(noun) A new geological epoch defined by the irreversible impact of human activity on Earth
Around the turn of this century, earth scientists started to discuss the idea that humanity had pushed the world into a new geological era through the combined effects of climate change, pollution and diminishing biodiversity.
The concept of the Anthropocene — first suggested in 2000 — crystallised in 2023 when geologists selected a small lake in Canada to represent the start of the new epoch.
Deep and undisturbed sediments beneath the waters of Crawford Lake near Toronto show the build-up of compounds originating from fossil fuel burning and chemical production, radioactive isotopes from nuclear technology and biological materials from non-native species. In July, a working group of the International Union of Geological Sciences nominated the lake as an official Anthropocene monitoring site. This brought the term into wider public consciousness — and focused attention on the severity of human impact on our planet.
If the new epoch has indeed begun, it would replace the Holocene that started 11,700 years ago at the end of the ice age. This a matter of scientific debate, but 1950 is the favoured start for the Anthropocene.
Meanwhile, scientists are warning that humanity’s environmental effects are spreading beyond Earth, with calls to declare a Lunar Anthropocene. More than 50 spacecraft have already disturbed the moon’s surface.
Geologists will vote on the terrestrial Anthropocene proposal at the International Geological Congress in South Korea in August 2024. Unfortunately, the evidence for our impact on the planet may be even stronger by then, with many scientists forecasting unprecedented heat, wildfires and habitat loss over the coming year.
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