The aim of this 6-volume handbook-project “The Anthropocene as a Multiple Crisis. Perspectives from Latin America” that is edited by the Maria Sibylla Merian Center for Advanced Latin American Studies (CALAS) is to systematize the multifaceted environmental crises which reached and passed the planetary boundaries of the earth-systems and led to the new geological time of the Anthropocene from Latin American and social sciences and humanities standpoints. This implies to take into account the “proto-Anthropocene” that cannot be separated from coloniality and the emergence of the capitalist world system and racial capitalism. The criticism of capitalism as a driver of the Anthropocene goes hand in hand with a radical criticism of western modernity and the recognition that the Anthropocene puts an abrupt end to teleological notions of “development,” “progress,” and “civilization”.

The CALAS Handbook Project picks up the Planetary Boundaries concept and approaches it from a humanities and social sciences perspective. That is, while the earth system sciences are looking at “the planetary” from a ‘satellite’ perspective, we will hover closer above the ground, without, however, losing the planetary perspective entirely. We will, in a way, downscale, but also add temporal scope and qualitative aspects, which we will then try to reconnect with the planetary perspective. This approach is necessary, if we want to research the impact different regions had during different historical conjunctures for the acceleration or deceleration of the planetary rise of the Anthropocene while at the same time keeping in focus the extremely uneven socio-environmental dynamics of the Latin American (proto-)Anthropocene.

In this sense our perspective is a double-eyed view that combines the aforementioned planetary perspective – though with slightly altered boundaries to suit our more local focus  –  with a regionally based perspective that takes into account the local and regional specificity of eco-systems and socio-environmental relations.

Structure of the handbook

The Anthropocene-Handbook-project is structured in 6 thematic volumes: Mining and Energy, Land-use, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Water, Visual Representations. The identification of these thematic volumes is based, on the one hand, on the patterns identified in the discussion on Planetary Boundaries, and, on the other hand, on the important discussion raised by Latin American environmental humanities.

In regard to space, the handbook combines the planetary boundaries perspective with a regionally based focus that takes into account the local and regional specificity of climates, eco-systems and socio-environmental relations. The operationalization of this regional approach for the Handbook project is a complicated task. In macro-regional terms the Handbook is restricted to Latin America, including Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Nevertheless, given the broad range of climates and ecosystems in this macro-region, this Handbook’s quest is to define smaller and sometimes even larger areas. In doing so we do not want to rely only on the geopolitical units of nation states, important entities for the political regulation of environment, as they often ignore natural boundaries while at the same time climatic extremes usually ignore human-made national boundaries. This can be exemplified by way of the Amazon region, which overlaps with 9 nation states. Finally, in a heuristic stance, we opted to define the following areas for our approach that are characterized by a certain ecological and cultural coherence but that do not have clearly defined national boundaries. From North to South we identified the following areas: Mesoamerica (Central America and Mexico), the Caribbean, the Andes, the Amazon, and the Southern Cone.

In regard to time we are interested in the pre-history, of the Anthropocene which in Latin America can be dated back to the beginning of European conquest in 1492. To structure the entries of the handbooks we work with three heuristic periods: Colonial regimes, 19th century to the 1950s, and the 1950s until today.

To organize the handbook along the three axes of time, space and topic permits us to define in advance every single entry of the handbook-project. Each volume contains 15 entries that focus on social, economic, technical, epistemological and geopolitical constellations in a given geographical area and historical period (90 entries). These entries are completed by a general introduction into the topic and by introductions to each of the three historical periods.

Concludingly, the central question guiding our handbook is at what moment in time and within existing (and often previously crisis-prone) political and cultural contexts actants become aware of ecological crises and which discursive and non-discursive practices they employ to confront and resolve such crises.