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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 a number of scientists believe, is the cause of a new geological epoch; the Anthropocene. The word is increasingly used in climate crisis debates or in interviews with climate scientists. For example, the environmental scientist Johan Rockström, often uses the term.

Anthropocene 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 would be the case, the new age would mark the end of the Holocene. The latter is the geological age that the earth has been in 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 controv.ersial as the concept itself. For example, some state that it begun 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. Furthermore, since a nuclear explosion can be compared to a volcanic eruption.

The very concept of the Anthropocene is heavily debated amongst geologists. Partly, because the previous geological ages have been much longer than the Holocene. They have also marked huge geological changes in the earth. As previously mentioned, the Holocene begun only 11 500 years ago. To compare, the age before that, the Pleistocene, was 1.8 million years long. More so, the Anthropocene is not officially accepted by the scientific community. Despite this, the word is increasingly used by scholars.

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 is commonly used to describe a new epoch in geology. The term was introduced to the scientific community by Nobel prize winner Paul Crutzen 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 age of the Anthropocene refer to the two-thirds of the Earth’s arable land that is under cultivation. Which naturally affects the crust of the earth. Furthermore, they point to the fact that humans move more soil and gravel than the planet does itself. Another important aspect relates to the 300 million tonnes of plastic produced each year that leaves a visible mark in the crust. Other examples are the traces of war and weapons. The most common reference, however, is to global warming, capable of changing all life on earth.

Today, geological scientists continue to debate the concept of the Anthropocene. It is possible that the concept will mark a new geological age in the future.

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


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