INTERVIEW

Anthropocene highlights the enormity of human activity’s impact on earth

Interview/ Brian T. Huber, vice chair, International Commission on Stratigraphy

126-Brian-T-Huber-new

Is human activity at a point when it can determine the direction the earth’s future will take?

I think we are well past that point. Consider that humans have released nearly 550 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere since 1870, and more than half of that since 1970.

Your thoughts on the term ‘Anthropocene’.

I think humans will leave a record of their activities on earth that will be traceable globally millions of years from now. Defining an age when this global influence began is appropriate and it brings attention to the enormity of human activity on earth’s climate and biota compared to past organisms.

The process of classifying time periods, especially the beginnings and ends of geological time bands, is a protracted one and there are geological time spans for which there is no official consensus yet. How long could the Anthropocene issue take to resolve?

It could be a matter of a few years or less. There are many time markers that could be chosen; getting a consensus on which one will take a lot of discussion and debate.

The ICS is tasked with giving the final approval for making the Anthropocene official. What proof is the ICS looking for?

There needs to be a distinct event or time marker that is globally identifiable in the sediment record on land and ocean and it must be unequivocally tied to human activity. Once the event is agreed upon, there must be a place selected that includes the event, so [that] an official marker can be placed at that spot.

Is Anthropocene a ‘pop science’ term or does it have more significance than drawing attention to an issue?

It is political as it reminds humans how much change has resulted from our populating the earth and using technology to improve our economy and comfort. Scientific, because the age of humans will be identifiable in geologic sections millions of years from now.

Even if it may not qualify to make the cut by ICS standards, do you think that Anthropocene is a multidisciplinary term that can guide our approach to science, development, indeed everything?

I hope the scale of changes caused by humans has a humbling effect that would lead to greater awareness so we become better environmental stewards. We can choose to invest in more technology to help recover from some of the damage and develop less damaging ways to live on this earth comfortably. That will be an almost impossible challenge if the global population keeps increasing at its current rate, though.

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