Humanity has an obsession with classifying and naming things.
We apply labels and categories to people, animals and time periods.
We are restless, inquisitive, aggressive, and curious: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
And yet despite the fact we now know the universe is at least 14 billions years old, and that we are merely mayflies we still regard man as the measure of all things.
Looking over the past 10,000 years we have experienced the, Stone Age and Bronze Age, the Classical Period, the Neo-Classical Period, the “Dark Ages” and Middle Ages. Following this we talk about the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution and Industrial Revolution.
All these ‘ages” refer to the culture of the time; but very little is said about the environment. Our sense of history is shaped by the dominant cultural forces, the fall of empires or the rise of new modes of production.
Of course these are simply convenient labels, derived form the “Western Civilisation” school of thought that dominated Anglo-Saxon universities during the middle of last century.
We are if anything, a rather self-obsessed and narcissistic species.
Our sense of history is shaped by how we shape the world.
But events in Japan bring into sharp focus just how fragile our civilisation really is.
It reminds us that “nature” is a vast impersonal “machine” that will swat us if we get in the way.
I know that is no comfort to the thousands of dead and their families. Personally I’ve fond the events distressing.
The Japan earthquake follows the drowning of North Queensland, Brisbane and much of Victoria. Looking further abroad there have been devastating floods in Brazil, South Africa and Sri Lanka (does anyone still recall those events?).
I’m not suggesting for a moment that the Japan earthquake has anything to do with climate change.
However, we can make a connection between the records floods around the globe with climate change. These events are well within the predictions made by scientists.
The climate is changing, and it will have a profound impact on all of us.
The term Anthropocene, proposed and increasingly employed to denote the current interval of anthropogenic global environmental change, may be discussed on stratigraphic grounds. A case can be made for its consideration as a formal epoch in that, since the start of the Industrial Revolution, Earth has endured changes sufficient to leave a global stratigraphic signature distinct from that of the Holocene or of previous Pleistocene interglacial phases, encompassing novel biotic, sedimentary, and geochemical change. These changes, although likely only in their initial phases, are sufficiently distinct and robustly established for suggestions of a Holocene–Anthropocene boundary in the recent historical past to be geologically reasonable. The boundary may be defined either via Global Stratigraphic Section and Point (“golden spike”) locations or by adopting a numerical date. Formal adoption of this term in the near future will largely depend on its utility, particularly to earth scientists working on late Holocene successions. This datum, from the perspective of the far future, will most probably approximate a distinctive stratigraphic boundary.
2011 is the year of living dangerously, a reminder that greater forces are now at play.
We are now entering humanities great cultural and environmental watershed.
Our civilisation has shaped a new geological age called the Anthropocene. Now in turn, the forces we helped unleashed will shape our civilisation.
What will we witness?
What will emerge?
A new dark ages?
A time of renewal and rebirth?
No one can really say.
Let us learn from our follies, our crimes and our stupidity.
Let us embrace compassion, humility in the face of forces greater than us and rid ourselves of the hubris that our species is the measure of all things.
Hope lies in embracing wisdom.
Where do we come from.
Who are we.
Where are we going.