Monday, August 22, 2016

The Anthropocene epoch began …

It is important to define when the Anthropocene epoch began so we can model how humanity has affected our life support system. Climate modelers need a more complete record of what is actually going on to make accurate predictions. Though it may not matter whether this represents a new geological epoch (a line in the dirt filled with plastics, nuclear fallout, or transistor radios), we need some kind of demarcation that signaled our arrival.

Scientists to launch global hunt for ‘line in the rock’ marking the ‘scary’ new man-made epoch Declaring we now live in the ‘Anthropocene’ would reflect the impact of artificial changes to the Earth's climate, chemistry, lifeforms and even the rocks of the future A worldwide hunt for a “line in the rock” that shows the beginning of a new geological epoch defined by humanity’s extraordinary impact on planet Earth is expected to get underway in the next few weeks. The idea that we are now living in the Anthropocene epoch has been gaining ground in recent years. The surge in global temperatures by an average of one degree Celsius in little over a century, the burning of vast amounts of fossil fuels, the extinction of many animal species, the widespread use of nitrogen fertilisers, the deluge of plastic rubbish and a number of other factors have all caused changes that will remain visible in rocks for millions of years. (August 18, 2016) Independent

What will matter is that we establish a realistic baseline from which to locate the point (or points) that our earth systems—the biosphere, the atmosphere, the hydro-sphere, and the energy system—veered wildly from their ‘natural’ (or non-human influenced) state to our present state. How much more disturbance can our environment (the particular ecological constraints we need to thrive) take before things get dicey? Have we already burst pass Earth’s carrying capacity?

Our ecological footprints have been profound. Our greenhouse gas emissions have already dangerously warmed the planet. Our desire to get around on well-paved roads has bifurcated almost every land ecosystem, making it difficult for plants and animals to live and adapt. (Smugly, we often call animals that don’t respect our highway boundaries ‘road kill’.) Our need for more and more food has hijacked much of our planet’s land surface for our purposes, regardless of the natural dynamics needed to make ecosystems work. 

Even our economics have become a major environmental driver in our earth systems because they influence widespread human behavior. As we respond to (man-made) market prices, this has a profound effect on how many forests we destroy, or the amount of ground we disturb, or how much water we reallocate. 

If we just assume that our present way of life is sustainable and base our climate models on this present period of time only, we are going to fool ourselves into thinking that it’s healthy for seven billion people (going on nine billion by 2050 and maybe twelve billion by the end of this century), desiring a higher standard of living (and all the environmental resources that comes with that), to be a proper baseline from which to plan our future. That would be a dangerous delusion.

Whether we discover the Anthropocene as a particular strata in the ground will not matter as much as our accepting that the fact that that human behavior at some point (probably many, many points) began to seriously disturb a natural evolution that began some 3 billion years ago here on Earth. Then we can adjust accordingly.

My guess is that Anthropocene began when humans forgot that the things we discovered about how the world works also pertained to ourselves.  

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