PARIS - Our current 12,000-year-old geological epoch, known as Holocene, may have finally started to sound passé. By some accounts, Anthropocene -- the more recently dubbed age, where man's influence is factored in -- is starting to take root. The term was popularized in 2002 by the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, who thought it was high-time to take into account the recent centuries' impact of human behavior on the Earth and its atmosphere.
After widespread resistance to the new term, geologists are now beginning to warm up to it. The term was even used in October by the Geological Society of America for its 2011 annual meeting: "Archean to Anthropocene: The past is the key to the future."
Admitting that the change is significant enough to constitute a new geological era is a big step for geologists and their sacrosanct chronology. It would mean that Anthropocene -- meaning "the Age of Man"-- has met two requirements: First, that the transformation is deep enough to call for a new term; secondly, that there is a scientifically pedagogic purpose to opt for such a change in the nomenclature. If so, Holocene -- from the Greek for 'whole' - becomes an era of the past.
The question of relative human influence on the earth and its atmosphere -- including our impact on land use, ecosystems, biodiversity and species extinction -- remains a source for controversy. Still, mans influence on the environment could leave its own signature stripe in the rocks, starting with the fact that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air since the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century now exceeds the highest levels of the last 800,000 years.
However, Patrick De Wever, a member of the French geological society, remains hesitant when it comes to calling humans "changemakers": "On a geological scale, two hundred years of human activity are nothing," he claims. "Lets talk about it again in 40 million years."
Read the full story in French by Tristan Vey
Photo - DonkeyHotey
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