Géopolitique, Réseau, Énergie, Environnement, Nature
Issue #4


Issue #4


Paul Magnette

Published by the Groupe d'études géopolitiques, with the support of the Fondation de l'École normale supérieure

From the Midlands to Silesia, the Fossil Crescent is characterized by industrial development, environmental upheaval, urban growth, migratory and demographic changes, closely linked social and political movements, and profoundly shaped by the presence of coal. It forms a bioregion that is at once singular and universal. Singular in its genesis and the contrast it provides with its neighboring territories; universal in that it anticipated an extractivist, productivist model that would eventually permeate most of the world during the “great acceleration”. A pioneer in the consumption of fossil fuels, as well as in the subsequent human and natural transformations, this region was also the first to experience the consequences of the Anthropocene. When coal mines were closed one after the other, from the Midlands to the Ruhr, they left behind desolate landscapes and mass unemployment. The agony was swift in geological time, but long-lasting in human time. The Fertile Crescent’s cities saw their populations decline and their territories shrink. Two generations after the last mines closed, the economy, employment rate and average education level in these regions are still well behind the national average. What remains from the dawn of the Anthropocene are forgotten regions where nature is reasserting its rights, a diverse and mobile population, a civic culture where communal traditions persist, and a certain way of inhabiting space that reflects geology. Studying these territories and their natural, social, urban and industrial history, as well as the ways in which they have shaped the present, is essential if we are to consider their future. What becomes of people, and the territories they inhabit, when coal mining comes to an end; how does nature reassert its rights; how do societies react; are civic ties diluted and solidarities reshaped? Can we renew cities that are no longer suited to their environment and population; what should be done about the massive amount of industrial infrastructure that has outlived its usefulness; how can we restore nature that has been devastated and prevent the effects of climate change? In short, is there a future when the orgiastic phase of the early Anthropocene comes to an end? It is by answering these questions that the regions of the Fossil Crescent can give their painful transition meaning and offer a vision of the future to those who are still living through the mass exploitation of fossil fuels.

The contributions that make up this volume of GREEN outline an answer. The first section includes contributions that navigate between the past and the present, between history and social sciences. These authors ask how coal shaped our civilizations and collective attitudes, and whether we are still living under its influence, and how we can free ourselves from it. Does the present state of scientific and technological development offer sufficient resources to conceive of decarbonizing our modes of production and consumption on a generational scale? With our outlook entirely focused on the future and fed by the prospect of continuous material growth, can we imagine freedom and social cohesion from any perspective other than that of the ever-increasing accumulation and consumption of materials and energy? Can the major centers of the Anthropocene — Europe and the United States, now being joined by China — restrain themselves to allow other parts of the world to have a turn to achieve prosperity? And can these other regions of the world imagine their own development without imitating the extractivist, productivist model?

The second section features contributions that shift from time to space, examining the Anthropocene’s impact on our way of inhabiting territories. At the Fossil Crescent’s heart, primary nature has disappeared and been completely replaced with a secondary nature and by inhabited spaces entirely shaped by humans. The brutal decline of the industrial model inherited from coal has left enormous vacant infrastructure, abandoned zones and vast industrial wastelands currently in the process of rewilding. The architects, urban planners and landscape architects featured here have all worked in the heart of the Fossil Crescent, particularly in Charleroi. Conscious that the buildings resulting from the industrial revolution represent a significant energetic and human heritage, they are experimenting with an urbanism and architecture of restoration — in the etymological sense of the term, that of a recovery that aims to regain lost strength, in the same way that sleep is said to be restorative. Confronted with spaces that have begun to regain their wild character, they are inventing a “ternary nature”, developing spaces where pioneering vegetation has taken hold, revealing and amplifying it so as to create the cities of tomorrow. The Anthropocene is a point of no return, an irreversible transformation that forces us to radically rethink the relationship between human and natural temporalities. And since it was born somewhere, let’s begin our examination with the times and places that served as its cradle.

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Paul Magnette, Introduction, Jan 2024,

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