The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2017

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JUNE 2017 Issue
Field Notes

Field Notes from the Anthropocene:
Living in the Back Loop


I. I feel it coming

Gleaming blue translucent condos and whitewash stucco. Construction cranes and flood barriers. Mirrored sunglasses and bikini rollerbladers. Architecture that gathers the edge of the world, at least the American world.

Miami Beach, photo by author, February 10, 2017.

This past December I got married in New Orleans, where my husband grew up, moving after Hurricane Katrina—first into Best Westerns in Houston, next to Seattle on a Red Cross voucher, and finally to work in New York, where we met nine years ago. Thank god for Katrina!, we joke. Last month we went to Miami Beach for our honeymoon, half for the sun and half—as you might also do now in Louisiana—“to see it before it’s gone.” A joke but not a joke, because Miami Beach is “ground zero” for sea level rise.12 As one of the most low-lying cities in the lower forty-eight states, Miami Beach is already flooding and will likely be the first American city submerged by rising seas.3 According to University of Miami geologist Harold Wanless, Miami will see 2 feet of sea rise by 2048, 3 feet by 2064; 4, 6, or 15 feet by the end of century, and one foot per decade after that.4

Scientists base projections of sea level rise like these on data gathered from microwave and GPS sensors installed on land and ice, in the oceans and in space.5 This data shows that sea levels have been rising over the 20th century at a rate that has increased in recent decades, with 2014’s level 2.6 inches higher than 1993’s average, which was previously the highest annual average on satellite measurement record.6 According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), sea levels are rising now at one-eighth of an inch per year, a rate expected to accelerate in tandem with global warming in coming decades.7 It was by studying ice samples drilled from melting glaciers themselves that scientists first detected and measured global warming. These glaciers are the archives of our earth, the memory of its worlds, of past climates and of breaths released. During past ice ages, glaciers formed as water evaporated from the oceans, snow accumulated and compressed, layer built upon layer. Under the weight of accumulating seasons, the lower snow became ice, formations became glaciers, and ancient air was preserved, trapped as bubbles within the ice.8 Today ice cores, such as those studied at the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver, tell scientists what earth’s climate was like in the past, providing a benchmark against which to compare today’s temperatures and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, as well as a basis for prediction of how the climate will change in the future. For the last 12,000 years, the atmosphere trapped just enough of the sun’s energy, giving us the Holocene “golden age,” the “safe operating space” in which human civilization was born, in which we grew up, and which we are now leaving.9 As increased concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane trap more of the sun’s heat, earth’s average surface temperature is rising, with the ocean absorbing the bulk of the warming. So now glaciers in Montana and Iceland, but primarily Antarctica and Greenland, are melting, sending their water into earth’s swelling seas.10 All the water on earth is all the water there’s ever been. In the Anthropocene, everything is connected.

Wanless says that all of our predictions of gradually rising seas might be wrong, because none of them acknowledge the fact that we know previous ice melt and sea level rise didn’t happen steadily but rather in nonlinear, erratic pulses.11 The question remains, just how quickly do pulses happen? Over the course of a day? A year? A decade? The Holocene mind assumes sea levels are steady and the earth is an eternal, stable background to our human dramas, but the Anthropocene mind learns otherwise. Even with our radars, satellites, and ice core labs we can’t predict when or how quickly much of this will occur. Already, sea level is not rising uniformly across the planet, spatially or temporally (New York, for example, is considered a hot spot).12 The less ice, the less reflective surface able to deflect—the more dark, sun-absorbing ocean, the more heat absorbed, creating a chain effect, accelerating ice melt, sea level rise, and coastal inundation.

The ice of memory becomes a deluge! It’s waiting for us! Just as we can’t predict these processes, we do not know how the melting of the glaciers, rising of the seas, or global warming will intersect in coming decades with the long list of other Anthropocene transformations, including mass extinction, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, fresh water usage, or ever-increasing wealth inequality and existential freakout in humans.13 Homo sapiens have never lived at 400 parts per million (ppm) CO2 concentration. We’re already in a new world. And at 1500 ppm? Into the unknown!

If we can’t accurately predict the rate of melt or rise, we can still foresee some consequences. With 3 feet of sea level rise around south Florida, Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station, located on Biscayne Bay just south of Miami and already exposed to the sea, will be cut off from the mainland, reachable only by plane or boat; with more rise it will be completely submerged, perhaps leading to catastrophic meltdown.14 With 6 feet of sea-level rise, downtown Miami’s waterfront and the Florida Keys will be gone, and the city’s cruise ship port—the world’s largest—will be under water.15 But that doesn’t even matter, Wanless says: just one foot of sea level rise—expected by around 2040—will cause salt water intrusion into the city’s water systems, rendering tap water undrinkable, sewage systems nonfunctional, and sending Miami residents fleeing en masse like 21st-century Dust Bowl refugees.16 Wanless sums up the future of his beloved home Miami by saying, “I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but it’s over.”17

But is it? Is this just the end?


II. Resilience 1.0

One night in Miami Beach we take a walk up to the posh Sunset Harbor neighborhood. We cross through a cluster of towering condos, where we overhear wealthy condo dwellers debate which duck dish to order, which would be normal except they’re seated 2 and a half feet under the recently raised street. The elevated roadways that now loom above the cafes and doorways in Miami Beach are part of an effort to build resilience to the regular flooding, with the city having already spent $400 million to elevate streets and install a huge pumping system to push flood water into Biscayne Bay.18 This is the Miami iteration of climate resilience: maintaining a (static yet ever-receding) pastel and neon art deco fantasy while the oceans rise around the city, with new infrastructures like these streets alongside a delirious building boom, with $2.7 billion spent on new luxury high rise construction in 2014 alone.19 The speakers at the condo cafe are playing that Chainsmokers song we all love, We ain’t ever getting older…

Miami’s efforts to build climate resilience are part of more widespread transformation in urban infrastructure and design. Coastal cities like New York where I live are being hailed as experimental laboratories for real-time testing of new designs to make cities resilient to climate change, rising seas, and natural disasters.20 I have been researching these resiliency efforts for many years, and one thing is clear. Unlike urban design in the past, which promised a “better” future, these resiliency designs work by managing and adapting to changing conditions of catastrophe in order to secure the functionality of our existing social and political urban order. These resilience designs don’t replace modern infrastructures, but are necessitated by them, and complement them.21 That is, despite their “green” characteristics—oysters, swales, reefs, and marshes—resilience infrastructures sit perfectly well alongside the proliferation of pipes, cables, wires and roads that underwrite modern life and project it into the future. Implicitly or explicitly, these designs tell us that there is little left but surviving in a landscape strewn with corpses and debris, disasters and debt. In Miami Beach’s case, Bvlgari bags will float on the rising seas as they churn outside the city’s preserved art deco hotels: a frozen, yet ever-receding past of luxury, glamour, exuberant faith in social and technological progress. The possibility of imagining or creating other worlds disappears.

Listening to the Chainsmokers waft out of the Sunset Harbor restaurant, I’m thinking that there really is a will to survival at the heart of these new resilient modes of administering coastal urban environments. Rather than promising the future, these resilience measures function to ward the future off. Adapting to changing conditions so as to keep all other things the same.22 In the novel I’m reading on the trip, part of Steven Erikson’s “Malazan Book of the Fallen” series, immortality is a curse. A people called the T’lan Imass undertake a collective ritual to live forever in order to wage eternal war on their enemies who had once enslaved them. Thousands of years after the ritual, they still wander the continents, haggard, skeletons with pieces of skin falling off, dreaming of nothing, contemplating their own futility, remembering little of what it is to live: love, sex, tastes, everyday commonplaces like the smell of cooking food, children laughing, leaves rustling, birth and death.


III. Letting go: the back loop

We’re at Lummus Park, an outdoor workout spot in South Beach. I’m watching an amazing woman in her late forties as she climbs to the top of a 12-foot pole. She raises her body into a star-shaped human flag, turns upside-down, and holds herself aloft with a single leg wrapped around the pole. Slowly, she lowers herself several feet, holding herself taut and gracefully dismounting from the pole. Afterward she doesn’t speak to anyone. She’s there to teach her teenage pupils, signaling their drills to them: hanging sit-ups, bar flips, handstands. I am amazed by this woman; I’m thinking, we really know little of the human body’s potential! Part of the reason we came to Miami was to visit this world-famous beach gym, well-known as a place where elite calisthenics and street workout practitioners train their human flags, planches, and parallel bar handstands under sun-soaked palms. Street workout, a relatively new culture of choreographed movements on free outdoor parks or infrastructures, is just a physical fitness component of a wave of experimentation with new ways of transforming bodies, minds, lives, and the world around them: from hacking, making, modding, prepping, and lifting to citizen science, eco-design, solar energy grids, wireless mesh networks and crossfit boxes. People everywhere are searching their souls, scouring the earth for tools, and trying in a million ways to reinvent what it means to be human and to dwell on earth. Most of these practices in no way see themselves as solutions to climate change, the impending nuclear catastrophe of a submerged power plant, or large-scale political structures.23 What then, one asks, is their status? Who could honestly say? What’s clear is that these practices treat our time not as “The End,” but rather a beginning, a transitional time in which every aspect of life is now open to reworking, here and now. As such it can’t be pinned down yet. Seeds need time to grow, adaptation doesn’t (usually) happen overnight, and Rome wasn’t built in a day. </p

Elevated streets in Sunset Harbor, Miami Beach.

Speaking of which, plants and animals are doing this too. As global warming has decreased the number of days below freezing, mangroves’ habitable range has increased and the trees are taking root in salt marshes farther north.24 Alligators are adapting to live in residential areas with lakes or canals and use south Florida’s waterways as a “network of highways to get from one place to another.”25 The Everglades are also inhabited by a large population of Burmese pythons—brought to the area as exotic pets and discarded. Despite a state-organized “Python Challenge” that awards cash prizes to freelance citizen groups who catch the most pythons, the release of an iPhone app for crowdsourcing python sightings, and the state’s importing of snake-catching specialist Irula tribesmen, the pythons continue to thrive and multiply in their new environment.26 Seasons are shifting: spring is coming earlier in many places, while winters as we know them in New York have grown more erratic and 60 – 70 degree temperatures increasingly frequent. “Insects are emerging earlier; birds are nesting earlier; plants are flowering and leafing out earlier. The latest of such natural events studies, out last month, shows that climate change has stretched out the wildflower bloom season in Colorado by 35 days.”27 So what I mean is, it’s not just us. Nature is experimenting too, and we create our worlds in the worlds it creates, and vice versa.

To paraphrase writer Gretel Ehrlich, is this a world coming apart, or piecing itself back together?

Father of resilience theory C.S. Holling has a useful way of thinking about a time like this. He calls it a “back loop.”28 This concept refers to the adaptive cycle, the main heuristic used by resilience ecologists to describe the four phases of life experienced by all natural systems–a human being, a city, a society, a civilization, a swamp, a forest, a company. On one hand, the adaptive cycle contains a “front loop” of early rapid “growth,” leading to a “persistence” or “stability” phase dominated by a few species and characterized by rigidity and the capture of earlier energies. Those “stable” states are not permanent. Gradual or sharp disturbance can cause systems to slip into a “back loop,” marked by a “release” phase where energies and elements previously captured in conservation phases are set free, unexpected new combinations emerge, and wild, exuberant experimentation becomes the modus operandi. The most understudied aspect of ecological systems, back loops are also one of the most exciting. As observed in ecological systems, the back loop is the phase of life in which individual organisms or small groups of individual organisms interact across previously unbridgeable divides and in doing create something fundamentally original. In contrast to life in the regimes we are leaving behind, where innovation was stifled and influence limited to a few actors with the greatest power—the stability “trap”—in the back loop beings and things are released and open to new potentials.29 Although most back loops studied by ecologists have been regional in character, in 2004 Holling penned an essay suggesting that “we are at the time of a large-scale back loop,” a global situation in which “each of us must become aware that he or she is a participant.”30 I think Holling’s challenge is important; but it is also an apt description of a phenomenon already underway.

If we accept being in a back loop, the question becomes, how do we respond? Do we try desperately to maintain the old “safe operating space,” freeze a process already in motion? Or could we let go, allow a time of exploration and experimentation, see what becomes of the pieces of us and the world?


IV. Prometheus 2.0

Back on the beach, we finish our workouts, and watch some guys compete for ridiculous numbers of reps and sets. I text my friend back in New York who owns the CrossFit gym where I work out, “Let’s move here. This could be life,” with a photo of the sun and park. He is a Five Percenter of the Nation of Gods and Earths, a 1960s nonreligious offshoot of the Nation of Islam (NOI) that believes god is neither separate nor exterior from humans, and not a mystery entity to wait for to bring you food or change your world. Instead, god is something that humans can cultivate and develop through meditation, training in mental, spiritual and physical fitness. We are gods. Even though the wealthy elite of the world withhold this truth from the majority, through living it and knowing our selves, we prove it true. While some Five Percenters see godliness as reserved for black men only, my friend, who’s Puerto Rican, has his own wisdom. He teaches his daughter to know she’s a god, and teaches his friends (who are many colors) the same, that divinity is your true power—which is also our true power, which is the power of the universe, which is the power of creation of our universe and reality.31 When my friend first mentioned all this in the car one morning as we groggily made our way through Brooklyn to run a 5K in Sheepshead Bay, I was surprised not only because I’d known him for a long time without hearing about it, but also because much of my life has also been inspired by the subterranean, often repressed but constantly reemerging, messianic tradition. The 15th-century Hussite rebellion in Bohemia, when the Taborites defeated the Holy Roman Empire, proclaimed their own Kingdom of Heaven on Earth and declared there would be no more servants nor masters; the 16th-century rise of Lurianic Kabbalah in the aftermath of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain; the heretical ideas of 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who denied the existence of a transcendent God and said everything is one divine substance; Nietzsche’s Zarathustra; and so on. Across place and time, from a Taborite beating a drum made of their slain leader’s skin, to us who meet today in gyms on the terrain of the Anthropocene back loop, there is a single truth surviving across centuries and continents: the true power of transformation belongs to the people. We revise maps, we invent new practices, new movements, new ways of living, in and with and sometimes despite each other’s unpredictable paths. “A timeless reality,” as one Five Percenter puts it.32

Harold Wanless standing in sunny day floodwater during high tide in Miami Beach, September 28, 2015. Credit: 2015 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Another unexpected tale from the fabulous/insane new world offered by the Anthropocene. My friend the god grew up in Bushwick; I’m from Kansas. He lifts more than twice his bodyweight; I can only do a few pullups. Two very different beings who, via unique paths, landed on the same planet. New starting point: the old world is over, a revolution has begun. In and by people like each other, through love and building, is born a new sense of the possible.33 Anyway, now I’m learning supreme math, and he’s learning how the spirit became a camel, the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child. New values, new tables!

Claudita Concha Parraguez (@claukitty9) practicing pole calisthenics at Lummus Park, South Beach, Miami Beach. Photo taken February 11, 2017 by author.

Speaking of gods, lately I’ve been thinking about “Prometheanism,” that supposedly horrible word so often used to describe humanity’s reaching the apex of its insanity as the most powerful geological agent on earth, imagining itself a force on par with a super volcano or an asteroid, all possible because this human species raised itself up as the rational orderer and center of reality. Welcome to the Epoch of Promethean Man, cue the Accelerationists, the Breakthrough Institute, the Singularity, the space colonies, and, on the other end of the spectrum, cue the critical world’s almost univocal condemnation of human hubris as an outdated relic of the catastrophic 20th century.34

But isn’t that story getting old? If we creep back to the Caucasus Mountain where Zeus chained Prometheus and listen again to the imprisoned god’s story, what we actually hear is how Prometheus had gone out among the humans and found them destitute, lacking all knowledge of the means of production, the forms that make life more than bare life, and now “living in caves and in holes of the earth, shivering with the cold because there was no fire, dying of starvation, hunted by wild beasts and by one another.” In hopes of liberating the humans, Prometheus went to Zeus and asked him to give the people fire. Zeus refused to share even a spark with them, as one tale tells it, “for if men had fire they might become strong and wise like us, and after a while they would drive us out of our kingdom. Besides, fire is a dangerous tool and they are too poor and ignorant to be trusted with it. It is better that we on Mount Olympus rule the world without threat so all can be happy.”35

In response, not only did Prometheus expropriate fire from the selfish gods and give it to humans, he also shared with them many other tools: architecture, writing, mathematics, astrology, sailing, navigation, medicine, divination, music—arts necessary not only to human survival but to the infinite ways we elaborate the happy, good life.36 A god who would not bow to the gods, the myth of Prometheus is about human hubris but also about the tools we use to wield our hubris. These arts, practices, knowledges, and forms give us the means to transform not only ourselves but also our very modes of existence. For millennia, humans have experimented with tools, designing new ways to stay warm, better ways to feed themselves, how to move without being detected, how to prepare food, how to absorb and attenuate a variety of stressors from cold to combat injuries, how to hack, how to express beauty and meaning.37 Song. Tools are the myriad, infinite bridges that attach us to the world, that allow us to make use of it, and to give shape to and be shaped by it. By giving the mortal humans these forms, Prometheus therefore gave them the capacity to create their own worlds. And through this gift a second one was given to us: the possibility of another future, one not determined in advance but a future that was an open question.


V. New land, new questions

An age was dead. The new age belonged to generations still to come.”

– Steven Erikson

I grew up in the Midwest in the late ’90s working in gas stations that played Nirvana and Snoop Dogg at a time when it seemed like the only thing we knew for sure was that there was no future and that nothing would ever change. Now it seems like the only thing we know for sure is that everything is changing. As many resilience theorists argue, we are unprepared to face the new world we find ourselves in because we are still using tools from the front loop. Outdated ideologies, infrastructures, design practices, and change models are not going to cut it. We’re in the back loop, and we need new tools.

Architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)’s

So far it seems actual agency—powers of imagination, hubris, and tools for their translation into reality—is hoarded in the hands of those who want to preserve and profit from the present social system as the water rises. Take note: faced with a society in the back loop—understanding we are leaving western civilization’s “safe operating space”—the powerful are experimenting: think Elon Musk’s SpaceX “Mars I” dreams of another space; experiments in de-extinction of the passenger pigeon or mammoths, dreams of bringing the past back to the present; New York City resilience practitioners engineering “living infrastructures” and retractable sea walls outfitted with skate ramps, etc. These experimenters are daring, often so much so that they believe they can transform the very cities we live in and the solar system around us into large-scale laboratories for their trials. They are maniacally trying to make a future in the images of their desire. What about the rest of us, how are we to have any efficacy or agency?

“Resilience 1.0”—the resilience “regime” I spoke of earlier—tells us we have no agency, no imagination, and no dreams apart from what’s needed to envision or endure disasters. The human flag pole: an image to remind us what a massive fiction this is. Resilience 2.0: we have and have always had immense power to transform our selves and our worlds, as evidenced by the proliferation of techniques developed and tested out today as people have already begun inhabiting the back loop in diverse ways. Recognizing this as our capacity and our right, we can reclaim something we never truly lost.

Instead of looking for final answers, what if we accept that we are living in a transitional time, where things are in disarray, where the future’s uncertain, but where more is now possible and authorized than ever before?38 From this perspective our time is a time for audacity, experiments on the same playing field where our future is already being written for us. In short, living in the back loop. This new orientation and way of life entails finding new modes of nourishing ourselves, designing and raising buildings, staying warm or cool, and accessing clean water as it is does learning to face the unknown and learning to look into ourselves and ask what kind of life we want to make live, what kind of life is worth living, and really asking previously unaskable questions. What on earth could being be? By “we” I don’t just mean designers, city governments, planners, or resilience theorists who have already become back loop participants, as testified by the existence and growth of the resilience paradigm. By “we” I mean everyone: common people where they are, how they are, people who will bear the brunt of climate change, people who already needed the world to end yesterday so they could finally get a chance to live.


VI. An image

Like a Shell futurologist, one can imagine multiple disastrous futures for Miami. Will it become a southern Super Venice, a la Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York of 2140, a watery playground for the rich and capital speculation: Zaha Hadid-designed high-rise condominiums retrofitted so as to actually function with permanently elevated sea levels; floating tourist traps on Ocean Boulevard hocking $35 margaritas for what remains of the world’s non-inundated middle classes; a motley and still surviving working class that ferries in from the overstuffed, substandard housing complexes where they live a kind of managerial socialism of long lines, board meetings, and just-in-time and rarely adequate dinners?39 Perhaps the hard realism of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife is more apt. The “haves” live in a series of Amillarah Private Island arcologies, closed-loop glass-domed living systems with luxury malls, fine eateries, and augmented reality advertisements in their centers and ringed by air-conditioned penthouses whose waste water is filtered into the loop, while the “have-nots” are clustered in camps along the new coast lines where they have the new Dust Bowl refugees (the “Floridians”) gathering around pay-to-drink Red Cross water dispensers as they try to fend off the latest Chikungunya or Zika.40 Or imagine a super Katrina resulting in something a little more Odds Against Tomorrow: Miami a post-flood “dead zone” abandoned by government and left to rewild, reclaimed by pythons and alligators and scores of individualists with camping packs on their backs starting from scratch, spending their days transforming soggy banks into their dream apartments and building ramshackle boat homes amidst growing marshland. Meanwhile, more refugee camps in the background. Each of these visions undoubtedly carries an element of truth, but only if we allow it.

from Key Largo John Pennekamp nature center, by author, February 12, 2017

For quite some time, governments deployed a powerful narrative of progress: development, growth, and endless improvement. Now, many resilience advocates substitute our ability to shape the future with an “oops, we actually can’t” survivalism that is hidden behind pristine architectural renderings. We may live in a world that increasingly tells us there’s no more dreaming (except about space), but I don’t live like that. Miami lit my imagination on fire. Ever since I visited, I dream of it often. My dreams aren’t about the future or the end; they are about the possibilities opened right now. Taking up the challenge of the back loop is fundamentally a wager of the present, and it will only be met through a combination of adaption, reinvigoration, and a radical shedding of obsolete technical, social, and mental systems. To accomplish this, we’ll need to make the unlikeliest of combinations between the practitioners of Prometheus’s gifts. Perhaps the hard hats need to meet the hackers, and the engineers the ecologists, and the nurses need to meet the artists, bus drivers, teachers, and mechanics. We are already all here.

It’s May 6, 2017, and I am in Biscayne Bay. The sun is radiating on my skin, rough with salt and sunscreen and sweat. I’m watching a family on a dock hosing down a delighted manatee. I’m wondering about the place Miami Beach could become after the housing bubble bursts. A serene image of life is growing within me, the possibility of a Miami-turned-new-Florida Keys-archipelago, a “ride it out” salt life that accepts the reality of constantly rebuilding, building higher, and living differently. It won’t be without its perils, hardship, heartache, or tragedy. Can humans live in water? Of course we can.


  1. Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, quoted in Union of Concerned Scientists, “Florida Scientists and Local Government Officials Urge Presidential Candidates to Address Sea Level Rise,” 2012. Stan Cox and Paul Cox, How the World Breaks: Life in Catastrophe’s Path, from the Caribbean to Siberia (New York: The New Press, 2016).
  2. Florida International University’s “” video series provides good first-hand accounts of the flooding in everyday life. See also: R. McKie “,” The Guardian, July 11, 2014.
  3. Wanless, 2017, personal communication. For the higher-end non-linear projections used by Wanless, see: Hansen, et al., “,” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 16 (2016), 3761 – 3812. See also: Stan Cox and Paul Cox, “,” The New Republic, November 8, 2015.
  4. For up-to-date measurements and projections see: “.”
  5. Rebecca Lindsey, “,”, June 10, 2016.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Richard Z. Poore, Richards S. Williams, Jr., and Christopher Tracey, “,” USGS, September 2011.
  8. See: J. Zalasiewicz, and M. Williams, Goldilocks Planet: The 4 Billion Year Story of Earth’s Climate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). Also: “safe operating space” comes from J. Rockström, et al., “A safe operating space for humanity” Nature 461 (2009), 472 – 5.
  9. NASA, “.”
  10. Personal communication, April 6, 2017.
  11. A. Sallenger Jr., K. Doran, and P. Howd “Hotspot of accelerated sea-level rise on the Atlantic coast of North America,” Nature Climate Change 2 (2012), 884 – 888.
  12. J. Rockström, et al. “Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity,” Ecology and Society 14(2): 32 (2009).
  13. P. Harlem, “,” Sea Level Rise Collection 2 (2008). Jeff Goodell (2013) “Goodbye, Miami,” Rolling Stone, June 20, 2013.
  14. R. McKie, “,” The Guardian, July 11, 2014.
  15. Pakalolo, “,” Daily Kos, March 19, 2015. See also: Harlem, 2008; McKie, 2014.
  16. Personal communication, April 6, 2017.
  17. J. Flechas, and J. Staletovich, “,” Miami Herald, October 23, 2015. See also: Fusion, “”
  18. Much of this new construction is aimed at wealthy foreign cash buyers from Latin America, Russian oligarchs, as well as “creative class” young professionals. See, for example: G. Allen, “,” NPR, November 29, 2014. The 2014 figure comes from N. Baptiste, “,” The American Prospect, February 19, 2016.
  19. Wakefield and Braun, “Governing the resilient city,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 32, 1, (2014), 4 – 11.
  20. Wakefield and Braun, “Oystertecture: infrastructure, profanation and the sacred figure of the human,” Hetherington, K. Infrastructure, Environment, and Life in the Anthropocene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018).
  21. Wakefield and Braun, “Inhabiting the Post-Apocalyptic City,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space commentary, 2014.
  22. To be clear, I am not suggesting that doing human flags is going to stop climate change. @claukitty9’s ability to be a flag on a pole, though impressive, doesn’t seem to measure up to the impending nuclear catastrophe of the submerged power plant. I’ve said nothing about the question of the hard limits set by existing social institutions. The problems of climate change and rising seas involve hundreds of thousands or millions of people; the examples I have described seem to involve individuals or small groups.
  23. K. Cavanaugh, “Poleward expansion of mangroves is a threshold response to decreased frequency of extreme cold events,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, , 111, 2, (2014), 723 – 727.
  24. R. Wise, “More alligators, more human: the cohabitation turns to tragedy in Florida,” Archy World News, July 4, 2016.
  25. For Python challenge see . See also: J. Staletovich, “,” Miami Herald, January 23, 2017.
  26. E. Marris, “,” National Geographic, May 6, 2014. See also: Chen, I, et al. “Rapid Range Shifts of Species Associated with High Levels of Climate Warming,” Science (2011), 1024 – 1026.
  27. L. Gunderson and C. S. Holling, Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Systems of Humans and Nature, (Island Press, 2001).
  28. Gunderson and Holling, 2001; and Holling, “From complex regions to complex worlds,” Ecology and Society, 9, 1 (2004), 11.
  29. “Can panarchy serve as a framework for thought followed by action in a potential phase of geopolitical transformation post-September 11, 2001? Not just regional change, but global and international? Are we in another period of change like the ones we experienced in the 1930s and 1940s? Are we in a ‘deep back loop’ that presents the same opportunities and crises as the regional back-loop studies that we have described?” (). See also: Holling, “Resilience and Life in the Arctic,” April 5, 2011.
  30. Daniel Genis, “,” Daily Beast, April 4, 2014. See also: Christopher Johnson, “,” NPR, April 4, 2006.
  31. “Supreme Understanding,” 1.
  32. As I have suggested elsewhere, could it be that it is on the terrain of the Anthropocene, where we find the true common and our true similars? That our epoch is a “meeting place”? See: S. Wakefield, Review of D. Chandler and J. Reid (2016), “The Neoliberal Subject: Resilience, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” Society and Space, May 30, 2017.
  33. On the stigmatization of human hubris as technique of liberal governance, see: D. Chandler and J. Reid, The Neoliberal Subject: Resilience, Adaptation and Vulnerability, (London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016).
  34. From a version of the story for children: J. Baldwin, “.”
  35. Aeschylus, trans. Weir Smyth, Prometheus Bound, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926). See also: the hallucinogenic magical herb made from Prometheus’s blood; Apollonius Rhodius, trans. E. V. Rieu, Argonautica (London: Penguin Classics, 1959/1971).
  36. Regarding importance of “tools” for living in the Anthropocene, see this new project by myself and Glenn Dyer: “,” aimed at collecting and sharing these kinds of tools and practices.
  37. We are on the brink of leaving what Johan Rockström (2017) calls earth’s “safe operating space”: “we are the generation right at that tipping point. We were alive in the exponential journey that too us here, and we will probably be alive in the journey that will decide the outcome for the next ten thousand years.”
  38. See: Zaha Hadid Architects, “.”
  39. See: Amillarah Private Islands, .


Stephanie Wakefield

STEPHANIE WAKEFIELD is a 2017 – 18 visiting Assistant Professor in Culture and Media at Eugene Lang College The New School. She has written extensively on the political and philosophical implications of the Anthropocene, 'living' infrastructure, and urban resilience in New York City. Her current research is on south Florida where she is exploring 'experimentation' as a mode of dwelling in the Anthropocene, and emancipatory possibilities offered by the concept of the 'back loop.'


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2017

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