chapter  18
Burial and resurrection in the Anthropocene: Infrastructures of waste
Pages 11

In the fifteen years since Paul Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer (2000) published their bid in the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme’s newsletter to officially name the Anthropocene – as epoch, as symbol, as callto-action, as intellectual and cultural turn – it has become a veritable growth industry. As a concept, the term Anthropocene signals the end of the Holocene and the point at which human activity has intersected, in its significance and magnitude, with planetary, geophysical forces. Until now, pundits have vacillated as to where to place the proverbial if not literal spike. Some say it was the late seventeenth century’s Industrial Revolution when the accelerated extraction and burning of fossil fuels began to take place. Others place it some 8,000 years earlier in the Neolithic, with the clearing of forests for agriculture. Still others suggest an even longer, deeper Anthropocene, staking a claim for the Promethean moment of harnessing fire and widespread use of landscape burning. Until recently, Crutzen had been of the opinion that the Anthropocene began with the large-scale extraction of fossil fuels, but he recently changed his mind. He now places “the real start of the Anthropocene” on July 16, 1945 – the Trinity detonation – and its fallout, radioactive waste. And even more recently, the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy Working Group has agreed: “It’s a well defined spot in time – it’s a big historical event,” according to Jan Zalasiewicz, Chair of the Working Group (Monastersky 2015). The piously named code for this first atomic bomb testing is most com-

monly attributed to J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is quoted as using the term in reference to one of John Donne’s devotional poems, “Holy Sonnet XIV: Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God.” Steeped in Christian legacy, the Anthropocene may be the material and symbolic mark of our species’ original sin. In some sense, the Anthropocene recognizes humanity’s fall from Eden as that moment at which our thirst for knowledge – eating of the proverbial forbidden fruit – transmogrified into an Enlightenment dissociation of homo sapiens from nature; a parting that both made possible and vindicated the Great Acceleration and its industrial, corporate, and global wake. Seeming to take this further,

Oppenheimer is recorded in the 1965 television documentary The Decision to Drop the Bomb quoting the Hindu script from the Bhagavad Gita “‘Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that one way or another” (1944). According to Judeo-Christian scripture, the fall of Man brings mortality to humanity: now the Anthropocene contemplates our extinction. Whether it is the large-scale industrial use of fossil fuels (a form of necro-

waste formed from the mainly anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms), the Trinity detonation or any of the subsequent nuclear detonations that deposited radioactive waste into the stratosphere, or the ubiquitous dumps and landfills that proliferate the globe archiving a time line of extraction, consumption, and disposal – a strong case can be made for waste as the signature of the Anthropocene: the material and symbolic mark of our original sin. This chapter will consider waste as a particular form of capitalist neoliberal burial, and more recently, resurrection. I will argue there is both a denial of consumption’s fallout – waste’s management encourages us to forget in order to recommit our sins – and a hopeful, if naïve, rebirthing as our buried discards are resurrected for profit.