Anthropocene is us

November 18, 2012

Scientists, new-age hippies and religious folk seldom agree on many things. However, one thing they do agree on is how small we all are in the grand scheme of things. Galaxies, Gaia and God have been used to dwarf us puny humans and make us feel small and transitory. They hack away at our ego by pointing out our insignificance. But if you are in the mood for an ego boost, how about a whole geological epoch named after your species? Welcome to the Anthropocene.

Anthropocene marks the point when humans started to change the environment more than they were shaped by it or adapted to it. We were not really masters of the universe yet, but were no longer slaves to the elements and natural cycles. The most important shift that marks the transition from the prior Holocene epoch to the current Anthropocene was that we began to affect the Earth system at a global level some 250 years ago. Climate, biogeochemical cycles and energy balance were no longer immune to our activities. Melting of glaciers and sea ice, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, global warming acquired a human fingerprint.

And like at a crime scene, this human fingerprint will testify before a jury of the future. As we continued to increase the scale of our activities, we literally etch our epoch into stone. All our deforestation, water & land diversion, soil erosion have been recorded in lake and ocean sediments and stand testimony to the impact we’ve had in such a short period of time. The bubbles in Antarctic ice and the rings of trees in Siberia record our reliance on fossil fuels.

Yes, we have left our mark. So do taggers, vandals, litterers, public urinators and defacers of monuments.