In order to overcome the challenges of the Anthropocene we must learn to grapple with multiple temporal dimensions simultaneously.
In order to overcome the challenges of the Anthropocene we must learn to grapple with multiple temporal dimensions simultaneously. istock/EtiAmmos

Headline: Democratic Anthropocene


Throughout history, humans have developed ever more complex ways of both building and maintaining diverse relationships and influencing the Earth system. In recent decades this has led to the emergence of new challenges and opportunities with which political thinking and action continue to grapple. With the advent of the Anthropocene, humankind has acquired the ability to alter the world in ways that will affect many generations to come - indeed, it has already begun to do so. But these interventions in the Earth system occur to a large degree unintentionally and are driven by institutions that were established to address challenges that arose in previous centuries and which were of a smaller temporal and spatial scale. In the words of British author George Monbiot: "It is a world of our making, but not of our choice."

How, then, can we create institutions with the capacity to attune contemporary political time, with its focus on election cycles, to the realities of planetary time and the development of life-sustaining resources over centuries? Why are even established democracies unable to prevent climate change, notwithstanding the knowledge available to citizens and governments alike? What can we do to ensure that artificial intelligence benefits societies? This project will investigate these and related issues. It will explore the emergent challenges presented by the Anthropocene and consider how they might be addressed within democratic societies. The research will draw and elaborate upon the notion of a "democratic Anthropocene" while also seeking to expand our conceptual horizons, first and foremost through the integration of a genuinely temporal dimension.

How do time designs influence global change?

The malleability of time and its influence on global change forms the current focus of this research. While time has been a consistent theme within philosophy and the sciences, recent years have also seen a growing interest within the humanities and social sciences in related phenomenon such as social acceleration and future generations. However, in order to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of time, we must also explore other temporal elements - such as linear and cyclic time patterns, the (de-)synchronization of social and natural time scales, as well as the past, present or future orientation of our political institutions - and integrate these within a comprehensive model of "time design". This in turn will provide the foundations for a properly democratic debate on the role of time.

The work of this project is also reflected in the development and introduction of new event formats at the IASS, such as the "Thinking Space on the Future of Gainful Employment".