Science journalist Paul Voosen has written a new piece on the debate over whether humans have created a new geological era or epoch – termed the “anthropocene” (coined by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, the atmospheric chemist who studied the creation and causes of the ozone hole).
Voosen notes this is being debated by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the body which apparently officially rules on such issues of geological time (see the working group and details here). Further he writes that “many stratigraphers are dubious any proposal will meet their code. The debate over the Anthropocene promises to be an academic tussle that could outstrip all past episodes for its intellectual jousting.” A fundamental problem is that “geologists don’t yet have an exact definition for the Anthropocene, let alone firm evidence”.
There is a high degree of uncertainty. Voosen quotes Australian climate scientist Will Steffen (who has promoted the idea): “If humanity does change course, one could view it [the Anthropocene] not even as an epoch. One could view it as a minor excursion from the Holocene.” Alternatively, Voosen writes, “CO2 will increase and the ice sheets could melt: Hello, Anthropocene”.
The debate and eventual “ruling” should be monitored closely. Two events:
- The Geological Society of London is preparing a volume with work supporting and criticizing the Anthropocene from a stratigraphic view. By 2016 a book will be released
- A vote on whether to propose the period would follow soon after.