Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Reflections on the Anthropocene

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Reflections on the Anthropocene

Article excerpt

"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. This is a little too big to simply call "news. Indeed, I can't move beyond these words - especially that heart-stopper, "intertwined - until I'm able to summon sufficient inner quiet and humility. Geologically, the paradigm has already shifted. How about spiritually?

The words are those of four geologists and climate scientists, including Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, writing in 2010 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology (and quoted at phys.org) - making the point that the human phenomenon has become, for better and for worse, essentially partnered with nature, a co-creator of the planet's future.

This hypothesis has returned to public attention, as the International Geological Congress meets in Cape Town, South Africa, and a working panel has voted that the Anthropocene Epoch - a planetary shift to a new geological state of existence - be officially acknowledged by the world's scientific community. That is to say, the planet has moved beyond what has been called the Holocene: some 12,000 years of climate stability, which emerged after the last Ice Age. In this window of opportunity, human civilization created itself and, in the process, seized hold of and began changing, the planet's geological infrastructure.

The current hypothesis is that the Anthropocene began, uh ... about the time "Ozzie and Harriet was hitting the airwaves, disposable ballpoint pens were finding their market niche and the Baby Boomers were starting kindergarten. That is to say, the 1950s.

The primary cause of the geological shift, The Guardian reports, are "the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration."

None of this is good news. Short-sighted human behavior, from nuclear insanity to agribusiness to the proliferation of plastic trash, has produced utterly unforeseen consequences, including disruption of the climate that has nurtured our growth over the last dozen millennia. This is called recklessness. And mostly the Anthropocene is described with dystopian bleakness: a time of mass extinctions. A time of dying.

But I return to the words quoted above: ". . . the Anthropocene represents a new phase in the history of both humankind and of the Earth, when natural forces and human forces became intertwined . …

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