We have entered a new geological epoch — made by us

Posted February 4th, 2008 in Blog 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

I truly believe that one of the keys to ecological hope (rather than the alternative) is for Homo sapiens sapiens to wake up — and soon, as in, right now — to the extent to which we have already altered the planet, destabilized its atmosphere, fragmented and undermined the complex and interconnected set of ecosystems that marked the era that gave birth to the human species, and then, for the past 10,000 years, gave us this stable climate in which to grow and develop.

I get dismayed sometimes when it seems people talk about climate change, or even the planetary crisis, as something we can fix and then go back to where we were. If we can just reduce those pesky carbon emissions, we will get back to the weather that is familiar to us, back to old norms, back to that old comfort zone that doesn’t scare us so much.

Oh, those times, that era, is so, so, over.

Four years ago, a Nobel-prize winning scientist, Paul Crutzen, first proposed the notion that we have entered coal-fired-power-plant-conesville-oh-national-geographic-peter-essick.jpga new geological era on the planet, that humans have so altered the physical processes and chemical make-up of the Earth that we are no longer in the 10,000 year epoch called the Holocene; rather, we have already entered a new epoch that he calls, the Anthropocene, to reflect this human impact.

Four years later, many other scientists were coming to accept the notion, as reported by the Financial Times in this article written by Clive Cookson that I found on the MSNBC website.

The article dated August 26, 2004, begins:

Scientists are beginning to accept that Earth has entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, so named because humans have come to rival nature in their impact on the global environment.

The EuroScience forum in Stockholm heard on Thursday that climate change was the most obvious of a complex range of man-made effects that is rapidly changing the physics, chemistry and biology of the planet.

Now we hear again from another set of scientists whose research backs Crutzen’s thesis. The study conducted by Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams of the University of Leicester and colleagues at the Geological Society of London shows evidence of disruptions to the planet’s carbon cycles, sediment patterns, and animal and plant populations because of human economies and population growth.

The study is reported by the Geological Society of America in the Feb. issue of GSA Today. Here is a link to the article, Are we now living in the Anthropocene. If you don’t have time to view it, you can read about it at this YahooNews link, Humans Force Earth into New Geologic Epoch, an article from Live Science.

Among the major changes heralding this two-century-old man-made epoch:

Vastly altered sediment erosion and deposition patterns.

Major disturbances to the carbon cycle and global temperature.

Wholesale changes in biology, from altered flowering times to new migration patterns.

Acidification of the ocean, which threatens tiny marine life that forms the bottom of the food chain.

This is dramatic stuff, my friends, and heralds a new era not only geologically but for our species in particular. mountaintop-removal-west-virginia-photo-by-vivian-stockman.jpgWe have not only been bad ‘stewards’ of this planet that gave birth to us, but we have abused it horribly for our own selfish ends. But it is bigger than us; we are not its masters. Unless we learn to live within the balances that made this era of life possible, we will find ourselves included in another era that has already begun — what is called ‘the sixth great extinction.’

Five times before, the Earth has gone through a process of mass extinctions. But this one will be very different. For one thing, the species driving it will be watching it as conscious beings while it occurs. From the 2004 article at the Earth Policy Institute’s website:

Among the possible causes of these mass extinctions are volcanic eruptions, meteorites colliding with the earth, and a changing climate. After each extinction, it took upwards of 10 million years for biological richness to recover. Yet once a species is gone, it is gone forever.

The consensus among biologists is that we now are moving toward another mass extinction that could rival the past big five. This potential sixth great extinction is unique in that it is caused largely by the activities of a single species. It is the first mass extinction that humans will witness firsthand”and not just as innocent bystanders.

This is awe-striking stuff, I think — or it should be. We should be very, very humbled by all this, by finding ourselves creatures subject to the nature that created us and of which we are in integral part. In the industrial age, spurred on by capitalist economics, we have lived as if we were masters of nature, over and above it, as if we could do what we want with it to make the lives we want, and nature would go on as we have known it.

Didn’t we learn basic science in school? Perhaps not, or we learned it from the vantage point of that Western myth of mastery.

save-the-blue-marble-nasa-photo.jpgThe Earth is not subject to us; we are subjects of it, and we are about to learn this lesson the hard way.

How hard depends on what we do with this knowledge. We have to start recreating our human way of life, our human economies, with this urgent goal in mind — to restore as quickly as possible our humble place within the balance of nature, and to do this with a profound sense of equity among the human community and respect for all of the other creatures and the intricacies of the ecosystems of the planet (many of which we still do not understand very well) that make up this fraying fabric of life.

If we continue to tear at the fabric, well, you know, we know, what happens. It is not a pretty picture for the future. But, folks, this is not just the future we are talking about here. It is here, right now. How bad will we let things get before we end the era of human hubris and selfishness?

[tags] anthropocene, holocene, sixth great extinction, balance of nature, Paul Crutzen, geological society of america, earth policy institute, fabric of life[/tags]


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One Response

  1. D.Bheemeswar

    I do agree with the Geological changes and that we have entered into a new era of self destruction, for which each one is equally responsible, but those who exploited it more. But those initiated such an Industrial development probably might not have thought about these effects, due to lack of sophisticated analysis. Never the we can do some unwinding provided the industry cooperates to some extent, for reviving the lost ecology. Some where I read becoming a king is easier than making a king. Destruction of ecology or exploitation of humans is easier than building the ecoclogy or harmony among the humans.
    This building of peace, harmony and serenity requires lots of undrestanding and once greater humility. What we need is a greater human chain to rebuild the ecology, much finer science than present now.