The Anthropocene: The Age of the Human?
Now more than ever we must consider the environmental impact of our actions. Everything from the clothes we buy to the food we eat influences our environment, with some behaviours being more harmful than others. It is easy to assume in
dividual actions have little to no impact on the natural world, however, the concept of the Anthropocene suggests otherwise. Has our impact on the Earth been so great that we’ve changed the natural rhythms of the Earth forever?
Epochs are a geological time measurement, used to distinguish between different periods in the Earth’s history. The most commonly known one, perhaps, is the Jurassic, made famous by a series of films about an attempt to create a tourist attraction of cloned dinosaurs (who thought that was a good idea?!), the Anthropocene epoch signifies a new period in the life of the Earth. However, instead of the age of the dinosaur, the Anthropocene is the Age of the Human.
Human civilizations started forming around 6000 years ago, so the Anthropocene is nothing new, right? Actually, the Anthropocene is a very new concept and is still disputed by scientists as to whether or not we have entered this new stage of the Earth’s life. For the last 12,000 years, it’s been widely recognised that the earth was in the Holocene. A period of stability that allowed humans to progress in the way they have. However, as humans have adapted over the years there have been some significant turning points that indicate we are no longer in the period of relative safety and stability, and instead, entering an age of great uncertainty – the Anthropocene.
First coined in 2000 by Nobel prize-winning atmospheric geochemist Paul Crutzen, the concept of the Anthropocene proposed humankind has become a global geological force that is powerful enough to challenge nature. As seen across the globe, from plastic pollution to deforestation to the warming climate, the impact mankind has had on the environment is evident, to say the least. So why does this matter?
Throughout the 4.5 billion years of the Earth’s existence, it has experienced several epochs, each unique and often triggered by a noteworthy event. An epoch can span the best part of 20 million years, and the transition between epochs have been associated with instability and fluctuations in climate, something which the modern-day human has not experienced before.
The fact that within the past 8000 years humans have had such a significant impact on the Earth we are triggering a new epoch is alarming at best. It’s even more alarming when you consider most of the destruction we see today has happened in the last 200 years, mere milliseconds in the lifetime of the Earth.
The Age of the Human is concerning for two reasons:
1. Human activity has made a lasting impression on the Earth. Our obsession with plastic will remain etched into the geological record book, every bit of plastic ever made is still in existence today, and yet we are still producing more and disposing of it carelessly. Humans have wiped out entire species, destroyed ecosystems, and drained the Earth of its natural resources. We even altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere when the first atomic bomb was detonated, generating a new radioactive mineral upon explosion.
2. We are entering into a period of great unknowns with no real appreciation of how volatile and dangerous the Earth can be. We are fast approaching the planetary boundaries of what is considered safe. This is highlighted in Sir David Attenborough’s latest documentary Breaking Boundaries. To put it bluntly, we don’t know what will happen if we fail to reduce our environmental impact. It is looking less and less likely that we will keep global temperatures within the ‘safe’ levels of warming set out by the Paris Agreement, and although we can speculate and hypothesise what a warmer world might look like, we don’t actually know. Changes in weather events, droughts, sea level rises and changes in the ocean’s currents could completely transform the world as we know it. We are on track to pass the point of no return, and yet, we are still failing to take adequate action.
Now, the last thing we want is to scare everyone with the Age of the Human, but if you are scared, you have every right to be. The fact that human activity is challenging the forces of nature is nothing short of terrifying. However, we still have time to correct our mistakes. Let’s use our strength for good. Humans have accomplished so much in their short time on Earth, we have no doubt we can right our wrongs if we take collective action now. But it must be now. We cannot delay or make incremental changes any longer. Action must be significant if we are to stay within our planetary boundaries.
So, what can we do? Ultimately, the Anthropocene has come about because of our distorted relationship with nature. Humans have exploited nature for its natural resources and given very little in return. Balance must be restored to this relationship. Rewilding and nature restoration projects are a good place to start. Nature is surprisingly resilient, given the opportunity to heal, it will. We just need to allow it to do so.
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