Tuesday, March 22, 2016

An Arrogant Anthropocene

An excellent article recently appeared in GSA Today explaining how stratigraphy is defined, and how the proposal to rename a recent portion of the late Holocene as the Anthropocene needs to stay within the rules.  Anyone interested in the Anthropocene should read this description of how stratigraphic definition applies to this case.

As a personal note, one thing I have noticed is that stratigraphic time is usually (but not always) defined on the basis of the first appearance of an index fossil, usually a common, widespread microfossil which appears shortly after the boundary.  From this point of view, calling the next epoch the Anthropocene seems arrogant. After all, we don’t know what the next index fossil is going to be yet, since we don’t know who or what will survive our current industrial climatic perturbation.

If Presidents Cruz (Or Trump, or Clinton) and Putin blow each other up, then the next epoch probably ought to be the cockroachecene. If we kill off everything that evolved since the Ediacaran, it would be the Jellyfishecene*   Calling the Anthropocene implies that we are in control, that we know what we are doing, and that we know we are going to survive. This strikes me as overconfident. Our current situation is probably best described as an “End-Holocene Multi Proxy Anomaly," or EHMPA. But we have a lot of work to do if we want to be in control of whatever comes next. Calling it the Anthropocene seems premature.
* Jellyfish would make terrible index fossils.

1 comment:

Chris Phoenix said...

By this logic, the naming is obvious, and it doesn't matter what survives. This era will be the Plasticene.