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HUMANITIES SCIENCE POLITICS

Science, People & Politics ISSN 1751-598x, 25th November, 2016. 18.00 GMT

ANTHROPOCENE FEATURE |16

The changes we have caused are, he believes, profound enough to
justify the designation of this new age, the age of humans. Those
changes include: mass extinctions; widespread ecosystem destruction;
the introduction of invasive species that are creating novel new ecosys-
tems; ocean acidification, which is changing the chemical makeup of the
seas, and will trigger future biological change; the damming of most of
the world's rivers; the re-engineering of the nitrogen and other funda-
mental planetary cycle; damaging the ozone layer; and filling the atmos- ing the planet, and could prevent the emergence of the next glaciation.

Crutzen's notion may become official. The International Commission on
Stratigraphy, the body in charge of these things, could soon receive a
proposal to recommend for geological endorsement that we have left the
Holocene and entered the Anthropocene.

Precisely when the anthropocene began is a moot point. Crutzen's origi-
nal proposal was that the trigger came about 200 years ago, when coal-
burning steam engines launched the industrial age. By unleashing the
power of fossil fuels we transformed our capacity to sustain human life,
beginning the surge in human numbers from around one billion to the
present seven billion. And we began the remorseless rise in carbon
emissions in the atmosphere.

When do people think the anthropocene began?

There are competing suggestions. One idea is to pinpoint the start to
the dawn of agriculture, when our imprint on the landscape began to
grow beyond that of the hunter and gatherer. Erle Ellis, a geographer at
the University of Maryland, has argued that from tropical forests to the
tundra we have, ever since, been transforming landscapes on a global
scale: wetting and drying them, foresting and deforesting them, planting
and burning, grazing and ploughing, hunting megafauna to extinction,
and transporting species around the world. There were only a few tens
of millions of us back then, but because we only had primitive tech-
nologies we used and abused a huge amount of land.

While there is an argument for such an early start to the anthropocene,
we already have a term for that time: the Holocene.

Issue 4 (October - December), 2016. Volume VII. Science, People & Politics ISSN 1751-598x.

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Published Friday 25th November, 2016

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A print version would additionally have two blank pages, so this version is not routinely for sale as print, unless really wanted.

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