Future Earth

Want to save our planet? Forget about “global warming”!

5 Comments 30 June 2011

our planet anthopocene

Have you heard of the Anthropocene? It is a recent term, which serves to mark the evidence and extent of human activities and their effects on the environment and our planet. I hadn’t heard of it until recently and truthfully, I really should have. In fact, so should anybody who has even a passing interest in climate change and living a greener life.

Taken at its most literal, the term means “the recent age of man”. It was coined in 2000 by Paul Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist. His argument is that we have entered another age, shaped primarily by people. I think we have all known for quite some time that mankind has had a colossal impact on our planet. You see our effects on the environment everywhere, and most of it hasn’t been that great: think deforestation, oceanic dead zones and melting ice caps.

I was interested to read an argument raised by proponents of the Anthropocene era, outlined in an excellent article in The Economist. They argue that mankind should use its dominance to intervene directly, to return the Earth back to the conditions that best suit its continued dominance of our planet. In other words, return the Earth to the period that, according to Paul Crutzen, we have just left: the Holocene, which overall has been kind to the human race. Other than a few ice ages, the last 10,000 years have, largely speaking, seen pretty mild effects on the environment, both weather-wise and geologically.

This strikes a chord with me.

Although I am as concerned about global warming as the next person, this concern has always been an uneasy bedfellow with the way I lead my life. Let’s face it, my First World existence not only represents a carbon footprint many times larger than average on this planet, but unless I want to completely recalibrate my life, it is not likely to stop. Even if I cut it down to the basics, I will still be a consumer and my effects on the environment and our planet will still be huge.

I could sell my car but would have to catch public transport. I would still have to heat and light my house. I would probably continue to eat food bought from the high street. But the reality is that I, like many people, don’t simply want to “exist”. I have ambitions to better my lot in life, to build up my business and my writing career.

All of this inevitably involves a larger carbon footprint and more adverse effects on the environment. In other words, the two are inexorably linked but utterly irreconcilable. This leaves me in a state of permanent “green guilt” and I am always looking at ways to cut down on my consumption. However the bottom line is that pursuing a low impact existence, if taken to extremes, is unworkable.

It will eventually lead to a downward spiral of global economic hardship. Perhaps that’s why everyone gets so sick of the green agenda.

Let’s take another look at the Anthropocene and the growing movement towards fully embracing man’s huge influence on the planet, instead of trying to minimise it. Its proponents certainly have some big ideas. Take CO2 levels: they are extremely high and will remain so for another 1,000 years. Instead of trying to stop the growth, the movement suggests that we begin “actively decreasing it”:

This might be done in part by growing forests and enriching soils, but it might also need more high-tech interventions, such as burning newly grown plant matter in power stations and pumping the resulting carbon dioxide into aquifers below the surface, or scrubbing the air with newly contrived chemical-engineering plants, or even intervening in ocean chemistry in ways that would increase the sea’s appetite for the air’s carbon. (The Economist)

Meddling with our planet on this scale… Does it scare you?

Well, we’re already doing it. And it’s not going to stop anytime soon, so we may as well begin trying to change the effects on the environment for good.

Do we need a new slogan? Perhaps we should drop “Stop global warming” and replace it with “Start global cooling”.

What do you think?

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5 Comments so far

  1. Matt says:

    Absent a major global paradigm shift I think it is unlikely that we, as a species, will be able to positively affect the environment on a scale large enough to have any significant impact. There is just no money in it and, as we all know, money talks…

    Unfortunately it seems that we are locked into our fate as the powers that be are also the ones with the most to lose from the change in ideology that would be necessary to prevent the current disaster. To my mind we are no different from the dinoasaurs with the exception that, unlike them, we can see our extinction coming. We are, however, as powerless to prevent as they were to stop the inbound asteroid. All is not lost though.

    Just as life diversified and grew ever more complex as a result of that impact so life will flourish once more and next time, just maybe, produce a dominant species that is as advanced in its development compared to us as we believe ourselves to be compared to the species’ we lost 65 million years ago.

    Sorry to sound so gloomy.


Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. O.C. Heaton: Could a "Techno-Fix" be the Answer to Global Warming? - July 17, 2011

    […] The piece also references the Anthropocene era. Taken at its most literal, the term means "the recent age of man". It was coined in 2000 by Paul Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist. His argument is that we have entered another age, shaped and dominated primarily by people. Many believe that mankind should therefore use this new supremacy to directly intervene where necessary, to try to return the Earth back to the conditions that best suit its continued dominance of the planet. (You can find my thoughts about this here.) […]

  2. O.C. Heaton: Could a "Techno-Fix" be the Answer to Global Warming? | Stars Confidential - July 17, 2011

    […] The piece also references the Anthropocene era. Taken at its most literal, the term means "the recent age of man". It was coined in 2000 by Paul Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist. His argument is that we have entered another age, shaped and dominated primarily by people. Many believe that mankind should therefore use this new supremacy to directly intervene where necessary, to try to return the Earth back to the conditions that best suit its continued dominance of the planet. (You can find my thoughts about this here.) […]

  3. O.C. Heaton: Could a "Techno-Fix" be the Answer to Global Warming? | | SparkInjector.comSparkInjector.com - July 17, 2011

    […] The piece also references the Anthropocene era. Taken at its most literal, the term means “the recent age of man”. It was coined in 2000 by Paul Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist. His argument is that we have entered another age, shaped and dominated primarily by people. Many believe that mankind should therefore use this new supremacy to directly intervene where necessary, to try to return the Earth back to the conditions that best suit its continued dominance of the planet. (You can find my thoughts about this here.) […]

  4. O.C. Heaton: Could a "Techno-Fix" be the Answer to Global Warming? | - July 17, 2011

    […] The piece also references the Anthropocene era. Taken at its most literal, the term means “the recent age of man”. It was coined in 2000 by Paul Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist. His argument is that we have entered another age, shaped and dominated primarily by people. Many believe that mankind should therefore use this new supremacy to directly intervene where necessary, to try to return the Earth back to the conditions that best suit its continued dominance of the planet. (You can find my thoughts about this here.) […]

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