With the arrival of Burtynsky as a high-profile advocate, the science campaign to define and identify the Anthropocene gets a fresh publicity boost
To sell Canadians on the merits of his carbon tax plan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau staged a media event in late October before a group of high school students at the National Gallery in Ottawa. His backdrop was a wall-size image of Cathedral Grove #1, a beautiful but dark-hued interior view of a boreal forest on Vancouver Island taken in 2017 by famed Canadian landscape photographer Edward Burtynsky.
The link between the peaceful majesty of Cathedral Grove #1 and the crass politics of a $20 carbon tax might not be obvious. But the high school students were at the National Gallery to take in Anthropocene, a major multimedia exhibit based on new Burtynsky photographs that depicts assorted human incursions on the geography of the planet — coal mining, garbage production, logging, oil refining, expressways, marble quarries, underground tunnels.
Trudeau’s simplistic message to the students — and all Canadians — was that a carbon tax will help curtail this ongoing ruination of the Earth. Behind the simple message, however, is a complex tangle of motives, objectives and political wrangling that animate the key players behind the exhibit.
The small collection of about 30 of Burtynsky’s more recent industrial landscapes is part of a decades-long global campaign among science activists to make geological history by officially inserting humans as a planetary force greater perhaps even than nature itself.
According to the Anthropocene movement, under current conditions dominated by humans, the planet is heading for a Sixth Extinction, a follow-up to the Fifth Extinction more than 65 million years ago, when a combination of volcanic activity, asteroid impact and climate change effectively ended 76 per cent of life on Earth.