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Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Anthropocene – A New Timeline for Human Impact on Earth

A cinematic meditation on humanity’s massive reengineering of the planet, ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch is the three-part feature documentary film by multiple award-winning filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, and Edward Burtynsky. In an experiential and non-didactic sense, the film captures a critical moment of our planetary domination, drawing the viewer into the evidence and experience of human impact using high-end production values and state-of-the-art camera techniques. From concrete seawalls that now cover 60% of China’s coastline to psychedelic potash mines in Russia’s Ural Mountains, from metal festivals in the closed city of Norilsk to surreal lithium evaporation ponds in Chile’s Atacama Desert, the film brings us into a landscape that is both terrifying and fascinating.

For the first time, scientists have quantified the massive extent of our impact on the planet, determining that we have crossed a threshold where our alterations to Earth are beginning to be recognized by rock strata and other geological record systems. They have dubbed this new era the Anthropocene.

Derived from the Greek terms for “human” and “new,” it was first coined by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen in 2000, along with biologist Eugene Stoermer, in an article for a scientific newsletter. It has since permeated popular culture, graced the cover of The Economist magazine, and inspired artists. However, it remains unofficial – members of the geological community, specifically stratigraphers who study how sedimentary rocks are layered, continue to debate when exactly this new era began.

To become official, the Anthropocene must pass a test set by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, which determines geological eras. To cut, there needs to be a noticeable change in Earth’s natural systems that will show up in rock strata, such as a significant rise or fall in global temperature, a shift in carbon levels in the atmosphere, a significant change in ocean chemistry, or the extinction of more than 75% of species on our planet.

The team that made the new determinations of the Anthropocene called the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), has determined that the epoch started sometime between 1950 and 1954. They based their conclusion on a sharp spike in the amount of plutonium found in a lake in North America, which they believed was a result of nuclear testing during that period. Plutonium rarely occurs naturally; when it does, it usually comes from volcanoes.

The AWG plans to submit its proof to the commission, which still must vote on whether or not the Anthropocene will be officially recognized. It would be a remarkable turnaround for a decision that usually takes decades and sometimes centuries. However, it could also be a moment of great significance that stresses the enormity of human influence and our responsibility as stewards of the planet. It is a choice that will have profound implications for future generations. If accepted, the Anthropocene will replace the Holocene, which began 11,700 years ago at the end of a glacial period.

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