The Anthropocene Is a Joke
In August, Peter Brannen argued that the period during which humans have had a significant impact on Earth—which some scientists have proposed calling the Anthropocene—should not be considered a new geological epoch.
Peter Brannen asserts that little will ultimately remain of human changes to the Earth, arguing that they are a brief “event” rather than the beginning of an Anthropocene epoch. We share his distaste for hubris and anthropocentrism, but Brannen has not reckoned with the reality that our activities have permanently altered life on Earth, and that we have left physical, chemical, and biological traces that will persist far into the geological future.
Geologists have long known that the duration of a geological event and its significance are distinct. The asteroid impact that drove extinctions at the end of the Mesozoic Era 66 million years ago was an instantaneous “event”—yet it wrought profound changes in Earth systems and permanently altered the course of life. This is why geologists use deposits from that impact to mark the beginning of the succeeding Cenozoic Era. Sudden global warming 56 million years ago was an “event”—yet the changes to the Earth-life system that cascaded from that geologically brief fever are used to mark the beginning of the 22-million-year-long Eocene epoch.