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By Robert M. Thorson

When Americans quote writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, they often reach for his assertion that "In Wildness is the preservation of the world." This phrase elicited little response when Thoreau first read it during a lecture in 1851. A century later, however, it had become a guiding mantra for the American environmental movement, adopted by the Sierra Club as its motto and launched into the cultural stratosphere via bumper stickers, T-shirts and posters.

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"Log Booms #1". Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, 2016. Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Howard Greenberg and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto

By Clara Chaisson

Anthropocene is a clunky word for an even more unwieldy concept. But props to the Merriam-Webster team who have given us a dictionary definition that's easy enough to follow.

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By Jessica Corbett

Underscoring the urgent need for increased and intensely focused conservation efforts, new research shows that human activity worldwide is wiping out plant and animal life—including our own—so rapidly that evolution can't keep up.

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"Easiest to see are the larger and most tangible of consequences – the horrifying prospects of global warming, climate chaos, habitat destruction, rising and acidifying seas, breakdown of civil order, war and … extinction." Beth Scupham / Flickr

By Elizabeth West

What can we do? We are without doubt in an historically unique and incredibly challenging position. The Anthropogenic extinction is here, now. It is not something we are anticipating or awaiting. It is upon us. Today, we are in it, watching the life we have known unravel on a hundred different fronts. And I find myself asking with crazy-making regularity: how can I—one ordinary human amongst 7.5 billion—honor this extraordinary time with whatever gifts and goods I happen to be carrying?

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Traditionally, we've labeled events over which we have no influence or control "acts of God" or "natural disasters." But what's "natural" about climate-induced disasters today? Scientists call the interval since the Industrial Revolution the "Anthropocene," a period when our species has become the major factor altering the biological, physical and chemical properties of the planet on a geological scale. Empowered by fossil fuel–driven technologies, a rapidly growing human population and an insatiable demand for constant growth in consumption and the global economy, our species is responsible for the calamitous consequences.

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C. Ciubotarescu

Deep inside the Apuseni Mountains you'll find the Scărișoara Ice Cave in Transylvania, the oldest cave glacier in the world. You'll also find some pretty incredible climate data from the last 10,000 years.

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Average carbon dioxide concentrations, Oct. 1 - Nov. 11, 2014, measured by the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite. Photo credit: NASA

In an effort to understand how climate change is altering the carbon cycle, a project between the University of Oklahoma and NASA is headed to space. Orbiting 22,000 miles above Earth's surface, this host of instruments will track carbon as it flows through the Earth delivering real-time data and helping scientists quantify just how much humans are affecting the planet.

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The planet, as we know it, has been given a deadline: 10 years. According to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, if humans don't reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically and maintain carbon sinks, like forests, then the results will be catastrophic for the climate. But the researchers have developed a model that they believe could do the trick.

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Photo credit: NASA

By Robin Scher

It is impossible to predict the future. What we can do is extrapolate a vision from our current body of scientific knowledge, mixed with a bit of good old-fashioned imagination. The result is a sort of trailer, which offers us a glimpse of what may be in store.

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"Regardless of alternative facts, fake news or scientific censorship, nature tells the truth." Photo credit: Beth Scupham / Flickr

By Nika Knight

As the Trump administration and Republicans in power in Congress set to work destroying environmental regulations, scientists have added urgency to the resistance with a simple new equation that shows the staggering effect human activity has had on the climate.

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By Nadia Prupis

Another day, another dire warning about the global climate emergency.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) top climate scientist announced Tuesday that the Earth is warming at a pace not seen in at least the past 1,000 years, making it "very unlikely" that global temperatures will stay below the 1.5 C limit agreed to in the landmark climate treaty negotiated in Paris last December.

Over the past century, temperatures began to rise at a rate that is 10 times faster than historical averages. Asian Development Bank / Flickr

"In the last 30 years, we've really moved into exceptional territory," Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the Guardian. "It's unprecedented in 1,000 years. There's no period that has the trend seen in the 20th century in terms of the inclination [of temperatures]."

"Maintaining temperatures below the 1.5 C guardrail requires significant and very rapid cuts in carbon dioxide emissions or coordinated geo-engineering," he continued, referring to controversial environmental manipulations. "That is very unlikely. We are not even yet making emissions cuts commensurate with keeping warming below 2 C."

The announcement comes amid a growing body of research—month after month after month—that shows 2016 is shaping up to be the warmest year in recorded history.

"It's the long-term trend we have to worry about though and there's no evidence it's going away and lots of reasons to think it's here to stay," Schmidt said. "There's no pause or hiatus in temperature increase. People who think this is over are viewing the world through rose-tinted spectacles. This is a chronic problem for society for the next 100 years."

Over the past century, temperatures began to rise at a rate that is 10 times faster than historical averages, according to research by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That means the Earth will warm up "at least" 20 times faster than historical average in the coming 100 years, NASA said.

This map represents global temperature anomalies averaged from 2008 through 2012. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

In fact, the Guardian notes, "a NASA reconstruction shows that the pace of temperature increase over recent decades outstrips anything that has occurred since the year 500."

Meanwhile, as Common Dreams reported Monday, a group of experts gathering at the International Geological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa this week announced that human activities such as industrialization, nuclear bomb testing and increased greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming have so "profoundly altered the planet" that they have ushered in a new epoch—the Anthropocene.

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

It's Official: The Anthropocene Epoch Is Here

Scientists Declare Dawn of Human-Influenced Age

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By Deirdre Fulton

The Anthropocene Epoch has begun, according to a group of experts assembled at the International Geological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa this week.

After seven years of deliberation, members of an international working group voted unanimously on Monday to acknowledge that the Anthropocene—a geologic time interval so-dubbed by chemists Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000—is real.

"We have had an incredible impact on the environment of our planet," says Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey.Pixabay

The epoch is thought to have begun in the 1950s, when human activity, namely rapid industrialization and nuclear activity, set global systems on a different trajectory. And there's evidence in the geographic record. Indeed, scientists say that nuclear bomb testing, industrial agriculture, human-caused global warming and the proliferation of plastic across the globe have so profoundly altered the planet that it is time to declare the 11,700-year Holocene over.

As the working group articulated in a media note on Monday:

Changes to the Earth system that characterize the potential Anthropocene Epoch include marked acceleration to rates of erosion and sedimentation; large-scale chemical perturbations to the cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements; the inception of significant change to global climate and sea level; and biotic changes such as unprecedented levels of species invasions across the Earth. Many of these changes are geologically long-lasting and some are effectively irreversible.

These and related processes have left an array of signals in recent strata, including plastic, aluminium and concrete particles, artificial radionuclides, changes to carbon and nitrogen isotope patterns, fly ash particles, and a variety of fossilizable biological remains. Many of these signals will leave a permanent record in the Earth's strata.

"Being able to pinpoint an interval of time is saying something about how we have had an incredible impact on the environment of our planet," said Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and secretary for the working group. "The concept of the Anthropocene manages to pull all these ideas of environmental change together."

Indeed, the Guardian compiled more "evidence of the Anthropocene," saying humanity has:

  • Pushed extinction rates of animals and plants far above the long-term average. The Earth is now on course to see 75 percent of species become extinct in the next few centuries if current trends continue.
  • Put so much plastic in our waterways and oceans that microplastic particles are now virtually ubiquitous and plastics will likely leave identifiable fossil records for future generations to discover.
  • Doubled the nitrogen and phosphorous in our soils in the past century with our fertilizer use. This is likely to be the largest impact on the nitrogen cycle in 2.5bn years.
  • Left a permanent layer of airborne particulates in sediment and glacial ice such as black carbon from fossil fuel burning.

Now, scientists must commence their search for the "golden spike"—explained in the Telegraph as "a physical reference point that can be dated and taken as a representative starting point for the Anthropocene epoch." This could be found in anything from layers of sediment in a peat bog to a coral reef to tree rings.

"A river bed in Scotland, for example, is taken to be the representative starting point for the Holocene epoch," the Telegraph reports.

The Guardian points out: "For the Anthropocene, the best candidate for such a golden spike are radioactive elements from nuclear bomb tests, which were blown into the stratosphere before settling down to Earth."

However, Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester and chair of the working group, told the paper that while "the radionuclides are probably the sharpest—they really come on with a bang," humanity has left no shortage of signatures.

"We are spoiled for choice," he said. "There are so many signals."

According to the Telegraph, once one or more golden spike sites have been selected, a proposal for the formal recognition of an Anthropocene epoch will be made to a series of commissions, culminating at the International Union of Geological Sciences. The process is likely to take at least three years.

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

Globaïa International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme

Water in the Anthropocene is a three minute film charting the global impact of humans on the water cycle. Evidence is growing that our global footprint is now so significant we have driven Earth into a new geological epoch—the Anthropocene.

Human activities such as damming and agriculture are changing the global water cycle in significant ways.

As datasets build upon one another, the film charts Earth's changing global water cycle, why it is changing and what this means for the future. The vertical spikes that appear in the film represent the 48,000 large dams that have been built.

The film was produced by Globaïa and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme.

The film is part of the first website on the concept of humans as a geological force, anthropocene.info. The data visualisation was commissioned by the Global Water Systems Project for a major international conference, Water in the Anthropocene held in Bonn, Germany, May 21-24.

Visit EcoWatch's WATER page for more related news on this topic.

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