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New American Songbook

New American Songbook: Anthropocene


A term that is gaining more popularity over the past few years is the Anthropocene. 

Originally confined to geology, use of the Anthropocene has picked up across many disciplines, even those only barely relate to earth sciences. The Anthropocene is a concept that describes the geologic era that we are currently in as one in which human actions within the environment can be seen in the geologic strata of the earth--imagine a layer of plastic and garbage just above that limestone.

In the age of climate change, the environment is everywhere; even casual conversations about the weather are really about global warming. The philosopher Timothy Morton is one of the leading thinkers about this kind of environmental saturation we’re undergoing, taking the concept of “everything is interconnected” to new and haunting extremes. But, really, everyone is already talking about this, and there is a long tradition of environmentalist thinking in hip hop. In his song “New World Water” from 1999, Yasiin Bey, once known as Mos Def, reads water as a life-giving object that has been manipulated and corrupted by capitalism. He leaves no facet of water unexamined in his argument: water as the medium of the slave trade, water as a cleansing and healing agent, water as a mediator between classes, water as a hostage of corporations.

Timothy Morton’s concept of “ecology without nature” is useful here, as Yasiin Bey shows, thinking the environment in the Anthropocene is less about national parks or greenspaces, but rather the health of the ecology of all relationships.