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The term Anthropocene has gained popularity in the study of Anthropology in recent times. In the field of geology, eons, eras, epochs, and ages mark time splits (Myers, 2016). There is a proposition to replace the current Holocene epoch with Anthropocene. Geologist argues that the ongoing environmental changes across the globe indicate that the world may have entered a new human-induced age. The changes under this new epoch include loss of habitat, extinction of organisms, the rise in carbon dioxide, and change in the composition of air, water, and soil (Myers, 2016). In understanding this geological shift, it is essential to explore the definition, qualifications, and makers of an Anthropocene epoch.
The assessment of historical human geology time units justifies the definition of the Anthropocene era. Various scholars have proposed human-related geological time units over the course of human civilization. In 1778, an author called Buffon published the earliest description of earth's history in which he allocated the human epoch in his narrative of geology (Lewis & Maslin, 2015). Thomas Jenkyn also published the concept of an evidence-based human geological period lessons presented in 1854 (Lewis & Maslin, 2015). The Italian priest Antonio Stopanni described the epoch of human society as the Anthropozoic (Baskin, 2015). Charles Lyell proposed the term Recent Epoch be used to describe the contemporary time since it marked the last glaciation, the emergence of humans, and the start of civilization. These scholars agreed that human beings must be included in the definition of the current geological epoch. However, theological concerns influenced these historical models in a bid to put people at the top of life on earth (Baskin, 2015). Therefore, there is need to find a better definition based on stratigraphic evidence. The current term Holocene epoch implies that the interglacial is different from the previous one in the Pleistocene era. Though human influence relates to this difference, the definition does not capture the variety, depth, and longevity of the human factor. Anthropocene thus provides a description that captures the human impact at a global level almost at the same time across the planet.
Human beings have had a significant effect on the planet that deserves a new epoch. Multiple human processes and discoveries affect environmental cycles. The Harber-Bosch process that converts nitrogen in the atmosphere into ammonia fertilizer has altered the nitrogen cycle in an unprecedented measure. Human activities such as the use of coal to produce energy have raised the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to levels that are only comparable to 800,000 years ago (Lewis & Maslin, 2015). Human conversion of land into farms, hunting, and harvest activities, have accelerated the extinction rates of species. Scientists claim human events mark the start of the sixth mass extinction of species in earth history (Baskin, 2015). Also, deforestation and overexploitation of resources are leading drivers of extinctions (Sodhi, Brook, & Bradshaw, 2009). For example, overfishing in Lake Victoria in East Africa and the introduction of predator Nile Perch, has decimated the cichlid family of fish in the lake (Sodhi, Brook, & Bradshaw, 2009).
The human race is equally responsible for the migration of particular species of animals and plants across continents. The transportation has led to the mass colonization of some organisms in some areas and emergence of new hybrids. Since 200 million years ago before the earth continents separated, such changed had not occurred (Lewis & Maslin, 2015). Lastly, human activities contribute to earth's most significant evolution pressure. Through genetic engineering of new organisms, massive harvesting, and emission of greenhouse gases, the alteration of evolutionary outcomes is happening. As such, anthropogenic processes are altering the fauna, flora, and atmosphere on a scale that requires a new geological timescale. In future geologist will be able to explore rock content such as pollen and examine fossil remains to trace human influence in altering earth systems.
The beginning of human impact on the earth dates back to the discovery of fire. Fire aided human population growth and control of nature. According to Harari and Perkins, about 300,000 years ago fire became a reliable source of warmth and light and an efficient weapon against predators (2017). Human beings deliberately used fire to clear impassible thickets in hunting and gathering. Most importantly, with fire, humans could cook food and guarantee improved, diversified, and healthy diet, which resulted in better health and reproduction (Harari & Perkins, 2017). When people domesticated fire, they gained control over a limitless force to conquer animals and nature. Human's use of fire in hunting and clearing of forest led to irreversible loss of species and initiated long-term impacts on ecological systems through agriculture.
The detonation of the Atomic bomb in 1945 should be the marker of the new Anthropocene epoch (Lewis & Maslin, 2015). The first testing of the nuclear weapon happened in 1945 and continued up-to early 1960s (Lewis & Maslin, 2015). The Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) ought to be 1965 since the period is marked by high levels of radioactive elements in ice, lake residues, tree-rings and corals (Lewis & Maslin, 2015). Requirements for the official beginning of a geological epoch includes a clear, datable marker that documents a global level change recognizable in stratigraphic records augmented by supplementary stereotypes. For example, the presence of iridium compound in sediments spread by the meteorite that ended the age of dinosaurs marks the Cretaceous epoch. Based on this qualification, the Atomic Bomb marker is better than other markers these reasons. First, it is a local event with a global impact hence qualifying it as the worldwide level event marker. Besides, it took place in a synchronized manner over a short period, and therefore, it is more specific. Secondly, its primary stratigraphic marker comprises of the Radionuclides in tree-rings. Auxiliary stratotypes include Plutonium isotopes ratios in sediments like cement and iodine isotopes that have a half-life of 15.7 million years hence meeting longevity criteria (Lewis & Maslin, 2015). Though this marker is highly visible, it does not correspond to the start of anthropogenic impacts to the planet. The effect of choosing this marker is that politically it may be used to regularize historical human-induced environmental changes preceding this date.
The continued impact of human activity on the Earth systems has led to a proposition of Anthropocene geological time unit. Defining Anthropocene provides a better corresponding global marker based on well-known stratigraphic evidence. Anthropogenic activities have contributed to change in environmental systems, change in land surface, and migration of living organism, extinction of species and alteration of the evolutionary process. The discovery of fire has had the most significant impact on the planet due to irreversibility and longevity of its effects. The detonation of the atomic bomb provides the ideal mark for start of the Anthropocene era due to its global level impact and geological stratigraphic markers.
Baskin, J. (2015). Paradigm dressed as epoch: the ideology of the Anthropocene. Environmental Values, 24(1), 9-29.
Harari, Y. N., & Perkins, D. (2017). Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. New York, NY: HarperCollins.Lewis, S. L., & Maslin, M. A. (2015). Defining the anthropocene. Nature, 519(7542), 171.
Myers, Joe. (August 2016). What is the anthropocene? And why does it matter?" World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/08/what-is-the-anthropocene-and-why-does-it-matter/. Accessed on 20th March 2011.
Sodhi, N. S., Brook, B. W., & Bradshaw, C. J. (2009). Causes and consequences of species extinctions. The Princeton guide to ecology, 1, 514-520.
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