Myers 2016 - Photosynthesis by Natasha Myers This article...

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Photosynthesis by Natasha Myers This article is part of the series Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen Published On: January 21, 2016 Cite As Myers, Natasha. "Photosynthesis." Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology website, January 21, 2016. Photosynthesis is my keyword for this era that we keep calling the Anthropocene. Photosynthesis circumscribes a complex suite of electrochemical processes that spark energy gradients across densely folded membranes inside the symbiotic chloroplasts of green beings (Margulis and Sagan 2000). Textbook diagrams familiar from high-school biology class are simplistic renderings of that utterly magical, totally cosmic alchemical process that tethers earthly plant life in reverent, rhythmic attention to the earth’s solar source. The photosynthetic ones—those green beings we have come to know as cyanobacteria, algae, and plants—are sun worshippers and worldly conjurers. Lapping up sunlight, inhaling carbon dioxide, drinking in water, and releasing oxygen, they literally make the world. Pulling matter out of thin air, they teach us the most nuanced lessons about mattering and what really matters : their beings and doings have enormous planetary consequences. To name photosynthesis as a keyword for these dire times serves as a crucial reminder that we are not alone. There are other epic and epochal forces in our midst. Photosynthetic organisms form a biogeochemical force of a magnitude we have not yet properly grasped. Over two billion years ago, photosynthetic microbes spurred the event known today as the oxygen catastrophe, or the great oxidation. These creatures dramatically altered the composition of the atmosphere, choking out the ancient anaerobic ones with poisonous oxygen vapors (Margulis 1998). Indeed, we now live in the wake of what should be called the Phytocene. These green beings have made this planet livable and breathable for animals like us. We thrive on plants’ wily aptitude for chemical synthesis. All cultures and political economies, local and global, turn around plants’ metabolic rhythms. Plants make the energy-dense sugars that fuel and nourish
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  • Fall '08
  • Staff
  • Anthropology, Photosynthesis, green beings, Princeton University Press, Natasha Myers, ones—those green beings, global carbon budgets

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