Epoch Embattled: The Trouble with Identifying Human Environmental Impacts and Their Origins

HST 207 – Science and Technology in World History

Mary Hill Young




Adding an Anthropocene epoch to the official chronology of evolution would establish human intervention in the environment as an irreversible and permanent factor, equivalent to the disaster that ended each of the previous eras. Establishment of the Anthropocene epoch would also cast humanity as a natural disaster in and of itself, making us not an actor in the narrative of world wide change but the catalyst for it, requiring that we accept some sense of responsibility for our actions. As such I would recommend the induction of the Anthropocene epoch, in that it might engender some sense of culpability and clearly categorize human intervention into the natural environment as harmful and significant.

I would suggest that the Anthropocene should begin with the first clear influence humanity has had on the environment, though dating such an event is a notoriously complicated process, “Recent research has painted a rather different picture, producing evidence of widespread human impact on the environment through predation and modification of landscapes, often through the use of fire.”(Crutzen, Stephen, McNeill, The Anthropocene, 1)

The herd mentality, and cultural mythology that Harari espoused, build a society on the basis that each individual will value their continued inclusion in the larger population over the assertion of independent beliefs. This adherence to a shared set of tenets causes certain assertions, even factual ones, to be discarded for the sake of the continued placidity of the society. In disregarding certain facts a population remains a whole, “If anything, social science suggests that citizens are culturally polarized because they are, in fact, too rational — at filtering out information that would drive a wedge between themselves and their peers.” (Kahan, Why We Are Poles Apart on Climate Change, 1) Thus we are, as a society unable or unwilling to address the issues that require our attention most, for fear that our efforts will ostracize us from our peers. Dr. Whitlock and her team of researchers understood the effect that such a divisive topic can have on a population and made deliberate efforts to mitigate the resultant pushback. Altering language, changing climate rather than climate change, interview techniques, asking individuals what they noticed and wanted to change, rather than explaining what had changed, and even investing in a new, mutable publishing technique Dr. Whitlock made her sample population integral to the nature of her evidence, and not merely the catalyst for it.