Directors Desk: The Anthropocene

  • Posted on 1 October 2020
  • By mgoodwin
More and more of us are realizing that this is what it’s like to live in the Anthropocene. 
The Anthropocene is generally considered to be the geologic age where humankind is the dominant force upon the surface of the planet. Some argue the age began with large scale irrigated agriculture, but most point toward the industrial revolution. Since the early 1800s, we have not only diverted rivers, we have dramatically shifted the biological, chemical and radiological properties of every part of our planet’s surface. Extractive industry, chemical pollution, nuclear material and greenhouse gasses are changing the habitable zone in a way that leaves an unmistakable mark for future geologists. 
The asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs drew a geologic line with a clear before and after. Humans are doing the same, and we are beginning to agree on the name for this period. Below is a chart of mentions of the word ‘anthropocene’ in books, newspapers and other publications, according to google:

Whether we like it or not, we are firmly in the position of managing our planet. Until we really learn how to do that, the Anthropocene means more forest fires, heat waves, sea level rise, extinctions, migrations and diseases. 
With the age old adage of ‘think globally, act locally’ as my transition, allow me to share some of what the Angeles Chapter has been up to in the past few months. This is how we leverage our power, as the region’s oldest and largest environmental organization, to bring sanity to the management of our one and only planet. 

We’re political. We understand that in a democracy, it’s up to us to elect leaders and then pressure them to act. Over 50 volunteers on the political committees of Orange and LA Counties have endorsed a record number of environmental champions for office -- see our endorsed candidates here. Sierra Club members are writing letters, calling and texting with the Sierra Club Independent Action to get out the vote in battleground states, and you can join them. I’m proud to be part of a group that is willing to get into the political arena and lead.


We build coalitions to pass transformative policy. In a major milestone this week, the LA County board of supervisors voted 5-0 to enact a just-transition taskforce focused on plugging and remediating nonproductive oil wells in unincorporated parts of the county. We can clean up abandoned oil wells and create family-sustaining, “high road” jobs. The county’s taskforce will include direct input from environmental groups and labor unions, including the Sierra Club, Los Angeles and Orange County Building Trades, and United Steelworkers Local 675. Read more about this exciting effort.

We are creating spaces worthy of groups who have not traditionally been part of the predominantly White environmental movement. As a White leader, I see my role in dismantling racism as deeply intertwined with my role in solving climate change. The deep, non-linear, anti-racist work has many facets underway at the Chapter level. In October, the chapter was awarded a grant by the national Sierra Club to develop a Communications Equity Strategy. Basically, how can our chapter communications best increase understanding of equity issues among our members, and welcome new members who haven’t historically identified with the Sierra Club? This strategy sits alongside planned workshops for chapter leaders to deepen their anti-racist practices. If you haven’t already, please fill out the readers survey and tell us how we’re doing!


We are growing and deepening our team. In October, we welcome Kim Orbe to the Angeles Chapter staff as Conservation Program Manager! I am thrilled to have an incredible organizer and campaigner joining our small but mighty team to support our hundreds of volunteer leaders. Kim’s background as the coordinator of the Nature For All and Water For All coalitions and her commitment to an inclusive and intersectional environmental movement are going to be a huge plus for our efforts to advance our conservation agenda. You’ll be hearing more about Kim down the road. 


We believe in democracy. Our Chapter leadership is elected by you, the members (not a member? Join here.). Every year, dedicated volunteers go to great lengths to ensure elections are fair and accessible. It’s been humbling to see the effort put in by our election team, so please see your Southern Sierran or SoCal Now for instructions on how to vote. 

I normally close this column with a brief story about an adventure. In late August, my partner and I took a road trip through the south west. The Anthropocene was on full display. We saw vast expanses of desert crisscrossed with pavement and power lines, massive dams, uranium tailings and rivers flowing green with agricultural runoff. As we drove home from Vegas in 110 degree heat, the smoke from the Mojave fire helped grind the traffic to a crawl and the exhaust from a hundred thousand vehicles enveloped us. The word ‘apocalypse’ came to mind frequently, but on that trip, I realized it's a word I don’t think applies to us anymore. Apocalypse usually means an ‘end’, a final destruction where nothing is left. While we have lost a tremendous amount, we are not giving up. We are fighting to prevent the apocalypse, and so I’d prefer to simply call this the anthropocene. Let’s acknowledge the anthropocene is like this, and get to work. 
I’m very curious to hear from you, our readers: what does being in the Anthropocene mean for you?
Photo by Morgan Goodwin: sunrise over the desert north of Las Vegas as the smoke starts to build.


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We have an obligation now to fix our ecological crisis before we poison the planet for our children, forever. Hopefully our election will give us new impetus to move forward, and I know the new administration has big plans to stop climate change. We have to advocate tirelessly now to not only undo all the harm, but put our folks to work, fixing what is broken or falling apart. I wish fervently for a new CCC, that will put our people to work and help put our parks and natural areas on a path to well being.

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