Goodbye Holocene Say Hello to the Anthropocene

As world leaders, scientists, politicians, environmentalists and lobbyists gather in Paris for perhaps the most significant event in modern human history, the global conference on the warming of our planet (COP 21), it is worth reflecting that it already may be too late to reverse the consequences.  Most scientists now agree that climate change is a due in most part to  our species (Homo sapiens) and our impact on the environment.  For the uninitiated, COP 21 stands for the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.   A global agreement is being sought to limit fossil fuel use and other human activities that could lead to a catastrophic rise in the average annual temperature of Earth.

Is it Time to Define a New Geological Epoch?

Such is the rate of climate change, the totality of climate change and the scale, that many scientists have proposed that this time in the history of our planet deserves its own epoch.  Currently, we are living in the Holocene Epoch (it means “recent time”).  This epoch was defined in the last five years or so by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the academic body responsible for dividing up the 4.57 billion years or thereabouts of Earth’s history into more manageable chunks of time such as eons, eras, periods and epochs.

The Holocene Epoch is defined as the last interglacial period, it began around 11,500 years ago, with the end of the last Ice Age.

At the turn of the century, scientists Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer introduced the idea of the Anthropocene Epoch, a new epoch to note the dramatic change on our planet caused by human beings and their activities.  The Anthropocene is not an officially recognised scientific term.

A Working Group to Examine the Problem

Next year, a working group headed by Professor Jan Zalasiewicz of Leicester University will put forward to the International Commission on Stratigraphy a formal proposal about adopting the term Anthropocene.  This could set in motion a chain of events that will see the Anthropocene officially adopted as a geological epoch.

It is a sobering thought for many of us, we have lived through a change of millennium, now we could be on the cusp of having lived through a time when one geological epoch was replaced by another.

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