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The Anthropocene Moment

The Anthropocene Moment

Bill McKibben’s 1989 book, The End of Nature, made a novel argument; that civilization had altered the processes of life everywhere as man converted more and more of the planet’s resources to human uses. Near the end of the book, McKibben summarized: “As we have seen, nature is already ending, its passing quiet and accidental.”

Twenty three years later the mainstream news magazine Time adopted that theme in its March 12, 2012, issue with an article titled “Nature Is Over.” Time observes:

For a species that has been around for less than 1% of 1% of the earth’s 4.5 billion-year history, Home sapiens has certainly put its stamp on the place. Humans have had a direct impact on more than three-quarters of the ice-free land on earth. Almost 90% of the world’s plant activity now takes place in ecosystems where people play a significant role . . . Even in the vast oceans . . . our presence has been felt thanks to overfishing and marine pollution.”

Time picks up on some scientists’ geological time idea that we have ended the Holocene epoch, which began when the last ice age ended 12,000 years ago, and created the Anthropocene – the age of man. Time opines

The reality is that in the Anthropocene, there may simply be no room for nature, at least not nature as we’ve known and celebrated it-something separate from human beings-something pristine.

This fits with James Lovelock’s health check on “Gaia,” his concept of the earth’s biosphere as a self-regulating system which works to support its life forms. The physician’s 2006 summary on man’s altering the planet was severe:

We have made this appalling mess of the planet and mostly with rampant liberal good intentions. Even now, when the bell has stated tolling to mark our ending, we talk of sustainable development and renewable energy as if these feeble offerings . . .

Our industrial civilization has created serious challenges for itself, which it cannot ignore forever. Time ended its “Nature Is Over” article with a quote from environmentalist Stewart Brand: “We are as gods, and we have to get good at it.”

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Comments (3)

  1. Michael Monday - 05 / 03 / 2012
    Our conceit that we are apart from nature, while we take liberally from nature, is the likely seed of our downfall. In any closed system, you cannot take more than you contribute and expect balance.
  2. Kathy Miller Thursday - 08 / 03 / 2012
    Tell me what to do, where to go, and I'll be there to do it. I just don't know exactly how to be effective.
    • Kevin Flatowicz-Farmer Thursday - 08 / 03 / 2012
      Kathy, have you seen our post on 10 Things You Can Do to Do Less? Doing the little things are a good way to start.

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