Blending personal memoir, travelogue and nature writing, Underland explores and interrogates the relationship between man & landscape, the instability of time and place, and most significantly, the fragility of all we are and all we create.⠀
Written with lyricism, power and prescience, Underland looks at man’s almost incidental place in the world when seen from the perspective of geological time.⠀
“What does human behaviour matter,” he asks, “when Homo Sapiens will have disappeared from Earth in the blink of a geological eye? Viewed from the perspective of deserts or oceans, morality looks absurd, crushed to irrelevance. A flat ontology entices: all life is equally insignificant in the face of our eventual ruin.”⠀
Reflections on the Anthropocene
Throughout his journeys and speculation on deep time, MacFarlane picks apart the idea of the Anthropocene: the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
On the one hand, he’s suspicious about the Anthropocene, “It generalises the blame for what is a situation of vastly uneven making and suffering. The rhetorical ‘we’ of Anthropocene discourse smooths over severe inequalities, and universalizes the size-specific consequences of environmental damage.” Given that there’s an inextricable link between climate change and social, political, and economic oppression, we can’t collectively be to blame for the ecological crisis.
On the other hand, “It exposes both the limits of our control over the long-term processes of the planet, and the magnitude of the consequences of our activities.” The Anthropocene establishes that we have the power to both destroy or save our planet.
In a recent episode of Outrage + Optimism, science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson says, “We are all living in a science fiction novel we are co-authoring together.” The present feels dangerous and volatile. It is down to short-sighted human behaviour, from nuclear insanity to the proliferation of plastic products, that has produced unforeseen consequences, including disruption of the climate.
The Anthropocene establishes that we have the power to both destroy or save our planet. It’s up to us what happens next.
MacFarlane asks, ‘Are we being good ancestors?’ And the answer? No, we’re not. And there isn’t anywhere that’s more apparent than on Greenland’s glaciers. The speed at which they’re melting should terrify us all.
Nevertheless, it isn’t all pessimistic. From Paris’s catacombs to Finland’s nuclear waste tools, MacFarlane depicts his incredible journeys through lyrical, contemplative prose.
We’re currently living strangely insular lives, stuck inside for the best part of a year. It’s easy to forget what beauty lies around, above, and below us. In turn, we also forget about the crisis that is already upon us. Underland is an extraordinary reminder of both.