AN INTRODUCTION TO THE ANTHROPOCENE
Your alarm rudely awakes you, you get up, get in your car, sit in traffic, get to work and stare at a screen for the entire day. We are stuck in routine, in an industrialized and globalized world. Welcome to the Anthropocene epoch, a.k.a. ‘The age of Humans’ (Palsson 2013). The Anthropocene’ is a term that defines the ‘quantitative shift in the relationship between humans and the global environment’ (Steffen, 2011:843). It refers to a geological epoch that is distinctly different from other epochs as a result of human activity on this planet, most likely starting during the Industrial Revolution. Factors that have led to this epoch include: the destruction of natural biomes in order to clear space for humans and their activities; the increased use in fossil fuels, leading to increased levels of CO2 etc. It perpetuates the idea of a new geological epoch that follows the Holocene (Steffen, 2011:843). Waters (2016:138) maintains that the proposed marking for the start of the Anthropocene is the ‘Early Anthropocene’. This period of time is ‘associated with the advent of agriculture, animal domestication and extensive deforestation (Waters, 2016:138), which started millennia ago. These activities are leading to what scientists are referring to as the sixth mass extinction, as fauna and flora species are dying out at a much faster rate than they would naturally (Waters et al 2016: 2-8).
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For about three days I actively paid a lot of attention to the sounds surrounding me wherever I went, in various different environments. I became highly aware that I am in fact, living in, and a part of the Anthropocene. Leaving my lecture, I was astonished at how few natural sounds I was hearing. No birds chirping, no wind gushing, no insects zooming about. All I heard was the sound of people speaking, shouting, music coming from the student center close by, cell phones ringing and an ATM making beeping sounds. On my way to the local supermarket I heard many different cars, buses and taxi’s hooting as well as the sound of roadworks (drilling). Still no birds. Upon returning home I could hear the sound of wind and a few birds chirping by the tree outside my window, much to my relief. Leaving home later that night, the sound of various different modes of transport was the most dominant sound, as well as a television playing loudly in my complex. A fly came buzzing by (probably the only time I was happy to see one) as I was waiting to be picked up by a friend. I find it extremely disconcerting to be living in a time where the sounds of the geophony, “sounds made by the physical environment”, and biophony, “sounds made by animals, plants and other organisms”, are drowned out by the sounds of the anthrophony, “human generated sound” (Whitehouse, 2015:57).
BIRDS IN THE ANTHROPOCENE
Living in a block of apartments in the hustle and bustle area of Hatfield, I am unfortunately not exposed to many natural geophony and biophony sounds in my environment. However, in the quiet early mornings I can identify numerous different bird sounds between the constant dominating man made sounds. Listening to birds in the Anthropocene proves the following statement by Lorimer (2012:593) to be true: ‘The recent diagnosis of the Anthropocene represents the public death of the modern understanding of nature removed from society’. It is quite distressing trying to actually hear birds in the Anthropocene, and when taking into account that years ago we would not only be hearing the sounds of birds and/or pigeons, but also plovers, owls and guinea fowls. Despite the fact that other species could, and are likely to, exist outside the environments in which I found myself, he variety now is immensely limited, which indicates that the dwindling biodiversity is as a result of human activity. To listen to birds while being situated in a cityscape is to be reminded that nature does, to a small extent, still exist within urbanized areas in spite of humans territorialising spaces and changing their natural soundscapes. Whitehouse (2015:63) maintains that there is an ‘association that arises between human activities and those of birds, as represented in their sound making’. Despite the fact that this might be true, this response to hearing birds is being lost as young children are starting to grow up being accustomed to the soundscape of the Anthropocene. Even though anxiety in relation to environmental concerns is not a new occurrence, the Anthropocene epoch caused observable change not only in nature but also led to the extinction of certain species (Whitehouse 2015: 54-55).
THE ALTERED ENVIRONMENT
Upon interviewing my parents and grandparents, the harsh reality of effects of the Anthropocene finally sunk in. My mother growing up on a farm, was very fond of bird watching and she recalls hearing the beautiful melodies of weavers and crested barbets. Other birds she misses, chased away from the Hadidas she suspects, are Grey Louries. She also commented that she no longer sees Red Crested Barbets and Yellow Finches, which she had often watched nestled between the farm trees. My father lived close to a wetland reserve growing up and therefore was able to hear duck species and Waxbills. He also mentioned that he often chased guinea fowls as they were all over the area and in roads. Both my parents recall many Woodpeckers in their environment, which are no longer as evident due to deforestation.
From these accounts it can be seen that the bird life has deteriorated since my parents were young. It is prominent that human activity has caused the scarcity of guinea fowls and woodpeckers in the environment and as they cannot be found in the same environment anymore. It is therefore evident that there is a loss of biodiversity in our environment and that humans caused a disruption to the balance and harmony of the environment. Human contributions to destroying biodiversity include nitrogen deposits, over-exploitation of natural resources and the ecological footprint (Steffen et al 2011:856). Unfortunately, with the growth of urbanization, animals do not have the same secure areas as they did in the past. Urbanization caused massive decrease in biodiversity. When the youth is asked which animals they see in their surroundings and on their way to school, the answer is only domestic pets or hyraxes seen as roadkill, myself included, growing up in an urbanized area. The woodpeckers and other birds that my parents speak of, were hardly or never seen at my school or home- proving that the ecosystem has drastically degraded.
The environment we live in, and the sounds that it produces, reveal that we are living deep within the Anthropocene. I have concluded that the soundscape of my environment is buzzing with people, rumbling with car engines, hammering of tools and drilling of machinery. I agree with Whitehouse (2015:53) that a loss of wilderness equals a loss of harmony. All the articles blame humanity for the environmental problems the world is facing. Humans have become a terrifying geological force that has brought in the epoch of the Anthropocene. Our soundscape reveals that we are living in the Anthropocene due to the fact that ‘the context in which we are currently embedded is increasingly and globally the result of human activities’ (Gisli, 2013:4).
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Gisli, P et al. 2013. Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research. Environmental Science & Policy 28:3-13.
Lorimer, J. 2012. Multinatural Geographies for the Anthropocene. Progress In Human Geography 36:593-612.
Palsson, G et al. 2013. Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research. Environmental Science & Policy 28:3-13.
Steffen, W et al. 2011. The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369:842-867.
Waters, CN et al. 2016. The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. Science 351(6269):[sp].
Whitehouse, A. 2015. Listening to birds in the Anthropocene: the anxious semiotics of sound in a human-dominated world. Environmental Humanities 6:53-71.