The Anthropocene: a Scene of Disaster?

Currently, we are officially living in the Holocene epoch–with an epoch being a unit of time that, in the case of geology, is one way that Earth’s history is separated into more distinct and specific chunks. However, an increasing number of scientists argue that humans have made enough of a significant impact on our planet that we have actually entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. This proposed era of humans has not been officially recognized by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, since questions have arisen over when the exact start of Anthropocene should be, and indeed whether or not we have any good reasons for the labeling of an entirely new epoch in the first place. The start of a new epoch is usually marked by dramatic changes sediment layers, and according to Elizabeth Kolbert, the most dramatic changes that humans are likely to leave behind in the sediment records will probably be attributed to our sharp increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Though scientists generally agree on the fact that humans have caused the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to skyrocket, Kolbert points out that some mark the beginning of the Anthropocene “at the invention of agriculture some 8,000 years ago… Crutzen has suggested that the Anthropocene began in the late 18th century, when, ice cores show, carbon dioxide levels began what has since proved to be an uninterrupted rise. Other scientists put the beginning of the new epoch in the middle of
the 20th century, when the rates of both population growth and consumption accelerated rapidly” (3). Still others (and I tend to side with this camp) argue that the Anthropocene hasn’t even started yet, but instead the most dramatic impacts that humans will have on this planet have not shown themselves yet. I agree with this, since it is very hard to measure the future impacts that our species will have in the moment; in other words, to properly label an epoch, I believe that it is necessary to have a more significant amount of time elapse (hundreds, or even thousands of years) before the best judgement can be made about the lasting effects of our current time.

Of course, many people outright deny climate change entirely, and the reasons for this likely stem from the intense human desire to fit in. Cathy Whitlock made the observation that the term “climate change” itself elicits a sort of knee-jerk reaction in many people, since believing in climate change could lead to alienation from certain groups of people.The tenancy towards tribalism has existed throughout all of human history, and one way this tribalism manifests itself in modern times, at least in the US,  is through highly partisan politics. According to Dan Kahan, “the trouble starts when this communication environment fills up with toxic partisan meanings — ones that effectively announce that ‘if you are one of us, believe this; otherwise, we’ll know you are one of them’” (1). The point that Kahan tries to drive home is that most people will side with their chosen peer group and fully subscribe to that group’s ideology, which subsequently leads to less productive dialogues between other groups.

 

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