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Time to Change Your Calendar

to Anthropocene

By Sohum Tripathi 




Natural disaster, war, famine, industrial capabilities, climatic trends, and occasional ice ages have dictated the overwhelming majority of human impact on the natural world, and while that has, for the most part, kept human impact to a minimum, in a globalized, industrialized, and corporatized world, the power of humanity has far eclipsed that of natural occurrences. Take, for example, the COVID-19 pandemic. One hundred years ago, this pandemic would have raged throughout the world and killed far more people than today. It is now humanity that controls the fate of the world, and natural occurrences are nothing more than attempted limitations. Why is that? How and why does humanity have such power to alter the fate of the planet?  What does that even entail? To answer these questions, we have to examine a term: ‘The Anthropocene Era’.

Human history, and, to an extent, history in general, have been classified largely by periods of geological time known as eras. These eras were reflective of significant geologic or climatic events that occurred in those periods. For example, the previous era, the Holocene, saw the last ice age occur, and its ramifications have led to the latest geologic and climatic era, the Anthropocene. We are currently living in the Anthropocene, and it is up to us to determine how this era will progress. This is a momentous occasion. The last time we got a front-row seat to a new era was at the beginning of the Holocene, some 10,000 years ago. Back then, humanity was still a primitive species and, therefore, no records were collected about the advent of the Holocene. I do not blame our ancestors for not keeping records. After all, each glacial era unfolds over long periods and, therefore, it is nearly impossible to see the differences on a human timescale. The Anthropocene is a bit different, however. Humanity can predict the impacts of human activity on the progression of the Anthropocene because of modern technology, knowledge about the implications of industrialization, and evidence of a changing world. 

So, what is the Anthropocene? Well, to understand the era we first need to break down the word itself. The etymology of the word Anthropocene means ‘new man’, based on the Greek prefix ‘anthropo’ and its respective suffix ‘cene’. However, the literal translation doesn’t make much sense, so common interpretations suggest that the actual meaning of the word is ‘the period controlled by man’. This interpretation was coined by biologist Eugene Stormer and chemist Paul Crutzen in 2000. Therefore, it can be inferred that decisions made by humanity as a whole have effects on the geologic and climatic circumstances of this period. The Anthropocene commenced in the mid-nineteenth century when the effects of the industrial revolution were starting to be realized, and its effects were starting to be seen by humanity on a large scale.

The Anthropocene is quite significant. For starters, the inference that our decisions contribute to how the Anthropocene progresses is indeed true, as seen by various examples around the world. Climate change is one of those examples. Every ounce of emissions produced, whether it be carbon emissions, methane emissions, or other toxic gasses, directly affects the climatic state of the world. This can already be seen in places such as Svalbard, a Norwegian territory where its glacial contents have been decreasing steadily since 1936 at a rate of about 1.1 feet per year, according to Ward JJ Van Pelt, a researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Svalbard’s case is not unique either, with glaciers decreasing in all parts of the Arctic and Antarctic, ranging from the ice caps in Greenland to the Chukchi Sea to the Antarctic peninsula. According to a report prepared by the World Wildlife Foundation, one of the effects of the rapid melting of ice is that permafrost will start to thaw out, causing major geological changes to the Arctic as well as propagating more thawing and melting by releasing massive amounts of methane that have been trapped for thousands of years. The thawing of the permafrost contributes to a broader existential threat of the greenhouse effect. The threat is that, if more carbon emissions are used, more greenhouse gasses are released, thereby reflecting all the heat to the earth and causing more significant changes to the global climate. Various other negative effects of climate change exist as well, ranging from the flooding of coastal communities to unpredictable weather patterns damaging crop yields. Therefore, climate change must be addressed to protect humanity during the Anthropocene.

The Anthropocene is not definitive. We do not know whether humanity will survive this geological era because the direction in which the Anthropocene will go is entirely dependent on humanity’s collective actions throughout the glacial era. It is entirely up to us to determine whether we will survive the Anthropocene or will succumb to climate change and resource depletion. The fact is that we can no longer rely on natural patterns and geologic trends, it is now time to take matters into our own hands.

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Juila Hristov 

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