Here’s a moment of honesty from behind the scenes at Gen Anthro: although we had heard wonderful things about Eric Lambin, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy his interview. My skepticism stemmed from the topic of his research – land use change. Sounds really important, but kind of boring, right? I thought the takeaway points from an episode about land use change would probably be predictable, and not very compelling. Humans change the land. There are some negative consequences from this. Cue outro music.
As the oracle bones prophesized, I wasn’t sold on the first listen to the interview tape. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, after I had done two or three rounds of edits on the audio, that I thought, Hang on a second. This interview might actually be awesome, because land use change is the most basic Anthropocene concept out there. Our podcast has been running for over a year; how have we not covered land use change until now?! I re-listened to Eric’s interview with fresh ears a few more times as I edited, and with every round, I became more and more convinced that land use change is one of the hallmarks of the Anthropocene, on the short list along with climate change. Land use change involves so many human-driven processes that affect Earth’s surface geology. Not only are we physically, literally (not figuratively – fall back, Slang Grammar Police) changing what the Earth looks like with every city we build and every field we till, but land use change also involves globalization and the way humans are interacting across oceans. Today, a food trend in the Bay Area – say, the mildly puzzling popularity of quinoa – can affect what the landscape looks like in the Andes.
Globalization and international markets are becoming an increasingly significant influence on the way Earth looks, and Eric emphasized that in his interview with the example of Vietnam sourcing timber from Laos and Cambodia to circumvent a domestic logging ban. Crafty, huh? Examples like that really drive home the idea that in the Anthropocene, you almost always have to zoom out to see all the connections, drivers, and consequences (intended or not) of human-caused planetary change. And that is exactly what Eric Lambin does every day in his research.
Eric’s interview was a good, cheerful kick in the head for me. Mike, Miles, and I are constantly swimming in environmental and Anthropocene stories, and I sometimes find myself growing impatient, and dismissing potential podcast material that sounds like old news. Ocean acidification, meh. Carbon capture, naw. Land use change, whatever. This episode was a good reminder of the value of maintaining fresh curiosity, and really listening and pondering the Anthropocene connections.
I’ll leave you with a final 3 minute Belgian-accented gem that is completely unrelated to land use change. This piece of the interview didn’t make it to the final cut of the episode, but I love this story. Eric Lambin attended the meeting back in the day when Paul Crutzen first dropped the word “Anthropocene” super casually, and he sets up the scene for Mike and Noemi. Enjoy!
By Leslie Chang