Officially, Earth has not entered the Anthropocene

Since the atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen (Nobel Prize in 1995) popularized the notion of the Anthropocene around the turn of the century, the use of this word has spread throughout society. To the point of creating the idea that the Anthropocene – the geological epoch dominated by human activity – is already etched in stone on the geological time scale, succeeding the Holocene (which began there is 11,700 years old) and itself following the Pleistocene. from – 2.6 million years ago to – 11,700 years ago).

The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) has just reminded us that things are not that simple. At the end of a formal process of examining the file, which began fifteen years ago, the scientific organization that monitored the stratigraphic tables ruled out the inclusion of the Anthropocene as a geological period. Thus, from the point of view of the community of geologists, the Earth has not entered a new phase in its history.

On March 21, the IUGS officially announced the vote “to reject the proposal of an Anthropocene epoch as a formal unit of the geological time scale was approved”. The vote in question, the results of which were announced on March 5 by the New York Times, had intervened two weeks earlier within the Subcommittee on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS), a body of the International Stratigraphic Commission (ICS), itself emerging from the IUGS. The SQS mood was on all floors of this institutional building “massively supported”.

“A reluctance to take short periods of time into account”

Institutional support that masks deep regret within the broader scientific community. In 2009, the IUGS established a multidisciplinary working group of about thirty researchers, the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), responsible for implementing the proposal for “stratigraphic validation” of the Anthropocene. For fifteen years, the AWG collected the relevant scientific literature and at the end of this research proposed that the new geological era began in 1950. A date consistent with the demands of stratigraphers: a new geological epoch must be characterized by large-scale changes in the Earth system, lastingly observable in sediments, rocks or even ice.

However, from the middle of the 20th centurye century, “Anthropocene sedimentary layers differ from Holocene layersargued the AWG. They can be characterized using more than 100 long-lived signals, including anthropogenic radionuclides, microplastics, ash and pesticide residues, most of which began accumulating in the mid-20th century.e century “. The thirty members of the group voted almost 90% in favor of the stratigraphic validation of the Anthropocene. Ultimately, their proposal did not convince the members of the SQS.

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