Note — Oct 20, 2019

Anthropocene, an Epoch After All?

Seen in → No.99

Source → theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/10/ant...

In issue No.90 I linked to The Arrogance of the Anthropocene which argued that however large our impact on the planet currently is, it’s nothing in the face of deep time—if you didn’t read it then, have a look for a better understanding of the sheer scale of time. Now Peter Brannen is back—after multiple discussions (and arguments) with other geologists—and looks at some of the thinking from the Anthropocene Working Group, who have taken a different angle to the word. It might seem like splitting hair, but they provide a useful perspective. TL;DR: Whether we leave any actual traces observable millennia from now, we will leave the planet different than it was before us, and thus we are having a geological scale impact.

The Anthropocene, for Wing, simply states that humans are now a permanent part of this immutable thread of Earth history. What we’ve already done means that there’s no unspoiled Eden to which we could ever return, even if we disappeared from the face of the Earth tomorrow. […]

“It doesn’t stake out a hopeful future and it doesn’t stake out a catastrophic future,” Wing said. “It just says that if you want to be a sentient species you have to reckon with the degree to which you have already changed things.” […]

In the Paleozoic, land plants conquered the continents and geoengineered the planet, possibly contributing to, or even causing, at least 10 extinction pulses over 25 million years, including one of the worst mass extinctions in Earth history. Land plants profoundly and permanently altered Earth’s geochemical cycles, underwrote the flourishing of all subsequent life on land, and might have sequestered so much carbon dioxide that they kicked off a 90-million-year ice age. […]