April 11, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Human Epoch or Epic Hubris?

Evolutionary geologists are toying with an idea for a new time period, the “Anthropocene Epoch.” What for?

We’ve all heard of the Paleocene, Eocene, Cambrian, Jurassic, Cretaceous and all the other names for various time intervals in the evolutionary geologic column (e.g., eons, eras, epochs, periods, ages). Few, however, may have heard of the Anthropocene Epoch. This is supposed to represent the stage when mankind took over as the major agent of geological and environmental change on the planet. Wikipedia explains,

The Anthropocene is a proposed geologic chronological term for an epoch that begins when human activities have had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. The term – which appears to have been used by Russian scientists at least as early as the 1960s to refer to the Quaternary, the most recent geological Period – was coined with a different sense in the 1980s by ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer and has been widely popularized by the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, who regards the influence of human behavior on the Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch for its lithosphere. To date, the term has not been adopted as part of the official nomenclature of the geological field of study.

Now that they have a proposed name, those in favor of this designation just need a “Golden Spike” moment to mark its beginning. The debate is ongoing.

In “Defining the epoch we live in,” a Perspective article in Science Magazine, four scientists from America and Europe weigh in on the pros and cons of defining the Anthropocene’s Golden Spike at some point or other. Some point to James Watt’s steam engine defining the start of the Industrial Revolution. Others mark the 1945 atomic bomb tests as more geologically worthy as the spike, because the blasts left a “distinctive marker horizon in ice cores, ocean and lake sediments, and soils.” But then others think we must go back thousands of years ago, or else the onset of agriculture and writing, cities, warfare, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age and other important transitions would be left out of the Anthropocene.

The timing of the onset is academic; more important is whether such a designation is useful to science. Most epochs in evolutionary time are measured in millions of years; this one, at most, would be a few thousand—just a fraction of 1% of the others. And what would the name be used for? Does it convey a subtext of blame for the environmental harm humans are causing? Would it be co-opted for political purposes? Who cares? For one thing, it would be the only epoch actually directly experienced by sentient human observers. For another, human beings are the only inhabitants of earth who pay attention to any of the artificial time designations in the geologic time scale.

Let’s open this to discussion from our readers. What do you think? Is it useful? Is it a conspiracy? Is it evolutionary propaganda, or is it a celebration of human achievement? Who would use the term, and why? Who would care?

One unintended consequence would be that various interest groups would ask for their epochs, too. Feminists might complain about the masculine gender of the “Anthropocene” and demand a “Feminocene” Epoch. LGBT advocates might want their own Golden Spike moment (no double entendres imagined or intended). Certain people would want an Obamacene. Others would think that Obscene. It could be fodder for SNL comedians reporting about the new Kerosene or SilverScreen Epochs and the Thoracic and Voracious Periods. Knowing human nature and factionalism, the idea could run amok, making the evolutionists sorry they ever thought of the idea.

The term would most probably be used by the moyboys as propaganda about the geologic time scale, rubbing in the assumption of unobserved mythical ages stretching back into vast imaginary times. Bible believers believe the Anthropocene (if there is any legitimacy to the word) began on the 6th day of Creation. The geological periods prior to that were measured in 24-hour days, not millions of years. From the beginning, man and woman were present on the earth, and given responsibility for stewardship of God’s creation. It’s not just Genesis; Jesus Christ said, “From the beginning, God made them (Adam and Eve) male and female.”

It’s interesting that the evolutionary “Anthropocene” designation carries with it some sense of human responsibility for the earth. The writers of the Science Magazine article end by saying that the name would “acknowledge the long and rich history of humanity’s environmental transformations of this planet, both for better and for worse.” No other animal or plant is considered credit-worthy or blameworthy for what it did to the planet. Do you hear an unstated sense that mankind is unique, possessing a moral sense?

Write a comment and have your say about the “Anthropocene” debate.



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