Daily Bulletin


News

  • Written by Dr Duncan Cook, Senior Lecturer in Geography, Australian Catholic University

Disastrous fires, ongoing drought, and heat extremes have refocused Australians’ attention on the human contribution to climate change.

For decades experts have known (and warned) of the consequences for Australia, but for many, there is a realisation that our environment has shifted beyond “normal” boundaries, and that humans have played some part in this. This is fertile ground for the idea we occupy a new human-dominated phase of planetary history: the Anthropocene.

Use of the term Anthropocene (the root “anthropo” means human, the suffix “-cene” signals a geologic time epoch) has been growing for more than a decade. No longer the exclusive domain of geoscientists, it has jumped from academic journals to pop culture while many are still asking “the what now?”

Read more: Blue Acceleration: our dash for ocean resources mirrors what we’ve already done to the land

A very short history

It has been 20 years since Dutch Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen and colleagues used the term to describe the human modification of the planet since the industrial revolution. However, the concept dates back to at least the mid- to late-19th century when Italian Catholic priest, geologist and palaeontologist Antonio Stoppani proposed an “anthropozoic era”.

There has been a push in the last decade to have the Anthropocene formally recognised as the current piece of Earth history.

Last year, the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) agreed to a proposal for a formal Anthropocene period with an onset marked by the distinct chemical signatures of mid-20th century atomic bomb fallout that we can detect worldwide.

Some scholars have questioned the need for an Anthropocene epoch at all. Others recognise its usefulness but debate when between the mid-18th and mid-20th century AD the period started.

Read more: Enough 'Anthropocene' nonsense – we already know the world is in crisis

While there are good arguments for such a recent start date, it potentially excludes the impact of thousands of years of human deforestation, agriculture, and building that are the environmental antecedents of the world we see today (a so-called Early Anthropocene, or a Palaeoanthropocene model).

How the term 'Anthropocene' jumped from geoscience to hashtags - before most of us knew what it meant Though there is argument about its starting point, the Anthropocene concept of human geological impact has taken hold. Unsplash, CC BY

Re-writing the past

One issue here is that our knowledge of human impacts in the distant past is being rapidly re-written. Take the Maya lowlands of Central America, where our research team used the term Mayacene to describe early Anthropocene deforestation, agriculture and urbanisation. In a new paper, my colleagues have shown Pre-Columbian Maya wetland agricultural systems in present-day Belize were five times larger (and older) than previously thought.

We are only now beginning to understand the long history of human modification, in tropical forests and elsewhere, that may have increased greenhouse gas emissions and altered climate long before the industrial revolution.

History tells us trying to pin down when (and where) major human disturbance first occurred is a great challenge. The stratigraphic (and historical and archaeological) evidence suggests an Anthropocene that is time-transgressive, with many different beginnings (and some declines) globally. We can say it had transformed much of the planet by 3,000 years ago.

How the term 'Anthropocene' jumped from geoscience to hashtags - before most of us knew what it meant Can we reverse millennia of human impacts? Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash, CC BY

Escape from acadaemia

An undecided start date has not prevented the Anthropocene idea spreading rapidly through many academic disciplines.

Highly regarded journals, such as Anthropocene and Anthropocene Review, publish an expanding body of human-impacts research.

Across the humanities and social sciences, the Anthropocene has become an important frame for re-examining human-environment relationships. Historian Dipesh Chakrabarty’s 2009 essay, for example.

Offshoot Anthropocene ideas have sprouted, including the Technoscene (the influence of technology), the Capitalocene (the influence of economies), and (my favourite) the Chthulucene that imagines a future re-worlding where multispecies groups learn to live in harmony with nature.

Despite the viral spread and mutation of the term, what remains is the recognition of the enormity and permanence of human environmental modification, and the (usually) negative consequences.

The 2010s were marked by important Anthropocene books, documentaries and movies, marking the spread of the term into the public discourse.

How the term 'Anthropocene' jumped from geoscience to hashtags - before most of us knew what it meant Musician Grimes’ new album will be called Miss Anthropocene. Illustration by Charlotte Rutherford/Instagram

In 2014, Anthropocene was added to the Oxford English Dictionary; six years later, Google’s search engine shows some 6.4 million internet hits on the term. In The Atlantic last year, science writer Peter Brannen wondered whether the concept was an arrogant human folly:

The idea of the Anthropocene inflates our own importance by promising eternal geological life to our creations.

The cultural impact of the Anthropocene is seen in major art projects and museum exhibitions, and you can now find the word (and the ideas) in many songs and albums. Canadian musician Grimes’ announced her upcoming release Miss Anthropocene is a “concept album about the anthropomorphic Goddess of climate change”.

On social media, Anthropocene has become a byword for the severe human impacts on the environment we see around us - in posts about bushfire smoke, plastic beach flotsam, and expanding farmlands.

Lasting impact

It’s not often ideas and terminology from the geosciences escape and find a home in society, so the journey of the Anthropocene, from neologism to global catch phrase and environmental rallying point is fascinating.

The Anthropocene is not (yet) a formally defined geological unit, and so for now, we continue to live in the Meghalayan Age of the Holocene epoch.

The Anthropocene has arguably become a “charismatic mega-concept”. It brings together the sciences, humanities, and the public realm, stimulating ongoing debate and new research.

Read more: Friday essay: thinking like a planet - environmental crisis and the humanities

Perhaps this is the “global awareness” ANU’s Will Steffen and colleagues anticipated in their 2007 Anthropocene model?

Time will tell if this shared terminology and understanding can translate into action, to repair (or at least slow) millennia of human impacts on the Earth.

Authors: Dr Duncan Cook, Senior Lecturer in Geography, Australian Catholic University

Read more https://theconversation.com/how-the-term-anthropocene-jumped-from-geoscience-to-hashtags-before-most-of-us-knew-what-it-meant-130130

Writers Wanted

Australia's states have been forced to go it alone on renewable energy, but it's a risky strategy

arrow_forward

The missing middle: puberty is a critical time at school, so why aren’t we investing in it more?

arrow_forward

A Beginner’s Guide To Caring For Your Lawn

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM: Scott Morrison, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?    FORDHAM: Good. How many days have you got to go?   PRIME MINISTER: I've got another we...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Business News

Nisbets’ Collab with The Lobby is Showing the Sexy Side of Hospitality Supply

Hospitality supply services might not immediately make you think ‘sexy’. But when a barkeep in a moodily lit bar holds up the perfectly formed juniper gin balloon or catches the light in the edg...

The Atticism - avatar The Atticism

Buy Instagram Followers And Likes Now

Do you like to buy followers on Instagram? Just give a simple Google search on the internet, and there will be an abounding of seeking outcomes full of businesses offering such services. But, th...

News Co - avatar News Co

Cybersecurity data means nothing to business leaders without context

Top business leaders are starting to realise the widespread impact a cyberattack can have on a business. Unfortunately, according to a study by Forrester Consulting commissioned by Tenable, some...

Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable - avatar Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion