Popular Young Adult (YA) Fiction writer, John Green, has recently published a collection of essays entitled The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centred Planet. This book does not only represent a significant shift within Green’s oeuvre, but it could also mark the emergence of a burgeoning environmental awareness within mainstream literature.
Since the release of his first novel, Looking for Alaska, in 2005, Green has become renowned for writing YA fiction that considers sensitive issues such as mental health within the framework of compelling plotlines. His popularity as a writer has led to two of his novels being adapted into films, including The Fault in Our Stars, and one being turned into an eight-episode series. Despite the success of these novels, Green has now turned his hand to writing essays, represented in this book as accessibly bite-sized fragments that ponder the various ways in which mankind has shaped the world around us and the institutions that we rarely think twice about.
Until recently, the term ‘Anthropocene’ has been largely confined to scientific reports and academic papers. It denotes the period of Earth’s history that is characterised by mankind’s influence on the planet, one example being the way in which our fossil fuel consumption has affected the atmosphere and natural environment. For years, scholars have debated when the Anthropocene era commenced, with many citing the Industrial Revolution as one possible starting point. Others have contested whether we have even entered the Anthropocene at all.
The very title of Green’s essay collection, therefore, fulfils an important role: it alerts a wider audience to the concept of living on a human-centred planet, essentially extricating the Anthropocene and its environmental implications from the scholarly discourse that has monopolised it for so long.
The Anthropocene Reviewed bears no hallmark of the traits that have rendered certain other instances of environmental writing either inaccessible or misleading. Clearly conscious of the demographic makeup of Green’s current audience, this essay collection forswears the technical terminology that would alienate readers without a scientific background. Instead, it uses a combination of accessible language, relatable subject matter, and an intensely personal tone to resonate with a wide readership.
Furthermore, Green does not consider the Anthropocene within the narrow context of its explicitly environmental implications, but he discusses how commonplace objects, such as Teddy Bears and air conditioning, are indications of humanity’s immense influence on the planet. This approach promotes a greater awareness of the way in which every facet of modern culture is in some way emblematic of our human-centred way of living, proving that environmental issues are far more enmeshed with our daily lives than most of us realise.
It is possible that Green’s foray into environmental writing will signal a decisive shift within mainstream literature. The success of The Anthropocene Reviewed is yet to be confirmed, but if it is widely read and enjoyed, it is likely that other authors will follow suit in producing environmentally conscious texts that are intended for a non-technical audience. It is only in this way – by encouraging a vast number of people to consider the multifaceted causes of present-day environmental issues – that the cultural overhaul will occur that is a prerequisite for real, sustained environmental action.
Mainstream literature, therefore, has the potential to play an important role in combatting the climate crisis, and we can hope that the input of influential authors such as John Green will prove to be a catalyst for this much-needed change.