Surviving the human epoch

A participant holds a flag during a demonstration against climate change called by youth in Lausanne, Switzerland, May 24, 2019. REUTERS

We humans have changed the earth so much that a new geological age has been named after us and it is set to start soon. The Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), an international body of scientists and experts, voted recently to recognise the new age in the planet’s life as the ‘anthropocene epoch’, which will carry the unmistakeable imprint of man on it. It will end the ‘holocene epoch’, which started 11,700 years ago when the ice age ended, glaciers melted, and the planet started warming. The changes in the planet till then were for natural reasons, like the changes in the earth’s revolution, distance from the sun, visits of meteors or other heavenly objects, etc. But in the last 11 millennia, and especially in the last 200 years, the planet has changed more because of the activities of one species of its habitants than for all other reasons put together. Those changes have made the earth a worse place to live in for all living things. 

The term anthropocene was coined by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen because “human beings have taken control of the natural realm’’ through the dominance of the biological, chemical and geological processes on earth. These changes are marked by the impact and after-effects of nuclear explosions, industrial smog, carbon emissions, plastic trash and many others products invented by humans. Flora and fauna have gone extinct at an unprecedented rate, there is much radioactive material in the atmosphere and on the surface of the earth and plastic is accumulating on land and in the oceans. Geological changes that usually take place over thousands of years have happened in a few decades and their consequences have to be dealt with in much less time than expected. Climate change is only one aspect of the consequences of human activity. There are many other problems that humans have created and have to confront now. About a million species are facing extinction, and the balance of life on earth is fast being upset, to the detriment of all living beings, including humans. 

Putting our name on the age will not help if we do not recognise the seriousness of the state we are in. The earth was there for millions of years before man arrived on the scene and may still be there for many more millions of years after the possibly brief presence of humankind on it. But mankind will do well to listen to the intimations of the coming apocalypse, and should stop the course of collective suicide it is on. The entire human civilisation happened in the holocene age. It is for us to ensure that it does not end in the age named after us. 

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