Did you know that there’s a scientific debate going on in geological and environmental circles about what to call this current time period? According to the International Union of Geological Sciences, we’re living in the Holocene epoch. Yet a growing number of scientists say we are living in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, because we’re changing the earth’s life support system. Anthropocene is a term that reflects the true impact that humankind has had, and is continuing to have on the planet.
Every living thing affects its surroundings. Humanity is now influencing every aspect of the Earth on a scale similar to the forces of nature. There are so many of us, using so many resources, that we’re disrupting the grand cycles of biology, chemistry and geology by which elements like carbon and nitrogen circulate between land, sea and atmosphere. Humans are changing the way water moves around the globe; almost all the planet’s ecosystems bear the marks of our presence.
Our species’ whole recorded history has taken place in the geological period called the Holocene – the brief interval stretching back 10,000 years. Yet, our collective actions have brought us into uncharted territory: we’re changing the planet in countless ways. From deforestation, overfishing, vanishing species, melting polar ice caps, smog and pollution in the atmosphere, the best-known aspects of our impact is what we are doing to the climate.
The face of Earth has been transformed. Cities dominate the landscape. Even if humans disappeared, cities would remain one of the Anthropocene’s most visible and enduring legacies. Sea Change Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio show and podcast covering the shift to social, environmental, and economic sustainability, discusses the Anthropocene with Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute. Heinberg talks about why the terminology debate is more than just semantics, and examines a division among environmentalists – between what he has dubbed the “Techno-Anthropocene” proponents and the “Lean Green” movement.
As scientists learn more about how our planet works, they are increasingly aware of the existence of environmental ‘tipping points’: points of no return. These are thresholds beyond which environmental change become hard to stop, and there’s a risk of an irreversible cascade of changes leading us into a future that’s very different from anything we’ve seen before.
Photo Credit: Sea Change Radio
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