April 2, 2015


Scientists Are Arguing About When, Exactly, Humans Started to Rule the Planet (Tim McDonnell, Apr. 2, 2015, Mother Jones)

If defining what the Anthropocene represents is straight-forward, assigning it a commencement date has proved a monumental challenge. The term was first proposed by Russian geologist Aleksei Pavlov in 1922, and since then it has occupied off-and-on the attentions of the niche group of scientists whose job it is to decide how to slice our planet's 4.5 billion-year history into manageable chunks. But in 2009, as climate change increasingly gained traction as a matter of public interest, the idea of actually making a formal designation started to appear in talks and papers. Today, if the scientific literature is any indication, the debate is fully ignited.

In fact, "it has been open season on the Anthropocene," said Jan Zalasiewicz, a University of Leicester paleogeologist who is a leading voice in the debate. Within the last month a heap of new papers have come out with competing views on whether the Anthropocene is worthy of a formal designation, and if so, when exactly it began. The latest was published in Science today.

In some cases, geologic time periods are demarcated by a mass extinction or catastrophic natural disaster (the meteor that likely killed off the dinosaurs being the classic example). In other cases it can be the emergence of an important new group of species. But either way, Zalasiewicz explained, it has to be something that is readily identifiable in the global fossil record. That's what makes the Anthropocene so difficult to nail down.

All comedy is conservative.
Posted by at April 2, 2015 2:58 PM

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