The concept of the Anthropocene has come to represent one such global movement. Described as 'a new phase in the history of both humankind and of the Earth, when natural forces and human forces became intertwined, so that the fate of one determines the fate of the other' (Zalasiewicz, Williams, Steffen, & Crutzen, 2010, p. 2231), the Anthropocene highlights rapidly increasing human impact on planetary processes. By identifying human responsibility, this idea has acted as a provocation for interdisciplinary conversations to more sustainably connect nature and culture, economy and ecology, and the natural and human sciences, in order to address species loss, environmental destruction and global warming. Embedded in these issues, the unequal distribution of wealth and resources, the growth in global poverty, and escalating conflicts, dispossession and war, are parallel social problems related in complex ways to planetary exploitation.
Individual academic papers are not able to demonstrate the power of the concept of the Anthropocene to generate interdisciplinary conversations that stimulate new modes of thinking. A preliminary Google review of conferences with 'Anthropocene' in the title reveals there were at least five international conferences scheduled for 2014 in Denmark, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. The conferences share a common concern with 'the fundamental viability of how humans have organized the relationship between society and nature' (Earth System Governance Project, 2014). In the face of the enormity of planetary crises, the focus on the Anthropocene is a tool for innovation and imagination to generate emergent constellations of life and knowledge because 'we cannot solve problems using the same kind of thinking that created them' (Nordic Environmental Social Science Conference, 2014).
Children will inherit and inhabit this world of advanced capitalism and the challenges of the Anthropocene. Our interest in this book is how they approach these precarious times with imagination and hope. Children are inevitably steeped in the commodification of advanced capitalism, but seeking out possibilities for difference can point to ways forward. One child, for example, painted a picture of her experience of a weekly walk to a local wetland with her school class. She called her painting Elsa in the colours I saw at the creek. Elsa is a character from the Disney movie Frozen which has gained global traction with girls of all ages. In the painting, the figure of Elsa is large and central with long mid-blue hair down one side, a lighter blue full length dress with a pale green-blue sleeve. Painted in a loose and open style, she is a triumph of the convergence of popular culture and the creeklands, the Disneyland Elsa reborn through the colours of the creek.
In this book we bring together a number of empirical research projects that we have conducted together and individually over the past five years. All of them involve children and some form of sustainability learning. They include children from the ages of 3-12 years and all of them involve collecting empirical data from, and with, children. By bringing these diverse research projects into a single volume, we hope to make a discursive space for Clayton's piercing and urgent vision of the life of the planet in a world he and his peers will grow up to lead.