A Moment of Science

Welcome to the Anthropocene

Has human activity changed our planet so much that it's now time to rename the current epoch?

Corn fields split by road

Photo: herrolm (flickr)

Paul Crutzen believes we should rename the current epoch because of humans' effect on the earth including farming, industry, and development

Has human activity changed our planet so much that it’s now time to rename the current epoch?

That’s what occurred in 2002 to Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist.

The epoch spanning the past 10,000 years is known as the Holocene, meaning “all that’s recent.” Crutzen suggested that the Holocene has now ended and that we are entering a new epoch. He proposed the term “Anthropocene,” meaning “the age of humans.”

Today, many scientists agree that there’s enough evidence to make the new term official.

For example, global warming has changed the face of the Arctic and Antarctic. Farming, industry, and development have modified much of the Earth’s soil. Not to mention the effects of rising temperatures on land and sea.

Would officially adopting the term Anthropocene make any difference?

That’s hard to say. For geologists it could be useful as a concise way to describe the current age. As for the rest of us, Anthropocene might help call attention to just how much our actions affect the planet. Global warming and other environmental issues are in the news every day, but there’s nothing like renaming an entire epoch to get people’s attention.

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