The Anthropocene: Epoch of Loss

Present discussions about the catastrophic and rapid changes now underway in the earth system—transformations that include the mass extinction of species, the inundation of cities, and the collapse of entire ecosystems—focus largely upon concepts like sustainability, mitigation, and resilience. After all, the continued existence of human life on earth may, in fact, depend upon efforts to geoengineer the atmosphere or the reefs, and it is understandable that we wish to protect the remaining members of beloved nonhuman species.  Yet scientifically-oriented discussions about the urgency of averting or mitigating climate transformation have proven politically ineffective, with environmental concerns remaining secondary or tertiary despite the heroic efforts of committed activists.


Meanwhile, the irrevocable loss has already begun, and it will accelerate even under the most optimistic scenarios for human ingenuity and investment.  The nation of Vanuatu is disappearing from the map; millennia of odes to the Yangtze River dolphin refer to a species that will never again be seen on earth; the streets of Miami already flood on sunny days at high tide as a result of rising sea levels.  Such facts suggest that we need something more than good planning, and more than fresh approaches to familiar questions.  We need new modalities of thinking about loss and commemoration that integrate traditional scholarly research with artistic and activist practices in ways appropriate for this epoch.


To an extent that is rare in academia, the issues are largely uncharted. The questions are existential and profound.  They include: What are the limits of hopefulness? How can excellent and constructive science and policy-making coexist with the acceptance that there will be a profound loss? Is it morally appropriate to pause for elegy when there is so much to be done? Is it morally defensible not to do so? What can we learn from historical cases of civilizational collapse? How might reflection on loss prove politically productive where consideration of science has fallen short? Does speculative fiction help us envision what may be coming?  How can we take stock of what exactly it is that we are losing?


We are assembling an interdisciplinary group of scholars, activists, artists, curators, policy-makers, and writers from on and beyond our campus to explore these issues. We want to explore the ethical, epistemological, and artistic challenges of doing theory and history in times of profound global loss. We aim to develop languages and frameworks for communicating about the Anthropocene as an epoch of loss and to explore their political potentiality.


Sponsored by: University of Pittsburgh's Global Studies Center

Global Studies Center
Veronica Dristas

"Apocalypse Chic" by Charlie Tyson

"What If We Stopped Pretending?" by Jonathan Franzen

"Climate Change Ain't The First Existential Threat" by Mary Annaise Heglar




Michael Goodhart

Michael Goodhart is Professor of Political Science, and he holds secondary appointments in Philosophy and in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies. His current research focuses on questions to do with global injustice and responsibility for injustice.  He is also interested in thinking about new modes of political theorizing for the Anthropocene. His core intellectual interests are in the theory and practice of democracy and human rights in the context of globalization and in related questions concerning global justice, democratic governance, and political responsibility at the transnational level.
Dr. Goodhart is co-president of the Association for Political Theory; he is an affiliate of the Human Rights Institute at the University of Connecticut, a member of the Center for Ethics and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, and sits on several editorial boards. In 2008-2009 he was an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation research fellow and Guest Professor in the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin. 

Contact about: GSC Research Initiatives, Ideas about Interdiciplinary Projects and Collaboration