Officially, we are living in the geological epoch called the Holocene, but there is a movement to change the name of our current epoch to the Anthropocene, due to the effect that mankind is having on the planet.After 11,700 years of Holocene living, this is a major change and is not being entered into lightly.The International Commission on Stratigraphy is responsible for deciding and defining the divisions of geological time, and are under some pressure from members of the scientific community to make a decision.
What is Anthropocene ?
Human activity has fundamentally changed our planet. We live on every continent and have directly affected at least 83% of the planet’s viable land surface. Our influence has impacted everything from the makeup of ecosystems to the geochemistry of Earth, from the atmosphere to the ocean. Many scientists define this time in the planet’s history by the scale of human influence, and label it as a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene.
The Anthropocene defines Earth’s most recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now altered by humans.
Anthropocene has become an environmental buzzword ever since the atmospheric chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen popularized it in 2000. This year, the word has picked up velocity in elite science circles: It appeared in nearly 200 peer-reviewed articles, the publisher Elsevier has launched a new academic journal titled Anthropocene and the IUGS convened a group of scholars to decide by 2016 whether to officially declare that the Holocene is over and the Anthropocene has begun.
When did it begin ?
The beginning of the Anthropocene is a subject of heated debate among geologists, anthropologists, and others in the scientific community. In order for the Anthropocene to become officially recognized as a geological epoch by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, a start date must be recognized that is global and can be defined stratigraphically by biological, chemical, or other types of markers. Some geologists argue that this is impossible to identify because we are still within the range of variation of any signal that might distinguish recent strata from earlier ones, or because human activity is diverse enough that no single moment universally distinguishes a period of time separating the Anthropocene from the Holocene. But even among those who believe that this beginning date can be pinpointed, there is still considerable disagreement.
Why does the Anthropocene matter ?
We are now living in a new geological age, it is a stark reminder of our impact on earth, No matter when it began, the concept of the Anthropocene is significant. It highlights the scale of our impact on Earth. By defining a new geological epoch, we are declaring that the impact of our activities is global and irreversible. It allows us to unite many different discussions regarding the state of the planet, from climate change to loss of biodiversity to environmental degradation, by identifying the one thing they have in common: they have all been affected by human influence.
The Anthropocene also allows us to reexamine the relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world. There has been a long-standing narrative of humanity and nature being separate; some believe that we should be the caretakers or stewards of the natural world, while others urge us to leave the environment alone and let nature run its course. But human activity is intrinsically linked to nature, and is part of it. From the land we live on to the resources we use to the trash we throw away, everything we do is tied into and impacts our surroundings. The concept of the Anthropocene underlines this fact by defining the environment based on the interactive effects of our influence. The only question now becomes how we can shape our activities so our impact on the environment is intentional and leads to meaningful outcomes.
State of our Planet
Due to Human activities our planet has now reported to have entered into a “no analog state”. This means our planet has never experienced fast changing present-day conditions in its geological and evolutionary history. Gases, dust, and other materials trapped in glacial ice provide many clues about climates of the past. Scientists dig ice cores from the Antarctic Polar Cap, the Greenland Ice Sheet, and glaciers around the world. Air bubbles in the ice capture miniscule samples of Earth’s atmosphere at the time the snow froze in the the past. These bubbles enable scientists to measure levels of carbon dioxide and other gases in prehistoric times.
Human Evolution and the Anthropocene
Changing climate is not a unique feature of the Anthropocene. Earth’s environments have been in a constant state of creation, destruction, and change for the planet’s entire history. The last six million years (when hominins began to appear in the fossil record) were particularly volatile and saw many different shifts in environments. The key to human survival in these settings was an extraordinary ability of our ancestors to alter their behavior and the world around them. Our success in these times was largely due to the evolution over time of a number of traits that allowed us to be more adaptable to a large variety of environmental conditions.
The Future of the Anthropocene
Scientists have suggested that the effects of human activities are beginning to leave traces in the geological record, leading to the creation of a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. But what does it mean to live in the Anthropocene? What are our responsibilities in a world where the boundaries between nature and culture are no longer clear? How do we visualize and teach the challenges of the future? The articles in this issue of RCC Perspectives reflect upon the ethics, aesthetics, and didactics of an “Age of Humans”.
We can never return the environment to how it was in the past. The conditions of the past have been so varied that there is no stable baseline on which to base what “the past” looked like. So if we can’t reverse the clock, how do we move forward in this altered world we’ve created. The present climate change dialogue has mostly been centered on the apocalyptic consequences of continuing down our current path, and for good reason: almost a quarter of Americans don’t believe that human-induced climate change is happening.
These are some of the many questions that we must answer as we begin to craft the future of the Anthropocene:
- Whose responsibility is it to make important decisions?
- How do we shape a global social project?
- How do we accommodate cultural diversity while making changes at a global level?
- How do we make long term changes (toward a sustainable future) appealing, feasible, and accessible for individuals, countries, etc., on a short-term scale?
- What do we want the future to look like?
- What do we want life on this planet to be like?
- What can we do as individuals, countries, and organizations to create a future with purposeful intentions?
- How can we act as individuals to get the ball rolling?
- Which issues are the most critical to address first?
- How do we begin?
Top Anthropocene Documentary You Must See
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