Anthropocene is defined as being an anticipated epoch that began when human activities, such as the Industrial Revolution, started having a significant global impact on the Earths geology, ecosystems and overall natural environment. It is referred to by Gisili as the “accelerating switch from a nature-dominated to a human-dominated global environmental system” (Grisli, 2013: 5). What does this mean? Basically, it means that the wonderful technology we use to sustain our modern day living – things like the fossil fuels we out into our cars, the bustling factories manufacturing our computers, and even the rubbish we throw into our bins – is harming the environment in such a major way that we have fundamentally changed the geological terrain of our planet, causing the nature around us to evolve into something (very ironically) un-human friendly. The emition of CO2 gases caused by practically every human-made invention, has led to a hole in the atmosphere, leading to a rise in temperature (Global Warming) leading to plant and tree loss, as well as animal extinction. And as humans ourselves, we all know the importance our fauna and flora to our very survival – after all, breathing and eating are somewhat a necessity. Crist explains that Anthropocene has created a human supremacy by being the only species powerful enough to be deemed the “primary Earth-shaping force (Whitehouse, 2015:52). And what better way to cement that supremacy than soiling the very hands that feed – and house – you?
To understand Anthropocene and the role humans play in the evolution of our planet, I have explored something as simple as sound. This was done in the form of a two day sound journal. On the first day, I found myself stuck in the computer lab for an early morning study session. Gone were the sounds of bird chirps and wind rustling in the trees – instead replaced by a complacent hum generated by the computers fancy machinery, followed by the unruly clicking of the keyboard. Later in the day, I found myself sitting in my department studio, surrounded by a cacophony of inhuman noise referred to as music, once again drowning out the natural sounds of the world I live in. Here’s where things get interesting: I took a stroll to the botanical gardens on campus – perhaps nostalgically longing for the sound of good old fauna and flora. According to my logic, sitting in a botanical garden should emit noises like the singing of birds, the buzzing of bees, the gentle croon of the river. However, all I could hear were the cars hooting and zooting down the traffic covered road paved directly next to the garden. This was the nail in the coffin – even in a suggested “natural environment”, all my ears could absorb were the sounds of man-made objects, littering the earth with their gases and noise. It was a very sad moment. The second day was much of a muchness – the cars flying down the road, the chirping of cell phones, the roars of machines and the hums of the lights acting as makeshift suns. According to Steffen, “Humankind has become a global geological force in it’s own right” (Steffan, 2011:843), a statement that become extremely clear after the two day sound-experiment.
To further demonstrate this noisy phenomenon, I decided to do some bird-listening. Birds are so important in our natural environment – and not only for their beautiful voices, but birds are actually vital in the pollination of plants, dispersion of seeds, and over all recycling of nutrients back into the soil (Driscoll, 2013). It is for this reason that bird life truly needs to be analyzed and unbecoming circumstances rectified; enter the bird-listening experiment.
What is it like to listen to birds in the Anthropocene?
In all honesty, it is very disheartening. I decided to stick with my campus-theme, sitting in different areas and listening to my surroundings to solve this musical-mystery. Unsurprisingly, even in places like the botanical gardens, the sounds of the natural fauna is completely drowned out by the sounds of modern human disposition. Whether it be the up rise of urbanization – and therefore the cutting down of trees and surrounding flora — or simply the noise pollution created by cars and technology, the fact remains the same: the sound of birds is only doable if one truly sits and concentrates on blocking out the modern noise humans have created. This is followed by a statement made by Bernie Krause, who suggests that human activities cause disruptions that are “submerging the ‘animal orchestra’ beneath noise” (Krause in Whitehouse, 2015:53). It is therefore safe to say that listening to birds in the Anthropocene is a fruitless endeavor.
How are responses to what is heard influenced by the understanding that humans have profoundly influenced the mix of sounds that can be heard?
The reponse is denial. I took it upon myself to ask a few passers-by what they thought of the fact that bird song is no longer as prevalent in our natural environment. Many had responses such as “I’ve never noticed before” or “You can still hear them if you try to listen to them,” even a comment such as “there are too many birds to die out, they’ll just recreate.” This blatant denial of the dire circumstances are proof that human beings are so wrapped up within the Anthropocene – so disconnected from nature itself – to even notice that the dying of birds. It is truly scary.
Are most of the bird sounds from a large number of bird species or only a few?
I think it is safe to say that the bird sounds I could hear were very limited, indeed. The faux-nature required a more diverse sound system that I felt was lacking. The most prevalent sounds I could place were pigeons.
To try and substantiate the data I have personally required, I decided to interview a third source – my grandmother, Caroline Enslin. Caroline lived on a farm for over 40 years of her life, harvesting food and seeing to animals on a giant plot of land hardly touched by the hands of man. When asked to provide an account of the bird and animal life that existed in her surrounding landscape, her answer was very rich and colourful. She explains that she would wake up to the sounds of roosters and guinea fowl, followed by the echoes of doves and pigeons. She could bask in the sound of nature, even something as simple as insect noises! When asked how her experience has differed in the present day, she simply said: “of course a lot has changed since leaving the farm, but overall, I feel that the sounds of the cars driving up the road and the train are what wakes me up now. Perhaps a hawdeeda every now and then, but they seem to be quite scarce at the moment.” I asked if she had been back to visit her old farm, to which she told responded: “the land was sold and turned into a building of sorts – a center of some kind. It’s barely recognizable now.”
Clearly there is an issue. Primary, secondary as well as tertiary sources indicate towards the take-over of the planet by human creations. In the name of urbanization, natural flora has been cut down, killing the animals that thrive on them. The fact that a perfectly good piece of land housing cattle as well as plant life was destroyed in order to create a shopping mall is beyond me. It is normal to expect the necessity of the expansion of urbanized areas – the population is growing after all – but at what cost? What happened to all the surrounding nature?
In conclusion, the natural world is being forcefully removed by the phenomena known as human beings. We have chopped down our trees to build houses and centers, and divorced our ties to all things natural. According to the above examples, we are living in a world completely influenced by human activities, and that, as such, have a significant global impact on the Earths geology, ecosystems and overall natural environment – the very definition of Anthropocene. The lack of bird sounds (or any nature related sounds at all, for that matter) clearly demonstrates that human beings are creating a very un-natural world where nature takes a backseat to urbanization. However, it is important for people to realize that this modern way of living might be what becomes our demise. Nature as we know it might become depleted or even die out completely, but it doesn’t make it obsolete. Nature will always thrive – be it a giant volcanic rock filled with fire and rock. But the important thing to ask ourselves is: do we want to be a part of creating a world that can no longer sustain us?
Author: Coral Taylor (15195024), Published: 11 April 2016
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.
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.
Driscoll, M. 2013. Why are birds so Important? [O] Available: http://www.audubon.org/magazin/march-april-2013/why-do-birds-matter [Accessed: 10 April 2016]