The Anthropocene, a geological era created by human action?

The power of the human being to create, but also to destroy, is undeniable. Our actions affect the climate and biodiversity. In the year 2000, Paul J. Crutzen, Dutch Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, participated in a scientific meeting in which he disagreed with what was being said about the current environmental situation. He then he snapped and said, “No! We are in the Anthropocene!” Thus he created, in the heat of the moment, the word. Everyone was surprised. But his occurrence seems to have persisted.

The term Anthropocene refers to the negative effect of human actions on the environment. But is it a new era or just a geological event? This uncertainty will be resolved when the time comes by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS). Stratigraphy studies rock strata as clues to geological stages. The analyzed rocks must show indicators in all parts of the world, and in a synchronous way, of a global change. This would justify the acceptance of the Anthropocene in all its scientific formality as a new geological era; but this decision must be endorsed in turn by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). This process is slow and could only start after a key meeting in the summer of 2023. For some, the possibility of proof is very close; others are skeptical.

Skeptical is Stanley Finney, a geologist at California State University Long Beach. In an article he authored, written while he was president of the International Commission on Stratigraphy, he argues that the Anthropocene is “a political statement rather than a scientific proposal.” His period, he points out, is too short to determine his geological record.

Since its use by Crutzen, the allusion to the Anthropocene is increasingly frequent in the media, as well as in specialized papers and magazines. Part of the scientific community proposes the term to replace Holocene, the current denomination to refer to the contemporary stage of Earth’s history, which began 11,700 years ago. Crutzen, in any case, only popularized the term, because already in 1980 the biologist Eugene F. Stoermer had alluded to the Anthropocene.

The modification of the environment by human action is also called an anthropogenic factor. An unavoidable example of this is the emission of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, from the burning of fossil fuels and other practices that increase the planet’s temperature and contribute to climate change.

The still absence of a final scientific certification of the Anthropocene does not prevent the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) from stating that this term “means that we are the first people to live in a time defined by human choice, in the that the dominant risk to our survival is ourselves.”

Since when?

Even when the proposal of the Anthropocene is accepted as a new geological era, this is the subject of a lively discussion among experts. Some claim that this new era began in the 18th century. Crutzen himself proposed 1784 as the starting date, the year in which James Watt perfected the steam engine and gave impetus to the Industrial Revolution and the massive use of fossil fuels.

William Ruddiman, a geologist at the University of Virginia, warns that human intervention in the environment long predates industrial coal and its machines. Ruddiman proposes the widespread hypothesis of the ancient Anthropocene, according to which agriculture increased the emission of greenhouse gases 8,000 years ago.

The background doesn’t stop there. William Ripple, professor of ecology at Oregon State University, assures that the alteration of the environment by the anthropogenic factor began when the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, in distant prehistory, altered the trophic cascade, an ecological concept that observes the damage in the environment when, for example, some apex predators are eliminated through hunting.

As confirmation of the Anthropocene, different researchers and organizations insist on what they call “the great acceleration”. The term seeks to indicate that after World War II, the consumption of primary resources increased significantly, together with demographic and economic growth that demands more energy, land and water, with the consequent environmental impact. Some stress that there should be talk of a “hyperacceleration” after 1970. The intensification of the use of non-renewable resources then becomes unsustainable. Hence the need for its opposite: sustainable, sustainable development.

The discussion of the Anthropocene also involves the meaning of the term itself. The allusion to “anthropos” suggests a general responsibility of the human species that many reject, and that is why they propose other alternative denominations, such as “Occidentalocene”.

But the concept of the anthropocene has philosophical implications that have an impact, more than we think, on our daily lives. On the one hand, it contests climate denialism, the current that underestimates the signs of environmental deterioration, either because it is alleged that human incidence is minimal in natural processes or because, even from a theological perspective, God would not allow the breakdown of his creation. because of human irresponsibility. But the real and ultimate foundation of the denial of the climate disaster are the interests of the current fossil paradigm, which sees a great threat in its replacement by non-polluting and renewable energies (for example, among others: wind energy from winds; solar panels; geothermal energy, which is obtained from the heat inside the Earth and transmitted through the body of hot rocks).

The Anthropocene also exposes the dangers of anthropocentrism. Due to this anthropocentric conception of the world, since the Renaissance, in the 16th century, at the beginning of modernity, the human tends to place himself at the center of history, as the owner of his environment to extract its resources without accepting limits.

question apathy

Anthropocentrism does not assume the consequences of the overvaluation of the human with respect to his environment, nor repairs the irresponsible appropriation of the natural world. In that sense, and among many other possible examples, scientists have already warned that the sea ice at the poles could disappear during the summers in two decades, with great adverse environmental effects. In 2011, a Greenpeace icebreaker sailed to the North Pole with an artist who drew the image of The vitruvian man of Leonardo on a floating block of ice. The purpose of the mission was to show its rapid melting. “We came all this way to create the fusion of The vitruvian manbecause climate change is literally eating the body of our civilization”, commented John Quigley, the artist in charge of this ephemeral work.

Like this environmental action, the Anthropocene questions the apathy and empty rhetoric of the States when it comes to introducing real policies to reduce the emission of polluting substances. Some countries and organizations show greater environmental awareness than others, but, deeper down, what prevails is inertia in climate management as a global problem.

Our time favors indifference or underestimation of climate danger, which the concept of the anthropocene problematizes. The situation of our days overflows with economic crises, inflationary setbacks, millions of victims due to Covid and, now, in a geopolitical redesign due to invasion and war.

The blow of the time folds the human still more in itself; It takes him further away from the understanding that we exist not only in networks of local and global conflicts, but also within the larger processes of nature. The Anthropocene questions the feeling of distance from nature that occurs in urban culture. Everything related to climate change, the increase in global temperature, melting ice, deglaciation and the rise in sea level, desertification and droughts, deforestation and loss of diversity, would seem to be part of a distant plot, localized in processes that, we think, do not have direct effects on our daily lives. This underestimation of environmental degradation supposes a cognitive distortion, a loss of the complete sense of reality.

Beyond the controversies that it provokes, the value of the Anthropocene lies in this questioning of climate denialism, in pointing out the danger of anthropocentrism and in recovering the closeness of nature, of the processes of the natural world that surpass us and on which humanity depends. generation of food, air and even the balance of the planet’s temperature, which allows the continuity of life.

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The Anthropocene, a geological era created by human action?