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The Anthropocene means “the age of man”. The word refers to the massive impact that humans have had on Earth. Something which many scientists believe is the cause of a new geological epoch; the Anthropocene. The word is popular in climate crisis debates or interviews with climate scientists. For example, the environmental scientist Johan Rockström often uses the term.

Anthropocene is put together by the greek words anthropo, meaning man, and cene, meaning new. 

What has caused the Anthropocene?

Some scientists argue that the impact of humans on the Earth’s climate, ecosystems, and geology marks a new geological age: the Anthropocene. If that were the case, the new era would mark the end of the Holocene. The latter is the geological age in which the Earth has been since the last ice age, 11 500 years ago.

Many scientists agree that the Anthropocene started with the advance of industrialisation in the 19th century. However, the beginning of the Anthropocene is almost as controversial as the concept itself. For example, some state that it began with agriculture. Others say that it was when humans began testing nuclear bombs since nuclear blasts have left clear traces in geological strata since 1945. More so, as a nuclear bomb compares to the power in a volcanic eruption.  

The very concept of the Anthropocene creates a massive debate among geologists. Partly because the previous geological ages have been much longer than the Holocene and mark enormous geological changes in the Earth. As previously mentioned, the Holocene began only 11 500 years ago. To compare, the age before that, the Pleistocene, was 1.8 million years long. Therefore, the scientific community is still discussing whether or not to accept the Anthropocene officially.  

Picture of a mine, connecting to the effect that humans have on earth. Potentially causing the anthropocene.

The human age

The “human age” is like a synonym for the Anthropocene. As mentioned, the word is from “anthopos”, meaning man, and “cen”, meaning new. The latter describes a new epoch in geology. Nobel prize winner Paul Crutzen introduced the concept to the scientific community in 2000. Although, it is known to be coined by scientist Eugene F. Stoermer. 

What called for a new geological era?

The main reason for new geological ages is visible changes in the layers of the Earth’s crust. For example, scientists who argue for the new era of the Anthropocene refer to two-thirds of the Earth’s arable land under cultivation. Which naturally affects the crust of the Earth. Furthermore, they highlight that humans move more soil and gravel than the planet. Another important aspect relates to the 300 million tonnes of plastic produced each year that leaves a visible mark on the crust. Other examples are the traces of war and weapons. The most common reference, however, is human-induced global warming, which can change all life on Earth.

Today, geological scientists continue to debate the concept of the Anthropocene. It may mark a new geological age in the future. 

Examples of sources: The Encyclopedia of the Earth, National Geographic


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