Summary of Module
The concept of “scale” is fundamental to how we understand, measure, describe, experience, and respond to the Anthropocene. As a scientific concept, “scale” is a framework for analyzing geographical and temporal processes. It helps provide a frame for studying the dynamics of biological, geological, and social processes. This frame, however, shapes what we see. If our frame focuses on an environmental process at the global level, it might not understand the social consequences at the local level. Likewise, if we limit our strategy for addressing an environmental issue to the national level, we might be miss regional solutions that require international cooperation. This module explores the concept of scale in the Anthropocene, presenting a series of interdisciplinary approaches that both utilize and critique the concept of scale. It also provides examples of research, policy, and activism at household, local, regional, international, and global levels.
global, local, planetary, geological time, level, deep time, Great Acceleration, long Anthropocene, technosphere, planetary stewardship, limits, flow, multiscalar analysis, plastiglomerate, indicator, scale, scaling, resilience, threshold, boundaries, grassroots, environmental justice
Learning Outcomes (beginner, intermediate, advanced)
After completing this module, readers will be able
- to outline the main geological indicators for the Anthropocene and explain how they operate at a global level
- to summarize the primary indicators that threaten the stability of Earth Systems
- to define the concept of “environmental justice” and explain how it links local communities to broader social and environmental systems
- to demonstrate how our understanding of the Anthropocene changes as we look at it across multiple scales.
- to outline the ways in which issues of responsibility, stewardship, and governance transform according to scale.
- to assess the strengths and weaknesses of scalar and multiscalar analysis for both research practice and policy making.
Beginner Questions, Readings, and Activities
- What kinds of indicators do scientists use to measure the impact of environmental change at a global level?
- What type of global environmental transformations affect your community?
- Isao Hashimoto. “1945-1998” [A Time-Lapse Map of Every Nuclear Explosion Since 1945. 2003.
- Syvitski, James. Humanity’s Planet: Dams in America, 1800-2003.
- Welcome to the Anthropocene – a Film About the State of the Planet – UN Rio+20 Summit (2012). 2012.
- Rockström, Johan, Will Steffen, Kevin Noone, Åsa Persson, F. Stuart Chapin, Eric F. Lambin, Timothy M. Lenton, et al. “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity.” Nature 461, no. 7263 (2009): 472–75.
- Waters, Hannah. “Where in the World Is the Anthropocene?” Smithsonian.
- Biermann, Frank, Xuemei Bai, Ninad Bondre, Wendy Broadgate, Chen-Tung Arthur Chen, Opha Pauline Dube, Jan Willem Erisman, et al. “Down to Earth: Contextualizing the Anthropocene.” Global Environmental Change 39, no. Supplement C (2016): 341–50.
- UPROSE in Brooklyn – Environmental Countdown (EETV) Pilot.
- Berkes, Fikret, and Helen Ross. “Community Resilience: Toward an Integrated Approach.” Society & Natural Resources 26, no. 1 (2013): 5–20.
- Cole, Luke W., and Caroline Farrell. “Structural Racism, Structural Pollution and the Need for a New Paradigm.” Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 20 (2006): 265-282.
- Gray, Jenna. “These Youth of Color Are Organizing to Address Climate Change.” PBS NewsHour, August 6, 2017.
- UPROSE (Website).
- Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project. “From Banks and Tanks to Cooperation and Caring: A Strategic Framework for a Just Transition,” 2016.
- Rainey, Shirley A., and Glenn S. Johnson. “Grassroots Activism: An Exploration of Women of Color’s Role in the Environmental Justice Movement.” Race, Gender & Class 16, no. 3/4 (2009): 144–73.
In the readings above, you have seen several examples of how individuals are organizing to address the effects of environmental change in their communities. Their work to address environmental problems is linked to other systemic problems, such as racism and poverty. All of these issues operate across scales, from the local to the city to the national and international.
Make a list of the groups that are organizing around environmental concerns in your community. How many are there? Where are they located? What constituencies do they serve? What issues are they trying to address, and how are they linking them to other systemic issues, such as race, gender, or class? What issues are they not tackling? To what extent are the challenges they face complicated by structural inequities or policies at other scales?
Intermediate Questions, Readings, and Activities
- How does our understanding of the Anthropocene change if we think of it as a global phenomenon or as a local experience?
- What does a scalar analysis of the Anthropocene reveal or obscure? How might this affect policy approaches?
- Veland, Siri, and Amanda H. Lynch. “Scaling the Anthropocene: How the Stories We Tell Matter.” Geoforum 72 (2016): 1-5.
- Zalasiewicz, Jan, Mark Williams, Colin N Waters, Anthony D Barnosky, John Palmesino, Ann-Sofi Rönnskog, Matt Edgeworth, et al. “Scale and Diversity of the Physical Technosphere: A Geological Perspective.” The Anthropocene Review 4, no. 1 (2017): 9–22.
- Bennett, Nathan James, Jessica Blythe, Stephen Tyler, and Natalie C. Ban. “Communities and Change in the Anthropocene: Understanding Social-Ecological Vulnerability and Planning Adaptations to Multiple Interacting Exposures.” Regional Environmental Change 16, no. 4 (2016): 907–26.
- Buizer, Marleen, Bas Arts, and Kasper Kok. “Governance, Scale and the Environment: The Importance of Recognizing Knowledge Claims in Transdisciplinary Arenas.” Ecology and Society 16, no. 1 (2011).
- Fisher, Susannah. “The Emerging Geographies of Climate Justice.” Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, June 2012.
- Jahiel, Abigail R. “Between the Local and the Global in the Age of the Anthropocene: The Case for the ‘Regional’ in Environmental Studies and Sciences.” Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences 5, no. 2 (2015): 224–30.
- Thomas, Julia Adeney. “History and Biology in the Anthropocene: Problems of Scale, Problems of Value.” The American Historical Review, no. 5 (2014): 1587-1607.
- Toole, Stephanie, Natascha Klocker, and Lesley Head. “Re-Thinking Climate Change Adaptation and Capacities at the Household Scale.” Climatic Change 135, no. 2 (2016): 203–9.
- Steffen, Will, Åsa Persson, Lisa Deutsch, Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams, Katherine Richardson, Carole Crumley, et al. “The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship.” Ambio 40, no. 7 (2011): 739–61.
Use this table to analyze the ways in which our understanding of the Anthropocene changes across scales. At each level, explain the ways in which our understanding of environmental systems might be modified by different perspectives on how governance/political systems, socio-cultural systems, and economic systems operate.
Advanced Questions, Readings, and Activities
- In which ways do issues of responsibility and stewardship in the Anthropocene vary according to scale?
- What are the methodological challenges of multiscalar analysis? What are the potential benefits?
- Braje, Todd J., and Jon M. Erlandson. “Human Acceleration of Animal and Plant Extinctions: A Late Pleistocene, Holocene, and Anthropocene Continuum.” Anthropocene, When Humans Dominated the Earth: Archeological Perspectives on the Anthropocene, 4 (2013): 14–23.
- Lewis, Simon L., and Mark A. Maslin. “Defining the Anthropocene.” Nature 519, no. 7542 (2015): 171–80.
- Steffen, Will, Wendy Broadgate, Lisa Deutsch, Owen Gaffney, and Cornelia Ludwig. “The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration.” The Anthropocene Review, 2, no. 1 (2015): 81-98.
- Berkes, Fikret. “Environmental Governance for the Anthropocene? Social-Ecological Systems, Resilience, and Collaborative Learning.” Sustainability, Vol 9, no. 7 (2017): 1232.
- Coen, Deborah R. “Big Is a Thing of the Past: Climate Change and Methodology in the History of Ideas.” Journal of the History of Ideas 77, no. 2 (2016): 305–21.
- Head, L., C. Farbotko, C. Gibson, N. Gill, and G. Waitt. “Zones of Friction, Zones of Traction: The Connected Household in Climate Change and Sustainability Policy.” Australasian Journal of Environmental Management 20, no. 4 (2013): 351–62.
- Rull, Valentí. “The ‘Anthropocene’: A Requiem for the Geologic Time Scale?” Quaternary Geochronology 36 (2016): 76.
- Rockefeller, Stuart Alexander. “‘Flow.’” Current Anthropology 52, no. 4 (2011): 557–78.
- Bai, Xuemei, Sander van der Leeuw, Karen O’Brien, Frans Berkhout, Frank Biermann, Eduardo S. Brondizio, Christophe Cudennec, et al. “Plausible and Desirable Futures in the Anthropocene: A New Research Agenda.” Global Environmental Change 39, no. Supplement C (2016): 351–62.
- Head, Lesley, Chris Gibson, Nicholas Gill, Chantel Carr, and Gordon Waitt. “A Meta-Ethnography to Synthesise Household Cultural Research for Climate Change Response.” Local Environment 21, no. 12 (2016): 1467–81.
- Verburg, Peter H., John A. Dearing, James G. Dyke, Sander van der Leeuw, Sybil Seitzinger, Will Steffen, and James Syvitski. “Methods and Approaches to Modelling the Anthropocene.” Global Environmental Change 39, no. Supplement C (2016): 328–40.
For your area of expertise/practice, how might a multiscalar approach transform your work (keep in mind that scale might be a temporal, geographical, or analytical category)? How could it be conceptualized or implemented? In what ways could it be valuable? Review work being done in your area of expertise. Who is working on multiscalar analysis? How have they implemented it in their research?