Wilderness, Deep Evolution, Circle of Life. Sacralizing the Serengeti

Bernhard Gißibl

Ever since the Anthropocene has been put forward as a designation to
name adistinct new geological epoch, it has been more than just a label
for a chronological problem to be solved by stratigraphers or the Earth
System Sciences. Suggested to denote an age following the Holocene, in
which humans have become a »global geophysical force«, the Anthropocene has become a convenient shorthand for the multiple processes of anthropogenic ecological change that add up to the present environmental crisis. Additionally, the Anthropocene has provoked cross disciplinary debates about the histories, agencies, and responsibilities of the detrimental human impact on the Earth System and global biodiversity.

Take, for example, the widespread equation of the Anthropocene with the
»end of nature«. If human impact has been so pervasive as to alter even
the most fundamental geophysical and ecological processes, then there is
no place left for autonomous nature beyond the human reach. In the
Anthropocene world nature and culture have become inseparable. It is a
hybrid world, with »no single Nature or mode of Natural knowledge to
which environmentalists can make recourse«. The »end« of Nature spelt by the Anthropocene echoes earlier controversies surrounding the long
dominant paradigm of wilderness as the preferred kind of nature to be
preserved in protected areas. Indeed, the Anthropocene diagnosis has
triggered a new »great conservation debate« in which the most divisive
issue once more constitutes the prevalent idea of Nature.

So called new conservationists and, more recently, convivial conservationists embrace the Anthopocene challenge to think and practice »nature« beyond established dichotomies and boundaries, whereas »mainstream« conservationists or »neoprotectionists« warn that the conceptual abolishment of independent nature would entail even more harmful consequences for already threatened species and ecosystems.

In their eyes the Anthropocene is a potentially dangerous »catchword« for the exaggerated claim that »nowhere on Earth is natural« and humans have allegedly altered everything. Abandoning the idea of »intact
ecosystems« would not only undermine the legitimacy of existing
protected areas but open the floodgates for indiscriminate human
interference with species assemblages and what nature is left, including
»accelerated changes in land use motivated by profit«. Accordingly,
neoprotectionists not only champion the traditional conservationist
ideal of preserving wilder ness and natural ecosystems within protected
areas but also campaign for the extension of the protected area estate
in order to safeguard the remnants of relative intact »original« nature
from further human encroachment.

Gißibl, Bernhard 2023: Wilderness, Deep Evolution, Circle of Life. Sacralizing the Serengeti, in: Bernhard Gißibl / Andrea Hofmann (Hrsg.): Multiple Sacralities. Rethinking Sacralizations in European History, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, S.241-268.