Anthropocene redux

If you’re a regular reader, you may remember my comments on some geologists’ attempt to define an “Anthropocene” epoch to recognize the world-changing scope of human activities – sort of like a global anthill (“‘Anthropocene’? WhaAAAH?!”).

If so, you were two years ahead of the trend. The geologists have continued to organize, and the tipping point may be near, as Elizabeth Kolbert reports (“The Anthropocene Debate: Marking Humanitys Impact”). I’ve seen a lot of links to this article, and it does capture the arguments of the idea’s proponents.

I continue to think that “Holocene” marks our impact pretty well, and since we can’t predict how massive human impacts will be in the next few hundred years, it hardly makes sense to mark the last couple hundred as a new epoch. But politics are driving the issue:

In general, Williams said, the reaction that the working group had received to its efforts so far has been positive. Most of the geologists and stratigraphers that weve spoken with think its a very good idea in that they agree that the degree of change is very significant.

I’m skeptical that there is any scientific value to the concept. I do see the opportunity to reflect on the question of what makes an epoch boundary worth noting. But I don’t think we should presuppose the answer, and I favor conservativsm. Still, maybe they can get the radiocarbon people to change “B. P.” to “B. A.” That would be fun.

I also question whether “Anthropocene” has the political value that its proponents perceive.