Scientists Vote Down Proposal to Declare Anthropocene Has Begun


For more than a decade, scientists have been mulling whether the Earth had entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, marked by the profound impact humans have had on the planet. Today, a committee of experts has reportedly decided on the matter.

By burning fossil fuels, spreading fertilizers, detonating nuclear weapons, and otherwise reshaping the planet, humans have left an indelible imprint on the geologic record. A scientific working group had proposed that humans had so utterly reshaped the planet that they had brought an end to the Holocene, our current epoch, which began at the close of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago. But a committee of scientists organized by the International Union of Geological Sciences has voted down their proposal, according to an internal announcement seen by The New York Times.

At issue was when, precisely, the Anthropocene began. The working group had suggested it started in the mid-20th century, when testing of nuclear weapons kicked off and the burning of fossil fuels ramped up. But the committee reviewing the proposal reportedly took issue with this start date, which failed to capture the earlier impact of humans during, say, the development of farming or the onset of the Industrial Revolution.

The results may still be challenged or appealed, the Times reports. But the question of if and when the Anthropocene began is so thorny that some scientists would prefer to characterize this period as an “event” rather than an “epoch.” Events have no firm start dates and are not reflected in the official geologic timeline.

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