The Daily PlanetWatch for Wednesday, August 14

Thomas Schueneman

Thinking about the latest environmental news headlines every weekday afternoon from the Daily PlanetWatch
  • The arrogance of the Anthropocene. For today's commentary, we'll focus on an article published in The Atlantic by Peter Brannen called The Anthropocene is a Joke. 

    For those unfamiliar with the term, "Anthropocene" refers to a new geologic epoch superseding the Holocene, the epoch emerging at the end of the last ice age approximately 11,700 years ago. Human flourishing is a product of the relative beneficence of the stable climate of the Holocene. 

    There is currently a debate among those who decide such things whether Earth has crossed into a new epoch - the Anthropocene or the "Age of Man." Classifying such a new geologic epoch would denote the unmistakable, pervasive, and global impact of human activity on the planet's conditions and processes. 

    Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer coined the term in 2000, popularizing the idea in popular parlance. Nonetheless, denoting such a turn in geological timekeeping in scientific circles is fraught, as Brannen highlights in his article.

    “The idea of the Anthropocene inflates our own importance by promising eternal geological life to our creations," writes Brannen. "It is of a thread with our species’ peculiar, self-styled exceptionalism—from the animal kingdom, from nature, from the systems that govern it, and from time itself. This illusion may, in the long run, get us all killed."

    I take the author's point. Perhaps it is the height of our hubris to consider our brief residency on the planet as constituting a geological epoch - anything approaching an “Anthropocene”. More of a disruptive event. A “paroxysm”.

    Save for a sudden pulse of chemical imbalance, detritus, and mass extinction, our time will leave nothing more than a thin black line coursing through a few buried rocks as the unfathomable slog of Deep Time scours our presence from the geologic record.

    Nonetheless, for storytellers like ourselves, terms like Anthropocene are useful markers denoting our cumulative impact and alteration of the planet, even if wildly inaccurate in a stratigraphic sense.

    Here we are now, in this deep ocean of time. It is our conscious awareness of the beautiful implausibly of this brief span of existence that will motivate us to forgo our destructive hubris.

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