Category: Environmental Narratives

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene

Does climate change mean the end of civilization? Maybe that sounds crazy, but, then again, all the forecasts are deeply sobering. There are reasons for hope, sure, but there are also reasons to believe that humans are unleashing forces beyond anyone’s control. If we assume for the sake of argument that we are on a collision course headed for global catastrophe, how do we make peace with that reality? How do we comport ourselves as ethical human beings, and what does it mean to be living through the late stages of this explosive time period? These are just some of the questions that Iraq War veteran Roy Scranton grapples with in his new book, “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene.” Drawing on his experiences, Scranton uses the framing of the Anthropocene to capture a deep time perspective and to confront mortality in a way that is rare in public discourse. In this conversation with producer Mike Osborne, Scranton talks about his journey as an intellectual, his decision to go to war, and what it means for a civilization to learn to die.

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (License available here)

The Soundtracker

Listen up, because you never know when a sound will change your life.  Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton tells us the story of how he became “The Soundtracker,” an unorthodox career choice that has led him around the planet three times in pursuit of the last pristine soundscapes. Journey along with Hempton from tropical jungles to the frozen North as he records the music from the solar-powered jukebox that is Earth.

Image adapted from Randy Storey

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (License available here)

History is a Mess

The very idea of an Anthropocene suggests that the world is changing faster than ever before.  And a growing number of historians, archeologists, and geologists are looking at our modern world in the context of deep time to place the rapid changes in their proper context.  In today’s show, Ian Morris discusses how societies have developed through all of human history – from Neanderthals to iPhones – and points out some trends we can extract and investigate from archeological data.  Specifically, Morris explains how geography drives human social development, but development changes the very meaning of geography.  If that sounds a little complicated… well, it is. But we speak with Ronan Arthur about the Native American Navajo as a sort of case study of this geography/social development concept.

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (License available here)

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A Slight Digression: Invertebrates

Invertebrates. Gutless, spineless– but perhaps underappreciated invertebrates. We probably don’t spend enough time thinking about that other category of organisms on earth, so on this episode we’re going to spend some time with maybe the most overlooked group of Eukaryotes: Fungi. As it turns out, there are (at least) five MIND BLOWING facts about fungi that we all need to know. We’ll then travel to Southeastern Alaska to study the changing forest community. A wave of climate-driven ecological change is sweeping across the region, and we’ll learn about what this means for forests and the people who live there. Finally on today’s show we leave the invertebrates and debut a new segment that we’re calling Convos with Kau (as in coversation with Kaustubh Thirmulai, PhD candidate in paleoclimate at UT-Austin).

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (license available here)

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What’s in a Word?

This week, we explore communication: how do we talk? how do we hear? and what the hell are we even saying?  And what about the rest of the animal kingdoms?  African elephants don’t just communicate through trumpeting – they also use seismic waves. Elephant behavior expert Caitlin O’Connell explains this “second language,” and how it’s helping advance hearing aid technology. She also tells us about her new work of fiction, Ivory Ghosts, which draws attention to the intensifying problem of illegal ivory trade. We then talk to evolutionary biologist Nicole Creanza, who explains that we can learn a lot about early human migration across the globe not just through genetics, but also through our languages.

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (tracks used: Digya and Night Cave. License available here)

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The Odd Natural History of San Francisco

Our co-producer, Miles, gives a talk about San Francisco’s hidden nature that is simultaneously informative, funny, surprising and slightly uncomfortable (you’ll know what we mean when you get there). From the gold rush to the bay to the delicious food, Miles tries to explain why humans ever came to the Bay Area… hint: it involves geology.  The talk was given as part of a collaboration between the California Historical Society and the Odd Salon.


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Hanging out in a rambunctious garden

Emma Marris, author of Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, believes that in the Anthropocene we should widen our repertoire of conservation strategies, rather than exclusively relying on traditional conservation methods that “look backwards.” Emma also shares how her own relationship with nature has changed over the years, and suggests that we can learn to appreciate all forms of nature, from weeds growing in sidewalk cracks to grand mountain landscapes.


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The Largest Mass Poisoning in History

In the mid-1980s, a small problem began to surface in a relatively obscure corner of the world.  In 1994, just about a decade later, the World Health Organization published a statement that this little problem had developed into “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history.”  On today’s show, we speak to the doctors, epidemiologists, and geologists who helped hunt down the origin of this tragic event.  Join us as we venture through the human body and through geologic time to uncover the twists and turns and remarkable coincidences responsible for this ongoing epidemic.


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Special Announcement

The producers of Generation Anthropocene – Mike Osborne, Miles Traer, and Leslie Chang – are making a special announcement about the future of this show.  We’re going to be expanding the scope of our storytelling as well as the types of material available on our website.  We might not release a new podcast episode every Tuesday as we have been doing for this past year, but we will continue to report on all things Anthropocene through audio interviews and new material like written blog posts and photo essays.  We thank all of you for your understanding in this time of transition.


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