Defining the Anthropocene: Reinterpreting human history and our impact on the planet
Professor Mark Maslin, Department of Geography, University College London
There is general scientific agreement that human activity has been a geologically recent, yet profound, influence on the Earth System. Humans have in fact become a geological superpower on a par with plate tectonics or a meteorite impact. It has, therefore been proposed that we should refer to the present, not as within the Holocene Epoch but instead as within the Anthropocene Epoch. But when did the Anthropocene start? There have been five major types of human society: hunter-gatherer, agriculturalist, mercantile capitalist, industrial capitalist and consumer capitalist. The transitions between each were dramatic and significantly increased the impact of humans on the Earth. By using the fundamental principles of stratigraphy only two of these transitions can provide the geological golden spike required. 1) the irreversible cross-ocean exchange of species that started in the 16th century, marked by the 1610 minima of CO2 (Orbis Spike) and 2) the accelerating atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial changes in the second half of the 20th century, referred to as the Great Acceleration and conveniently marked by the 1964 peak radionuclide fallout (Bomb Spike). Defining a human geological epoch will have a profound impact way beyond science and will influence philosophy, history, geography and even geopolitics.
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