September 2, 2016

Welcome to the Anthropocene

Welcome to the Anthropocene

The new geological epoch has been marked by profound changes we have wrought on the planet. Photo Credit: Pinterest

We have, ladies and gentlemen, entered the Anthropocene. Whether we should be happy about that is another matter altogether.

The “Anthropocene” is a new epoch in the life of the planet that has been so named because of human beings’ outsize, and invariably harmful, effects on Planet Earth. Endemic pollution, human-induced climate change, rampant deforestation, overfishing, overpopulation – we have left indelible marks on the environment worldwide. As a result, a group of scientists has decided that the current epoch of the Holocene – which began 11,700 years ago with the end of the last Ice Age and saw the rise of agriculture and human civilizations worldwide – ought to give way to a whole new period in order to reflect that inescapable human influence on the planet.

The birth of the Anthropocene, the scientists say, should be backdated to around 1950, when radioactive elements began to be dispersed around the world by nuclear bomb tests. Other markers, they say, include massive plastic pollution and pollutants from power stations. The new geological epoch has been marked by profound changes on the planet: accelerating carbon emissions that fuel climate change, the mass extinction of species worldwide, and the widespread transformation of forested areas into agricultural lands and urban settlements.

The new geological epoch has been marked by extensive pollution of oceans and land areas alike. Photo Credit: Pixabay

We have polluted oceans to an extent that marine lifeforms are now drowning in plastic and other debris. Photo Credit: Pixabay

“The significance of the Anthropocene is that it sets a different trajectory for the Earth system, of which we of course are part,” explains Prof Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom who heads the Working Group on the Anthropocene (WGA), which has suggested the adoption of a new epoch. “If our recommendation is accepted, the Anthropocene will have started just a little before I was born,” he said. “We have lived most of our lives in something called the Anthropocene and are just realising the scale and permanence of the change.”

And the scale of that change should be alarming to all of us. “The Anthropocene marks a new period in which our collective activities dominate the planetary machinery,” noted Prof. Chris Rapley, a climate scientist at University College London. “Since the planet is our life support system – we are essentially the crew of a largish spaceship – interference with its functioning at this level and on this scale is highly significant,” he went on to explain. “If you or I were crew on a smaller spacecraft, it would be unthinkable to interfere with the systems that provide us with air, water, fodder and climate control. But the shift into the Anthropocene tells us that we are playing with fire, a potentially reckless mode of behaviour which we are likely to come to regret unless we get a grip on the situation.”

So welcome to the Anthropocene. This is the world we have wrought and now we must buckle up for the stormy ride ahead for decades and centuries to come.


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