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Covid 19: Why International Relations Need The Anthropocene

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Syarifah Huswatun Miswar

Anthropocene has generated intense and ongoing debate over the last decade. From seemingly diverse disciplines such as climatology, geology, philosophy, and the visual arts, scholars have taken up the task of thinking through the new Anthropocene epoch. This means pursuing various avenues of measurement, criticism, and reflection on the origins of the Anthropocene, its present character, and what kind of future it foretells. While geological evidence is still debated to officially state the existence of the Anthropocene, a large body of science has recently emerged that accepts its general premise – that humans are geological agents – and tries to figure out how and why it matters. Since the Anthropocene taught us about Earth science, it also reflects a return to humankind. At a fundamental level, it interferes with intellectual and psychological conceptions of who we are as human beings and how we relate to the world around us.

The term of the Athropocene actually is matter of ages on a geological scale, the time when humans have moved from the Holesen. According to the definition spoken by the creator of the term, the Anthropocene is an era in which humans are more powerful than nature. Paul Crutzen who first coined this in his book Anthropocene: A New Epoch in Earth’s History, and also in further words Jason Moore in his article explaining the meaning of anthropocene actually has two purposes, the first Anthropocene is interpreted as a scientific concept and object in geological science, the second meaning is an idea that questions the truth and authenticity of natural science. Anthropocene in this second term questions the relationship between humans and non-humans. Furthermore, Anthropocene is a term that connects natural science and social science.

Anthropocene is actually a human crisis, each crisis leading the way out to a new state of stability. Anthropocene crisis is an ecological crisis and the ecological crisis is not something that happened suddenly, also cannot be fixed suddenly either. Since Rachel Carson’s 1962 essay Silent Spring, the environmental crisis has become the most obvious crisis facing humanity. He states that humans are rapidly approaching many limits of what the biosphere and ecosystems tolerate.

Covid and the Anthropocene

One of the signs that we have entered the Anthropocene period is the emergence of many new zoonotic diseases. Although in the 2016 UNEP frontier report it was stated that environmental degradation and global warming would cause the emergence of many zoonotic diseases within duration of every four months, this of course could change more quickly. Zoonotic diseases in crude sense are diseases that originates from animals and with certain process and duration can infect humans through an intermediary (carrier host), which will then cause health problems for humans and even death.

In the last few decades, many zoonotic diseases have emerged, AIDS, Anthrax, Ebola and Malaria are zoonotic diseases that have hit several regions of the world. At least 60% of the 335 diseases that emerged between 1960 and 2004 were animal diseases. Until throughout 2002 to 2012, two types of had been epidemic, in 2002 SARS appeared in Guandong Province, China and caused the death of 800 people, which is 10% of the number of sufferers. After the SARS disease subsided, MERS disease appeared in Saudi Arabia. Until the end of 2019, a new virus appeared again in China which later became a pandemic, called Covid 19. Until now, it has not been totaled and it is estimated when it will really subside, because several countries are still fighting against it. The three viruses (SARS, MERS, and Covid 19 or n-Cov) are viruses of the same type, namely the Corona virus which often causes coughs and colds.

Even though there are debates and researchs are still being carried out to date, one of the articles published by Cristina O’Callaghan-Gordo and Joseph M. Anto entitled Covid-19: The Disease of Anthropocene, concluded that Covid-19 is a disease that is Anthropocene disease. This is stated by the discovery that the covid 19 virus was produced from the transmission of changes in the DNA/RNA structure of the virus that occurred due to environmental damage and human economic activities.

Covid 19 has changed the world more or less in the last two years, until now, although several countries in the world have been freed from the Covid 19 emergency status, several other countries are still recovering, and other part else still struggling. Covid 19 not only causes disease outbreaks and is the cause of death for many people around the world, but Covid 19 also ravages the global economy. Its presence is believed to be one of the typical diseases of the Anthropocene era. This is because Covid 19 is believed to be the result of human superiority over existing natural resources which then results in an imbalance in nature (virus growth) which further causes the imbalance to arise and develop diseases and viruses. About how and in detail this happened several scientists in the field of virology and the environment explained in their own language.

IR Studies and International Relations

As yet,  it has remained largely absent from International Relations (IR) analysis. This is puzzling given the monumental stakes involved in tackling planetary change and the discipline’s primary focus on crises. This silence may exist, however, as contemporary studies of international relations are disrupted by the Anthropocene, which shifts basic assumptions about how humans live in the midst of perpetual danger, danger, and risk. Since the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, dramatic human-driven changes in the functioning of Earth’s systems have occurred.

International Relations has largely not successful yet to engage the Anthropocene challenge, the abundance of information emerging showing the scale and type of impact humans are having on the world, this is no longer sustainable. Because of the reason above, International Relations must reconsider some of its core understandings, in particular the relationship between the normative categories of humanity, change, but also by the emerging awareness of Anthropocene entanglement. As Morgenthau has said, the ‘struggle for power and peace’ will not go away once the International Commission on Stratigraphy returns its verdict on whether we are now, officially, in the Anthropocene epoch. However, if International Relations remained attached to Holocene thought, defined most acutely as the separation of man from the world, it would be disastrous; both reflexively, and for the world. Further, Anthropocene that debated in International Relations was strongly influenced by the post-humanist and materialist schools of thought, after which it became a general trend to reject the destruction of nature. Regardless of the mutual commitment.

In his article, Cameron Harrington proves that the natural/cultural divide is at the heart of the liberal Enlightenment project is wrong. The Anthropocene also got rid of the liberal aspirations of progress and promises of protection, even on the contrary, the Anthropocene promoted the politics of adaptation of resilience which is a post-political form, where humans stop transforming living conditions and have to survive with what is.

The Anthropocene represents the potential failure of modern human societies to preserve and sustain themselves and other forms of life. All of this also reflects the failure of the International Relations assumption to think of a different world; not in the utopian sense of building a perfect political community, but thinking through the realization that we exist in a world far more complex, interactive and diverse than ever imagined in International Relations. The discipline of International Relations can no longer deny these interconnected risks, threats, and physical effects, or maintain an outdated image of a world built on a clean separation of people, nations, and global systems. Given its claim to research ‘global’, International Relations is no longer just a sub-discipline of political science and economics, but also geophysics. Discussing the various ways in which the Anthropocene and International Relations can coexist is no easy task.

International Relations has indeed made many contributions  from researching the difficulties of building an effective environmental regime complex to the murky role of climate change in conflict, however, the absence of International Relations in contributing to the Anthropocene debate suggests something more complex and troubling, namely myopic tendencies. to see people, nature, and security, as divisible layers that meet each other instrumentally. Such views reflect past forms of modernism and materialism, which have contributed to the crisis in humanity today.

Therefore, the task of International Relations scientists will become even more difficult in the years to come. Given its history of depicting the uneven global process of modern politics, International Relations seems well placed to engage the Anthropocene, which emerged directly from that process. Furthermore, IR’s commitment to tragedy as a political center is reflected in the ‘apocalyptic tone’ prevalent in Anthropocene studies. However, the Anthropocene also presented ‘worldly’ problems to International Relations. This forced International Relations to think about what is called mass murder: the danger to, and the potential end of the world. Such thinking is fundamentally complex and requires a broader and deeper level of ecological reflection than we see today.


The presence of Covid-19 is an alarm for humans that actually humans are currently not in the Holocene period anymore, but have shifted to the anthropocene period, a time when humans are so powerful towards nature that it produces a sustainable and serious impact that cannot be repaired in a short time. The study of International Relations in the Holocene period separated humans, society and nature. However, the Anthropocene is a time of connectedness and interaction between social and non-social. Natural science and social science are interconnected. Social interaction and nature become objects that cause each other. However, International Relations has contributed a lot and taught human security studies, cooperation, and many other things. What needs to be underlined is that, in this anthropocene era, International Relations is required to work hard to regenerate assumptions and theories that will and have been obsolete.