A radical proposal is gaining ground among geologists: We have entered a new geologic time period on Earth, thanks to mankind’s own activities.
We’ve so drastically changed the landscape through pollution and in other ways, it's time to acknowledge the new “epoch” is here, a group of geologists writes Jan. 25 in GSA Today, a journal of the Geological Society of America.
The new era would be called the Anthropocene, from the Greek anthropos (man) and ceno (new).
“The dominance of humans has so physically changed Earth that there is increasingly less justification for linking pre- and post-industrialized Earth within the same epoch,” the researchers said in an announcement of their proposal.
While the proposal has been hailed in some places, at least a few scientists are skeptical.
Thomas R. Holtz is a vertebrate paleontologist and senior lecturer at the University of Maryland's Department of Geology. In print/tv stories about new dino discoveries, especially if they concern T-Rex or any of its kin, Tom often appears to provide commentary and analysis. He has a couple of problems with the new name:
(...which is to say, if I am interpreting Mr. Holtz correctly, that it is irrelevant to invoke rock scientists to do a job that can already accomplished by glancing at your standard print information sources.)
2) What they are describing (the effects of industrial human activity on the biosphere and chemosphere) has far more in common [with] short term stratigraphic events (PETM; the Chicxulub impact & sequelae; environmental effects at the Permo-Triassic; etc.) than it does epochs.
(Our effects on the planet are, in geological terms, ephemeral)
So is this "radical proposal" legit science, or a well-meaning attempt to accomplish a political end (raising awareness of mankind's effect on the surrounding environment, perhaps?) through the inappropriate application of scientific nomenclature?
Thanks to Dr. Holtz for letting me reprint comments from the dinolist.
Update: I asked Dr. Holtz about whether this proposed name change constituted a "politicization" of the science. This morning he responded:
By no means in this case!! They are 100% correct in pointing out that humansare now the major force for geological, atmospheric, biospheric, and chemospheric change, and that our ability to change these aspects of theworld greatly increased with the Industrial Revolution and the rapid increase in our population.Where I find that they are mistaken is that coining a new geologic time unit makes any sense in this context...
Personally, I think their timing is suspect, but...