The climate change convinced dared to dream a dream: that human beings, single-handedly, uniquely, in the 4.2 billion year geological history of planet Earth, had, some time within the last few hundred years, initiated a new geological epoch they dubbed the Anthropocene.
They have lovingly nurtured their dream for nearly two decades now, eagerly anticipating the day when it would finally be officially accepted as the most recent geological epoch, the one which ended the (natural) Holocene, replacing it with the decidedly unnatural, man-made Anthropocene. Alas, ’twas not to be.
It already wasn’t looking that good for the Anthropocene to be honest. It had many critics among geologists especially, then along came this excoriating article recently by Mark Sagoff of George Mason University who renamed it, rather aptly and somewhat amusingly, the Narcisscene. As Sagoff points out pertinently in his article:
Geologic epochs typically last around three million years. In establishing them, the ICS has historically proceeded by first identifying a stratum or “chronostratigraphic unit,” which is usually categorized in terms of the fossils it contains. By figuring out how long fossil layers took to accumulate, geologists date them and derive the geologic time scale, which is used to estimate the age of the Earth.
By contrast, in convening the AWG to determine the onset of the Anthropocene, the ICS apparently abandoned this practice, instead presuming that the new epoch had already begun and then casting about for a fossil record or other stratigraphic evidence of the existence of the Anthropocene and of when exactly it began.
This has been the main bone of contention among opponents of the Anthropocene; the fact that it cannot be defined conventionally according to evidence dug up from the past, i.e. a clearly defined stratigraphic layer of fossilised remains and mineral deposits combined with the palaeo-climatological evidence of the changing climate and the abrupt increase in CO2 from ice cores. Anthropoceenies have countered with various arguments re. the onset of farming, mass tree felling/land clearance, nuclear tests and most recently the widespread problem of plastic rubbish floating around in our oceans. These things, they contest, will demarcate the beginning of the Anthropocene once they’ve been squished down into a thin layer by Mother Nature and buried beneath more recent deposits. But Anthropoceenies can’t wait that long so they ask us to suspend our scepticism and basically imagine that in several millennia from now, the incontrovertible evidence for a new geological epoch willbe there, in the hard geological record; a globally identifiable, well-defined, stratigraphic layer. Meanwhile, they can flaunt their new epoch to politicians and policy-makers as ‘evidence’ that humans are indeed profoundly affecting the planet and that we must do something about it.
Anthropoceenies got their very own working group at the ICS (International Commission on Stratigraphy) and it was all going swingingly until another group of scientists at the ICS announced earlier this month that the most recent unit of the Geologic Time Scale is now officially the Late Holocene Meghalayan Age. Not a new geological epoch, just a most recent subdivision of the Holocene, starting around 4200 years ago, precipitated by a natural climatic event which coincided with the collapse of civilisations across the globe.