In the Anthropocene We Don’t Need Machines, But Nor Do We Need Human Work

For 500’000 years before 1958 around 100 Gigatonnes of carbon (around 360 Gt of carbon dioxide) were fixed in the biosphere through photosynthesis every year.

Carbon dioxide fixation equalled carbon dioxide production by organic decomposition: the biosphere’s natural entropy turnover from the late Pleistocene till 1958 was around 100 Gigatonnes carbon per year. There was a perfect correlation between carbon dioxide and temperature variations. The biosphere, like any living body, in other words, had an internal regulatory mechanism to maintain the particular homeostasis it liked during this period. In this period there were numerous repetitions of the carbon dioxide concentration cycle, oscillating exactly between 180 and 280 parts per million (ppm). The biosphere reproduced many parametres at a very extreme level of exactitude and so maintained the era that human beings and the other animals of this period found congenial.

The figure 5.3. from Guy Deutscher’s book The Entropy Crisis (2008) shows the correlation between carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature and the ability of the biosphere to maintain homeostasis.


As recently as 1958, when only European countries and the United States of America and some other white countries had industrialised, – accumulating materials especially coal and oil and gas for their industrial society from all over the colonised world, – the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere was 315 ppm, not much above the value of 280–300 reached during previous interglacial periods. It is true that there was a 200 year drought starting in 6236 BC that affected human civilisations dramatically, but the relatively smaller number of humans on earth means that it is relatively less impactful than what we are dealing with today. Not only that: the drought at that time occurred at temperatures and carbon dioxide levels that did not exceed the band width of homeostasis.

Once developing countries became independent and started to industrialise, the evidence of an anthropogenic effect is overwhelming. Around 1975 AD the carbon dioxide concentration level began rising much faster than before, and since then it has been rising at the rate of about 15 ppm per decade, compared to about 1 ppm per decade in the previous 500’000 years. So whatever mechanism the biosphere had for stabilizing temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations in the 500’000 years before present, these are now evidently unavailable to preserve climate stability.

The rapid increase of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and of temperature since 1958 is a result of the total increase in entropy due to all the irreversible processes that took place when fossil fuels were burned massively. This increase was finally too large to be compensated for by the only available external energy input, namely solar radiation. An increase in entropy means an increase in disorder, in this case climate disorder. A world with increased entropy is a less predictable one. The more frequent extreme weather conditions predicted by the IPCC report are the unavoidable consequence of a massive entropy increase in the biosphere. If we continue as we are, earth will end up in an Eocene like climate and the human species and most other species that liked our late Pleistocene climate, will have died out.

A world of sustainable development would be a world where the entropy generated by man’s activities would be held in check by the input of energy that the earth receives from the sun as was the case up to a few decades ago.

It is a utopian view that industrial and capitalist society have the means to reprogramme human beings to live within the parametres that the biosphere needs for homeostasis at the level that human beings and our co-animals need. The biosphere has been at many other levels of homeostasis within its history. But mosquitos and many other insects, like human beings and other mammals, and most living and non living beings on earth over the last 500’000 years, we die at around 40-46 degrees Celsius depending on the humidity in the air. And the reason we say that industrial society does not have the means to reprogramme human beings to live within the 100 Gigatonnes of carbon cycling that we have found congenial, is that whereas in 1958 the world population of humans was 2.9 billion, it is now 7.7 billion going on 10 billion. The ideology of the industrial, capitalist, age is not suitable for the age when all nations are free.

Instead of industrial imperialist and colonial civilisation that was suitable for imperial capitalist powers, we need eco-socialist civilisation without nations or armies or machines and without commercial energy. This scenario is not the New Green Deal Scenario, but rather one in which every of the 10 billion human being on earth has a carbon dioxide budget to share along with its animal and non-living being co-dependents around it of just 10 tonnes of carbon annually. 1 tonne of carbon is around 2 tonnes of wood. So per year one person must manage, in the sense of cultivate and share with other living and non-living beings, around 20 tonnes of wood equivalent, no more.

It can be in the form of crops. The carbon content of wheat, paddy, grasses etc is about the same as that of a tree. So assuming we need to eat around 1 tonne of plants per annum, we can do work to the extent of making sure that around 19 tonnes of other plant material grows and dies. This amount of biomass would take up around at the most 1 acre of land.

Thus if we want the human race and a few associated animals and plants to survive, the entire planetary carbon dioxide cycling has to be managed by human beings, without machines, obviously, since we are 10 million and we all need to live and work. It will not be a lot of work to sit and watch these few tonnes of plants grow and die every year, that is for sure. So we must destroy industrial and capitalist society that is obsessed with human productivity. Not only must we abolish commercial energy, we also definitely do not need money. We have seen that industrial and capitalist man is incapable of managing money. He does not like to forgive debts. He does not like to live within a carbon budget.

Can not only green parties but all parties and all religions get behind this programme of abolishing nations, armies and money, commercial energy, and property in land and abolishing work?

Because without this radical and extremely tight programme of limits on each person’s greed, let alone on their work, the human species and most of the mammals and so on that depend on the present climate will continue on the path to extinction.

Can green parties just forget the utopia of a New Green Deal? Can they urge their followers to live within their carbon means? Can they stop being obsessed with human productivity and leave production to the biosphere? Because that is the only kind of production that matters.

If only human beings lived according to the realisation that we live in a paradise where we need to just pluck some fruit and let nature do the work. If only.

 Anandi Sharan is a political commentator who writes on climate change and economics


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