Scientists: Earth Entered a New Age Around 1950

They cast vote in favor of the Anthropocene
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 29, 2016 11:17 AM CDT
Updated Sep 3, 2016 10:21 AM CDT
Scientists: Earth Entered a New Age in 1950
This image of the Earth at night is a composite assembled from data acquired via satellite over nine days in April 2012 and thirteen days in October 2012.   (NASA)

If you're under the age of about 66, then big news: You've lived your entire life in the Anthropocene epoch, or the age of man. At least, that what scientists who voted Monday in Cape Town, South Africa, would like to see after seven years spent considering the question. The AFP reports that the declaration of an official end to the Holocene—the current, nearly 12,000-year-long epoch that began at the end of the last major ice age—is a good two years off. The 35-member Working Group on the Anthropocene's vote acts as a recommendation to the International Geological Congress, which is one of several academic bodies that will need to approve it. More:

  • Smithsonian has a very readable "What is the Anthropocene" primer from 2013, which gets at one of the hearts of the debate: How to decide the precise point in the geological record (think rocks and ice cores) that demarcates when humans began to affect the Earth.
  • The AFP explains that the start of the Holocene was determined by an ice core drilled from the central Greenland ice sheet; it's kept in a freezer in Denmark and is said to provide "unprecedented clarity."
  • As for what "golden spike" will define the new epoch, the Working Group recommends the nuclear bomb tests that occurred around 1950 and scattered radioactive elements around the planet. The Guardian has more.
  • Working Group member Jan Zalasiewicz says countries have traditionally been eager to submit a golden spike sample, but that there might be some hesitation this time around due to what the Telegraph calls the "negative associations" of the Anthropocene.
  • The New Yorker in 2015 looked at debate about that Anthropocene golden spike (other arguments place it in 1610 and 1964), but saw that as secondary to the effect of the designation, regardless of its starting point. It quotes a Working Group member thusly, "It is geologists saying, 'We are witnesses to this profound and problematic transition. And we want the world to talk about it.'"
  • To that end, Paul Crutzen—the man who coined the term Anthropocene in 2000—in 2011 wrote a column for Yale Environment 360 that suggests three answers to the question: "What then does it mean to live up to the challenges of the Anthropocene?"
(More Anthropocene stories.)

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