Accepted paper:

Photosynthetic Mattering: Welcome to the Planthropocene


Natasha Myers (York University)

Paper short abstract:

Photosynthetic organisms rearrange the elemental composition of the planet. This paper reckons with the power of plants in order to speculate on forms of collaboration for earthly survival.

Paper long abstract:

Photosynthesis circumscribes a complex suite of electro-chemical processes that spark energy gradients across membranes inside the symbiotic chloroplasts of green beings. Textbook diagrams familiar from high school biology class are simplistic renderings of that utterly magical, totally cosmic process that tethers earthly plant life in reverent, rhythmic attention to the earth's solar source. Lapping up sunlight, inhaling carbon dioxide, drinking in water, and releasing oxygen, photosynthesizers literally make the world. 2.3 billion years ago, photosynthetic microbes spurred the event known today as the oxygen catastrophe. Rearranging the elements, they dramatically altered the composition of the atmosphere. Photosynthesis made this planet liveable and breathable for animals like us. We now thrive off plants' wily aptitude for chemical synthesis. All cultures and political economies turn around plants' metabolic rhythms. Plants make the sugars that fuel and nourish us, the potent substances that heal, dope, and adorn us, and the resilient fires that clothe and shelter us. What are fossil fuels and plastics but the petrified bodies of once-living photosynthesizers? We have thrived and we will die burning their energetic accretions. And so, it is not an overstatement to say that we are only because they are. In an era so focused on the anthropogenic forces shaping climate futures, this paper investigates the elemental power of plant life to remind us that we are not alone. It proposes we check ourselves out of the Anthropocene and root ourselves into the Planthropocene, an aspirational epoch in which people learn to collaborate with the plants.

panel T122
Elements Thinking