Sunday, January 10, 2016

You Say Tomato and I Say Does It Really Matter?

Life on Earth has existed for about 570-million years. This is broken down into three main eras, each of which is subdivided into geological epochs.

The current era, the Cenozoic, has lasted about 65-million years. You (probably) and I (certainly) were born the the Holocene epoch. That has occupied the last 12,000 years which coincides nicely with the advent of human civilization. It was the Holocene's incredibly mild climate that was instrumental to our development of civilization-building agriculture.

As epochs go, however, the Holocene has been incredibly brief. Most epochs spanned many millions of years. The Holocene just twelve thousand although, but for us, humankind, it too might have gone on for millions of years. However we, mankind, have brought the Holocene to an abrupt and remarkably premature end.

We are the first species to create a geological epoch and, fittingly, it's named the Anthropocene - the epoch of Man.

Science, despite what some critics claim to the contrary, is reluctant to come to fast conclusions.  Conservatives should appreciate science because it is, in many ways, extremely conservative which, curiously, is what most infuriates Conservatives. Odd, isn't it?

It's this conservative reticence that has led to disagreement as to whether mankind has transformed the world, shifting it from the Holocene to this new Anthropocene. That question is therefore being put to the International Commission on Stratigraphy, which describes itself as "The International Commission on Stratigraphy is the largest and oldest constituent scientific body in the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). Its primary objective is to precisely define global units (systems, series, and stages) of the International Chronostratigraphic Chart that, in turn, are the basis for the units (periods, epochs, and age) of the International Geologic Time Scale; thus setting global standards for the fundamental scale for expressing the history of the Earth."

When the greatest stratigraphologists convene later this year they will consider a new study by an international team of scientists that seems to support the Anthropocene theory.

The new study provides one of the strongest cases yet that from the amount of concrete mankind uses in building to the amount of plastic rubbish dumped in the oceans, Earth has entered a new geological epoch.

“We could be looking here at a stepchange from one world to another that justifies being called an epoch,” said Dr Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and an author on the study published in Science on Thursday.

“What this paper does is to say the changes are as big as those that happened at the end of the last ice age . This is a big deal.”

...The study says that accelerating technological change, and a growth in population and consumption have driven the move into the Anthropocene, which advocates of the concept suggest started around the middle of the 20th century.

“We are becoming a major geological force, and that’s something that really has happened since we had that technological advance after the second world war. Before that it was horse and cart transporting stuff around the planet, it was low key, nothing was happening particularly dramatically,” said Waters.

...Waters said that if the ICS was to formally vote in favour of making the Anthropocene an official epoch, its significance to the wider world would be in conveying the scale of what humanity is doing to the Earth.

Does triggering a mass extinction of life on Earth, the sixth in nearly 600-million years, qualify as tipping the world into a new geological epoch? That sounds as much a philosophical question as a scientific problem. Does it matter? The impacts of our actions matter and on a massively mortal scale.

No comments: