"Despite Official Vote, the Evidence of the Anthropocene Is Clear"

"When a governing body of the International Union of Geological Sciences voted down a proposal to name a new epoch in Earth’s history, it ignored conclusive evidence that for the first time, a single species — humans — has fundamentally altered the planet."

"Charles Darwin upset a lot of people with his 1859 publication On the Origin of Species. Like Copernicus and Galileo before him, Darwin radically revised the place of humans in the natural world. Victorian society believed that a beneficent creator made Earth and all its species in one fell swoop, installing Homo sapiens near the top of the great chain of being. Darwin showed otherwise: new life forms, including humans, come into being as generations adapt to change over millions of years, and all species share one immense family tree. Darwin was widely attacked; as his biographer Janet Browne put it, his theory outraged competitors and turned “friends into deadly foes.”

Today we are confronted with a similar rejection of scientific evidence from within the discipline that helped to prove Darwin correct: geology. Considering a proposal to name the inception of a new epoch in Earth’s history the Anthropocene, 12 of 22 members of the Subcommission of Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS), part of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), voted “no,” thus killing the proposal. But the proceedings were marked by irregularities. The SQS had voted before outstanding recommendations made by the IUGS Geoethics Commission were implemented, and 11 of those who voted, including 10 of the “no” votes, were ineligible to do so because they had exceeded their term limits. When the chair and a vice chair of the SQS objected, they were removed from executive duties.

Savage academic infighting is nothing new, but this tempest has important implications for the rest of us. Geological epochs define unique intervals of Earth’s history, and they’re defined by significant changes in geological deposits, like fossils or geochemical signals. Leaving the Holocene, which represents the last 11,700 years of relatively stable climate conditions, for the human-altered Anthropocene, which geological and other scientific evidence shows we have undoubtedly done, means we’ve set the planet on an entirely new trajectory compared to anything that has come before."

Anthony Barnosky and Mary Ellen Hannibal report for Yale Environment 360 April 2, 2024.

Source: YaleE360, 04/04/2024