Humans have so altered the Earth and its atmosphere that we have ushered in a new geological epoch — the Anthropocene. On Monday, an official expert group made this recommendation at the International Geological Congress in Cape Town.
According to The Guardian, “The new epoch should begin about 1950 … and was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration.”
The Holocene, our current epoch, covers the last 11,500 years, a period that encompasses all of human history. Compared to the rest of the epochs, most of which are 50 or 100 million years long, that’s a very short span. However, the experts argue that humans have made such profound changes to the Earth — by way of carbon emissions, mass extinction, deforestation, and global development — that we have effectively ended the Holocene epoch.
Professor Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester and chair of the Working Group on the Anthropocene said that the dawn of the Anthropocene “[set] a different trajectory for the Earth system.” According to Zalasiewicz, who’s been working on the project since 2009, other members of the International Geological Congress might be hesitant to implement the group’s recommendation. “Our stratigraphic colleagues are very protective of the geological time scale. They see it very rightly as the backbone of geology and they do not amend it lightly,” he said. “But I think we can prepare a pretty good case.”
(Via The Guardian)