Anthropocene – from metaphor to informed scientific opinion

Back in February I came across a very nice open-access science paper published by the Geological Society of America. I had intended to write something about it, but the file got buried in a bulging folder of things to do, and then I completely forgot about it. Even now I shall do little more than flag this as something that may be of interest to those outside the Earth sciences community.

In 2002 the Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen suggested that the world had left the Holocene, and we might now be living in a new geological epoch that he termed the Anthropocene. Crutzen was contributing ideas to a debate about man’s influence on the biosphere, but despite the lack of hard analysis the term soon stuck. Anthropocene entered the geological literature informally to denote a global environment dominated by human activity.

A large group of Earth scientists has now taken a deeper look at the evidence for the Anthropocene, extended Crutzen’s discussion and applied a set of strict criteria used to establish new epochs. The scientists conclude that there is now sufficient evidence of “…stratigraphically significant change (both elapsed and imminent) for recognition of the Anthropocene – currently a vivid yet informal metaphor of global environmental change – as a new geological epoch to be considered for formalization by international discussion.”

So it looks as if we are living in a truly epoch-making time.