The echoed silence of the Anthropocene

What are the key propositions of the Anthropocene?

The Anthroposcene refers to the world’s “geoglogic” ( Erle Ellis 2013) status. This status has been altered by human interaction and quest for enrichment, progress and survival. The self-reliant ecological system is “man’s earth” (Gisli et al 2013). Millions of years ago, perfecting the art of craft weapons and fire lead to hunting which doctored the relationship between humans and animals on Earth (Gisli et al 2013). 

Three historical periods are significant to the rise of the Anthropocene. With the creative use of fossil fuels as a source of coal, in China during 960-1279, increased combustion of coal to provide energy sources lead to the detrimental atmospheric imbalance in carbon dioxide (Gisli et al 2013). The Industrial Revolution (1800’s), elevated human activity and the manufacturing of materials such as plastics, concrete and aluminum which have spiked levels in atmospheric carbon dioxide, nitrogen as well as phosphorus cycles (Waters et al 2016).  Lastly, the “Great Acceleration” (Waters et al 2016), birthed during the 20th century, along with the production of coal and the rise of the Industrial Revolution has opened fire on our vulnerable planet in a war where mankind is the leading force.

“Geochemical signatures” (Waters et al 2016) have infected and spread through Earth like a disease. We live in a world that is constantly battling the heightened “global sea levels”(Waters et al 2016) and boom in “erosion caused by deforestation” which bring about the loss of biodiversity of both fauna and flora in rain forests and wetlands. “Extinction rates”(Waters et al 2016) have sky-rocketed and “global temperatures” (Waters et al 2016) have  climbed levels to oppressive heat which threaten the continuity of our ecosystem.  

What sounds, recorded over two days within the area are constant? Can these dominant sounds be regarded as a soundscape of the Anthropocene?

Every morning in the Klaradyn Tuks residence, I get woken up by the cacophony of the   construction site in Hatfield which is dominated by the echo of bulldozers and wrecking balls. The Klaradyn dining hall brims with the sound of clicking cutlery on porcelain plates, heightened chatter of lady students and the clanging of stainless steel kitchen appliances. Crossing the street to the university campus, one can hear the horrendous traffic and occasional broken exhaust sound in the distance. The stamping feet of students scurrying to get to class is at times  accompanied by a few lost bird sounds in the Jacaranda trees. Entering the lecturing hall, the heavy drop of bags into the wooden benches and the scratching for stationery and leafing of papers are all sounds that emphasize mans intrusion in Pretoria East.  

These dominated sounds can be viewed as a soundscape of the Anthropocene. The world we live in today mirrors the “conversion of natural ecosystems to human-dominated landscapes” (Steffen et al 2011). We, the self-proclaimed rulers of this Earth have invaded the habitats of animals and destroyed the precious  vegetation in order to keep up with “both population and economic growth”(Steffen et al 2011). Life, in form of fauna and flora have been muted by “environmental stresses, such as air pollution” [and] fouling waterways”(Steffen et al 2011). Human-everyday-bustle has blockaded access to nature.

“What is it like to listen to birds in the Anthropocene?” (Whitehouse 2015:53), Are most of the bird sounds from a large number of bird species or only a few? How does your answer relate to the dwindling biodiversity evident in the Anthropocene?

According to Whitehouse (2015), calamitous human involvement has hushed the “animal orchestra” (Whitehouse 2015:1) and dunk the world into a sea of silence. Landscapes, should be sanctified with the harmonic sounds of birds and people should take for granted the birds ability to “iconically and indexically ground” (Whitehouse 2015:1)  them because when wildlife is silenced, the silence is felt (Whitehouse 2015:1).

Sitting outside for the past few days, closing my eyes and taking everything in, made me realize how difficult it  was to barricade the construction, the buzz and turmoil of Urban life. Birds do not sing in choirs anymore. If a bird appears, he sings to the world on a solo stage. These days, finding a single moment where the song of  birds are not challenged by the roars of human ambition, is rare.  The Anthropocene has vanquished the purity of the bird symphony.

Humans are culpable for the “silence, discord and destruction” (Whitehouse 2015:2) and sending the world into a time machine back to a state where “human and non-human” spheres could coexist without disruption, is impossible. The world is spiraling into a “silent spring”(Whitehouse 2015:2), where new life will no longer be welcomed by the hymns of a volery of birds. “Birds and other wildlife are under threat from everyday human activities” (Whitehouse 2015:3), one minute they appear in abundance and the next “they all disappear” (Whitehouse 2015:3).

How do the interviews, conducted with parents and grandparents, draw attention to the disappearing ecosystems and dwindling biodiversity of our present day? From your own school days to present, can you witness a loss of biodiversity as well as the degradation of ecosystems?

According to Charmaine Jooste (2016), who grew up on her grandmother’s plot of land, the vast acreage was covered with peach trees, blue-gum trees and apricot trees where on doves would rest, to sing early morning praises. There were chickens and turkeys roaming the back garden and there was enough room for a chicken coop. Separate from the structured front garden, there was a rose garden, peacocks and guinea-fowl called the plot home and different bird breeds would be seen on the property. Charmaine Jooste (2016) went on to mention, that the plot of land was then later developed into an estate of 100 homes each with a tiny postage stamp of a garden, enclosed by a concrete wall. The once gravel road, shadowed by km’s of trees were all chopped down to make way for a tarred main road. The sounds of the once free ranging flocks of birds are now hushed by the sound of ambulances and oncoming traffic. The development has contributed to the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of lush land to provide accommodation.

Mark Kriek (2016), described the plot in Suikerbosrand where he grew up and  his parents still lives as the perfect escape from the chaos of the city. The family owns large amounts of cattle that grazes on the well-maintained feeding grass. Goats stroll in between the cattle and chickens are kept in the back shed where their eggs are sold to organic food markets. Melodies coming from the bird life scattered across the forests can be heard all the way from the main house. Recently, the municipality made an offer to purchase the property and utilize it as a mining site for coal. Mark Kriek (2016) made it clear that his parents are reluctant on the auction. However if the home is sold, all the farm animals will be bargained off to neighbouring farms and the non-urban areas, providing shelter to wildlife will be hovered up.

15 years ago, we as a family were able to access the gravel roads, woods and veld for our weekend Saturday runs. The red gravel pathways that we used, was a scenic route with birds, small ponds and an occasional hare crossing our track. Since then, the beautiful landscape has made way for back-to-back concrete estates that has squashed and pushed nature to places unknown.  


We are living in the Anthropocene. We might not be aware of the difficulty that lies ahead in the future because, for many, our present seems sane and normal. Waking up to the uproarious sounds of construction, taxis honking and police sirens resounding the neighbourhood, is routine. That is our normal.  But imagine all of that was gone, and all we could was the sound of birds, in trees higher that the building we shadow them with. According to Whitehouse (2015), “The Anthropocene has also ushered in a new kind of anthrophony, with the sounds of industry, machinery, combustion engines and electronic amplification”. The world we live in today, so different from its purest days, “reduce the quantity of sound but also cause disruption to the relative harmony of the soundscape” (Whitehouse 2015:6) and our human race is to blame from the stress we place on “endangered, or altered biomes” (Whitehouse 2015:6) that have caused the “little organisational structure” to appear. 


Sources consulted 

Jooste, C, CEO, Kiddies Academy Nursery School. 2016. Interview by author. [Transcript]. 10 Match. Pretoria. N

Erle Ellis. 2013. Anthropocene. [O] Available at: %5BAccessed 10 April 2016].

Gisli, P et al. 2013. Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research. Environmental Science & Policy 28:3-13.

James Pailley, (2015), Sciency words: Anthropocene [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed 10 April 2016].

Kriek, M, Farmer, Heidelberg Suikerbosrand. 2016. Interview by author. [Transcript]. 9 Match. Pretoria. N

Steffen, W et al. 2011. The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369:842-867.

Waters, CN et al. 2016. The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. Science 351(6269):[sp].

Whitehouse, A. 2015. Listening to birds in the Anthropocene: the anxious semiotics of sound in a human-dominated world. Environmental Humanities 6:53-71.




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