‘We are living through the first economic crisis of the Anthropocene’

At the spring meeting of the IMF this April, Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva referred to our current situation as a “crisis like no other”. In this new piece for The Guardian I attempt to situate that claim in relation to the political economy of the anthropocene. 

“The great acceleration that defined the Anthropocene may have begun in 1945, but in 2020 we are facing the first crisis in which the blowback destabilises our entire economy. It is a reminder of how encompassing and immediate that challenge is. While the timeline of the climate emergency tends to be measured in years, Covid-19 circled the globe in a matter of weeks. And the shock goes deep. By calling into question our mastery over life and death the disease shakes the psychological basis of our social and economic order. It poses fundamental questions about priorities; it upends the terms of debate. Neither in the 1930s nor after 2008 was there any question that getting people back to work was the right thing to do.”

This Guardian piece is a first attempt to link our current COVID-19 preoccupations with the climate and energy political debate in which I, along with so many other people, was immersed only a few months ago.

I was reminded of a lecture I had the pleasure of giving at NYU Abu Dhabi what seems like an eternity ago in February 2020. Georgi M. Derluguian was my irrepressible and brilliant host.

The aim of the talk was to map the ways in which history engages with the anthropocene.

The slides can be downloaded Tooze NYU AD talk compressed II

One of the things that COVID-19 forces us to struggle with is that the challenges of the anthropocene come in different forms. Both zoonotic diseases and climate change are driven by the great acceleration but in rather different ways, with different political economy and making different demands on our political systems.

The Guardian piece is a first effort to get to grips with some of those differences.