Steve Bradshaw has made lots of environmental documentaries over the years. Many of them have been what he calls “finger-pointing movies,” which scolded audiences for buying the wrong kind of lightbulb or living in too big a house.
“Goodness knows I made lots of these films; I think I was getting a little fed up with it,” Bradshaw says.
When looking for a new subject, he came across a paper in a Swedish scientific journal. There he found a word — a single word — that would spark his next project. The word was anthropocene.
“I just came across this word, and fell slightly in love with it. It had a slightly poetic ring to it. The anthropocene is the idea that we live in a new geological age — a new geological epoch to be precise — an epoch in which the planet has been as much created by the activities of mankind as by what we used to call nature.”
LISTEN: Have Humans Created a New Geologic Era?
Generally speaking, the anthropocene is thought to begin after World War II — brought on by a spike in economic development and the stability of the post-war world order. But we should note that geologists and other experts are still debating whether or not we are even in the anthropocene. In his film, Bradshaw interviews seven of these experts on what the term means, including scientist Monica Berger González.
“I look at homework my kids bring home in Guatemala, then I think what would change if they were already being taught they live in the anthropocene?” Gonzalez says. “Can you imagine their brains making all those connections — I am a shaping force. I have responsibility.”
Through interviews with experts and a mountain of archival footage, the film walks us through the many ways that humans have changed the planet — from the large-scale use of fertilizer in agriculture to nuclear radiation to the ubiquity of plastics. It also details the acceleration of resource extraction and its ecological impacts — including dead zones in the world’s oceans, a rapidly warming climate, and the effects of artificial chemicals that have never existed before on planet Earth.
Watch the Trailer for Anthropocene
But the story isn’t necessarily a negative one. The film ends with a fundamental question: Are we ready for the world we’ve created?
Bradshaw insists this doesn’t have to be a sad story. Humans have wreaked a lot of havoc, but we are a resourceful species and have shown an ability to adapt.
“I think it’s time to realize we are creating an artificial planet,” he says. “We’ve set out to do that. We can do it well or we can do it better, but let’s not pretend we’re not trying to do that because we are.”
Steve Bradshaw’s film Anthropocene is screening at the Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival March 24. Get tickets here.