Not wishing to worry anyone unduly, what with all this Brexit ‘driving the country off the edge of a cliff’ stuff going on. But have you heard about the anthropocene?
I certainly hadn’t until I went to a history lecture early in December. I’d heard a threatening sounding song on Nick Cave’s last album called ‘The Anthrocene’ but hadn’t cottoned on to what he was on about. Until more or less the same word turned up in an ‘Environmental History’ lecture, accompanied by the worrying thought from Chris, the lecturer, that what we were talking about here might be ‘the history of now’.
At which the real historians present began doing proper history talk and establishing:
“When did this thing start?”
To which there appear to be three possible answers:
“It was started by the British Industrial Revolution from late in the 18th Century, after the steam engine was developed.”
“It definitely started the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945”
All the way through to:
“Actually this might just be the slow ending of the Holocene and it hasn’t started at all yet.”
The last of which might have comforted me in an academic discussion kind of a way, if my brain and its accompanying search engine hadn’t still been stuck on:
“Yes but what is it, this ‘anthropocene’ thing?”
Well it turns out, started or not, to be our next geological era. After that ‘Holocene’ period we’ve all been so enjoying for the past 12,000 years. A time of relatively settled weathers and during which us humans have thrived and invented things.
But the anthropocene?
That’s when significant effects of us humans can start to be seen, by scientists initially, in the rocks, the oceans and the climate of the planet. When the things we do leave things and effects behind them. Like our nuclear deposits, our carbon holes, our plastics in the fish and our flooded lowlands full of fleeing refugees. Those kinds of things.
Or, as Wikipedia defines it:
“The Anthropocene is a proposed epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems, including, but not limited to, anthropogenic climate change. Neither the International Commission on Stratigraphy nor the International Union of Geological Sciences has yet officially approved the term as a recognized subdivision of geological time, although the Working Group on the Anthropocene voted to formally designate the epoch Anthropocene and presented the recommendation to the International Geological Congress on 29 August 2016.”
Not everyone’s worried then. One school of thought thinks we’ve got a hybrid world now anyway, where everywhere has been affected by humans, and we can work with it. Because humans are intelligent and inventive and it’s what we’ve learned to do.
Others are worried, including me. Partly because I’ve just found out about it and partly because, well, it sounds worrying. Changes so significant they’re shifting us into a whole new geological era. Like with those early ones in the text books where continents were settling and we stopped having dinosaurs?
Are we the dinosaurs now?
And yes, I’m writing this in my ‘lightness of tone’ blog voice because it’s a blog post and I’d like you to still be reading it.
Because? This anthropocene thing? I think it’s worth looking into and thinking about. Which I have been doing. Thinking being the main reason I’m spending so much time in a university now.
And I think the anthropocene matters. While all the Brexit stuff and Trump stuff, never mind the ‘which celebrities are good at wearing clothes’ stuff might not. Might in fact be wilful distractions from the anthropocene.
The history of now, or soon?