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What does it mean to reject the Anthropocene as a geological epoch?  – 03/14/2024 – Basic Sciences

What does it mean to reject the Anthropocene as a geological epoch? – 03/14/2024 – Basic Sciences

At the beginning of March, news shook geology and reverberated through public debate: No, we have not officially entered the Anthropocene yet. In the voting session, members of the Subcommittee on Quaternary Stratigraphy – a division of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) – decided that it was too early to say that we had entered another geological era.

The term has been part of the cultural lexicon around the world for more than two decades, after being proposed by biologist Eugene Stoermer and Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry Paul Crutzen. In a bulletin International Geosphere and Biosphere Program in 2000.

Whether or not the Anthropocene should be included in the chronostratigraphy table – or in the official history book of the planet – is a slightly more recent debate, about 15 years old. The Anthropocene Working Group (which is also part of the International Union of Geological Sciences) has put forward the formal proposal for this listing, and the idea would be to recognize human action as a geological force capable of modifying the planet. With its atomic bombs and ubiquitous plastic pollution, humanity has left nothing to be desired in terms of weathering and volcanoes, and will take the planet towards the end of the Holocene (which began less than 12 thousand years ago) towards a new era: the Earth Age. Humans.

Of course, in science these processes are very precise and generally bureaucratic. In the case of the International Union of Geological Sciences, proposals for change start in smaller research groups and move up in level – or changing levels in the hierarchy, almost like a path between layers from the center to the peel of an onion – until reaching the top of the hierarchy. International Union of Geological Sciences, the moment when it receives the final sanction or veto.

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In this case, the proposal began in the Anthropocene Working Group — which last year established a lake in Canada as a geomarker representing the new era. In other words, the main condition required by science in such a process has been fulfilled. The proposal was then 'submitted' to the Subcommittee on Quaternary Stratigraphy, but it was blocked there and, at least for the time being, prevented from taking the next step, which would be a vote by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (the official regulator of chronostratigraphy). table) .

For the working group proposing the new age, the decay of radionuclides found in dust from atomic bomb explosions between the 1940s and 1950s is a clear sign of human impact on the planet. from Mongolia to North PoleThere is no place in the world free of these radioactive particles, as evidenced by the layers of clay and rocks in the ground The bottom of Crawford Lake. Therefore, researchers believe that the Anthropocene should have begun at the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century.

However, for 12 of the 18 members of the Quartet subcommittee, the cut-off date could also be the beginning of the emission of fossil pollutants into the atmosphere with the first industrial revolution in the 18th century; Or it could have existed in a more distant past, with the beginning of agriculture. like Earl Ellis says“Its recent history and depth are too narrow to include the deepest evidence of planetary changes caused by humanity.”

The decision has nothing to do with geologists’ denial of climate change or humanity’s impact on planet Earth, as some deniers and misguided people like. For Ellis, the Anthropocene, like the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago — or the production of the first oxygen molecules before that About 3.5 billion years ago By cyanobacteria, it should be It is considered an event. a The vote is questioned And the Close question It must take time.

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The practical result of all this trade-off is to make waves to get the misinformed and special interests to ride the waves (there is nothing easier than distorting science based on fanciful arguments). The political effects – especially in light of Donald Trump's possible return to power, as Marcelo Leite recalls – could be disastrous. After all, there are many interests at stake, and those who benefit from capitalism's imbalances certainly do not want a change in the system. the current situation. Even if it costs the perpetuation of human existence on planet Earth (what is the life of future generations in the face of billions of dollars here and now?).

Whether we are officially in a new geological era or not, it is undeniable that we are already living in the Anthropocene. as Climatologist Carlos Nobre “For climate scientists, it is clear that we have already done that,” said colleague Giovanna Girardi [nessa nova época]“The struggle over the definition of the term in the corridors of the International Union of Geological Sciences does not absolve governments, companies and civil society of their greatest responsibility: to preserve human life in the face of self-inflicted challenges. The Earth will continue to exist for at least another five billion years in the future – perhaps it will The sun of death swallowed him In the red giant stage. The question the Anthropocene forces us to consider is: How long will we survive as a species?


Meggie Rodriguez is a science journalist.

The Basic Science Blog is edited by Serrapilheira, a private, non-profit institute that promotes science in Brazil. subscription In the Serrapilheira newsletter to follow the latest news from the institute and the blog.

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