Human Exceptionalism

“Anthropocene Epoch” to be Named After Human Impact on Planet?

I suspect these scientists don’t mean this as a compliment, but humans may soon have a new geological epoch named after us, to be called “Anthropocene.”  From the Nature News story:

Humanity’s profound impact on this planet is hard to deny, but is it big enough to merit its own geological epoch? This is the question facing geoscientists gathered in London this week to debate the validity and definition of the ‘Anthropocene’, a proposed new epoch characterized by human effects on the geological record. “We are in the process of formalizing it,” says Michael Ellis, head of the climate-change programme of the British Geological Survey in Nottingham, who coordinated the 11 May meeting. He and others hope that adopting the term will shift the thinking of policy-makers. “It should remind them of the global and significant impact that humans have,” says Ellis….

The “evidence for the prosecution”, as Zalasiewicz puts it, is compelling. Through food production and urbanization, humans have altered more than half of the planet’s ice-free land mass1 (see ‘Transformation of the biosphere’), and are moving as much as an order of magnitude more rock and soil around than are natural processes2. Rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are expected to make the ocean 0.3–0.4 pH points more acidic by the end of this century. That will dissolve light-coloured carbonate shells and sea-floor rocks for about 1,000 years, leaving a dark band in the sea-floor sediment that will be obvious to future geologists. A similar dark stripe identifies the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum about 55 million years ago, when global temperatures rose by some 6 °C in 20,000 years. A similar temperature jump could happen by 2100, according to some high-emissions scenarios.

Bad humans!  Bad, bad humans.

I don’t know whether we should have an epoch named after us.  But there is no question that we have materially altered the planet.  But that’s a good thing.  Look around at the prosperity we enjoy, which needs to be expanded, not contracted.  Look at the long lives we live, the ability to create greenery out of deserts, and the good uses to which natural resources have been put.  Good grief, we invented dogs!  Add in our desire to mitigate the environmental harm we may cause, taken together with so much more that could be written, and who can say we are not exceptional?

But like I said, there will be those who will bewail the changes humans have wrought that created so much benefit for us–as they simultaneously fly around the world attending banquets and attending symposia to so moan and complain.


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