Year of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies Program

Committee Chair

Phil Condon

Commitee Members

Dan Flores, Dan Spencer, David Moore


Environment, Environmental Philosophy, Human Ecolo


University of Montana


In 2000, atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen published a paper in the journal Nature in which he argued that “human activity” had become the primary force shaping the geology, hydrology, atmosphere, and climate of planet Earth. Crutzen proposed the inauguration of a new geological epoch termed the “Anthropocene,” which denoted the human domination of the biosphere. Since then, a number of geologists and Earth systems scientists have joined Crutzen in calling for a ratification of this new name. Popular science writers like Emma Marris and Mark Lynas have also celebrated the dawn of “The Age of Humans,” claiming that it legitimizes a much deeper technological intervention by humans in the life systems of the planet. This thesis analyzes the historical narratives deployed within the scientific papers and popular books on the Anthropocene to justify this more intensified technological intervention. Each of these papers presents a capsule version of “human history,” which often depicts the species Homo sapiens as progressing on a linear, universal path to our current form of global dominance. The narrative proceeds from hunter-gatherers wielding fire, to sedentary agrarian city-states, to modern, urban technological societies engaged in global-scale management and ecological degradation. This thesis offers a critique of the notion that all human beings are represented in the cumulative impacts that have been collectively termed “The Anthropocene.” Utilizing the insights gained from post-colonial and Indigenous studies, as well as environmental history and cultural ecology, I attempt to examine fundamental differences in worldview and lifeways between what Raymond Dasmann called biosphere peoples and small-scale, traditional societies, or ecosystem peoples. By tracing the movement of biospheric dependence and industrial growth out of the centers of European and Euro-American power, I suggest that the Anthropocene originated out of deliberate colonial attempts to restructure traditional, land-based societies—and the lands they occupied—to fit Western-style developmental models. As Earth Systems scientists, social scientists, conservationists, activists, and policy makers attempt to devise ways of adapting to or mitigating planetary-scale environmental challenges, I argue that it is important to properly define the problem in order to develop adequate, properly-scaled solutions.

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© Copyright 2013 Hudson Douglas Spivey