The Anthropocene Trust is a private, family trust formed in California. The Anthropocene Trust is dedicated to funding research, training and publications of evidence-based science related to humans, our environment and our physical space – past and present. But what is the Anthropocene and why we think the term is important?
The Anthropocene is a term now frequently used to describe the dramatic impact humans have on life and geology of our shared earth. Climate change, extinctions, invasive species, technofossils, anthroturbation, terraforming of land, and redirection of water are all part of the indelible human signature.
The word Anthropocene is derived from the Greek words anthropo, for “man,” and cene for “new”. An early concept for the Anthropocene was conceived by Vladimir Vernadsky in 1938, who thought humans brought a new state of the biosphere and called it Noosphere. By the early 19060’s Scientists in the Soviet Union began using the term "anthropocene" to refer to the Quaternary, the most recent geological period. The term became widely popular in 2000 by atmospheric chemist Paul J. Crutzen, who regards the influence of human behavior on Earth's atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch.
In 2008, the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London considered a proposal to make the Anthropocene a formal unit of geological epoch divisions. A majority of the commission decided the proposal had merit and should be examined further. Independent working groups of scientists from various geological societies have begun to determine whether the Anthropocene will be formally accepted into the Geological Time Scale. In 2016, the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) of the Sub-commission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS) of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) voted to proceed towards a formal golden spike (GSSP) proposal to define the Anthropocene epoch in the geologic time scale and presented the recommendation to the International Geological Congress. In May 2019, the AWG voted in favor of submitting a formal proposal to the ICS by 2021, locating potential stratigraphic markers to the mid-twentieth century of the common era. This time period coincides with the start of the Great Acceleration, a post-WWII time period during which socioeconomic and Earth system trends increase at a dramatic rate and the Nuclear Age.
Various start dates for the Anthropocene have been proposed, ranging from the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution 12,000–15,000 years ago, to as recent as the 1960’s. The ratification process is still ongoing, and thus a date remains to be decided definitively, but the peak in radionuclides fallout consequential to atomic bomb testing during the 1950s has been more favored than others, locating a possible beginning of the Anthropocene to the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945, or the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963.
While the geologist debates the term and its temporal genesis, it is clear that human impact on ecosystems is at a significant scale. We believe that studying the origins of the Anthropocene and all the decisions our ancestors made in the past (both the good and the bad) are crucial for our ability to make informed decisions about the future.