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Earth at risk in new epoch ruled by destructive humans

March 21, 2015, by Paul Brown

A night-time image compiled from satellite data shows many areas of the Earth ablaze with lights.
Image: Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon/ NASA GSFC

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Scientists warn that our fate is in our own hands as humans now control almost every aspect of the planet, on a scale akin to the great forces of nature. LONDON, 21 March, 2015 − Nature has been replaced by humans as the driving force behind changes on the planet − and we need to take urgent action if we are to avoid our own destruction. This is the view of two scientists – including a Nobel prize winner − who support the theory that the planet has entered a new Anthropocene epoch that has succeeded the Holocene, the  current geological warm period that began at the end of the ice age 11,500 years ago. It is not a new concept − the name Anthropocene was coined 15 years ago by American ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer to describe how humans had taken over from nature to decide the planet’s future − but the authors of a new paper believe they have shown that it is now a frightening reality. Paul Crutzen, the 1995 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, in Mainz, Germany, and Stanislaw Waclawek, researcher in the Department of Nanomaterials in Natural Sciences at the Technical University of Liberec, Czech Republic, make their case in the paper published in the new Chemistry-Didactics-Ecology-Metrology.

Human footprint

The article claims that the negative impact of the human footprint ensures a gradual destruction of the Earth, “Our survival fully depends on us,” Crutzen says. The scientists claim that there is overwhelming evidence that what they term “man, the eroder” now transforms all Earth system processes. They offer this list in support of their argument:

  • Excessively rapid climate change, so that ecosystems cannot adapt.
  • The Arctic ocean ice cover is thinner by approximately 40% than it was 20-40 years ago.
  • Ice loss on land is causing the rising sea levels.
  • Overpopulation (a fourfold increase in the 20th century alone).
  • Increasing demand for freshwater.
  • Releases of nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere, resulting in high surface ozone layers.
  • Loss of agricultural soil through erosion.
  • Loss of phosphorous (dangerous depletion in agricultural regions).
  • Melting supplies of phosphate reserves (leading to serious reduction in crop yield).

The paper begins: “Humankind actions are exerting increasing effect on the environment on all scales, in a lot of ways overcoming natural processes. “During the last 100 years, human population went up from little more than one billion to six billion, and economic activity increased nearly 10 times between 1950 and the present time.”

Industrial activity

In a series of graphics, the two scientists show how the growth of population, industrial activity and, above all, the release of greenhouse gases are causing chaos in nature and threatening our existence. The paper says: “Taking into account these and many other major and still growing footprints of human activities on Earth and atmosphere, without any doubt we can conclude that we are living in new geological epoch named the Anthropocene.” Crutzen warns: “This ensures a gradual destruction of the Earth. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we must change course.” – Climate News Network

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