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Are we in the Anthropocene? We will know soon!

Next year, the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) plans to submit the proposal of the “Anthropocene” as a new geological epoch following the Holocene. This proposal will be analyzed by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) and, if approved, the proposal will be sent to the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) for ratification.

If the ICS approves and the IUGS ratifies the proposition, then the Anthropocene, without quotation marks, will be included in the International Chronostratigraphic Chart (ICC), which is the reference for the Earth’s history, just as the Periodic Table of Elements for Physics and Chemistry, or the Taxonomic Classification System for Biology.

In its present state, the AWG proposal does not fit with the current stratigraphic rules, as repeatedly stated by members of the ICS and the IUGS, and the probability of success is very low. Few people question that humans have deeply transformed the Earth system and its functioning, which has oppened a new historical phase of humankind and that, unless we change the current socio-economical system, our planet may surpass a critical thershold of no return toward an unsustainable state. But whether this justifies the formulation of a new geological epoch is another issue.

The proposed beginnig of the “Anthropocene” ranges from the mid 20th century, with the Great Acceleration, to several millenia ago, with the Neolithic Revolution. Source: Clipartmax.

The details of the controversy and the requirements for the formal definition of a new geological epoch can be read in a popular book and some papers published several years ago by Valentí Rull (see the references below for a sample).

The issue of “Anthropocene” has inundated environmental and popular publications and media, and the term is now used by many as a well-established concept with no need for formal scientific approval. Many people even believe that the term has already been approved by the corresponding scientific organizations, which is a media fabrication.

We should wait next year for a solution but, in the meantime, we can ask ourselves: what if the “Athropocene” is not formalized as a new geological epoch? Rull asked several keystone actors in the controversy, including members of the AWG, the ICS and the IUGS, and wrote a short paper with the responses they provided (reference below).

Needless to say, only those who care about scientific standards such as the Periodic Table of Elements or the Taxonomic Classification System should be worried about this debate.



Author: Valentí Rull

Nomenclatural type catalogue