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.
Unfortunately, the line was cherry-picked from its original context, conflates wildness with wilderness and predates Thoreau's later, more nuanced insights about wildness. His mature views, which I stumbled onto when researching my book The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau's River Years, can more effectively help us cope with a world so changed by people that geologists have proposed a new epoch, the Anthropocene.
To the mature Thoreau, wildness was an entanglement of different realities and more of an attitude than an attribute. A pervasive condition lurking beneath the surface – especially in the midst of civilization. A creative force, willed not by intent but by impulse, accident and contingency. As a card-carrying geologist who has written two books on Thoreau as a natural scientist and lifelong "river rat,"and the first "Guide to Walden Pond," I believe the mature Thoreau lurking beneath distorted cultural motifs has much to tell us.
Romanticizing the Wild
Shortly after sunset on April 23, 1851, members of the Concord Lyceum gathered at First Parish Unitarian Church. One of their most loyal members, "H. D. Thoreau," stepped up to the podium to read his newest lecture "The Wild." His late-spring timing was perfect, this being the wildest time of year for the romantics and naturalists of his 19th-century agroecosystem.
People often assume Thoreau lived in solitude at Walden for decades, but he actually spent most of his life on Concord's Main Street.Ticknor & Fields / Wikimedia
"I wish to speak a word for Nature," he opened boldly, "for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil." Humans, he claimed, were "part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society." These prophetic, inclusive statements constitute America's declaration of interdependence.
This lecture was published in The Atlantic as an essay titled "Walking" after Thoreau's death in 1862. In it Thoreau recast the "howling wilderness" of the Puritan divines who settled Concord, Massachusetts in the mid-1630s as an ideal spiritual landscape for neo-pagans of the early 1850s.
But we know from Thoreau's voluminous writings that the insight for his "In Wildness" mantra came not from some high mountain temple, deep forest or dismal bog, but a from pair of panoramic art exhibits that Thoreau saw in late 1850 – likely in urban Boston, likely via the rattling railroad.
In September 1853, having recently returned from a moose hunt in interior Maine, Thoreau came up with the idea of setting aside wild landscapes for posterity:
"Why should not we … have our national preserves … in which the bear and panther, and some even of the hunter race, may still exist, and not be 'civilized off the face of the earth' – our forests … not for idle sport or food, but for inspiration and our own true recreation."
By then Thoreau was a middle-class, stay-at-home resident of the bustling market town of Concord, and the surrounding area was being rapidly clear-cut for farms and fuel and industrialized with mines, turnpikes, railroads, bridges, dams and canals. "I cannot but feel," he wrote despondently on March 23, 1856, "as if I lived in a tamed, and, as it were, emasculated country … Is it not a maimed and imperfect nature that I am conversant with? I am reminded that this my life in nature … is lamentably incomplete."
Concord Center, Massachusetts, in 1865, shortly after Thoreau's death. HistoryofMassachusetts.org
No Wildness Distant From Humans
Finally Thoreau resolved the tension between his yearning for primitive nature and his role in helping to civilize it as a surveyor for land development. While searching for native cranberries in late August 1856, he found himself in the far corner of a small bog so worthless that it had been apparently untouched by human hands. There, he realized,
"It is in vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves. There is none such. It is the bog in our brain and bowels, the primitive vigor of Nature in us, that inspires that dream. I shall never find in the wilds of Labrador any greater wildness than in some recess in Concord."
His explanation is clear. Wildness is an attitude, a perception. "A howling wilderness does not howl," he wrote, "it is the imagination of the traveler that does the howling." Using his imagination, he could even find wildness in a patch of weedy ferns: "Yet how essentially wild they are! As wild, really, as those strange fossil plants whose impressions I see on my coal." By this stage, Thoreau was finding wildness in lumps of fossil fuel.
One of Thoreau's final conceptions of wildness is most relevant to the Anthropocene world. The scene was a sparkling morning on Aug. 11, 1859. He was boating the lower Assabet River, making measurements for a scientific consulting project. Drifting toward him on the smooth current came a parade of iridescent freshwater mussel shells, "floating down in mid-stream — nicely poised on the water," each left "with its concave side uppermost," each a "pearly skiff set afloat by the industrious millers."
In that moment, Thoreau realized that each of his delicately balanced "skiffs" was a consequence of at least a dozen commingled cultural actions, from muskrats eating the mussels to farmers inadvertently improving mussel habitat with sediment pollution and industrialists storing and releasing hydropower to create factory goods.
After this insight, Thoreau began to see his entire watershed world as a meta-consequence of three centuries' worth of human perturbations, literally rippling through his local system along every conceivable energy gradient. For example, when monitoring stream stage to the precision of 1/64th of an inch, he realized that seemingly wild rivers mirrored the work schedules of upstream factories, and that "even the fishes" kept the Christian Sabbath. His whole local universe was ubiquitously, unpredictably, impetuously and wildly reacting to what today we call global change.
Thoreau: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Wendell Berry (corollary): “In human culture is the preser… https://t.co/h1ApxT5daP— Nina C. Young (@Nina C. Young)1515779963.0
As with a coin, our modern Anthropocene condition flips Thoreau's declaration of interdependence. On its 1851 side, humans are "part and parcel" of nature as organic beings embedded within it. On its 1859 side side, nature is "part and parcel" of us, hopelessly entangled and embedded in our works and residues.
Fast forward to 2019. Earth's planetary system, provoked by our overreach, is now doing its own thing in places, at scales and on schedules beyond our control. Wildness is bubbling up everywhere: Wilder fires, wilder stock markets, wilder weather, higher floods, drowning seas, collapsing ice sheets, accelerating extinctions and demographic unrest.
Thoreau's realistic, late-in-life insights can help us comprehend these ongoing Anthropocene impacts, accept responsibility for the changes coming our way, reframe them in more positive terms and reaffirm that Nature is ultimately in charge.
He teaches us that wildness is much, much more than raw nature. It's a perception emanating from our minds. A base instinct, uncluttered by rational thought. The creative genius of artistic, scientific and technological creativity. The spontaneous emergence of order from disorder, as with drifts on dry snow or the origin of life. Finally, wildness is the meta-wildness of complex, nonlinear systems, the sum total of forward-propagating, somewhat unpredictable cascades of matter and energy.
The mantra "In Wildness is the preservation of the world" can remain true, provided we ask ourselves what we mean by wildness and what we're trying to preserve.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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.
Anthropocene: (n.) The period of time during which human activities have had an environmental impact on the earth regarded as constituting a distinct geological age.
Try to list those planet-altering human activities, though, and you'll quickly realize that you could go on forever. Even geologists, those who decide if the Anthropocene merits an official geologic epoch, disagree on which specific markers characterize this nebulous yet distinct time. (Plastic pollution, nuclear tests, concrete particles, artificial fertilizers and even domestic chickens are all contenders.) Our impacts on the planet are so vast and multifaceted, there's just no simple way to illustrate their scope.
"Dandora Landfill #3". Plastics Recycling, Nairobi, Kenya, 2016Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Howard Greenberg and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto
But filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, photographer Edward Burtynsky and cinematographer Nicholas de Pencier are giving it a try. Wisely, these collaborators don't limit themselves to one approach or even one medium. The Anthropocene Project fuses photography, film, virtual reality, augmented reality and research, resulting in a body of work that attempts to give audiences a panoramic view of the Anthropocene. The project, currently on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario, takes the form of a traveling exhibit, educational program, book and documentary film.
The three Canadian artists have teamed up before. The documentary portion of the project, Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, is the third of a film trilogy that also includes Manufactured Landscapes and Watermark.
ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH Trailer | TIFF 2018 youtu.be
For their latest endeavor, the trio spent four years traveling to 20 countries across the globe, shooting at potash mines in the Ural Mountains of Russia; lithium ponds in the Atacama Desert; Australia's Great Barrier Reef; the German open-pit coal mine that houses Bagger 288, one of the world's largest machines; and many more of earth's human-altered landscapes and seascapes. Seeking to describe humanity's relationship with the environment rather than prescribe one, the team took an expansive approach to collecting material, shooting some 400 hours of footage to produce their 90-minute film. Their photography ratios tend to be even higher—Burtynsky sorted through an astonishing 26,000 photos to select just 110 for his previous book, Water. (He didn't keep an exact tally for The Anthropocene Project, but you get the idea.)
"Lithium Mines #1". Salt Flats, Atacama Desert, Chile, 2017Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Howard Greenberg and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto
The scenes Burtynsky captures with his camera reflect a strange and surprising beauty in the world we've created. Potash mines appear as vibrant, psychedelic corridors; lithium mines in the Atacama Desert look like DJ boards for giants; a massive highway through California's Imperial Valley strikes a satisfying note of symmetry.
"Uralkali Potash Mine #4". Berezniki, Russia, 2017.Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Howard Greenberg and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto
The tension in these images between despoilment and allure makes it hard to look away. Still, the artists are quick to acknowledge that engaging with their subject matter is not always easy. Burtynsky reminds us that these are our industrial landscapes, designed to produce materials that we use every day. "We've created them, but we turn our backs to them," he says.
Yet taking a long, hard look in the mirror doesn't have to lead to despair. Even after everything Baichwal has seen in her travels to some of the most polluted sites in the world, she describes herself as an optimist. "In every one of these places that we were, there were these little hints of hope," she said. "We had the ingenuity to do all of this; we can also use that to change . . . We just have to summon the collective will, and the will of our governments, and the will of our corporations, and the will of individuals."
"Building Ivory Tusk Mound". April 25, Nairobi, Kenya, 2016.Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Howard Greenberg and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto
That's a tall order. But if we're going to address our anthropogenic footprint, it seems only fitting to start by exploring it through the lens of that uniquely human endeavor: art.
The Anthropocene Project is on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto through Jan. 6, 2019, and at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa through February 24, 2019. Having had its world premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is now playing in select Canadian theaters.Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
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.
Paleontologist and lead researcher Matt Davis of Denmark's Aarhus University warned, "We are starting to cut down the whole tree [of life], including the branch we are sitting on right now."
"We are doing something that will last millions of years beyond us," Davis told the Guardian. "It shows the severity of what we are in right now. We're entering what could be an extinction on the scale of what killed the dinosaurs."
The analysis, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, specifically focused on mammals that currently exist as well as those which went extinct as humans spread across the globe, but it provides insight on the broader biodiversity crisis. It adds to a growing body of recent research that has warned of imminent mass extinction driven by unsustainable human activity, the climate crisis, and inadequate conservation efforts.
Even under the best circumstances, with dramatic improvements to current conservation work, the new analysis posited it will take 3-5 million years "just to diversify enough to regenerate the branches of the evolutionary tree that they are expected to lose over the next 50 years. In addition, the study found it could take 5-7 million years "to restore biodiversity to its level before modern humans evolved," according to a statement outlining the findings.
The degree of biodiversity loss over the next five decades will be significantly influenced by the changes to current human behaviors, or lack thereof—but the impact of losing species can vary greatly.
"Large mammals, or megafauna, such as giant sloths and saber-toothed tigers, which became extinct about 10,000 years ago, were highly evolutionarily distinct. Since they had few close relatives, their extinctions meant that entire branches of Earth's evolutionary tree were chopped off," Davis explained. Today, meanwhile, "there are hundreds of species of shrew, so they can weather a few extinctions."
While Davis said that "we have no reason to assume we will ever be able to bring extinction rates back down to normal background levels," he pointed out that the new research "highlights species we should try to save and could help us prioritize conservation."
"We once lived in a world of giants: giant beavers, giant armadillos, giant deer, etc., we now live in a world that is becoming increasingly impoverished of large wild mammalian species. The few remaining giants, such as rhinos and elephants, are in danger of being wiped out very rapidly," noted Jens-Christian Svenning from Aarhus University.
The team determined that species which could benefit from extra conservation efforts now—before it's too late to save them—include the black rhino, the red panda, and the indri. As Davis concluded, "It is much easier to save biodiversity now than to re-evolve it later."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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?
Many of us are posing similar questions to ourselves, to one another. These are my own very personal musings of this moment, shared in the hope that they might spark or support others' explorations. I expect that there are as many answers as there are humans willing to ask; we all must find our own way, our own truth in these times.
I experience a lot of gnawing low-level anxiety of late, I have frequent bursts of anger and I regularly skirt the precarious edges of depression. It is not easy for any of us to hold in full consciousness the massive losses—and concomitant suffering—that are already underway, not to mention all those which are almost certainly just around the next bend. I try, like so many of us do, to balance awareness and honest acknowledgement of our impending collective demise with kindness and compassion. I work hard to avoid becoming completely subsumed by grief, to stay in the moment. It isn't fun—or particularly functional—to wallow in sorrow. More importantly, I don't want to be lost in my own inoculating darkness when there is relatively little time left to manifest the best of who it has been given to me to be. I continue to believe that among the few meaningful actions left to us may be the choice to seek within ourselves love and courage and connection, even—and especially—in the midst of devastation.
But grief arises as part of that commitment. We know: loving almost always entails loss. To live with an open heart means being present for the slings and arrows. Grief is part of the journey that lies ahead for all of us, should we choose to make it in consciousness. And sometimes the grief captures my attention in ways that take me completely by surprise. As a parent, I am ever aware of the legacy of our choices, all that we have made impossible for our children and grandchildren. 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. Any human under 50 today—and all the other innocent beings on the planet—are facing a life immeasurably more difficult than the one I was granted.
Unbearable at times, I do try not to let the looming calamity keep me small or shut down, from delighting in the advent of another spring, from watching the birds with wonder and gratitude. Nature, though brutally ravaged by human greed, still manages to offer deep sustenance, an unbeatable and incredibly generous antidote to the fear and anger and sadness that are afoot everywhere in these times.
A few weeks back, out walking in the unseasonably warm weather, I came upon a gnarled old apple tree, in full bloom. As I always do, I leaned in for a good whiff, a deep receiving of the tree's offering. My own personal 'madeleine,' the scent instantly conjures for me the glory of infinite possibility, the breathtaking capacity of human beings to make beauty, to create meaning, and to love heroically. Twined together forty-three years ago, that particular fragrance and the aliveness I felt back then, on the cusp of adulthood, cannot be separated.
At seventeen, I embarked ebulliently on the adventure of my life. My best friend and I moved into our first apartment in January, and we got jobs that paid us the minimum wage of $2.10/hour, to cover the rent. We bought big sacks of bulgur and millet to eat, and I brought home as many leftovers as I could from the college dining hall where I made salads all day. As spring arrived, our landlady gifted us with armloads of beet greens thinned from her large garden, and then rhubarb stalks as they emerged. We didn't know what to do with them, but we learned. Turning down free food was not really an option. Besides, we were saving for our very own telephone, and in a couple of months we succeeded in getting the necessary cash together, and proudly found ourselves waiting for the calls to come in on the brand new yellow wall phone.
Our apartment comprised the second floor of a farmhouse nestled in the midst of a rambling apple orchard. The windows ran almost floor to ceiling, filling our living room with incredible light in the mornings, and being up high, we could see the purple shadows of the Catskills in the distance as we washed dishes in the early evenings. The shabby furniture, the makeshift kitchen, the ancient bathroom—none of these eroded one iota our wonder and delight at the breathtaking freedom and promise of our lives.
We filled the place with too many plants, got a cat and a puppy, and spent a great deal of time dreaming. I was going to be a French chef. Maybe a Classics scholar, rendering obscure Latin poetry into meaningful contemporary verse. Possibly a shaman: I'd learn to fly and heal and see far into the future, into the very meaning of life. And of course, we were both going to find love that surpassed even our literature-fueled dreams. Almost everything we imagined seemed within reach. After a few beers, listening to Mozart's piano concertos and then The Velvet Underground and finally, Laura Nyro, we would weep for the unfathomable breadth of potential and possibility of what lay ahead, for the bittersweet knowledge that it would not, could not, all come to pass.
We were so fortunate.
As March drew on, something unexpected but utterly foreseeable occurred. The orchard burst into bloom. Everywhere, everywhere, the pale pink blossoms called to the bees and the scent, subtle but persistent, filled the air, drifted in the windows we opened to feel the spring on our skin. Although we knew it was not especially ethical, knew that the farmer counted on each of those flowers to mature into apples for sale, we stole out in the night anyway and cut massive sprays of the branches to bring inside, sticking them in jars and arranging them in every one of our three rooms. Something beyond reason commanded us to immerse ourselves in this amazing efflorescence, this unlooked for gift from the earth. To bury our noses in the blossoms and sink gratefully into olfactory celebration of the new life that spring promises, the beginnings, the vastness of what might be.
We were so innocent; we had no idea.
Like many of my time and place, I 'grew up' in fairly short order. I made choices, and with each choice, I shut the door on other options. My trajectory, though never straight, became clearer. I learned about limits, and despite protestations both internal and external, I came to accept that there were things I would never, could never, do or be. The lingering sorrow of this is balanced somewhat by the knowledge that I did manage some of my dreams, modestly understood. Following those dreams was a privilege that I took mostly for granted. It was a privilege that many of my contemporaries never had, and which few, if any children today will claim.
Hard on that moment a few weeks ago, inhaling the scent of apple blossoms and being overcome with the visceral memory of unlimited potential, came the grief. What have we done? Oh, what have we done?
As a species, we have been unable to meet the challenges posed by our own misguided attachment to growth. While the apple blossoms in the orchard around my first apartment faded and began their transformation into fruit (duly sprayed, no doubt, with stockpiled DDT), the fifth annual Earth Day was observed. It is impossible to say whether we might have changed the course of things enough if we had paid attention to what was already known then, but the point is moot. We didn't grasp the urgency, we didn't act. And for the main, we still do not, even as the world burns.
Life, such as it is, goes on, and all of us try in our own ways to live it without undue pain or suffering. In the developed world, those with the means drive, eat, charge our phones and computers, heat and cool our homes at minimum. When we can, most of us look for release and entertainment, travel a bit, and take in the beauty of our planet while we still can.
I really do try not to judge anyone's choices, much less their coping strategies. After all, I have done my bit to contribute to this situation, I am far from blameless. We are facing epic disaster, extinction in all probability, and although I have not always done my best for this planet and its inhabitants, it feels incumbent upon me to do so now. The truth is that these are desperate and utterly unusual times; no one really knows how to navigate them, there are no experts at walking gracefully into annihilation. We are making it up as we go and have only our own vast, and often ignored, inner resources to guide us.
For me, part of the answer lies in feeling it all, in refusing to turn away from what is before me. To look both the beauty and the horror head on, to keep my heart open, no matter what it finds. Some days this leaves me enveloped in a sizzling joy, encountering the glories of this world, human and otherwise. Other days, that same display plunges me into despair, as I sense the transient, ebbing nature, the impending loss of all that has been so good and beautiful.
On those days, there are moments when the hellish scenarios that populate my imagination take over and scare the shit out of me, but sometimes I simply long to apologize. To bow down and beg forgiveness, to offer up my sincerest regrets. To the waters, the dolphins, the oaks, the salamanders, the children. All beloved and all endangered. I was never especially profligate with my resources, but along with many others, I was entrusted with stewardship of this planet—my home. I did not do enough and I bear responsibility for the consequences of our shared indifference to the fate of the planet.
Leaving aside any breast-beating, which accomplishes less than nothing at this point, I am simply incredibly sorry for what has happened, and what will inevitably happen to the trillions of beings who will not have the chance to make their own choices. I am indescribably sorry for the destruction, the suffering, the pain that are already visited upon the many as a result of human action/inaction, and which will undoubtedly become universal in the not too distant future.
Our insistence upon having everything has ironically set us upon a journey toward an era of great loss. Some of what we will have to relinquish is painfully clear already, as we see cities and small nations burn and/or wash away, as we find ourselves increasingly donning masks so as not to die of the very air we must breathe, as we find cesium 137 in our fish, RoundUp in our grains, microplastics in our waters. These are the obvious costs. The larger lamentations as we walk the road to extinction.
But there are other losses not so readily apparent or dramatic, for which I weep as well. They will make themselves known as we continue our collective walk down this road, the one we have chosen—consciously or not—for our species, our planet and most of the other beings with whom we share the earth.
Today, a lesser lamentation. There were, according to the United Nations Population Fund, 1.8 billion young people in the world in 2014. More now, to be sure, but we know that there are at least that many young human beings in the flowering of their lives, readied by time and nature to imagine, to dream, to believe in the future and all it might hold. That which was so heady and life affirming for me is denied to them. The future is no longer a place where vision can forge reality, where longing coupled with determination can lead to almost anything imagined. Admittedly, this isn't nearly so dire as losing life or limb or family or home, but it matters.
Prompted by the precious scent of this year's apple blossoms, I am quietly grieving this little loss: the end of the future as something the young can dream into reality, take by storm, make their own. Never an option for all, now looking obsolete and unattainable for everyone. Even those with a luxury bunker in New Zealand.
And so I apologize to those young people whose lives will almost certainly be robbed of the richness, the freedoms, the potential—the very future—which I enjoyed. I cannot substantively change what lies ahead; I am afraid it is too late for that. But I can own my part in creating it. And, perhaps more meaningfully, I can try to be an honest witness, I can find the courage to look without flinching, no matter how painful it gets. I can decline to turn away, I can refuse to close my heart, I can continue to love even when it hurts like hell. It isn't much, it isn't nearly enough, but in concert with my unfettered delight in the return to my neighborhood of a breeding pair of ospreys, it is what I can wholeheartedly offer today.
Elizabeth West has a lifelong interest in revolution, and in exploring the interstices where love, truth, imagination and courage meet, sometimes igniting wild transformation. Her political writing has appeared in CounterPunch and Dissident Voice.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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.
We now know that the weight of water behind large dams and injecting pressurized water into the Earth for fracking induce earthquakes. Clearing large swathes of forests, draining wetlands, depleting water for industrial agriculture, polluting marine and freshwater ecosystems with nitrogen, plastics and pesticides from farmland and cities, expanding urban areas and employing ecologically destructive fishing practices such as drift nets and trawling all combine to produce species extinction on a scale not seen since the mega-extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
But we use language to deflect blame from ourselves. Not long ago, wolves, seals and basking sharks were called "pests" or "vermin," regarded as nuisances to be killed for bounties. Insects are the most numerous, diverse and important group of animals in ecosystems, yet all are affected by insecticides applied to eliminate the handful that attack commercial crops. One egregious class of pesticide is neonicotinoids, nerve toxins to which bees—important pollinators—are especially sensitive. Ancient forests are called "wild" or "decadent" while plantations that replace them after clear cutting are termed "normal."
One of the rarest ecosystems on Earth is the temperate rainforest stretching between Alaska and northern California, pinched between the Pacific Ocean and coastal mountains. The huge trees there have been decimated in the U.S. Fewer than 10 percent remain. Yet environmentalists who called for the entire remnant to be protected from logging were branded as "greedy."
Former BC Premier Glen Clark famously labelled environmentalists like me "enemies of BC" Former federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver called us "foreign-funded radicals" while others said we were "eco-terrorists." The real enemies, radicals and eco-terrorists are those who rush to destroy forests, watersheds or the atmosphere without regard to ecological consequences.
Recently defeated BC Premier Christy Clark called opponents of pipelines or LNG plants "forces of no." We who want to protect what we all need to survive would more accurately be called "forces of know" who say "yes" to a future of clean, renewable energy and a rich environment.
We seem to have forgotten that the word economy, like ecology, is based on the Greek oikos, meaning "domain" or "household." Because of our ability to find ways to exploit our surroundings, humans are not confined to a specific habitat or ecosystem. We've found ways to live almost everywhere—in deserts, the Arctic, jungles, wetlands and mountains. Ecologists seek the principles, rules and laws that enable species to flourish sustainably. Economists are charged with "managing" our activity within the biosphere, our domain.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper decreed it was impossible to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid climate change because it would destroy the economy. To people like him, the economy is more important than the air that provides weather and climate and enables us to live. At the same time, many "fiscal conservatives" rail against an effective market solution to climate change—carbon pricing—ignoring the example of Sweden, which imposed a carbon tax of about $35 a tonne in 1991, grew its economy by 60 percent by 2012 while reducing emissions by 25 percent, then raised the tax to more than $160 in 2014.
We know climate change is caused primarily by human use of fossil fuels. It's influencing the frequency and intensity of such events as monstrous wildfires (Kelowna, Fort McMurray), floods (Calgary, Toronto), hurricanes (Katrina, Sandy), drought (California, Alberta), and loss of glaciers and ice sheets. There's no longer anything "natural" about them. We must acknowledge the human imprint. If we're the cause of the problems, then we must stop blaming "nature" or "God." We have to take responsibility and tackle them with the urgency they require.
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.
An international team of scientists from several institutions, including the University of South Florida, University of Belfast and Stockholm University, reconstructed winter climate conditions using ice cores from the cave that were indicative of the Holocene epoch. The Holocene was a period of more than 11,000 years from the present, but many climate scientists say we've moved into a new epoch, the Anthropocene, a geological period in which human activity profoundly shapes the environment.
The cave was an ideal place to study for winter conditions because it had precipitation data from the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea that seeped in and formed deposits in the ice over a course of 10,500 years—almost as long as the Holocene itself. Those deposits, which consist of tiny fragments of leaf and wood, provide information about the shifts in temperature and precipitation.
The "Great Hall" in the Scărișoara Ice Cave, where researchers extracted ice cores. A. Persoiu
Before this study, scientists had little to no information about holocene winters. Most climate data is pulled from warm months by analyzing tree rings, pollen and small organisms preserved in fossils.
"Most of the paleoclimate records from this region are plant-based, and track only the warm part of the year—the growing season," Candace Major, program director in NSF's Directorate for Geosciences, said in a release. "That misses half the story. The spectacular ice cave at Scărișoara fills a crucial piece of the puzzle of past climate change in recording what happens during winter."
Panoramic view of an ice cliff inside the Scărișoara Ice Cave, where the research was done. Gigi Fratila & Claudiu Szabo
Now, the scientists have a much more complete understanding of holocene climate. They learned that temperatures reached a maximum during the middle of the epoch about 7,000 to 5,000 years ago. During this period of warming, vegetation changed rapidly and neolithic people were able to migrate north toward Western Europe. Then, the temperature began to gradually decrease as the planet reached the Little Ice Age about 150 years ago.
"Our data allow us to reconstruct the interplay between Atlantic and Mediterranean sources of moisture," Bogdan Onac of USF said. "We can also draw conclusions about past atmospheric circulation patterns, with implications for future climate changes. Our research offers a long-term context to better understand these changes."
The team will continue to reconstruct the data and hopefully come up with a consistent climate map that can date back more than 13,000 years.
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.
The carbon cycle is an inconspicuous, but vital, system in all ecosystems, including marine habitats, forests and even deserts. All plants need carbon to complete photosynthesis, and when they die, that carbon is either released back into the atmosphere, or buried deep under ground to create fossil fuels over thousands of years. As we are seeing today, the carbon cycle plays a huge role in temperature fluctuation and weather patterns and unfortunately, the more carbon we trap in the atmosphere, the more unpredictable these fluctuations become.
The University of Oklahoma is calling the mission the Earth Venture Mission, and the payload (the part that will attach to one of Earth's satellites) is called the Geostationary Carbon Observatory, or GeoCarb. Although it may seem like an extreme measure to take, scientists believe it is necessary. The increase of carbon in the atmosphere well surpassed the point of no return—or carbon threshold—in 2016 and has continued to steadily rise above 400 parts per million. This is rapid warming compared to the 280 ppm that persisted for thousands of years before the industrial revolution. Scientists say we've reached a state of unknown, and launching the GeoCarb is our best bet in being able to predict where we go from here.
From 1958 to 2017, carbon has been shy rocketing. Scripps Institution of Oceanography
The GeoCarb will rotate in tandem with Earth at 85 degrees west longitude where it will be able to record human activity in developed nations from urbanized areas to agricultural lands. It will take measurements of carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide once or even twice daily. It will also measure solar induced fluorescence, which is the light that plants can't absorb and is therefore repelled from Earth. This measurement will be closely tied to the rate of photosynthesis, and will help map out where carbon sinks exist. The map will also help scientists understand where there is a natural release in carbon, such as when a plant dies and decays, versus when human-induced carbon is released. It will be the first time scientists are able to watch the Western Hemisphere breathe in and out every day.
"Knowing what fraction of these changes is caused by human activities is important for understanding our impact on the planet, and observing and measuring it is essential to any conversation about strategies for reducing CO2 emissions," Berrien Moore, director of the National Weather Center at the University of Oklahoma, told The Conversation.
"These observations, along with direct measurements of photosynthetic activity from SIF observations, will raise our understanding of the carbon cycle to a new level."
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.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, outlines a plan that could simultaneously account for carbon uptake by plants and carbon release by anthropogenic (human-induced) activities.
"The study shows that the combined energy and land-use system should deliver zero net anthropogenic emissions well before 2040 in order to assure the attainability of a 1.5°C target by 2100," said Michael Obersteiner, coauthor and IIASA director.
The target is in line with the Paris agreement on climate change, which 194 countries signed, promising to limit future global average temperature increases to below 2ºC in hopes efforts would limit the average increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. But the agreement allows countries to accomplish this in whatever way they see necessary and doesn't give clear instructions.
The IIASA model calls for fossil fuel consumption to be reduced to less than 25 percent of the global energy supply by 2100, a drastic cut from the 95 percent being used right now. Deforestation would also need to be cut significantly to lead to a 42 percent decrease in cumulative emissions.
Atmospheric carbon concentration [ppm] in the various scenarios, shown with CDIAC data and RCP projections. Credit: © Walsh et al, 2017
The study shows that in a "high-renewable" scenario, renewable energy like wind, solar and bioenergy would need to increase by around five percent a year for net emissions to peak by 2022. However, there also needs to be negative emissions technologies like reforestation and revitalizing ocean ecosystems or the global average temperature will still reach 2.5 degrees, missing the Paris agreement target.
China has bumped up their renewable energy consumption, and entire counties like Denmark have committed to 100 percent renewables. In the U.S., President Donald Trump is attempting to rollback climate regulations and even withdraw from the agreement. But that isn't stopping some states like California and Kansas from developing renewable energy options.
These are some tall orders, but science is showing some countries are moving in the right direction. Overall, there is hope. And the IIASA believes that "success in these areas may explain the difference between reaching 1.5°C instead of 2°C."
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.
At the moment, our future appears set for a classic apocalypse blockbuster. Thanks to a new mathematical formula that charts the rate of humanity's environmental impact, we may even have a rough idea of when to expect it at the cinema (and for that matter, everywhere else on the globe).
Named the Anthropocene equation, the formula was created by Will Steffen, a climate research professor at the Australian National University and Owen Gaffney, a science journalist and communications consultant at the sustainability research firm Future Earth. According to their formula, recently published in The Anthropocene Review, human activity is altering the environment 170 times faster than under normal circumstances.
What do the authors mean by normal circumstances? Up until the Anthropocene age—our current geological age, during which human activity has exerted a dominant influence on the planetary ecosystem—Earth's environment was shaped by three main determinants: astronomical forces (A), which affect insolation and mostly relate to the "gravitational effects of the sun and other planets"; geophysical forces (G), which include "volcanic activity, weathering and tectonic movement"; and internal dynamics (I), which pertain to the natural course of biological activity taking place on the planet.
But within the last century, the authors argue, these forces have largely paled in comparison to the overwhelming effects of human activity (H). Given this fact, Steffen and Gaffney were able to model their equation, which essentially suggests that due to massive population growth, consumption and technology, the (H) factor has become the sole force shaping the trajectory of Earth's environmental system. The authors demonstrated this point using the rate of global temperature change over the past 7,000 years.
Until 45 years ago, this figure had decreased at 32°F per century. However, since our current age of industrialization, that rate has drastically reversed, with the figure now reflecting an increase of 35°F per century, which translates to a rate 170 times higher than the 7,000-year average.
This figure, Gaffney explained to New Scientist, reflects the fact that "far from living on a deeply resilient planet, we live on a planet with hair triggers." The problem is that we have been "lulled into a false sense of security by the deceptive stability of the Holocene"—the previous geological era that spanned the last 11,700 years.
"Remarkably and accidentally," Gaffney continued, "we have ejected the Earth system from the interglacial envelope and are heading into uncharted waters."
Humanity has reached a tipping point. How our leaders decide to act now and in the next decade will drastically determine what direction our future takes. The authors themselves described their study as "an unequivocal statement of the risks industrialized societies are taking at a time when action is vital."
If no drastic changes takes place, it could "trigger societal collapse."
We face two very distinct possible realities. In one future, thanks to the greed of a small handful of global elites, humans will become extinct. How might we react to such an outcome? According to a recent psychology study by the University of Buffalo, the answer is—peacefully. Reported on iflscience.com, the study created its observational conditions by using the open world of a multiplayer online role-playing game called ArcheAge. A separate server was created for the study and all 270 million participants were told that in around 11 weeks, all their progress made in the game would be deleted. As the deadline approached, rather than grow more violent or greedy, players actually tended to become less aggressive and more cooperative.
Taken with a large pinch of salt, the study highlights an altruistic streak in human nature. But why wait until it's too late to demonstrate it?
Enter the second possible future, forged through global unity, instead of division. It's difficult to picture what form such unity should take, which makes it a challenge. What we do know, as the New Scientist article points out, is that instead of our current "dominant neoliberal economic systems [which] still assume Holocene-like boundary conditions," what we need is "a 'biosphere positive' Anthropocene economics."
Yuval Noah Harari is a historian and author of the book Sapiens, which provides a sprawling and incisive historical account of our species. His new book, Homo Deus, offers a similar expansive view of our future. In a recent TED Dialogue, Harari explored the need for a change in both our political and our economic thinking.
"The old 20th-century political model of left versus right is now largely irrelevant," Harari said. "The real divide today is between global and national, global or local." He noted that we now have a global ecology and economy, but a national politics, which makes our "current political system ineffective, because it has no control over the forces that shape our life."
Like our two possible futures, Harari believes human society has two possible solutions: "Either de-globalize the economy and turn it back into a national economy or globalize the political system." The latter suggestion might sound a bit unrealistic at the present moment, but if humanity wants to avoid near-certain doom, it is probably the direction we will need to take.
Fortunately, in Harari's view, humanity still looks like it could be on track for a happy ending. "I am an optimist," he said. "I think the human race will rise to meet these challenges."
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
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.
Their findings? Humans have altered the climate 170 times faster than natural forces. In fact, the equation revealed that industrial societies pack the same climate punch as an asteroid strike.
It's Official: The Anthropocene Epoch Is Here - EcoWatch https://t.co/pkNze5xaot @BraveNewClimate @CANEurope— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1472642423.0
Prof. Will Steffen of the Australian National University and Owen Gaffney of the Stockholm Resilience Centre devised the "Anthropocene equation" and published their findings in The Anthropocene Review Friday.
The equation demonstrates that while natural forces dominated the climate for 4.5 billion years, in only the past six decades, humans have become the main drivers of climate change, as the Guardian noted.
Perhaps the researchers' most frightening conclusion was that at a time when top Trump aides refer to climate activism as a "threat," the equation shows that the actions of industrialized societies during the next several years may impact the planet for millennia to come.
Gaffney explained his and Steffen's findings in an op-ed in New Scientist on Friday:
Homo sapiens now rivals the great forces of nature. Humanity is a prime driver of change of the Earth system. Industrialized societies alter the planet on a scale equivalent to an asteroid impact. This is how the Anthropocene—the proposed new geological period in which human activity profoundly shapes the environment—is often described in soundbites.
But is it possible to formalize such statements mathematically? I think so and believe doing this creates an unequivocal statement of the risks industrialized societies are taking at a time when action is vital.
Following the maxim of keeping everything as simple as possible, but not simpler, Will Steffen from the Australian National University and I drew up an Anthropocene equation by homing in on the rate of change of Earth's life support system: the atmosphere, oceans, forests and wetlands, waterways and ice sheets and fabulous diversity of life.
"For four billion years, the rate of change of the Earth system (E) has been a complex function of astronomical (A) and geophysical (G) forces plus internal dynamics (I): Earth's orbit around the sun, gravitational interactions with other planets, the sun's heat output, colliding continents, volcanoes and evolution, among others," Gaffney added.
"The rate of change of the Earth system (E) over the last 40 to 50 years is a purely a function of industrialised societies (H)," wrote Gaffney.
The equation warns of huge risks for human society, Gaffney argued and that warning comes at a time when the U.S. government seems most prepared to ignore those risks entirely.
As author and journalist Cynthia Barnett observed in the Los Angeles Times: "Regardless of alternative facts, fake news or scientific censorship, nature tells the truth."
"While the rate of change of the Earth system needs to drop to zero as soon as possible, the next few years may determine the trajectory for millennia," wrote Gaffney. "Yet the dominant neoliberal economic systems still assume Holocene-like boundary conditions—endless resources on an infinite planet. Instead, we need 'biosphere positive' Anthropocene economics, where economic development stores carbon not releases it, enhances biodiversity not destroys it and purifies waters and soils not pollutes them."
"While it would seem imprudent to ignore the huge body of evidence pointing to profound risks, it comes at a challenging time geopolitically," Gaffney continued, "when both fact-based world views and even international cooperation are questioned. Nowhere has this been clearer than in the U.S. in recent weeks."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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."
2016 on Track to be World's Hottest Year on Record - EcoWatch https://t.co/yOPH5xpwlt @tcktcktck @EricHolthaus— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1469274310.0
"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.
It's Official: The Anthropocene Epoch Is Here - EcoWatch https://t.co/pkNze5xaot @BraveNewClimate @CANEurope— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1472642423.0
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
Scientists Declare Dawn of Human-Influenced Age
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."
97% of Most Species-Rich Places on Earth Have Been Seriously Altered by Humans - EcoWatch https://t.co/fddlTpGAYz @Sierra_Magazine @EnvAm— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1472260216.0
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.
- Increased levels of climate-warming CO2 in the atmosphere at the fastest rate for 66m years, with fossil-fuel burning pushing levels from 280 parts per million before the industrial revolution to 400ppm and rising today.
- 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.