The Climate of History in a Planetary Age
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The Climate of History in a Planetary Age

Dipesh Chakrabarty

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eBook - ePub

The Climate of History in a Planetary Age

Dipesh Chakrabarty

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For the past decade, historian Dipesh Chakrabarty has been one of the most influential scholars addressing the meaning of climate change. Climate change, he argues, upends long-standing ideas of history, modernity, and globalization. The burden of The Climate of History in a Planetary Age is to grapple with what this means and to confront humanities scholars with ideas they have been reluctant to reconsider—from the changed nature of human agency to a new acceptance of universals.Chakrabarty argues that we must see ourselves from two perspectives at once: the planetary and the global. This distinction is central to Chakrabarty's work—the globe is a human-centric construction, while a planetary perspective intentionally decenters the human. Featuring wide-ranging excursions into historical and philosophical literatures, The Climate of History in a Planetary Age boldly considers how to frame the human condition in troubled times. As we open ourselves to the implications of the Anthropocene, few writers are as likely as Chakrabarty to shape our understanding of the best way forward.

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1. Steven Nadler, Spinoza: A Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 220.
2. See my “An Era of Pandemics? What Is Global and What Is Planetary about COVID-19,” In the Moment (blog), Critical Inquiry, October 16, 2020,
3. Ken Ruthven, ed., Beyond the Disciplines: The New Humanities (Canberra: The Australian Academy of the Humanities, 1992).
4. For two recent stimulating discussions on this theme, see Sebastian Conrad, What Is Global History? (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), and Sumathi Ramaswamy, Terrestrial Lessons: The Conquest of the World as Globe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017).
5. Jan Zalasiewicz et al., “A General Introduction to the Anthropocene,” in The Anthropocene as a Geological Time Unit: A Guide to the Scientific Evidence and Current Debate, ed. Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin Neil Waters, Mark Williams, and Colin Summerhayes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 2–11. Four other very important introductions to the problem of the Anthropocene, discussed from the point of view of the humanities and the social sciences, are Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin, The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene (London: Penguin Random House, 2018); Jeremy Davies, The Birth of the Anthropocene (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018); Eva Horn and Hannes Bergthaller, The Anthropocene: Key Issues for the Humanities (London: Routledge, 2020); and Carolyn Merchant, The Anthropocene and the Humanities: From Climate Change to a New Age of Sustainability (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020).
6. Some of these debates are recounted in my “The Human Significance of the Anthropocene,” in Modernity Reset!, ed. Bruno Latour (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016).
7. Zalasiewicz et al., The Anthropocene, 31–40, for arguments regarding the utility of the formalization of the term.
8. Cited in Andrew S. Goudie and Heather A. Viles, Geomorphology in the Anthropocene (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 28. See also the larger discussion in J. R. McNeill and Peter Engelke, The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).
9. Peter Haff, “Technology as a Geological Phenomenon: Implications for Human Well-Being,” in A Stratigraphical Basis for the Anthropocene, ed. C. N. Waters et al. (London: Geological Society, Special Publications, 2014), 301–2.
10. Haff, 302.
11. For a critique of Haff’s concept of the technosphere, see Jonathan F. Donges et al., “The Technosphere in Earth System Analysis: A Coevolutionary Perspective,” Anthropocene Review 4, no. 1 (2017): 23–33.
12. Carl Schmitt, Dialogues on Power and Space, ed. Andreas Kalyvas and Frederico Finchelstein, trans. and with an introduction by Samuel Garrett Zeitlin (Cambridge: Polity, 2015; first published in German, 1958), 72, 73–74.
13. Peter Haff, “The Technosphere and Its Relation to the Anthropocene,” in Zalasiewicz et al., Anthropocene as a Geological Time Unit, 143.
14. Jan Zalasiewicz et al., “Scale and Diversity of the Physical Technosphere: A Geological Perspective,” Anthropocene Review 4, no. 1 (2017): 16.
15. University of Leicester, “Earth’s ‘Technosphere’ Now Weighs 30 Trillion Tons, Research Finds,”, November 30, 2016, The basis for the calculations are presented in Zalasiewicz et al., “Scale and Diversity of the Physical Technosphere," 9–22.
16. Zalasiewicz et al., Anthropocene as a Geological Time Unit, 105.
17. Goudie and Viles, Geomorphology in the Anthropocene, 33.
18. Zalasiewicz et al., Anthropocene as a Geological Time Unit, 71.
19. I am in fundamental agreement with Jeremy Davies’s point that the humanities’ uptake of the discussion on climate change and the Anthropocene involves the question of what to do—in writing human history or politics—with deep time. Davis, Birth of the Anthropocene.
20. Naomi Oreskes, “Scaling Up Our Vision,” Isis 105 (2014): 388. On the question of extinctions and why they pose a problem for human existence, see the discussion in Peter F. Sale, Our Dying Planet: An Ecologist’s View of the Crisis We Face (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 102, 148–49, 203–21, 233. See also Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York: Henry Holt, 2014).
21. Frédéric Worms, Pour un humanism vital: Lettres sur la vie, la mort, le moment present (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2019).
22. Here I register—with respect and admiration—a small conceptual disagreement with some of the propositions Daniel Lord Smail has put forward in his thought-provoking book On Deep History and the Brain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008). The book opens with the statement “If humanity is the proper subject of history, as Linnaeus might well have counseled, then it stands to reason that the Paleolithic era, that long stretch of the Stone Age before the turn to agriculture, is part of our history” (2). I agree, but then Smail goes on to say, with regard to the genes (“of considerable antiquity”) that are “responsible for building the autonomic nervous system,” that “this history is also world history since the equipment is shared by all humans though it is built, manipulated, and tweaked in different ways by different cultures” (201). True, but the physical feature of the autonomic nervous system is something humans share with many other animals, so this could not quite be a world history of humans alone. We should perhaps move toward writing these histories shared between different species, but that is a separate discussion. However, philosopher Catherine Malabou’s speculations based on the history of the human brain and its plasticity are highly relevant and, if borne out by future developments, may indee...

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Citation styles for The Climate of History in a Planetary Age
APA 6 Citation
Chakrabarty, D. (2021). The Climate of History in a Planetary Age ([edition unavailable]). The University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from (Original work published 2021)
Chicago Citation
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. (2021) 2021. The Climate of History in a Planetary Age. [Edition unavailable]. The University of Chicago Press.
Harvard Citation
Chakrabarty, D. (2021) The Climate of History in a Planetary Age. [edition unavailable]. The University of Chicago Press. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. The Climate of History in a Planetary Age. [edition unavailable]. The University of Chicago Press, 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.