Analysis Of Down To Earth Magazine: ”The Anthropocene Epoch”
GS 3: Disaster Management, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
- Soon Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) will declare us the first Homo sapiens to witness the Earth entering into a new geological epoch that is named after us.
- This is a call of urgent attention to our irreversible impacts on the planet’s ecosystems.
What is Holocene Epoch?
- This is the current geological Epoch.
- At the start of the Holocene, the planet had a new geography, demography and ecosystem as the Paleolithic Ice Age came to an end and a warm-season set in.
- Glaciers melted, new forests came up in vast areas, mammoths and woolly rhinoceros succumbed to the warm climate and humans decided to quit food gathering and hunting for more settled lives. This also led to more growth in the human population.
What is Anthropocene Epoch?
- The Anthropocene is a strange phase in the geological scale where the dominant species fundamentally alters the ecosystem, and its biggest preoccupation now would be to look for ways to fix it as well.
- Here comes the tussle between Homo sapiens and the rest of the species on the planet.
- Scientists argue that the Anthropocene started to set in with the advent of the industrial revolution that led to industrial production, the discovery of chemicals and their cascading effects on the natural systems.
What work has been done on declaring Anthropocene Epoch?
- In 2016, for the first time, the International Geological Congress held in Cape Town, South Africa, informally voted to declare the arrival of the Anthropocene.
- In May 2019, a 34-member panel of scientists called the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG)—set up by the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy, part of the International Commission on Stratigraphy that oversees the geologic time chart—voted to declare the descent of the new epoch.
- AWG will soon put forth a formal proposal for this to its parent body. This will mark the end of the current epoch called the Holocene, which started approximately 11,700 years ago.
- This age, retrospectively designated by contemporary scientists, tentatively coincides with humans adopting settled agriculture after a change in the planet’s climate.
- In terms of the Anthropocene, 29 of the 34 members of AWG have supported the proposal to declare the mid-20th century as the beginning of this epoch.
- Scientists are already scoping for sites to look for evidence of such human intervention in our ecosystems.
- In particular, they are looking at radionuclides (atoms that emit radiation as they undergo radioactive decay) released during the first nuclear weapons tests in 1945 in the US.
- These particles have scattered across the globe and become a part of the Earth’s soil, water, plants and glaciers, leaving permanent human imprints on the planet.
- Plastic—an all-pervasive human invention—is being proposed as another marker of the Anthropocene.
How do human impacts cause nature to fail?
- Scientists have identified 18 categories of contributions—cleaning air and water, sequestering carbon, pollinating crops—that nature makes to ensure the quality of life for humans.
- In the last 50 years, nature is not able to fulfil its role in 80 per cent of these categories.
- Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point.
- The diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems, as well as many fundamental contributions we derive from nature, are declining fast, although we still have the means to ensure a sustainable future for people and the planet.
Signs Of Extinction Phase
- There are two signs that occur before an extinction phase sets in a loss in population and shrinking of its distribution areas.
- These two signs are quite evident among all species, except humans, right now.
- Since the year 1500, some 900 species have gone extinct, according to IUCN.
- Since the 16th century, 680 vertebrate species have been pushed into extinction; 9 per cent of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture went extinct by 2016.
- In addition, some 1,000 more such domesticated breeds are under threat of extinction.
- Almost 33 per cent of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened.
- Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing.
- The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed.
Who is responsible?
- This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.
- Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about two-thirds of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions.
- Nearly 75 per cent of all freshwater resources are now used for crop and livestock rearing activities.
- The impacts are scary. For example, productivity in 23 per cent of global land has reduced due to land degradation.
- Up to US $577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of the loss of coastal habitats and protection.
Future of SDGs?
- The world may miss the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets by a wide margin if the human civilisation does not pull up its socks and promptly acts to protect the natural order.
- Close to 80 per cent (35 of 44) assessed targets under the goals will remain unmet. Biodiversity loss will impact the SDGs related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land.
- The current trajectories used for conserving nature and achieving sustainability, such as those embodied in the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, cannot be met.