Is Nature About to (Be) End(ed)? Conceptions of the Environment and Moral Responsibility in the Anthropocene


  • Lena Pfeifer Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg



Anthropocene, moral responsibility, ethics, environment, Bill McKibben, The End of Nature, US-American literary environmentalism, Our Common Future, UNFCCC


This essay reads two policy documents, Our Common Future“ (1987) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change“ (1992/94), and one non-fiction text, Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature“ (1989), against the backdrop of moral responsibility. Bringing these texts into conversation by interpreting them as threshold texts of Anthropocene thinking, this essay attempts to map the cultural-political climate of the late 1980s and early 1990s with regard to changing conceptualizations of the environment. I argue that McKibben’s The End of Nature“, despite various shortcomings as to capturing implications of culpability and responsibility in the Anthropocene, contributes a crucial component to the changes needed for developing a sense of moral responsibility at the time of its publication.

Author Biography

Lena Pfeifer, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

Lena Pfeifer is a PhD candidate at the department for American Studies and the Graduate School of the Humanities at Würzburg University. She is currently working on a PhD project entitled “The Ethics of ‘Nature’ and ‘Environment’ in the Discourse of the Anthropocene since the 1980s.” Before coming to Würzburg, she majored in English and American literature and culture with a minor in philosophy at Heidelberg University, where she received her M.A. in 2019. She also studied at the University of Siegen and University College Cork, Ireland, and was a short-term visiting researcher at King’s College, Cambridge. Her research interests are rooted in the Environmental Humanities and include fictional and non-fictional environmental writing of the 20th and 21st centuries, narratives of the Anthropocene, political theory, and environmental ethics. With a number of other young researchers, she has recently co-edited a small volume with the title Literaturtheorie nach 2001“ (Matthes & Seitz, 2020), in which she has co-authored texts dealing with the phenomena of ‘environment,’ ‘form,’ and ‘surface’ in literary theory.




How to Cite

Pfeifer, Lena. “Is Nature About to (Be) End(ed)? Conceptions of the Environment and Moral Responsibility in the Anthropocene”. Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies, vol. 22, no. 1, June 2021, pp. 8-27, doi:10.5283/copas.350.