Sunday, November 27, 2011

Anthropocene

Timeline from The Economist-Click to enlarge
The daily news provides lots of stories highlighting the changes that we humans are making on the planet we inherited.  Many of our actions are having adverse impacts on other species, our water resources, and the fertility of the soil.

Some ecologists have proposed a new name for our age, the Anthropocene, which highlights the dramatic changes we have made in the ecology of the planet in our short time of dominance.  There is a lot of discussion about whether this era began with the Industrial Revolution's dramatic increase in the use of carbon based fuels or even earlier with the hunting pressures and increasing use of fire over the last 10,000 years.  Certainly this relates to the Sixth Extinction which we are experiencing.

There are opposing opinions regarding whether these changes warrant naming of a formal unit of geological time to follow or replace the Holocene (meaning "entirely recent") which labels the last 10,000 years.  Anthropocene (Greek,  anthropo- meaning "human" and -cene meaning "new.") moves the emphasis to an era of human influence.

Earlier this year, the Economist.com reproduced an excellent article from their magazine which reviews some of the evidence.  Why should we care about this pedantic topic?  Because we need to weigh the changes we are making in our environment and the potential risks to future generations.  Whether you accept it or not, it pays to understand the ramifications of the "new human" era.

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