Activists take note: Welcome to the Anthropocene

Practitioner, Academic, Activist. I’m not really any one of these things just yet, and generally have fun floating around in between them all and find the broad range of topics I’m interested in to converge among all those worlds.  But sometimes I lose sight of who’s talking about what, where. I was surprised, for example, to find that the term Anthropocene is largely unknown, and certainly unused, among my environmental activist friends. At last, people are talking about wider recognition of the term causing a paradigm shift in the way Natural Scientists approach social-ecological systems; so maybe it can spur a shift in the influence of activists on policy.

The term was coined over 10 years ago by Paul Crutzen (Nobel Laureate, Chemistry), and published in Nature in 2002. But it hasn’t been widely used until more recently, such as in these excellent talks by Johan Rockstrom and Will Steffen.

In addition to academic forums, the Anthropocene has recently made headlines in the National Geographic (March 2011) and notably, in The Economist  last week, and the world’s top news agencies around the world followed suit.  As a side note, the Economist article, among many others,  refers to the epoch as the Age of Man.  I’m fairly certain women are also affecting the planet, for better, or for worse. So how about we call it the Age of Humans. Thanks–

Greater recognition of the Anthropocene would be very useful to activists. The basic premise of the term is that we’ve entered a new geological epoch– one in which humans have shaped the geological characteristics of the Earth. Rather than read this as a death sentence, surely we have the power to positively shape future planetary processes as well.

“For humans to be intimately involved in many interconnected processes at a planetary scale carries huge risks. But it is possible to add to the planet’s resilience, often through simple and piecemeal actions, if they are well thought through. And one of the messages of the Anthropocene is that piecemeal actions can quickly add up to planetary change.”

Activists take note: if the Holocene was an era of relative stability, we’ve entered the Anthropocene, so you can use it to highlight the (obviously lasting consequential) geological impacts of the tar sands, carbon, and nitrogen cycles… but you can also use it to prove that small acts can have a huge impact.


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