While it isn’t official yet, the earth may be entering a new epoch. And the reasons for this are not good news.
Many of us are probably aware that science has identified a number of distinct geological eras throughout history. We may not know the names off by heart but early Silurian, middle Ordivician, and, of course, the legendary Jurassic will be familiar.
We’re currently in the Holocene epoch which covers the last 11,700 years. Geologists mark the beginning of this epoch at the end of the last major ice age. As such, it is characterized by a stable climate, temperate weather, and a generally comfortable environment. This is the era in which humans developed and thrived; it has supported the development of agriculture and given us good access to food, water, clean air, and lots of land.
Scientists have suggested that we’ve shifted into a new epoch. Unlike every previous epoch, this new era is dominated not by natural cycles but by man-made change. Our activities on this planet have been so profound that we have outpaced geological processes. So much, in fact, that we may be driving the planet out of the stable and hospitable Holocene and into conditions that may not have existed for millions of years. This single idea; that we have changed this planet so much that it will leave a distinct mark on the long-term geological record, is, well, earth-shattering.
This study is looking at the current earth trajectory in a geological sense. It asks some hard questions about what impact we are having. Is there a tipping point beyond which a stable environment is impossible? Where is that point and what happens when we cross it? What must we do to prevent reaching that tipping point? These are hard questions but it is absolutely vital that we answer them. And act on them.
Welcome to the Anthropocene.