Human Impact on Earth’s Climate Ushers in New Geological Era

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A large plume of smoke rises from fires on BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig, in April 2010. Gerald Herbert/AP

A large plume of smoke rises from fires on BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig, in April 2010: Gerald Herbert

By Glynn Wilson

Homo sapiens have impacted the Earth’s climate to such a pervasive extent that scientists are urging the ushering in of a new geological era. We have now left the Holocene epoch and entered the Anthropocene, according to a new study out Thursday from the journal Science.

The Holocene epoch, which scientists say began 11,700 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, is now over, apparently. The new term Anthropocene, first suggested back in 2000, is based on the Greek word “anthropoid,” meaning “man”.

“Human activity is leaving a pervasive and persistent signature on Earth … We are becoming a geological agent in ourselves,” Colin Waters, lead author of the report led by the British Geological Survey, told Reuters.

The study says the new era really began in the mid-20th century with the dawn of the so-called “atomic age,” when the United States tested a bomb in New Mexico on July 16, 1945. Also cited in the study were the post-war leap forward in mining technology, industry, mass farming techniques and the use of manmade materials such as concrete and plastics, which have all left geological traces.

Concrete, invented by the Romans, is now so widespread that it would amount to one kg (2.2 lbs) for every square meter (11 sq feet) of the planet’s surface if spread out evenly, scientists say.

A formal recommendation to adopt the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch would require years of additional research, however, to pin down an exact start date, Waters said.

Some experts say the Anthropocene began with Europe’s Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. Others would give it an earlier origin, dating back to the mass agricultural production.

“Any definition will inform the stories that we tell about human development,” said Professor Simon Lewis of University College London, who was not involved in the study. He favors 1610 as a start date, marking the spread of colonialism, disease and trade to the Americas from Europe.

Erle Ellis of the University of Maryland, a co-author of the study released on Thursday, said pinning down the Anthropocene would transform understanding of humanity’s role on the planet. He said it was a “challenge no smaller than a second Copernican revolution” in the 16th century, when Nicolaus Copernicus helped show the Earth rotates around the sun, not the other way around.

Local Impacts

Meanwhile, this science is apparently all lost on many politicians around the country, including the Republicans running for president in 2016 and even the Mobile, Alabama, Planning Commission, which voted Thursday to recommend that the City Council approve a massive petroleum tank farm development on the river front right across from a historic school in Africatown.

While the Obama administration recently finally decided to kill the development of the Keystone XL Pipeline to bring Canadian Tar Sands crude to the Gulf Coast, local politicians seem hellbent being the only port in North America to allow the thick, dirty oil to continue coming to Mobile by rail, storing it along the river, and transporting it by pipeline, barge and tanker to refineries along the Gulf and internationally to China and other ports around the globe.

View of downtown from Africatown

View of downtown Mobile from Africatown: Glynn Wilson

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© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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