Defining the Anthropocene
Geologists and environmentalists are currently debating whether we have entered a new epoch, referred to as the Anthropocene. Proponents of the change say that the amount of human influence on the Earth and its systems has caused us to be propelled into a new stage in earth history. Trends in sea level rise, temperature, and ice volume loss all support this idea, but it isn't that simple. According to geologists, the stratigraphic evidence needed to officially label this time period isn't there. In order to name a time period there has to be evidence in the rock record that denotes a drastic change in climate or environment. This evidence has to be fairly consistent globally. Our current epoch, the Holocene, is defined by the International Commission on Stratigraphy as the the change from the last glacial period to interglacial. Geologists are arguing that there isn't a clear divide like in that case to make the claim that we are in a new epoch. They are debating now and it should go to a vote later this year or early next year.
Humans have undoubtedly made an impact on the world around them since they first evolved from their ancestors. Agriculture and livestock have altered landscapes, the industrial revolution led to a new demand for resources, and the commercialization of fossil fuels has led to increases in emissions. Trends in temperature, sea level, ice volume, and species extinctions all show an exponential increase in recent history (Figure above), hinting at a new age of earth systems. When the statistics are presented, it is easy for environmentally inclined people to connect the dots and relate these impacts back to human activity. However, many skeptics remain. Whether it be ignorance, misinformation, or an ideological stance, it is more important than ever to bridge that gap and bring the world together to try to fix some of the catastrophic damage that has been done. The Anthropocene is here, and it has the potential to shape Earth’s climate and systems for centuries, if not longer, if we don’t make some drastic changes.
Defining a new epoch based on human influence is unprecedented and that makes it hard for some to shallow. Renaming the current epoch to Anthropocene requires a lot of discussion and will ultimately come down to whether or not we can admit to our own failures and start an attempt at fixing them. The evidence available for supporting the Anthropocene seems immense, but it’s still a matter of getting people to believe it.
We can decide to ignore our faults, but the Anthropocene is here. Whether or not it is recognized as a formal epoch, it is impossible to ignore mankind’s impact on the Earth. We are at a critical point in history where a decision has got to be made. If we ignore the warning signs and scientists telling us there is a very real problem, the world may become a very unpleasant place. Either way, we need to be more conscious about our efforts to put the environment first. We have the facts and the capability to change, but we have to be willing to sacrifice to remediate our world. Changing our current time period to Anthropocene shows we acknowledge our impact, and it paves the way for us to come together to save our planet.