A date with destiny: Racial capitalism and the beginnings of the Anthropocene

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The Anthropocene names the epoch wherein humans have become the main geological agent on the planet’s surface. But which humans, and since when? Dating the onset of the Anthropocene is a political and ontological as much as a scientific act. This essay argues the Anthropocene is inexorably racial because it flows out of a capitalist system which requires racializing populations and environments from early modernity to the present and into the future. The essay contends that racial capitalism should be a central category in explaining the onset of the Anthropocene. The focus will be on investigating whether it makes sense to take the European discovery of the Americas and the genocide against its original inhabitants as threshold of a new geological epoch. Following the radicalization of Marx in the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, it will be suggested that though colonization and slavery were essential for modern globalization to emerge, capital embarked on its self-perpetuating destructive trajectory through industrialization. Structural racism was transmuted and continues to characterize the global ecological crisis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-34
Number of pages23
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thanks to the perceptive criticisms of the three anonymous reviewers, special issue editors Bruce Erickson and Andrew Baldwin, and the journal editors, this essay has gone through an extraordinary amount of rewriting. Even while I am sure there remains plenty to argue about, I am immensely grateful for their engagements. I revised this paper while I was Visiting Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Globalisation and Citizenship, Deakin University, Melbourne, Visiting Professor at the School of Geography, Queen Mary University of London, and Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Utrecht University. Many thanks to Nigel Clark and Kathryn Yusoff for ongoing conversations about all this.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


  • Anthropocene
  • Orbis hypothesis
  • capital
  • genocide of Indigenous Americans
  • industrialization
  • racial capitalism


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