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Monday, January 25, 2016

Anthropocene -- Man's Epoch Natural Destruction

Mexico City

"The now widespread accumulation of nuclear fallout, fly ash, plastic, concrete and aluminum in the ground is indicative of the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch and can be traced back to the middle of the twentieth century. When combined with other persistent environmental changes brought about by man, such as higher greenhouse gas emissions, the scientists say that the 11,700-year Holocene Epoch – the geological era that began with the end of the last Ice Age – has now come to an end."

(Colin N. Waters, Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin Summerhayes, Anthony D. Barnosky,
Clément Poirier, Agnieszka Gałuszka, Alejandro Cearreta, Matt Edgeworth,
Erle C. Ellis, Michael Catherine Jeandel, Reinhold Leinfelder, J. R. McNeill,
Daniel deB. Richter, Will Steffen, James Syvitski, Davor Vidas, Michael Wagreich,
Mark Williams, An Zhisheng, Jacques Grinevald, Eric Odada, Naomi Oreskes,
Alexander P. Wolfe. "The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct
from the Holocene." Science, Volume 351, Issue 6269. January 08, 2016.)

Even though the International Union of Geological Sciences, the professional organization in charge of defining earth’s time scale, claims we are in the Holocene (“entirely recent”) epoch, which began 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age, many experts say now we are in the “Anthropocene” epoch (from anthropo, for “man,” and cene, for “new”) because human-kind has caused mass extinctions of plant and animal species, polluted the oceans and altered the atmosphere, among other lasting impacts.

The research shows that earth has now entered a distinct age from the Holocene epoch, which started 11,700 years ago as the ice age thawed. The Anthropocene is the newest epoch in our planet’s 4.5 billion year history.

According to these scientists, the influence humanity has had on the planet in regards to the geological record is undeniable. Plastics, concrete, and other man-made materials have all begun to leave their mark in the sediment record, and Jan Zalasiewicz, study co-author from the University of Leicester (cited above), stated in a press release that all this, plus other evidence collected by the research team such as the radionuclides accumulating in the soil from the numerous international atomic bomb tests from 1945 through the 1980s, provides “an underlying reality” to the concept that the Anthropocene epoch has not only begun but is in full swing.

Anthropocene has become an environmental buzzword ever since the atmospheric chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen popularized it in 2000. By 2013, it had appeared in nearly 200 peer-reviewed articles.

Will Steffen, who heads Australia National University’s Climate Change Institute recommends starting the epoch with the advent of the industrial revolution in the early 1800s or with the atomic age in the 1950s. Either way, he says, the new name sends a message:

“It will be another strong reminder to the general public that we are now having undeniable impacts on the environment at the scale of the planet as a whole, so much so that a new geological epoch has begun.”

(Joseph Stromberg. "What is the Anthropocene and Are We in It?"
Smithsonian. January 2013.)

Proof of a New Epoch

* "In the last century, fertilizers used in crop production doubled the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil. Signals of these chemicals found within lake strata are now at their highest levels in the past 100,000 years."

* "Pervasive since World War II, concrete is now the world’s primary building material. The amount produced in the last 20 years is enough to cover each square foot of the planet with three ounces of concrete."

* "The amount of plastic produced each year weighs roughly as much as all humans on Earth combined. Some is recycled, but most gets discarded to landfills or ends up in the ocean. Plastics, along with aluminum and concrete, decay very slowly and will leave behind identifiable fossils, called “technofossils,” in the geological record.

* "Humans have transformed more than half of Earth’s land surface with buildings, roads, mines, farms and landfills, among other uses."

(Nicholas St. Fleur. "Signs of the ‘Human Age.'" The New York Times. January 11, 2016.)

Dump of Cell Phones

Man's tenure on Earth is brief on the astronomical time scale. The age of the Earth is estimated to be 4.54 billion years. And, some scientists claim our ancestors have been around for about six million of those years. The modern form of humans evolved about 200,000 years ago. Civilization as we know it is only about 6,000 years old, and industrialization started in the earnest only in the 1800s.

National Geographic's article "Human Impact" states ...

"The evidence could not be more graphic. Aerial photography and satellites show in vivid detail the results of laying waste to vast areas of forest and the harm done by poisons that humans have been pumping into the water and air during the century and a half since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

"An alarmingly large hole in the Earth’s protective covering of atmospheric ozone appears over the Antarctic. Toxic hazes settle over major cities. Once fertile areas of the planet become desert, never to be green again within our lifetimes.

 "And yet, the abuse continues."

(Read the Nat Geo article by clicking here:

With seven billion people on Earth, the human damage done to the planet is totally unacceptable, but what of the near future? Stephen Emmott, professor of computational science at the University of Oxford and head of computational science at Microsoft, gives some dire warnings ...

"In fact, we are having a profound impact on it. Indeed, our cleverness, our inventiveness and our activities are now the drivers of every global problem we face. And every one of these problems is accelerating as we continue to grow towards a global population of 10 billion. In fact, I believe we can rightly call the situation we're in right now an emergency – an unprecedented planetary emergency...

"We currently have no known means of being able to feed 10 billion (Current estimates are 9 billion by 2050.) of us at our current rate of consumption and with our current agricultural system. Indeed, simply to feed ourselves in the next 40 years, we will need to produce more food than the entire agricultural output of the past 10,000 years combined...

"Little is yet known about the aspect of increasing water use: "hidden water". Hidden water is water used to produce things we consume but typically do not think of as containing water. Such things include chicken, beef, cotton, cars, chocolate and mobile phones. For example: it takes around 3,000 litres of water to produce a burger. In 2012 around five billion burgers were consumed in the UK alone. That's 15 trillion litres of water – on burgers. Just in the UK...

"Demand for land for food is going to double – at least – by 2050, and triple – at least – by the end of this century. This means that pressure to clear many of the world's remaining tropical rainforests for human use is going to intensify every decade, because this is predominantly the only available land that is left for expanding agriculture at scale...

"The only solution left to us is to change our behaviour, radically and globally, on every level. In short, we urgently need to consume less. A lot less. Radically less. And we need to conserve more. A lot more. To accomplish such a radical change in behaviour would also need radical government action. But as far as this kind of change is concerned, politicians are currently part of the problem, not part of the solution, because the decisions that need to be taken to implement significant behaviour change inevitably make politicians very unpopular – as they are all too aware."

(Stephen Emmott. "Humans: the real threat to life on Earth." The Guardian. June 29, 2013.)

Read Emmott's entire article by clicking here:

Humans tend to be indifferent and skeptical of predictions of impending doom; however, images of human devastation to the planet serve as powerful reasons to improve all major negative human impacts on the environment. Refusing to enact long-term solutions and believing that some new technology will save life in the 11th hour are irresponsible responses.

War, terrorism, pandemic viruses -- all of these things are global threats to life. But, mankind's self-inflicted destruction to the earth is perhaps the biggest concern of all. In the Anthropocene, people must understand that living better does not always involve convenience and happiness at any expense. Modern civilization is dependent upon nature for its very survival. This coexistence is much more fragile than most believe, and now is the time to take major steps to preserve life by leaving a much softer human footprint.

"He is richest who is content with the least,
for content is the wealth of nature."



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