The End of the Anthropocene, a retort to Stewart Brand.
THAT popular science has a difficult relationship with mainstream research is evidenced by the introduction of a term popularised by atmospheric chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen nearly two decades ago, at the turn of the new millennium.
In recent years, the Anthropocene, a period defined by significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems, has begun to dislodge the long-held view that we are in an epoch known at the Holocene.
I will argue that not only are we in the early Anthropocene, but that human impact upon planet Earth, and hence our own habitat and species, requires that we define what it means to be human in rather different terms. And also, that far from being at the beginning of the early Anthropocene, we are instead approaching the end of this epoch. Human habitat, defined as it is by climate, polar ice, glaciation and weather systems (systems that have remained relatively stable for millennia), is entering a period of rapid change. All leading one to question what it is to be human. Changes that could lead to the sixth major mass extinction event, and along with it, not a de-extinction of mammoths, but rather the complete removal of anthropos by the technium as a defining moment of evolution.
A spate of articles on the subject of the Anthropocene followed its introduction, beginning in 2014 Borenstein, Seth (14 October 2014). “With their mark on Earth, humans may name era, too”. Edwards, Lucy E. (30 November 2015). “What is the Anthropocene?”. Eos. 96. Castree, Noel (2015). Associated Press. Waters CN et al. (2016). “The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene”. Science. 351 (6269) and “The Anthropocene: a primer for geographers” (PDF). Geography. 100 part 2: 66.
According to the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), the professional organization in charge of defining Earth’s time scale, we are still officially in the Holocene epoch, an epoch which began 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age.
“But that label is outdated” writes Joseph Stromberg in the Smithsonian ” They argue for “Anthropocene”—from anthropo, for “man,” and cene, for “new”—because human-kind has caused mass extinctions of plant and animal species, polluted the oceans and altered the atmosphere, among other lasting impacts.”
Coupled with the emergence of this new epoch, used to define human intervention on our planet, has been the concomitant rise of new terms within popular culture to describe human evolution itself. Thus the rise of the cyborg, transhumanism and post-humanism, ‘concepts originating in the fields of science fiction, futurology, contemporary art, and philosophy’ that literally ‘means a person or entity that exists in a state beyond being human’.