“To accommodate the Western lifestyle for 9 billion people, we’d need several more planets”. This is a statement made by scientist Paul Crutzen who over a decade ago suggested we were living in a new geological epoch in which humans had altered the planet. This epoch was defined as the “Anthropocene”. (Read his article on: http://e360.yale.edu/feature/living_in_the_anthropocene_toward_a_new_global_ethos/2363/ “Living in the Anthropocene:Toward a New Global Ethos”)
Furthermore, Steffen et al (2011:843&847) supported and expanded on Crutzen’s theory by defining the Anthropocene as being 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. The Industrial Revolution was fulled by coal then oil which lead to numerous inventions that were deemed brilliant. Factors that lead to this epoch include:
- Increased use in fossil fuels
- Higher levels of CO2
- Destruction of natural biomes
- Creation of man-made materials
(Must see! video explaining 5 ways humans have changed the Earth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZIXPQt4DoI)
The 1950’s welcomed the birth of the “Great acceleration”. Humankind expanded the limits of what we were capable of as a society by introducing ideas of globalisation, marketing, tourism, and general investments. Our population grew (and still continues to grow) to new heights and many swarm to cities in search of “Quality of life” better defined as: “So many want so much”. (Check out the Anthropocene timeline on: http://www.anthropocene.info/anthropocene-timeline.php)
A few facts about the Anthropocene:
- People move more natural resources/materials than nature (erosion & rivers)
- We as humankind manage 3/4 of land outside of Ice shoots
- Greenhouse gases not seen this high over 1 million years
- Population will reach 10 billion within the century
Want to know more but lazy to read? visit: http://www.anthropocene.info/ for amazing videos to give you all the info!
This blog post aims to prove and support Gisli et al (2013:7) argument that Humanities is just as important when it comes to analysing the soundscape of the Anthropocene in order to provide information about the environment around us.
Soundscape of the Anthropocene.
I spent two days documenting and recording the sounds, old and new, that surround me on an everyday bases in familiar and new spaces I was exposed to. My first encounter was my apartment I reside in from Monday to Friday. Fortunately, my apartment is located in secluded area of Pretoria where my fence is on the border of a natural, untouched river servitude.
Taking time to listen to my surrounds at home, I was able to identify numerous bird calls, the sounds of running water which is provided by the natural stream. Due to the cold front that hit us this past week, I was also able to hear severe winds and the sound of light rain. However, as I ventured further into the city to run errands and attend lectures, these sounds were distorted by sounds of a variety of transport vehicles and the use of hooters, as well as an array of conversations that were shared between people who had no knowledge or respect for their surrounds.
Over the weekend, I made use of the Gautrain to get from Pretoria to Johannesburg and back. The sounds of conversations among people and moving trains was the dominant outcome. An occasional sound of an operated message being projected through a speaker was also a clear noise that was hard to miss. In Paul Crutzen’s article mentioned above, he states that public transport is a priority we as a society needs to take advantage of in order to stop harming the environment. However, the Gautrain has contrasted this statement by explaining the negative effects of this operation: “Negative impacts include, inter alia, the effects of the project on the ambient noise environment, vibration, air quality, heritage, sense of place, security and property value, as well as a range of other natural environmental and social effects pertaining to the construction and operation of the train” – See more at: http://www.gautrain.co.za/about/eia-emp/impacts-of-the-gautrain-project/#sthash.6hM3OpYA.dpuf (Check out the above link for the positive effects the Gautrain has had.)
In Johannesburg, I spent the day walking around the streets of Braamfontein. I found that Joburg CBD holds the sounds of a stereotypical man made city, The hustle and bustle of city life. I attended the ‘Arts on Main market’ while exploring, and documented the sounds of loud chatter, footsteps, and the sounds of cuisine being made in many different ways eg. frying, steaming, and the use of blenders. However, the clearly dominant man made sounds could not detract from the beautiful flora and fauna that surrounded the market.
With regards to the everyday, working soundscape of the Anthropocene, I find it heartbreaking 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.
After documenting the soundscape of the Anthropocene, I took a another two days to focus on the sounds of birds in the Anthropocene. The first day was aimed at documenting the sounds of birds in my everyday routine. On the second day, I ventured into our local park to see what sounds I could document in a more natural state of our environment. I could relate closely to Whitehouses’s idea of ‘human generated sound’ (2015:57) being the most dominant and noticeable sound within the Anthropocene. With regards to listening to birds, I found one needs a certain degree of attentiveness to make the realisation of present bird calls. Lorimer (2012:593) supports my second point with regards to seeking out the sounds of birds in a more natural environment by stating: ‘The recent diagnosis of the Anthropocene represents the public death of the modern understanding of nature removed from society’. Thus, I can argue that unless one is consciously making the effort to realise the sounds of nature or taking the time to go and enjoy nature in its purest form, it is extremely easy to drown out these sounds with those that are human generated. Furthermore, I did note how unfortunate it is that the most common bird calls one can here in the soundscape of the Anthropocene is that of the hadeda, dove, and pigeon.
Here are some pictures of the bird life I documented while walking around Delta Park, which is home to 180 bird species and many small mammals such as: Mongoose, Spotted Genet, and hedgehog.
Must go visit the Florence Bloom bird sanctuary which is the oldest bird sanctuary in Johannesburg! More details: http://www.southafrica.net/za/en/articles/entry/article-southafrica.net-delta-park
After speaking to both my parents, I was left with contrasting viewpoints on the disappearing ecosystems and dwindling biodiversity of our present day. My father who grew up in Bryanston, Johannesburg during the 60’s said his living situation differed immensely from what we experience today. He defined his living space as an agricultural holding whereas today it has grown into what is best described as a suburban living environment. My father described his living situation as being a ‘Catch and eat’ living situation whereby birds such as chickens and quail would be caught off the streets and used for eating purposes. Furthermore, animals such as cattle and reptiles such as snakes (special mention of rinkhals due to a very unfortunate encounter!) roamed freely around the streets which is unheard of in today’s society. My mother who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, argued that there has been many changes through the years but there has been no loss in biodiversity, even arguing that it has bought about more diversification. Growing up in the suburb of Parkhurst (in the exact same house we are still currently living in) My mother argues that she has seen the reappearance of numerous bird species over the years and even more so, due to warmer weather over the years, the integration of more tropical bird life. Due to these contrasting viewpoints, it is difficult to come to a conclusion about the disappearing ecosystem and dwindling biodiversity. However, disregarding opinion, facts show that change has happened over the years (through human activity) and development has played a highly influential role in the disappearance of natural resources.
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). It is also not common to hear birds; their ‘silence and discordance are symptomatic of the Anthropocene (Whitehouse 2015:66). It would be possible to hear more birds on a daily basis if the biodiversity of bird species were not being affected by human activities and Anthropocene technologies. “It’s no longer us against ‘Nature.’ It’s we who decide what nature is what it will be”.
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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.
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.