Dawn of the Anthropocene Age
Photo via flickr by mattyp
According to a team of geologists and scientists, we are entering a new age of geological time which they call the “Anthropocene Epoch.”
In their report in the “journal Environmental Science & Technology”, Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams from the University of Leicester Department of Geology; Will Steffen, Director of the Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute and Paul Crutzen the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist of Mainz University state that the dawning of this new epoch may include the sixth largest mass extinction in Earth’s history.
The scientists propose that, in just two centuries, humans have wrought such vast and unprecedented changes to our world that we actually might be ushering in a new geological time interval, and alter the planet for millions of years.
Zalasiewicz, Williams, Steffen and Crutzen contend that recent human activity, including stunning population growth, sprawling megacities and increased use of fossil fuels, have changed the planet to such an extent that we are entering what they call the Anthropocene (New Man) Epoch.
First proposed by Crutzen more than a decade ago, the term Anthropocene has provoked controversy. However, as more potential consequences of human activity—such as global climate change and sharp increases in plant and animal extinctions —have emerged, Crutzen’s term has gained support. Currently, the worldwide geological community is formally considering whether the Anthropocene should join the Jurassic, Cambrian and other more familiar units on the Geological Time Scale.
The scientists note that getting that formal designation will likely be contentious. But they conclude, “However these debates will unfold, the Anthropocene represents a new phase in the history of both humankind and of the Earth, when natural forces and human forces became intertwined, so that the fate of one determines the fate of the other. Geologically, this is a remarkable episode in the history of this planet.”
In an interview with Sputnik Observatory, experimental geographer Trevor Paglen explains how humans, as geologic agents, have re-sculpted the Earth:
Another idea that I am interested in is thinking about humans as agents of geology, as geologic agents. That sounds a little bit weird, and I’ll explain what I mean by that. If we look at geology, historically, we look at the shape of the surface of the Earth; the sediments, layers, mountains, lakes, glaciers, you name it, the contours of the surface of the Earth. Historically, the main things that shape that are plate tectonics, the movement of plates on the surface of the Earth creating mountains, earthquakes, volcanoes, that sort of thing. It’s also shaped by rainfall, water erosion is an enormous contributor to the way the surface of the Earth is sculpted. It brings mountains down, creates lakes, rivers, all kinds of things like that. Other agents might be glaciers, you have an Ice Age, the ice is coming across the land and receding from the land and it really carves out the surface of the Earth in important ways. Now, for at least the past 100 years none of these have been the main factors shaping the surface of the Earth, sculpting the globe. Human activity has been the main thing that sculpted the surface of the globe. For example, mining. When we look at something like the Gold Rush or mining in Alaska, we literally are moving mountains in the span of very short periods of time. Unbelievable. We’re doing things in a few years that would take nature thousands of years to do. Human activity has become the main agent in sculpting the surface of the Earth. Not only in creating cities and these sorts of things, but creating mountains, tearing them down, creating new waterways and that sort of thing. It’s interesting to me. So in that project I’m thinking about what does that mean? Let’s think of ourselves as geologic agents. Let’s think about what we do in terms of geology and long, long time scales. Geologists work in what they call deep time, which is time that happens at a very different pace than human time, usually happens over thousands or millions of years.