Crawdaddy

This new age of the human doesn’t have to be the end of the world

A fire tug fights flames from oil and other industrial waste that caught fire on the Cuyahoga River near downtown Cleveland in 1952. That, scientists suggest, was the beginning of an epoch of havoc created by humans.
A fire tug fights flames from oil and other industrial waste that caught fire on the Cuyahoga River near downtown Cleveland in 1952. That, scientists suggest, was the beginning of an epoch of havoc created by humans. AP

I was hoping for something with panache.

A second Renaissance. A renewed Age of Enlightenment. A Mona Lisa. A “Discourse on Inequality.”

Instead, future humans, if they make it, will remember us for the sulfurous crater. They’ll stare into its darkness and wonder, What were they thinking?

Welcome to the Anthropocene epoch: The dawn of the human-influenced age. Its icon, according to The Guardian, is the mushroom cloud. It began about 1950 when humans began blowing up islands and such for fun.

The International Geological Congress was hanging out in Cape Town earlier this week wondering what to make of humans, who seem determined to reduce Carl Sagan’s pale blue dot into a smoldering cinder.

Eureka.

This, they suggested, is the end of the Holocene epoch, a time of stable climate during which, ahem, all human civilization developed. Humans. The folks who gave us Norilsk, Russia, home of the world’s largest smelter and one of the most polluted places on Earth. They say if you live there, the average Russian probably will outlive you by about 10 years.

And that place has nothing on Avhaz, Iran, which the World Health Organization has determined is the most polluted place on Earth. And in between them are 23 places less nasty only by degrees. Places like Chernobyl, for example.

Need to stay up to finish that project? Google “elephant foot.” You won’t sleep for days.

The scientists on board with the new epoch argue that humans, by spewing carbon dioxide, changing the climate, raising the sea level, leveling forests and killing off species, have brought down the curtain on the Holocene epoch and ushered in the Anthropocene.

But the Anthropocene is only a recommendation and critics say it covers too short a period to be considered a geological event.

The panel went on to vote 30-3 in favor of declaring the Holocene underway. And, they say, every epoch must have a signal that will be found around the world by future geologists.

That, they say, will be the radioactive elements from nuclear bomb tests. But they say there are other candidates.

There is good news, though. Since it is a human-influenced epoch, it could be influenced for the better.

Yes. Humans could change their ways and reverse some of the damage.

Now, though, consider that Congress and other elected leaders will have to do the heavy lifting.

Yeah.

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