Calamitous age of humans holds glimmers of hope


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As members of Earth’s dominant species, readers should feel uncomfortable when unflattering books like this become reminders that the geological epoch they are living in has been named especially for them.

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As members of Earth’s dominant species, readers should feel uncomfortable when unflattering books like this become reminders that the geological epoch they are living in has been named especially for them.

Comprised of disparate essays that combine to leave a better understanding of why the age of humans (or Anthropocene) portends life-ending calamities, Alessandra Naccarato’s Imminent Domains also reveals nature’s indomitable ability to adapt to a changing environment and suggests this will happen — with or without the human race.

Part of a collection of works called Essais Series that challenge traditional styles of enquiry, Naccarato’s book reflects the series’ commitment to publishing works “concerned with justice, equity, and diversity,” revealing not only humanity’s transgressions, but also its potential for greater good.

Imminent Domains

As a thoughtful critique, it largely reflects the author’s intent of portraying humans simply as one of many life forms living in an interdependent world, giving readers a deeply personal assessment of our interactions with members of our own species, with other species and, most importantly, with our life-supporting planet.

There are calm reassurances in examples showing how our planet’s varied species can weather adversity and even recover from the brink of extinction, offering hope that humanity can also persevere.

Naccarato, a critically-acclaimed, Vancouver-based writer and poet, employs lyrical prose interwoven with well-documented, fact-based reporting as she challenges readers to confront profound truths — ones similar to those found in her debut poetry collection, Re-Origin of Species which highlighted the interdependence of living beings.

Naccarato wears her heart on her sleeve, proud of her Irish and Italian ancestry, and equally open about embracing a family tradition of viewing the world through “the intimacy and entanglement” of five central elements to survival — “earth, fire, water, air, and spirit” — while emphasizing humanity’s relationship with the natural world.

Reminding us that previous geological epochs such as the Pleistocene or Ice Age occurred over long stretches — or “deep time,” encompassing hundreds of thousands or millions of years — Naccarato compares these to our present-day Anthropocene time period which is “staggeringly quick,” having only begun centuries ago when “civilizations” brought identifiable human influence to our planet’s natural environment.

This influence has been so rapid, she writes, that “there is now enough concrete on the surface of earth to lay a thin crust around the entire planet,” also acknowledging how plastic products reshape global landscapes and ocean systems by sullying urban landscapes with crowded landfills and marring the beauty of the seas with floating islands of debris.

Such unsightly symbols of our new age lead Naccarato to suggest that the biggest issue confronting us, the climate crisis, is a crisis of colonialism and that the multitude of environmental issues we now face owe their origins to “the westward expansion of the colonial project.”

Structuring her book to promote this argument, Naccarato provides like-minded readers and naysayers alike with plenty of grist for the mill, presenting an array of her own personal experiences and well-documented studies in support of her colonialism argument.

Journeying to Cerro Rico, a mountain in Bolivia from which Spain is said to have extracted more than one billion ounces of silver during its prominence in the Americas, she sees firsthand how the mountain’s structural integrity has been weakened and landscapes altered.

Confirming that ongoing mining activity carries a potential for disaster, she overreaches when comparing this situation to the tragedy of Pompeii, but strengthens her case when noting how entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk promote the use of non-fossil fuels while failing to address harm done to landscapes and species caused by mining for those rare-earth minerals needed in rechargeable batteries.

“What silver was to currency, lithium could be to renewable energy,” she writes, and as such assaults on natural environments continue, Naccarato offers yet another profound truth to past, present and future empire builders.

“Nature isn’t passive,” she writes, “the fossil record laughs at the idea of human dominance.”

Joseph Hnatiuk is a retired teacher.

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