Thongchai Thailand

The Holocene is the Anthropocene

Posted on: December 7, 2020

CLIMATE ALARM OF 12/6/2020: THE ANTHROPOCENE

Some say climate change marks the Anthropocene, a new geological age.  They're wrong.

The Anthropocene epoch: have we entered a new phase of planetary history? The Guardian. LINK: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/30/anthropocene-epoch-have-we-entered-a-new-phase-of-planetary-history

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Bambi

PART-1: WHAT THE GUARDIAN ARTICLE SAYS

It was February 2000 and the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen was sitting in a meeting room in Cuernavaca, Mexico, stewing quietly. Five years earlier, Crutzen and two colleagues had been awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry for proving that the ozone layer, which shields the planet from ultraviolet light, was thinning at the poles because of rising concentrations of industrial gas. Now he was attending a meeting of scientists who studied the planet’s oceans, land surfaces and atmosphere. The meeting was organized by Will Steffen, a chemist. In a presentation on the Holocene, Crutzen interrupted with the statement: ‘Stop saying the Holocene! We’re not in the Holocene any more” and suggested that the current geological period was the Anthropocene, a new phase in planetary history. A few months after the meeting, Crutzen and an American biologist, Eugene Stoermer, expanded on the idea in an article on the “Anthropocene”. We were entering an entirely new phase of planetary history, they argued, in which human beings had become the driving force. And without a major catastrophe, such as an asteroid impact or nuclear war, humankind would remain a major geological force for many millennia.

Professor Paul Crutzen: Nobel winner and advocate of a climate "escape  route" | News | European Parliament
PAUL CRUTZEN


At this point it did not seem likely the term would ever travel beyond the abstruse literature produced by institutions preoccupied with things like the nitrogen cycle. But the concept took flight. Environmental scientists latched on to what they saw as a useful catch-all term for the changes to the natural world – retreating sea ice, accelerating species extinction, bleached coral reefs – that they were already attributing to human activity. Academic articles began to appear with “Anthropocene” in the title, followed by entire journals dedicated to the topic. Soon the idea jumped to the humanities, then newspapers and magazines, and then to the arts, becoming a subject of photography, poetry, opera and a song by Nick Cave. “The proliferation of this concept can mainly be traced back to the fact that, under the guise of scientific neutrality, it conveys a message of almost unparalleled moral-political urgency,” wrote the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk.

There was just one place where the Anthropocene seemed not to be catching on: among the geologists who actually define these terms. Geologists are the guardians of the Earth’s timeline. By studying the Earth’s crust, they have carved up the planet’s 4.6bn years of history into phases and placed them in chronological order on a timescale called the International Chronostratigraphic Chart. That timescale is the backbone of geology. Modifying it is a slow and tortuous process, overseen by an official body, the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS). You can’t just make up a new epoch and give it a convincing name; the care taken over the timescale’s construction is precisely what gives it authority. To many geologists, accustomed to working with rocks that are hundreds of millions of years old, the notion that a species that has been around for the blink of an eye was now a genuine geological force seemed absurd.

Few would deny we are in a period of climatic turmoil, but many feel that, compared with some of the truly apocalyptic events of the deep past – such as the period, 252m years ago, when temperatures rose 10C and 96% of marine species died – the change so far has not been especially severe. “Many geologists would say: it’s just a blip,” (Philip Gibbard). But as the idea of the Anthropocene spread, it became harder for geologists to ignore. At a meeting of the Geological Society of London, in 2006, Jan Zalasiewicz argued that it was time to look at the concept seriously. Stratigraphy is the branch of geology that studies rock layers, or strata, and it is stratigraphers who work on the timescale directly. To Zalasiewicz’s surprise, his colleagues agreed. In 2008, Gibbard asked if Zalasiewicz would be prepared to assemble and lead a team of experts to investigate the matter more deeply. If the group found evidence that the Anthropocene was “stratigraphically real”, they would need to submit a proposal to the ICS. If the proposal was approved, the result would be literally epoch-changing. A new chapter of Earth’s history would need to be written.

Will Steffen: The Age of the Anthropocene - YouTube
WILL STEFFEN

Zalasiewicz agreed to take on the task although there are things the Anthropocene implies that are beyond geology, particularly the social-political stuff. To have this word used by climate change and environmental organisations unfamiliar with the concept may feel dangerous. Modifying the geological timescale seems impossible. The issue was brought to a vote by the ICS and the IUGS. The planet’s timekeepers have built their timescale from the physical records laid down in rocks long ago. Without due time to form, the “rocks” of the Anthropocene were little more than “two centimetres of unconsolidated organic matter. Zalasiewicz was appointed chair of the Anthropocene working group. If the Anthropocene was, in fact, already upon us, the group would need to prove that the Holocene – an unusually stable epoch in which temperature, sea level and carbon dioxide levels have stayed relatively constant for nearly 12 millenia – had come to an end. They began by looking at the atmosphere. During the Holocene, the amount of CO2 in the air, measured in parts per million (ppm), was between 260 and 280. Data from 2005, the most recent year recorded when the working group started out, showed levels had climbed to 379 ppm. Since then, it has risen to 405 ppm. The group calculated that the last time there was this much CO2 in the air was during the Pliocene epoch 3m years ago. The burning of fossil fuels in pursuit of the accumulation of capital in the West has been the predominant source of these emissions such that the Anthropocene is also the Capitalismocene. Next they looked at what had happened to animals and plants. As humans have multiplied, we have also made the natural world more homogenous. The world’s most common vertebrate, the broiler chicken, of which there are 23bn alive at any one time, was created by humans to be eaten by humans. The humans modified the Earth’s surface by building mines, roads, towns and cities and created increasingly sophisticated materials and tools, from smartphones to ballpoint pens. The weight of everything humans have ever built and manufactured is 30 trillion tonnes. When he first proposed the Anthropocene, Paul Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist, had suggested the industrial Revolution as the start-date because that was when concentrations of CO2 and methane began accumulating significantly in the air. Lately the Earth system scientists had come to prefer the start of the so-called “great acceleration”, the years following the second world war when the collective actions of humans suddenly began to put much more strain on the natural world than ever before. Most stratigraphers were now siding with them – they believe that the activity of the 1950s will leave a sharper indentation on the geological record. Zalasiewicz emphasised the Anthropocene’s geological legitimacy but he was worried that Stanley Finney of the IUGS was a loud critic. Academics note the Anthropocene’s political implications. To Purdy, the Anthropocene is an attempt to do what the concept of “the environment” did in the 1960s and 70s. Yet, humans have been gradually shaping the planet for at least 50,000 years.What the working group is trying to say is everything pre-1950 is pre-Anthropocene, and that’s just absurd.

IUGS_President: IUGS President Prof.... - International Union of Geological  Sciences - IUGS | Facebook
IUGS MEETING

Then, in late April, the group decided to hold a vote that would settle, once and for all, the matter of the start-date. The results were unequivocal. Twenty-nine members of the group, representing 88%, voted for the start of the Anthropocene to be in the mid-20th century. Now that the working group has decided roughly when the Anthropocene began, their main task is picking the golden spike of our time. No marker of an Anthropocene is as distinct as the radioactive fallout from the use of nuclear weapons that began with the US army’s Trinity test in 1945. Since the early 1950s, this memento of humankind’s darkest self-destructive impulses has settled on the Earth’s surface like icing sugar on a sponge cake. Plotted on a graph, the radioactive fallout leaps up like an explosion.

Professor Paul Crutzen: Nobel winner and advocate of a climate "escape  route" | News | European Parliament

PART-2: RELATED POSTS ON THE ANTHROPOCENE

RELATED POST: COMMITTEE OF RESEARCHERS DECIDE THAT THE ANTHROPOCENE BEGAN IN 1950: LINK: https://tambonthongchai.com/2020/09/22/things-eco-nuts-worry-about/

RELATED POST: ON THE APOCALYPSE: LINK: https://tambonthongchai.com/2020/11/23/apocalyptic-environmentalism-and-climate-change/

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PART-3: CRITICAL COMMENTARY

(1) A principal feature of the human controlled planet of the Anthropocene is that the current warming period of the Holocene is described as a creation of the Anthropocene as seen in the Michael Mann video below. The other warming and cooling cycles of he Holocene are described in a related post: LINK: https://tambonthongchai.com/2019/06/11/chaoticholocene/ where we find that the current warming is part of a chaotic sequence of warming and cooling events at millennial and centennial time scales over the last 8,000 years of the Holocene.

(2) A timing anomaly puzzle: If the current warming period “since pre-industrial” is a human caused event of the Anthropocene as claimed, we are presented with a timing anomaly puzzle that is made all the more puzzling by two different start dates for the Anthropocene as (1) the beginning of the Holocene more than 8,000 years ago; and (2) the year 1950 when the post war economic boom began. In climate science, the human caused climate change era or Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is claimed to be a creation of the Industrial Revolution with the temperature of that start year described as “pre-industrial” and the amount of AGW warming since then described as “since “pre-industrial”. This critical date in AGW theory has been variously stated as 1750, 1850, 1900, 1950, and 1970, as described in a related post: LINK: https://tambonthongchai.com/2019/12/25/earth-day-wisdom/ . The 1950 start date is proposed by James Hansen, the 1970 date by Peter Cox, the 1900 date by Guy Callendar in his 1938 paper. The assumed authority on this topic, the IPCC, had initially proposed the 1750 date but in more recent versions of their climate change reports have changed the pre-industrial date to 1850. Therefore, the 1950 date for the start of the Anthropocene is inconsistent with a role for the Anthropocene in the versions of AGW theory that uses earlier start dates. The traditional start date for the Anthropocene is the Neolithic Revolution at the start of the Holocene more than 8,000 years ago. That start date is consistent with AGW theories with the earlier start dates mentioned above but it is inconsistent with an Anthropocene that is 8,000 years old but that explains only the most recent of the many violent of warming and cooling cycles of the Holocene: LINK: https://tambonthongchai.com/2019/06/11/chaoticholocene/ . This anomaly points to a serious flaw in the theory of AGW as proposed by climate science because it implies a data selection bias as described in a related post: LINK: https://tambonthongchai.com/2020/10/09/a-data-selection-bias/ . If climate science can explain the Holocene climate cycles in terms of the Anthropocene it must explain all of them and not select just one of them to explain.

A Chaotic Holocene Climate? | Thongchai Thailand

(3) A study of the attempt by humans to separate themselves from the rest of nature: LINK: https://tambonthongchai.com/2020/10/08/the-natural-world/ . Our evolutionary history does not separate us from nature but in modern environmentalism and in the theory of AGW we have decided that we are not part of nature but an external force that must take care of nature. We study the need for man to remove himself from nature in two related posts. In the first post we present the case that this separation derives from Early Iron Age scriptures that still play a significant role in our self image: LINK: https://tambonthongchai.com/2020/11/23/apocalyptic-environmentalism-and-climate-change/ . There we describe the horror of the Late Bronze Age Collapse (LBAC) that was followed by droughts at centennial time scales and 200 years of a dark age with no sign of human civilization in the archaeological record until a new human civilization emerged in the Early Iron Age. The literature of this era handed down to us as scripture show a vivid and fearful memory of the LBAC as seen in Revelation and Matthew24. A unique characteristic of this scripture not found in older religions is the end of times when the good people are taken up to heaven and the bad people to hell and then the earth with all of its nature, the beasts, the forests, the seas is destroyed in the Apocalypse. Some strong parallels among this Biblical end of times, the LBAC, and our construction of environmental collapse to be brought about by humans of the Anthropocene are described in the related post linked above. The other important point of the Biblical reference is that the Bible does not recognize man as part of nature but as God’s special creation that is given Dominion over the Beasts. We argue in the related post linked above that our construction of Anthropocene Environmentalism that separates man from nature, and gives man dominion over the beasts as the caretaker of nature, are derived from scripture. We describe this self image of humans as “The Bambi Principle”.

(4) The role of the Bambi Principle in man’s self image, his need to separate himself from nature, and his assumption that he is the caretaker of nature, is explored in a related post on Bambi: LINK: https://tambonthongchai.com/2020/11/15/the-bambi-principle/ . We note there that Bambi’s forest is presented as a kind of idealized human-free world where nature can frolic. Unless humans arrive, animals of all species live without fear in nature’s paradise untouched by human hands where even owls have morphed into vegetarians. Here all interaction of nature with humans end in death or suffering with that being the only possibility of death and suffering in nature. There is a complete separation of nature into two worlds – humans and humanless nature, as in all those climate change videos by Sir David Attenborough: LINK: https://tambonthongchai.com/2020/10/08/the-natural-world/

(5): With regard to the assumed planetary role for humans in the Anthropocene we present some data in a related post to argue for his relative insignificance in that context. LINK: https://tambonthongchai.com/2020/07/31/planetary-environmentalism-in-the-anthropocene/ .

There we argue that the concept of the Anthropocene and of human caused planetary catastrophe by way of things like the industrial economy running on fossil fuels are inconsistent with the relative insignificance of humans on a planetary scale. In terms of total weight, humans constitute 0.05212% of the total mass of life on earth and all the life on earth taken together is 0.000002875065% of the crust of the planet by weight. The crust of the planet where we live and where we have things like land, ocean, atmosphere, climate, and carbon life forms, is 0.3203% of the planet by weight. The other 99.6797% of the planet, the mantle and core, is a place where we have never been and will never be and on which we have no impact whatsoever. In terms of the much feared element carbon that is said to the tool of humans for planetary devastation by way of climate change and ocean acidification, a mass balance shows that the crust of the planet where we live contains 0.201% of the planet’s carbon some of which appear as carbon lifeforms such as humans. The other 99.8% of the carbon inventory of the planet is in the mantle and core. Humans are insignificant on a planetary scale. Although it is true that humans must take care of their environment, we propose that the environment should have a rational definition. The planet is NOT our environment.

Like ants and bees, humans are social creatures that live in communities of humans so that when they look around they see humans everywhere. This is the likely source of our human oriented view of the world. Paul Ehrlich’s overpopulation theory is derived from his first visit to India which he described as “people people people people people!” It is this biased view of the planet that makes it possible for us to extrapolate Calcutta to the planet and come up with the fearful image described by Jeff Gibbs as “Have you every wondered what would happen if a single species took over an entire planet?”

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