From the fear and self-loathing in Capetown department, Josh had this take on it awhile back.
The Anthropocene, or “new age of man,” would start from the mid-20th century if their recommendation—submitted Monday to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa—is adopted.
That approval process is likely to take at least two years and requires ratification by three other academic bodies.
But after seven years of deliberation, the 35-strong Working Group has unanimously recognised the Anthropocene as a reality, and voted 30-to-three (with two abstentions) for the transition to be officially registered.
“Our working model is that the optimal boundary is the mid-20th century,” said Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester.
“If adopted—and we’re a long way from that—the Holocene would finish and the Anthropocene would formally be held to have begun.”
Scientists refer to the period starting from 1950 as the “Great Acceleration”, and a glance at graphs tracking a number of chemical and socio-economic changes make it obvious why.
From the Times:
The Working Group on the Anthropocene (AWG), which is meeting in Cape Town this week, is proposing that the starting date for the new epoch should be set for around 1950.
The group’s committee of 35 members voted by a majority of 20 to recognise the new time division as an epoch, rather than the lower ranked age, such as a subdivision of the Holocene, or a higher ranked period like the Jurassic or Cretaceous.
The search is now on to find what geologists call a “golden spike”, a physical reference point that can be dated and taken as a representative starting point for the Anthropocene epoch.
A river bed in Scotland, for example, is taken to be the representative starting point for the Holocene epoch.
Prof Jan Zalasiewicz, a palaeobiologist at the University of Leicester and a member of the working group, said carbon and nitrogen levels in the atmosphere had remained reasonably steady before the “great acceleration” of the 20th Century.
“Human action has certainly left traces on the earth for thousands of years, if you know where to look,” he said.
“The difference between that and what has happened in the last century or so is that the impact is global and taking place at pretty much the same time across the whole Earth.
“It is affecting the functioning of the whole earth system.”
The concept of an Anthropocene epoch was first proposed by Nobel-prize winning chemist Paul Crutzen and colleague Eugene Stoermer in 2000.
This week’s AWG vote is scientific endorsement that the epoch is geologically real and of a sufficient scale to be considered for formal adoption as part of the International Chronostratigraphic Chart.
From their website:
What is the ‘Anthropocene’? – current definition and status
- The ‘Anthropocene’ is a term widely used since its coining by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000 to denote the present time interval, in which many geologically significant conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activities. These include changes in: erosion and sediment transport associated with a variety of anthropogenic processes, including colonisation, agriculture, urbanisation and global warming. the chemical composition of the atmosphere, oceans and soils, with significant anthropogenic perturbations of the cycles of elements such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and various metals. environmental conditions generated by these perturbations; these include global warming, ocean acidification and spreading oceanic ‘dead zones’. the biosphere both on land and in the sea, as a result of habitat loss, predation, species invasions and the physical and chemical changes noted above.
- The ‘Anthropocene’ is not a formally defined geological unit within the Geological Time Scale. A proposal to formalise the ‘Anthropocene’ is being developed by the ‘Anthropocene’ Working Group for consideration by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, with a current target date of 2016. Care should be taken to distinguish the concept of an ‘Anthropocene‘ from the previously used term Anthropogene (cf. below**).
- The ‘Anthropocene’ is currently being considered by the Working Group as a potential geological epoch, i.e. at the same hierarchical level as the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs, with the implication that it is within the Quaternary Period, but that the Holocene has terminated. It might, alternatively, also be considered at a lower (Age) hierarchical level; that would imply it is a subdivision of the ongoing Holocene Epoch.
- Broadly, to be accepted as a formal term the ‘Anthropocene’ needs to be (a) scientifically justified (i.e. the ‘geological signal’ currently being produced in strata now forming must be sufficiently large, clear and distinctive) and (b) useful as a formal term to the scientific community. In terms of (b), the currently informal term ‘Anthropocene’ has already proven to be very useful to the global change research community and thus will continue to be used, but it remains to be determined whether formalisation within the Geological Time Scale would make it more useful or broaden its usefulness to other scientific communities, such as the geological community.
- The beginning of the ‘Anthropocene’ is most generally considered to be at c. 1800 CE, around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Europe (Crutzen’s original suggestion); other potential candidates for time boundaries have been suggested, at both earlier dates (within or even before the Holocene) or later (e.g. at the start of the nuclear age). A formal ‘Anthropocene‘ might be defined either with reference to a particular point within a stratal section, that is, a Global Stratigraphic Section and Point (GSSP), colloquially known as a ‘golden spike; or, by a designated time boundary (a Global Standard Stratigraphic Age).
- The ‘Anthropocene’ has emerged as a popular scientific term used by scientists, the scientifically engaged public and the media to designate the period of Earth’s history during which humans have a decisive influence on the state, dynamics and future of the Earth system. It is widely agreed that the Earth is currently in this state.