As we approach the end of the year, we may be saying goodbye not only to 2023, but also to the geological time unit we've been living in thus far. In 2024, scientists will decide whether we have entered the Anthropocene, a new era marked by human impact on the planet.
In general, the Anthropocene (derived from the Greek words Anthropomeaning “man” and cene For “New”) represents a time of planetary change that has come about as a direct result of human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and increased deforestation. The idea was first popularized in 2000, by the late meteorologist Paul Crutzen.
At present, the scientific community is unsure whether the Anthropocene has officially begun and whether it differs from the Holocene – the current epoch – which began about 11,700 years ago. Decisive a question What needs to be addressed is whether human activity has changed the Earth system to the extent that it is reflected in the rock layers.
In July 2023, a group of scientists are responsible for defining this possible new era – the Epoch Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) – They turned to Lake Crawford, Canada, as a case study for their decision. They chose this place because plutonium isotopes from nuclear weapons testing can be found at the bottom of the lake, which they believe dates the start of the Anthropocene to the early 1950s.
The fact that the news about Lake Crawford has already been revealed is somewhat unusual. Normally, such information would only be published after it has been ratified by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). But this departure from the norm is crucial, the Ad Hoc Working Group believes, because its implications are important for everyone. However, this is far from uncontroversial.
Here and now or emerging?
The work of the ad hoc working group has drawn criticism since the news broke earlier this year. However, the objections focus not on whether human activity has had a significant impact on the planet – the evidence for which is overwhelming – but rather on when the Anthropocene began.
There are some scientists, such as Earl Ellis, a former member of the ad hoc working group at the University of Maryland who resigned after Lake Crawford was selected, who take issue with how the working group defines the Anthropocene.
For Ellis, restriction The Anthropocene refers to an era that reduces humans' impact on the planet before the mid-2020sy a century. There is plenty of evidence that our species left its mark long before then, such as in the Industrial Revolution, when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels began to decline. He increases.
Rather than seeing this as the coming of a new era, individuals like Ellis argue that the Anthropocene should be viewed as an ongoing event.
In its defense, the ad hoc working group says that as of the mid-20sy In the twentieth century, the enormous level of human impact on the planet cannot be ignored, and that “big changes” occurred at this time with the advent of the atomic age.
The next step in the decision-making process involves the Ad Hoc Working Group's proposal, submitted in October 2023, which has been accepted by the Subcommittee on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS), its parent body. If accepted, the proposal would have to go through two additional rounds of voting by the International Commission on Stratigraphy and the International Union of Geological Sciences.
If the proposal passes these tests, by August 2024 we will officially be living in a new era resulting from our collective activities.
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