Note — Aug 18, 2019

The Arrogance of the Anthropocene

Seen in → No.90

Source →

This one is both dizzying to contemplate and quite the cutting to size for humanity. A deep (very deep) time perspective comparing the scale of actual geological epochs to our paltry thousands of years of civilization. I’d love to see a follow up to this with the same depth of time used to think about the Drake equation. Considered over that span, civilizations could be winking on and off, appearing and disappearing all the time with no overlap in their existence.

[R]ock dates—single-frame snapshots from deep time—can come with 50,000-year error bars, a span almost 10 times as long as all of recorded human history. If having an epoch shorter than an error bar seems strange, well, so is the Anthropocene. […]

Unless we fast learn how to endure on this planet, and on a scale far beyond anything we’ve yet proved ourselves capable of, the detritus of civilization will be quickly devoured by the maw of deep time. […]

If, in the final 7,000 years of their reign, dinosaurs became hyperintelligent, built a civilization, started asteroid mining, and did so for centuries before forgetting to carry the one on an orbital calculation, thereby sending that famous valedictory six-mile space rock hurtling senselessly toward the Earth themselves—it would be virtually impossible to tell. […]

In fact, there exists a better word in geology than epoch to describe our moment in the sun thus far: event. Indeed, there have been many similarly disruptive, rapid, and unusual episodes scattered throughout Earth history—wild climate fluctuations, dramatic sea-level rises and falls, global ocean-chemistry disasters, and biodiversity catastrophes. […]

The idea that we’re in a new epoch is a profoundly optimistic one, for it implies that we are at the dawning of the astrobiologist David Grinspoon’s “Sapiezoic Eon”—that expansive, creative, open-ended future in which human technology represents a new and enduring feature of the planet on par with the biological innovations of the Cambrian Explosion—rather than heading for the impending, terminal consummation of a major mass extinction, ending with all the conclusive destruction of apocalypses past.