The Fruits of Civilization (65-5) The Anthropocene

The Anthropocene

The human footprint on the planet is so distinctive and lasting that the Age of Man must be officially recognized in the geologic time scale. ~ Italian pedologists Giacomo Certini & Riccardo Scalenghe

The boundaries of epochs are traditionally defined by a distinctive geologic event. The current epoch – the Holocene – dates from 9,700 bce to today. It follows the Pleistocene (2.58 mya–11.7 tya). The divide between these epochs was the last episode of glaciation.

That mankind has long had a profound impact on the planet is not in dispute by anyone with a whit of sense. The only issues are whether and when to demark it. In the mid-2010s, scientists contributed to global warming with a lot of hot air about relabeling at least a portion of the Holocene to the Anthropocene.

Various dates have been bandied about. The dawn of the age of atomic bombs – 16 July 1945 – has been suggested, as has 1964, when the atmospheric fallout of nuclear detonations spiked. The year 1800 signifies the start of the Industrial Revolution, when capitalism upped its game. Then there is a date about a century after the Old World discovered the New World: 1610, which registered an unusual drop in atmospheric CO2.

These later dates disregard that humans caused severe ecosystem disruption with the advent of agriculture and were impacting the planet even before that. In that context, the Holocene (which means recent) is the Anthropocene, as some have observed.

Does it really make sense to define the start of a human-dominated era millennia after most forests in arable regions had been cut for agriculture? ~ William Ruddiman et al

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It’s become a political statement. That’s what so many people want. ~ American paleontologist Stan Finney

Getting scientists to agree to peg the Anthropocene to a particular date is like herding cats, and about as productive. It may well happen, and with some unexpected irony.

The farther in the past the onset of the Anthropocene is set, the more it may seem to the Collective that if humans have been so environmentally important for so long, maybe tomorrow will be just like yesterday after all, and the Anthropocene as the harbinger of the apocalypse is hokum.

There’s a risk that the Anthropocene idea is misunderstood as human entitlement to control planet Earth. ~ German biologist Christian Schwägerl