Since the 1980s, some scientists have been referring to the last few centuries as the Anthropocene Epoch. The argument behind this naming is that humans have so changed the Earth that we have created a new epoch, one unlike any in Earth’s history. Recently, researchers at the University of Leicester undertook a study to determine if we are, in fact, in the Anthropocene Epoch. They’ve determined that we are.
While it’s obvious that human activity has impacted the Earth in huge, perhaps irreversible ways, their argument rests on four specific points.
The first is that humans have interfered with animals so much that there is a massive homogenization of species worldwide, something unseen in the fossil record. We’ve pushed out or introduced or bred so many animals that life has a decidedly generic feel around the world.
Secondly, we have become the top predator on land and in the sea, harnessing something like 25% of global biological production for our own use. Never before has a single species risen to such prominence.
Increasingly, we determine how other species evolve. Whether directly, through breeding or genetic modification, or indirectly through pollution or deforestation, much of the evolution currently happening on the planet is influenced by human activity.
Finally, there is a growing interaction between the biosphere–the life on Earth–and the “technosphere”–the machines and the systems that control them. Technosphere is a term that was coined by one of the team members and refers to the sum of all manufactured objects and how they interact with each other, with humans, and with nature.
All together, these changes represent a profoundly new direction for the Earth, on par with the rise of oxygenating microbes 2.4 billion years ago or the transition from microbial to multicellular live about half a billion years ago. Huge changes to the biosphere have happened numerous times in the Earth’s history, but the changes we are seeing now are unique in that they have been brought on not by geology or a meteor impact, but by the actions of a single species: homo sapiens.