Fasten your seatbelt…you’re living in the Anthropocene Epoch now!
We can easily get too deep into the weeds detailing cutting-edge scientific theories, so we’ll keep this simple.
Planet Earth is currently in the Holocene. Of debate is whether we have moved into a new epoch defined by the impact humans have had on the planet.
You’re thinking climate change, huh?
“It’s not surprising that the whole idea of an Anthropocene epoch probably goes back to the 19th century, but it really started to take hold, not surprisingly, in the 1970’s,” says Houston Museum of Natural Science Associate Curator of Paleontology Dr. David Temple, tossing a passing glance to the first Earth Day in 1970.
It goes beyond climate change, he explains. Think agriculture, and the atmospheric impact developing from a hunter/gatherer species to one that has transformed 37% of the planet’s surface to cultivation has had. Or should it begin with the invention of the steam engine and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700’s? Or was the dropping of an atomic bomb in August of 1945 the beginning?
That’s not the hardest part scientists have to settle, though it will be critical to arrive at a consensus.
Will the current era be identifiable by future scientists digging through the strata of the earth? Will there be a definable line of demarcation, because ultimately, the question isn’t one of climate science, it’s one of geology.
“So the people that determine when these epochs start are geologists and they work with stratigraphy. They say if you look at rock layers you have to be able to see some kind of visible change,” says Temple. One piece of evidence they may find across the planet as future generations dig into rock formations is cement. Roads. Lasting evidence of modern human existence that had a starting point.
To give you an idea of the scope of the debate, check out Wikipedia’s explanation of where the argument currently stands:
“As of August 2016, neither the International Commission on Stratigraphy nor the International Union of Geological Sciences has yet officially approved the term as a recognized subdivision of geological time, although the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) of the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS) of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), voted to proceed towards a formal golden spike (GSSP) proposal to define the Anthropocene epoch in the Geologic Time Scale and presented the recommendation to the International Geological Congress on 29 August 2016.”
The Anthropocene is generally distinguished by diminishing numbers of species and geologic, biologic, and atmospheric changes resulting from humans.