Many scientists agree that humans are overpowering the effects of nature. As the bank of evidence illustrating humanity as a geological force, the concept of the Athropocene is becoming increasingly important to acknowledge and understand.
What is the Anthropocene?
The concept of the Anthropocene is becoming increasingly popular in scientific literature and the everyday language to define the unprecedented rate that human activity is affecting the natural world.
When did the Anthropocene begin?
The onset of the Anthropocene is highly contested by scholars, but they agree that human activity has permanently changed the functioning of our planet. Some suggestions include:
- 50,000 years ago – When human populations where spreading through Africa, Asia and Europe. Correlated with mass extinction of megafauna (woolly mammoth, woolly rhino), potentially a result of human hunting and crop planting.
- 10-12,000 years ago alongside agricultural development.
- The industrial revolution in the 1800s – enormous expansion of fossil fuels.
- The great acceleration in the 1960s – rapid rise in population, water use, energy use, international tourism.
In each of these periods, human activity shaped the Earth. The complexity begins when deciding which period had such an influence on the natural world for humans to be classed as shapers of nature.
Why is knowing about the Anthropocene important?
We know that the Earth’s climate is no longer stable and that our Earth is warming rapidly. Deforestation, palm oil plantations, agriculture, pollution and urbanisation are just some ways that humans have changed the Earth’s climate over time.
Wether the human footprint would have a long lasting impact on the Earth system is still contested. What we are certain of however is the implications of humans on biodiversity. A recent report by the WWF found that wildlife populations have fallen by two thirds in the last 50 years. This decline shows definite evidence of the damage that human activity is causing on our Earth.
The next step
The next step is for the Working Group on the Anthropocene to identify something called a ‘golden spike’. This is a marker in the environment showing a start of a new age. Scientists may look for evidence of plastic or pollution.
Once the group identifies a point where human activity has set the Earth on an alternative trajectory, it is a clear reminder of the unprecedented rate that human activity is affecting the natural world.