The Holocene expired

Enter the Anthropocene: a human epoch.

Miguel Adrover


Collage by Miguel Adrover.

I am here when cities are gone.
I am here before the cities come.
I nourished the lonely men on horses.
I will keep the laughing men who ride iron.

Carl Sandburg [1]

We owe Anthropocene to Paul Crutzen, winner of the Nobel Prize.
He believes that —

“The stratigraphic scale had to be supplemented by a new age to signal that mankind had become a force of telluric amplitude. After the Pleistocene, which opened the Quaternary 2.5 million years back, and the Holocene, which began 11,500 years ago, ‘It seems appropriate to assign the term “Anthropocene” to the present, in many ways human-dominated, geological epoch’”. [2]

This universe is 13.8 billion years old — we’re in the Phanerozoic Eon, which is divided in Eras, we’re currently in the Cenozoic; Eras are divided in periods, we’re in the Quaternary; these Periods are broken into Epochs, we’re currently living in the Holocene (the last 11,550 years of the Quaternary Period)…a matryoshka doll of time sets:

Eons with detail, down to the epoch. Public Domain Image.

Humanity has managed to mess things up to such an extreme, that the geological time scale requires its signature: Anthropo, our cosmic We were here. To put our meager centuries next to eons and epochs…mere mortals like me see timescales in 1,000-year intervals; but it seems likely that Time will have to be updated. We face global post-corona problems: complex and accelerating challenges. Meanwhile, we live our lives scared, scarred, and shocked.

Could this this trauma be eased with naming the mess?

In The shock of the Anthropocene, Bonneuil & Fressoz are a big help on this quest for crisis nomenclature, which requires scientific consensus. This new age of the scale is by no means set in stone. Anthropo can be easily replaced: Phagocene, Capitalocene…Regardless of the permutation that sticks, we’re tasked with asking questions as old as civilizations: is it immoral to bring children into this world? Are we facing the beginning of the end?