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Earth's Next Epoch

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I was raised in the Baptist church. As a grade school child, I memorized the books of the Bible. Maybe because of that personal history, when I started to study geology I didn't resist memorizing the many pieces of the geologic time scale.

The next to the last piece of geologic time is the Pleistocene Epoch (known informally by many as the Ice Age). It is followed by the Holocene Epoch (the warm time we are living in now.)

The Holocene Epoch has seen the rise of human civilization. It is the time when people around the world started to shape the surface of the Earth through farming. From the kingdoms of ancient Egypt to the wars of the last century, the history you study in school occurred in the Holocene.

As a geology student I was taught that not only were we in the Holocene, but that we would be for the foreseeable future. But now there is a move afoot to declare that we are in a new epoch. It is not just a matter of names, but of our understanding of our place in the world. The new epoch is one in which we humans are taking over the reins from Mother Nature. The proposed new epoch is called the Anthropocene - from "anthro" for people.

Here is the key: while we humans have been shaping the environment for thousands of years - through farming, early irrigation, and the cutting or burning of forests - our impact on the Earth has been rapidly accelerating.

It is not easy to see exactly where we should draw the line that marks the start of our biggest impacts. Was it with the Industrial Revolution and the construction of modern cities?

A number of geologists think the line that marks the end of the Holocene should come a bit later.

What is proposed now is that we declare the Anthropocene Epoch started near the end of World War II. That was the time humans exploded the first nuclear bomb and rival nations started testing nuclear weapons around the world, creating radioactive isotopes that fell to Earth in diverse environments.

This period also saw a new pulse in the increase in global population, as well as the start of industrialization in less developed nations. We poured artificial fertilizer onto fields and produced billions of tons of plastics. The Earth had never seen the like, as a group of scientists called the Anthropocene Working Group recently argued in the journal Quaternary International.

No matter where the line is drawn, the argument is clear that we are entering a new phase of Earth history, one in which we shape more of our own environment. Welcome to the Anthropocene - a time where we are in the driver's seat. Let us hope we steer the world as carefully as we can.

 

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Geoffrey Gloak

may be one of the few people you meet who is always glad to talk taxes. He has spent 17 years immersed in government communications – almost entirely in the tax field. He currently serves as the Director of Public Relations at the New York State Tax Department. In each of Geoff’s positions, he has created opportunities to transform the communications environment for the benefit of the organization. Under his leadership, Tax Department public relations have shifted from a reactive focus to proactive outreach. Most recently, Geoff led the STAR Registration media campaign to assist 2 million homeowners with property tax relief while eliminating fraud. As a result of extensive press outreach, more than 300 articles were printed in daily papers alone, and broadcast media repeatedly covered the story in each corner of the state. Less than 5 months after launch, 2.3 million homeowners had registered for their property tax exemptions. Geoff (@gloak23) lives in Kinderhook with his journalist wife, Kristi Berner (@kristiberner), and 4-year-old daughter, Gemma, who is now proud to be able to write her name.