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July 30, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Science: What’s It Up To?

the Anthropocene

Those of you who have taken ESCI 112 are more than familiar with the Geological Time Scale (GTS), forced to remember stages, epochs and ages against your will. You may have noticed the string that covers the wall in MCLT 103 which represents the ~4.5 billion years since the earth formed. It has nice little shells and shit tied onto it right near the end, indicating how recent life is in the grand scheme of DEEP TIME.

The GTS is pretty boring on its own, but the way it has been made, and all the cool shit that’s been found make it tolerable to study. Each stage is defined by a specific chronostratigraphic unit, which is like the benchmark rock for that age. Okay, cool. But here’s my question, what the fuck are future geologists going to think when they look at rocks deposited in our time? Fossilised plastic bags? Thick layers of refined oil in near-shore sandstone? Radioactive material in every rock younger than 1945CE? A completely haywire carbon isotope curve?

Going by the official GTS, we are currently in the Holocene, an easily forgettable name (though Bon Iver fans may disagree). We have a bit of an issue, the rocks being formed right now aren’t going to be remotely comparable to those deposited 200 years ago. There’s no reason to link the pre- and post-industrial epochs. A new age has begun, and it needs a name. First proposed by Nobel laureate and geoengineering visionary Paul Crutzen in 2002, the case for the Anthropocene is being discussed by scientists around the world, however there is no news of its induction.

The proposal and discussion of the Anthropocene is regarded often by the public as a somehow superfluous exercise—however researchers see the introduction and use of the term also as opportunity. Given all the trouble that global industrialisation and climate change is causing, we might as well find a distracting pleasure in writing our geological name in lights, putting ourselves up there with the Cambrian and Triassic and Cretaceous and Eocene and Miocene. Maybe that’s hubris, but it’s hard to argue with the fossil record.

What really got me was how the name is a bit boring. The Anthropocene (anthropo—human, cene—new) fits too cleanly into the current record. We have changed the entire surface of the earth for Darwin’s sake, why not give the new age a better name, so when future geology students begrudgingly learn the names of the GTS, they can see the one that stands out?

Here’s a short list of potential names I came up with: Jackassic, Industrotaceous, Misanthropocene, Idiocracene, Makeascene, Frontal Lobotomian, Werebonedozoic.

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