Exit the Holocene, Enter the Anthropocene
Giving a name to a period of time is not a new thing, and it’s an approved method of defining time on the geological scale, usually based on environmental developments. Currently we’re in the Holocene, and now some people are proposing that we should be moving into a brand new era that matches our developments — enter the Anthropocene.
Historically, the transition to another time period has been heralded by a significant change on our planet: the Cambrian explosion, the Ediacaran after the Marinoan glaciation (the last Snowball Earth) and the major extinction events where at least 70% of the world’s biota was wiped out. To name an era after ourselves would be placing us on the same par as these enormous events.
The Holocene epoch has been scientifically defined as the most current interglacial period (MSI 1), starting 11,700 years ago where the Earth underwent warming since the last ice age, resulting in a significant change in climate and species dominance. It’s also defined as the point where the human species start to evolve into the urbanised and conscious society we see today. The handover from the previous time epoch, the Pleistocene, coincides with the extinction of the largest megafauna such as Mammuthus primigenius (woolly mammoth) and the successive invasion of ‘generalists’ — animals smaller in size and more adaptable to the warming conditions.
So in some terms, we’re already dominating this time epoch and there isn’t the need for another classification to be whacked on top of that.
Here’s the thing about defining geological time – the lines aren’t so much clear and straight, as they are an interpretative dance from Mr. Squiggle. They’re blurred, fuzzy and oscillate depending upon which hemisphere of the world you’re in. Margins of error are on the scale of thousands to millions of years at the best of times. However, the case for the Anthropocene means that we can constrict that time to a tenth of that error margin and seriously ‘pin-point’ the effect that humans are having on the surface of our planet.
The evidence for this claim clearly exists. Habitat dominance over the majority of our landmasses due to an ever-increasing population boom has never been achieved by a single species in Earth’s history. Our agricultural practises have physically changed the way our planet looks and impacted upon huge amounts of ecosystems, with effects like warming through the Amazon and the removal of rainforest in South East Asia.
We continually remain the number one predator in our food chain, and as a result are causing one of the quickest (in geological terms) mass extinctions to have ever occurred, through land use for crops and monoculture farming. Not to mention the environmental repercussions we’ve caused from the use of fossil fuels into rising sea levels, soaring terrestrial temperatures and atmospheric imbalances. Land masses such as Tuvalu are experiencing sea level rises that will completely submerge them within the next 50 years.
For a more reasons why we should be taking the Anthropocene seriously, check out the following video and its associated website: