Acrimony Among Anthropocene Agitators

Most people have never heard of the Anthropocene era and with good reason—it is not an officially recognized geologic time period. It is the invention of a small group of scientific busy bodies who evidently have nothing better to do than try to effect a change in the official timeline of Earth's past. The International Commission on Stratigraphy, the body charged with formally designating geological time periods, has been petitioned in the past and just recently a group of chuckle-heads attending the Society for American Archaeology meetings in Hawaii have brought the idea up again. Only problem is, the proponents of the Anthropocene have fallen to arguing amongst themselves—when did the “Age of Man” really start?

A vocal group of misanthropic geologists and other guilt wracked scientists are pushing to define a new geological epoch to mark the adverse affect humanity has had on Earth's environment. Normally, a geologic time period is marked by a distinct and recognizable global change in the stratigraphic record, that is, the stuff found in layers of rock changes. The really big changes are fairly easy to identify. After the Permian-Triasic extinction, the worst extinction event ever recorded, there is no doubt that much of life was greatly impoverished for millions of years and then new life-forms began to appear. Even without the layer of iridium found in the rock record, the demise of the dinosaurs was known to paleontologists and geologists, marking the transition from the Cretaceous to the Tertiary. Similarly, the agitating boffins say that humanity has changed the environment, and not for the better. Is inaugurating the Anthropocene appropriate?

The big question here is are the climatic and environmental change caused by humans a big enough geologic happening to declare our very own time period? The fruitcake revisionists, steeped in self-loathing and despising their own species, say that question has already been answered with a resounding “yes.” They say that declaring a new age based on the depredations of man is a foregone conclusion, and that is where the latest controversy has erupted. In order to carve out a new epoch some existing epoch must lose a chunk of its temporal turf. That unfortunate time is the Holocene, the comfortably warm intermission between glaciations that started about 11,500 years before present (BP).


Man's impact on Earth as seen from the ISS.

The crowd of Anthropocene agitators all agreed that a new epoch needs to be carved out of the hapless Holocene, but previous calls for a new epoch have usually started with the dawning of the Industrial Revolution. This new crowd of self flagilating humanity haiters disagrees. They think such an epoch should start thousands of years ago. Rather than focusing on a relatively sudden planet wide change—a line in a sedimentary deposit where one could clearly mark the transition as is traditionally done to mark an epoch—the archaeologists at the meeting in Honolulu outlined an unbroken chain of human depredations stretching back into prehistory. According to a news article in Science:

Such a view of the Anthropocene contrasts with that of most geologists and ecologists behind the movement, many of whom have sought a clear time marker for the "golden spike." The most popular suggestion for a time point to end the recognized Holocene epoch, which began 11,700 years ago after the end of the last ice age, is the beginning of the Industrial Revolution about 1750 C.E., when manufacturing began to take hold and human-caused global warming is thought to have begun. Only then, proponents argue, did humans begin to change the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans worldwide, alter the course of rivers, and transform the landscape, among other impacts. Others have suggested fallout from nuclear bombs as a distinctive Anthropocene signature.

Note that the use of “C.E.” to denote a date that should read “AD” is just the AAAS's uber-PC way of assuaging the guilt of people of European descent. It is really hard to trust a source that believes their own ideological bullshit. But that point aside, the quotation frames the controversy—when did mankind really start ruining the planet? Naturally, climate change alarmists want to date the new epoch from the start of large scale anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

“Humans have been modifying ecosystems over a long period of time,” said archaeologist Bruce Smith of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). “Rather than focus on greenhouse gases, we should identify when in the archaeological record humans first developed a significant ability to modify the Earth's ecosystems.” And they made fun of Medieval theologians for arguing about how many angles could dance on the head of a pin.

About 9000 years ago, agriculture began in earnest around villages in China. This was much more than a few scattered fields cleared in the forest—early rice farmers modified the landscape and dug waterways. “Over the millennia vast reaches of southern China were wholly transformed by dams, canals, and vast paddy fields,” said C. Melvin Aikens, an archaeologist from the University of Oregon. Even regions we once thought remained relatively untouched by human activity until modern times—such as the Amazon rain forest—were often radically changed by prehistoric peoples. Recent research indicates that humans in the Amazon built extensive earthworks and causeways at least 4000 years ago.


Ah, those were the days! A whole new planet to despoil.

“When originally proposed, this was a strategy for getting the public to appreciate the extent to which humans were destroying the world,” Smith noted in the Science article. At least some of the conference goers realize this whole Anthropocene thing is a publicity stunt and a scam. Moreover, NMNH archaeologist Melinda Zeder said that if the Anthropocene does become official in 2016 as proposed, it should be based on solid science. “We are backing away from coming up with arbitrary markers, and asking what are the human and environmental interactions that are driving it.” Still, it's hard to know what the facts really are when you are making them up.

Much to their discredit, many geologists are apparently willing to hear such drivel. The new journal, Anthropocene, plans a special issue on archaeological perspectives, largely drawn from the Honolulu talks. At a time when many nations worry about a shortage of trained scientists, it would appear we have far too many in some areas of study.

The Holocene is really only a separate geologic epoch because of human scientific hubris, it simply marks the time since the Pleistocene ended with the latest deglaciation of the Pleistocene Ice Age. This is when we humans started on the path to civilization and planet wreaking (according to the eco-crowd). In reality, the Holocene warming is just an interglacial period and there is no reason to believe that it represents a permanent end to the current ice age. The previous interglacial, dubbed the Eemian Stage, peaked at roughly 125,000 years ago and was warmer than the Holocene. When the Pleistocene Ice Age reasserts itself and global temperatures drop us into a new glacial period it will become clear that the Holocene was no more a true geologic epoch than the proposed Anthropocene.

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.


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