Approaching the Anthropocene…take 4?

I’ve been trying to keep some tabs on the growing literature on the Anthropocene (see here, here and here). So here goes take 4.

(1) First up is A Futurist Perspective on the Anthropocene. This is an overview article in The Holocene Journal regarding what is at stake in defining the Anthropocene in terms of the agreed upon geological criteria used to delineate one period from another. Maybe it is not exactly what will matter in the future, maybe it is – a good read.

ABSTRACT: An important feature of the ongoing debate about the acceptance of the Anthropocene as a formal chronostratigraphic unit with the same rank as the Holocene (epoch) has been either the existence or the lack of a Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP). In addition, the utility of the Anthropocene as a stratigraphic unit has also been questioned. In this paper, it is proposed that the discovery of the GSSP may not be a major problem and could only be a matter of time. However, the term Anthropocene itself, defined on the basis of the stratigraphic expression of human activities (e.g. large-scale agriculture and land clearance, accelerated release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere) may significantly impact the current stratigraphic framework guided by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS). Indeed, the formal usage of this term can not only lead to stratigraphic and terminological inconsistencies but can also influence the future development of the established chronostratigraphic scheme. These points should be considered by the ICS Anthropocene Working Group before making a final decision. The stratigraphic status of the Anthropocene, however, is a formal issue that should not affect current and future research on human-induced environmental and sedimentary changes, including their stratigraphic imprint. The message is twofold: leave the formal chronostratigraphic aspects to the ICS, and keep producing and organizing knowledge independently of the formal debate. Doing so would require the development of a parallel and likely transitory chronological system without formal stratigraphic value, from which the term Anthropocene would be, at least temporarily, excluded.

(2) Next up, Used Planet: a global history. This is an article in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences) on the when and how humans may have started out on their trek to dominate planet through transforming land use. Erle Ellis has an essay up at The Breakthrough Institute on this as well. Alternately, there is this essay as well on A Tale of Two Planets.

ABSTRACT: Human use of land has transformed ecosystem pattern and process across most of the terrestrial biosphere, a global change often described as historically recent and potentially catastrophic for both humanity and the biosphere. Interdisciplinary paleoecological, archaeological, and historical studies challenge this view, indicating that land use has been extensive and sustained for millennia in some regions and that recent trends may represent as much a recovery as an acceleration. Here we synthesize recent scientific evidence and theory on the emergence, history, and future of land use as a process transforming the Earth System and use this to explain why relatively small human populations likely caused widespread and profound ecological changes more than 3,000 y ago, whereas the largest and wealthiest human populations in history are using less arable land per person every decade. Contrasting two spatially explicit global reconstructions of land-use history shows that reconstructions incorporating adaptive changes in land-use systems over time, including land-use intensification, offer a more spatially detailed and plausible assessment of our planet’s history, with a biosphere and perhaps even climate long ago affected by humans. Although land-use processes are now shifting rapidly from historical patterns in both type and scale, integrative global land-use models that incorporate dynamic adaptations in human–environment relationships help to advance our understanding of both past and future land-use changes, including their sustainability and potential global effects.


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