, not to an epoch you are making, but to your new global biopolitics of carbon.
Anthropocene; biopolitics; carbon; Earth system science; nature; subjectivism