Like many other species, humans have always made an impact on the ecosystem. After all, we’ve all heard of locust and mice plagues. But our impact on the global environment has occurred so rapidly that it’s changing the structure and function of the earth’s systems as a whole.
The first nuclear bomb was detonated on the plains of New Mexico on July 16, 1945. Many scientists believe that this brought on an unprecedented shift in nature that nobody could have predicted. Around that same time, the world was thrust into a period of such swift socio-economic growth that it dramatically altered the way the planet functioned. From the increase in greenhouse gases and temperature to the accumulation of nitrogen on land and water, the entire fabric of the planet suffered a quick makeover.
The impact has been so extreme that some scientists believe that we are now entering a new geological epoch. Long after humans are extinct, the scars of our existence will be found in the sedimentary rocks that form the foundation of a new world. This new geological time unit is called Anthropocene.
Around 12,000 years ago the planet entered an epoch that was characterized by an extremely stable climate that would be ideal for human life. It was a golden time that was just right for civilization to expand. This is called Holocene.
The evidence of the changes that our planet has been through can be seen clearly in the markings on the rock formations. However, the transition to a new geological time unit isn’t always marked in rock, though. There is also evidence kept in a freezer in Copenhagen that marks the start of Holocene. It’s a block of ice that records the abrupt and dramatic shift in climate. Right now the rate of rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide is higher than what it was during the end of that last Ice Age.
What is really causing the rapid changes? Is it an increase in transportation, telecommunications, paper production, world population or foreign direct investments? What scientists have concluded is that it’s all due to consumption. 18% of the population is driving 74% of the local consumption.
Right now a group of 34 experts are going through evidence found in geological records to prove the existence of Anthropocene. Early this year the working group finally came to the conclusion that we are in the beginning of a transition to something else that began roughly 60 years ago.
It’s unclear whether Anthropocene will be included in the geologic time scale, probably due to the fact that humans are the ones driving most of the changes. However, it’s undeniable that the Earth has changed drastically and will continue to do so. It might take a very long time before people understand the extent of what Anthropocene means because it requires profound ethical, philosophical, and theological rethinking.