Sunday, March 27, 2011


National Geographic | The word "Anthropocene" was coined by Dutch chemist Paul Crutzen about a decade ago. One day Crutzen, who shared a Nobel Prize for discovering the effects of ozone-depleting compounds, was sitting at a scientific conference. The conference chairman kept referring to the Holocene, the epoch that began at the end of the last ice age, 11,500 years ago, and that—officially, at least—continues to this day.

"'Let's stop it,'" Crutzen recalls blurting out. "'We are no longer in the Holocene. We are in the Anthropocene.' Well, it was quiet in the room for a while." When the group took a coffee break, the Anthropocene was the main topic of conversation. Someone suggested that Crutzen copyright the word.

Way back in the 1870s, an Italian geologist named Antonio Stoppani proposed that people had introduced a new era, which he labeled the anthropozoic. Stoppani's proposal was ignored; other scientists found it unscientific. The Anthropocene, by contrast, struck a chord. Human impacts on the world have become a lot more obvious since Stoppani's day, in part because the size of the population has roughly quadrupled, to nearly seven billion. "The pattern of human population growth in the twentieth century was more bacterial than primate," biologist E. O. Wilson has written. Wilson calculates that human biomass is already a hundred times larger than that of any other large animal species that has ever walked the Earth.

In 2002, when Crutzen wrote up the Anthropocene idea in the journal Nature, the concept was immediately picked up by researchers working in a wide range of disciplines. Soon it began to appear regularly in the scientific press. "Global Analysis of River Systems: From Earth System Controls to Anthropocene Syndromes" ran the title of one 2003 paper. "Soils and Sediments in the Anthropocene" was the headline of another, published in 2004.

At first most of the scientists using the new geologic term were not geologists. Zalasiewicz, who is one, found the discussions intriguing. "I noticed that Crutzen's term was appearing in the serious literature, without quotation marks and without a sense of irony," he says. In 2007 Zalasiewicz was serving as chairman of the Geological Society of London's Stratigraphy Commission. At a meeting he decided to ask his fellow stratigraphers what they thought of the Anthropocene. Twenty-one of 22 thought the concept had merit.

The group agreed to look at it as a formal problem in geology. Would the Anthropocene satisfy the criteria used for naming a new epoch? In geologic parlance, epochs are relatively short time spans, though they can extend for tens of millions of years. (Periods, such as the Ordovician and the Cretaceous, last much longer, and eras, like the Mesozoic, longer still.) The boundaries between epochs are defined by changes preserved in sedimentary rocks—the emergence of one type of commonly fossilized organism, say, or the disappearance of another.

The rock record of the present doesn't exist yet, of course. So the question was: When it does, will human impacts show up as "stratigraphically significant"? The answer, Zalasiewicz's group decided, is yes—though not necessarily for the reasons you'd expect.


CNu said...

Responding to Truman/Nash/MAD - evidently the Soviet unspeakable created its own hell-on-earth as well.

CNu said...

and then there are the little ancillary profit-motivated accidents;

here in our own backyard...,

umbrarchist said...

Why not call it the Eurocene instead?

Do you ever notice how often Europeans assume they speak for all mankind. But then there is also the degree to which non-Europeans imitate whatever Europeans are doing.

Technology and the implementation of technology are two different things. The same technology can be implemented a 1000 different ways. 950 of them are mediocre to stupid.

Consider the replicator technology of Star Trek. What would that technology do to an economy? But Henry Ford gave us replicator technology with the production of the Model-T. But we have screwed it up. Useless changes for styling affect cost and maintenance and depreciation. Without planned obsolescence the anthropocene would be very different. For the rest of mankind to imitate the Eurocence has been really DUMB.

And the Soviets. Why didn't they tell the entire world that Capitalist economists could not do algebra back in the 60s?

9/11 is the greatest example of believing what is told in history. Even when it is Really Dumb. What should today's physicists say to Galileo? Is Satan the Prince of Liars? Is he the Prince of Palefaces? ROFL

CNu said...

dopamine hegemony umbra, dopamine hegemony...,