Can We Survive the “Anthropocene” Period?

For the past three centuries, humans’ effects on the global environment have escalated. Most importantly, our emissions of carbon dioxide may cause global climate patterns to depart significantly from their natural course for many millennia to come.

It seems appropriate to assign the term “Anthropocene” to the current, in many ways human-dominated, geological epoch, supplementing the Holocene – the warm period of the past 10–12 millennia. The Anthropocene Period could be said to have started in the latter part of the eighteenth century, when analyses of air trapped in polar ice showed the beginning of growing global concentrations of CO2 and methane. This date also happens to coincide with James Watt’s design of the steam engine in 1784.

Mankind’s growing influence on the environment was recognized as long ago as 1873, when the Italian geologist Antonio Stoppani referred to the “anthropozoic era,” defined by a “new telluric force, which in power and universality may be compared to the greater forces of earth.”

In 1926, V. I. Vernadsky similarly acknowledged the increasing impact of mankind on “[t]he direction in which the processes of evolution must proceed, namely towards increasing consciousness and thought, and forms having greater and greater influence on their surroundings.” Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin used the term “noösphere” – the world of thought – to mark the growing role of human brain-power in shaping its own future and environment.