Welcome to the Antropocene

“we are as gods, we might as well get good at it” – Stewart Brand

Welcome to the Anthropocene from WelcomeAnthropocene on Vimeo.

[This video is ] a 3-minute journey through the last 250 years of our history, from the start of the Industrial Revolution to the Rio+20 Summit. The film charts the growth of humanity into a global force on an equivalent scale to major geological processes.

The future starts now. The idea that we’re in the Anthropocene, goes back to an article by Paul Crutzen (with some heavy hitting co-authors) in 1995, which might as well be the start of the our calendar. The Ur idea of a geologic era shaped by human influence on the planet goes to Andrew Revkin who coined the term ‘Anthrocene’ in his 1992 book, but that didn’t stick. I’m all for shifting our calendar to mark the start of the great acceleration as 7 billion people all aspire to drive to the corner store, rather than marking the birth of a (perhaps) mythical person – even if we loose the ability to say ‘we’re living in the 21st century’. So when was Year One of the Anthropocene?

There are lots of indicators that point to potential founding moments, some are gradual, others are rather abrupt breaks with the Holocene.

Here’s a sexier version of the same charts:

It’s not just that humans are altering ecosystems everywhere through both our presence, emissions, and resource extractions, it’s that we’re altering planetary processes that respond in geologic time. Examples of the long-now of human alterations include climate change and messing up the carbon cycle (100k years at best) as we extract fossil carbon deposits created 100s of million years ago, we’re altering ocean salinity, destroying mountain ranges and valleys, creating earthquakes, and spreading plastic particles, chemicals, and radioactive elements that will last millions of years throughout the biosphere. Alien archeologists (and future generations) will find traces of our so-called civilization almost everywhere they look – perhaps even in the ocean deep.

From Ellis and Ramankutty, Anthropogenic Biomes: A 21st century framework for ecology and the earth sciences. See: Anthropogenic Biomes article in Encyclopedia of Earth.

From Last of the Wild Project, Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), Earth Institute at Columbia University.

legend for the above image
Time to reach a place on land from a nearby major city.
From Travel time to major cities: A global map of Accessibility.

It may seem nonsense to think of the (probably skeptical) intelligence with which you interpret these words as something on a par with plate tectonics or photosynthesis. But dam by dam, mine by mine, farm by farm and city by city it is remaking the Earth before your eyes. –  Oliver Morton


Blog posts on the Anthropocene

One thought on “Welcome to the Antropocene

  1. What a fascinating concept–that of humans altering the geologic era in which we reside. What implications will our actions have in one year, 5 years, 100 years from now?

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