Geologists categorize the last geologic epoch of the Earth’s history, beginning around 12,000 years ago with the end of the last Ice Age, as the “Holocene.” A key characteristic of this epoch has been a relatively stable climate. All of human civilization evolved during this epoch. For thousands of years throughout the Holocene humans migrated, sought and grew food, fought wars, constructed and demolished empires, developed technologies.
In the 1980s and ’90s, however, as evidence mounted that the Earth’s climate was no longer as stable and that humans had something to do with it, biologist Eugene F. Stoermer, Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen, Andrew Revkin and others suggested that we are no longer in the Holocene, but rather a new geologic epoch they termed the Anthropocene. In short, an epoch defined by the significant impact humans are having on the Earth that might last millions of years into the future. The new epoch is characterized by a rapid shifting of the Earth system that is largely unprecedented in human history. According to the geologist, Jan Zalasiewicz, “To future geologists…our impact may look as sudden and profound as that of an asteroid.”
Settled human societies, previously existing in a sort of “Holocene complacency” have had no experience with the climatic conditions of this new epoch. In this context, one of the most important things humans can do is prepare and mitigate the certain uncertainties of an Anthropocene reality. And in doing so, we should bear in mind that the ability to change the Earth’s systems is a far cry from being able to control them.