Category Archives: Anthropocene

Fossils show oblivion’s malign impact on nature

We are obliterating other life: oblivion’s malign impact could bring extinction faster than at almost any time known so far.

LONDON, 28 May, 2021 − Evolutionary biologists have looked at the timetable of mass murder 66 million years ago in what is now called the Fifth Great Extinction. By looking at fossil snails and other freshwater citizens of what is now Europe, they traced oblivion’s malign impact over many millennia.

The grim news is that the loss of species began soon after a substantial comet or asteroid crashed into planet Earth, but it took another 12 million years for evolution to catch up again.

The even grimmer news is that the Sixth Great Extinction has already begun, and is proceeding at a rate 1,000 times faster than the massacre of the little creatures that perished alongside the dinosaurs.

The message − familiar for decades to conservationists, evolutionary biologists and palaeontologists, but still to be appreciated by politicians − is that the impact of more than 7 billion humans on the rest of the living world is less immediate, but more devastating, than the celestial traffic accident that wiped out the dinosaurs.

“We have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years”

And it looks set to continue. A century from today, a third of freshwater species living now may have vanished from the face of the planet. And it won’t stop there.

“Even if our impact on the world’s biota stops today, the extinction rate will likely stay high for an extended period of time,” said Thomas Neubauer, of Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany.

“Considering that the current biodiversity crisis advances much faster than the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, the recovery period may be even longer. Despite our short existence on Earth, we have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years.”

Dr Neubauer and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment that they considered the fossils of 3,122 species of European freshwater gastropods unearthed in 24,759 instances, to calculate extinction rates over the last 200 million years.

They selected the snails because snails’ shells are distinctive, and preserved; and because freshwater ecosystems occupy only about 1% of the planet’s surface, but are home to perhaps 10% of all species.

Lessons from Europe

And they settled on European evidence because Europe has, they write, an “exceptionally rich and well-studied fossil record”. European biologists, too, have a more complete record of living species for comparison.

More importantly, they had enough data to work out the rates at which old species become extinct and new species evolve on a stable planet under normal conditions over hundreds of millions of years. From that, they could confirm that after the devastating impact that brought the Cretaceous era to a close − and wiped out the dinosaurs − conditions on Earth were harsh enough to force a greater rate of extinction for the next 5.4 million years.

In that time, 92.5% of all species were extinguished: the rate of extinction increased by an order of magnitude − that is, around tenfold. Although new species emerged, it was another 6.9 million years before recovery was complete.

“However, present extinction rates in European freshwater gastropods are three orders of magnitude higher than even these revised estimates for the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction,” the researchers write. That is, present extinction rates are already 1,000 times faster than one unpredictable moment of global devastation 66 million years ago. It follows that extinction rates must be four orders of magnitude − 10,000 times − faster than in a period of evolutionary stability.

Snails matter too

That life’s evolution has been marked by periodic extinction has been firmly settled for more than a century, and an overload of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been an agent of at least one of them, and perhaps an actor in all.

What alarms today’s biologists is that they can see it all happening again, as human numbers grow and human economies alter the planetary atmosphere. And they have said so, repeatedly.

In this study, they spell it out it again. “The current biodiversity crisis appears even more drastic, with species being lost at a much faster pace. Our analyses suggest that 75% of all European species may be lost within centuries. Our findings provide yet additional evidence that immediate and effective action is needed to protect biodiversity,” they write.

Just in case anybody thinks freshwater snails don’t matter to humans, they do. They are part of a functioning ecosystem on which terrestrial life depends.

“Losing species entails changes in species communities and, in the long run, this affects ecosystems,” said Dr Neubauer.“We rely on functioning freshwater environments to sustain human health, nutrition and freshwater supply.” − Climate News Network

We are obliterating other life: oblivion’s malign impact could bring extinction faster than at almost any time known so far.

LONDON, 28 May, 2021 − Evolutionary biologists have looked at the timetable of mass murder 66 million years ago in what is now called the Fifth Great Extinction. By looking at fossil snails and other freshwater citizens of what is now Europe, they traced oblivion’s malign impact over many millennia.

The grim news is that the loss of species began soon after a substantial comet or asteroid crashed into planet Earth, but it took another 12 million years for evolution to catch up again.

The even grimmer news is that the Sixth Great Extinction has already begun, and is proceeding at a rate 1,000 times faster than the massacre of the little creatures that perished alongside the dinosaurs.

The message − familiar for decades to conservationists, evolutionary biologists and palaeontologists, but still to be appreciated by politicians − is that the impact of more than 7 billion humans on the rest of the living world is less immediate, but more devastating, than the celestial traffic accident that wiped out the dinosaurs.

“We have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years”

And it looks set to continue. A century from today, a third of freshwater species living now may have vanished from the face of the planet. And it won’t stop there.

“Even if our impact on the world’s biota stops today, the extinction rate will likely stay high for an extended period of time,” said Thomas Neubauer, of Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany.

“Considering that the current biodiversity crisis advances much faster than the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, the recovery period may be even longer. Despite our short existence on Earth, we have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years.”

Dr Neubauer and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment that they considered the fossils of 3,122 species of European freshwater gastropods unearthed in 24,759 instances, to calculate extinction rates over the last 200 million years.

They selected the snails because snails’ shells are distinctive, and preserved; and because freshwater ecosystems occupy only about 1% of the planet’s surface, but are home to perhaps 10% of all species.

Lessons from Europe

And they settled on European evidence because Europe has, they write, an “exceptionally rich and well-studied fossil record”. European biologists, too, have a more complete record of living species for comparison.

More importantly, they had enough data to work out the rates at which old species become extinct and new species evolve on a stable planet under normal conditions over hundreds of millions of years. From that, they could confirm that after the devastating impact that brought the Cretaceous era to a close − and wiped out the dinosaurs − conditions on Earth were harsh enough to force a greater rate of extinction for the next 5.4 million years.

In that time, 92.5% of all species were extinguished: the rate of extinction increased by an order of magnitude − that is, around tenfold. Although new species emerged, it was another 6.9 million years before recovery was complete.

“However, present extinction rates in European freshwater gastropods are three orders of magnitude higher than even these revised estimates for the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction,” the researchers write. That is, present extinction rates are already 1,000 times faster than one unpredictable moment of global devastation 66 million years ago. It follows that extinction rates must be four orders of magnitude − 10,000 times − faster than in a period of evolutionary stability.

Snails matter too

That life’s evolution has been marked by periodic extinction has been firmly settled for more than a century, and an overload of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been an agent of at least one of them, and perhaps an actor in all.

What alarms today’s biologists is that they can see it all happening again, as human numbers grow and human economies alter the planetary atmosphere. And they have said so, repeatedly.

In this study, they spell it out it again. “The current biodiversity crisis appears even more drastic, with species being lost at a much faster pace. Our analyses suggest that 75% of all European species may be lost within centuries. Our findings provide yet additional evidence that immediate and effective action is needed to protect biodiversity,” they write.

Just in case anybody thinks freshwater snails don’t matter to humans, they do. They are part of a functioning ecosystem on which terrestrial life depends.

“Losing species entails changes in species communities and, in the long run, this affects ecosystems,” said Dr Neubauer.“We rely on functioning freshwater environments to sustain human health, nutrition and freshwater supply.” − Climate News Network

Science warns world of ‘ghastly’ future ahead

Take all the dire warnings and assessments that scientists have made. Add them up. Their answer? A ghastly future ahead.

LONDON, 19 January, 2021 − Humankind faces what 17 scientists have called “a ghastly future” − a threat to the Earth’s living things “so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.”

The dangers they pinpoint are the destruction and loss of the world’s plants and animals on an unprecedented scale; the overwhelming growth of the human population and the demand upon the world’s resources; and finally, climate disruption driven by human environmental change and fossil fuel dependence.

“This dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business and the public,” they write in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.

“We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future.”

The scientists from Australia, the US and Mexico warn that as many as a million species could soon disappear from the face of the Earth in what is widely recognised as the planet’s sixth mass extinction.

“The mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation”

Because the planetary burden of humans has doubled in just 50 years and could reach 10 bn by 2050, the world faces a future of hunger, malnutrition, mass unemployment, a refugee crisis and ever more devastating pandemics.

And human-triggered climate change will mean more fires, more frequent and intense flooding, poorer water and air quality, and worsening human health.

The authors base their portrait of an already beleaguered planet on more than 150 scientific studies, many of them on the dangerous loss of biodiversity, triggered by the human-wrought changes to 70% of the planet’s land surface. With this loss goes the Earth’s ability to support complex life.

“But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation,” said Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in Australia, the lead author.

“The problem is compounded by ignorance and short-term self-interest, with the pursuit of wealth and political interests stymying the action that is crucial for survival.”

Familiar litany

Most of the world’s economies, the authors argue, are predicated on the political belief that meaningful counter-action would be too costly to be politically palatable. “Combined with financed disinformation campaigns in a bid to protect short-term profits, it is doubtful that any needed shift in economic investments of sufficient scale will be made in time.”

Importantly, the scientists who have signed the paper bring no new information: they simply attempt to put into perspective a series of findings that have been confirmed repeatedly.

Two-fifths of the world’s plant species are endangered; the collective mass of wild mammals worldwide has fallen by 25%; and 68% of vertebrate species have declined; much of this in the last century or so.

Humans and their domestic animals now add up to 95% of the mass of all vertebrates: the wild mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians constitute just 5% of surviving creation.

And the structures that humans have fashioned − roads, buildings and so on − now outweigh the animals and plants on Earth.

With the loss of wilderness comes the loss of what researchers call natural capital and ecosystem services: the reduced pollination of crops, the degradation of soils, poorer air and water supplies, and so on.

Summons to act

In 1960, humans had already requisitioned around 73% of the planet’s regenerative capacity: that is, what humans demanded was still within the limits of the sustainable. In 2016, this demand had grown to an unsustainable 170%.

Around 700 to 800 million people are starving, and between one and two billion are malnourished. Population growth sparks both internal and international conflict and is in turn exacerbated by climate change driven by ever-higher global average temperatures.

The potential count of what researchers call environmental refugees − people driven from their homes by drought, poverty, civil war, flooding or heat extremes − has been set at anywhere between 25 million and 1bn by 2050.

And the scientists warn of political impotence: what nations and national leaders are doing to address any of these issues is ineffective in the face of what they call humanity’s “ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for boosting incomes in the short term.”

They write: “Ours is not a call to surrender − we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future.” − Climate News Network

Take all the dire warnings and assessments that scientists have made. Add them up. Their answer? A ghastly future ahead.

LONDON, 19 January, 2021 − Humankind faces what 17 scientists have called “a ghastly future” − a threat to the Earth’s living things “so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.”

The dangers they pinpoint are the destruction and loss of the world’s plants and animals on an unprecedented scale; the overwhelming growth of the human population and the demand upon the world’s resources; and finally, climate disruption driven by human environmental change and fossil fuel dependence.

“This dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business and the public,” they write in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.

“We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future.”

The scientists from Australia, the US and Mexico warn that as many as a million species could soon disappear from the face of the Earth in what is widely recognised as the planet’s sixth mass extinction.

“The mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation”

Because the planetary burden of humans has doubled in just 50 years and could reach 10 bn by 2050, the world faces a future of hunger, malnutrition, mass unemployment, a refugee crisis and ever more devastating pandemics.

And human-triggered climate change will mean more fires, more frequent and intense flooding, poorer water and air quality, and worsening human health.

The authors base their portrait of an already beleaguered planet on more than 150 scientific studies, many of them on the dangerous loss of biodiversity, triggered by the human-wrought changes to 70% of the planet’s land surface. With this loss goes the Earth’s ability to support complex life.

“But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation,” said Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in Australia, the lead author.

“The problem is compounded by ignorance and short-term self-interest, with the pursuit of wealth and political interests stymying the action that is crucial for survival.”

Familiar litany

Most of the world’s economies, the authors argue, are predicated on the political belief that meaningful counter-action would be too costly to be politically palatable. “Combined with financed disinformation campaigns in a bid to protect short-term profits, it is doubtful that any needed shift in economic investments of sufficient scale will be made in time.”

Importantly, the scientists who have signed the paper bring no new information: they simply attempt to put into perspective a series of findings that have been confirmed repeatedly.

Two-fifths of the world’s plant species are endangered; the collective mass of wild mammals worldwide has fallen by 25%; and 68% of vertebrate species have declined; much of this in the last century or so.

Humans and their domestic animals now add up to 95% of the mass of all vertebrates: the wild mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians constitute just 5% of surviving creation.

And the structures that humans have fashioned − roads, buildings and so on − now outweigh the animals and plants on Earth.

With the loss of wilderness comes the loss of what researchers call natural capital and ecosystem services: the reduced pollination of crops, the degradation of soils, poorer air and water supplies, and so on.

Summons to act

In 1960, humans had already requisitioned around 73% of the planet’s regenerative capacity: that is, what humans demanded was still within the limits of the sustainable. In 2016, this demand had grown to an unsustainable 170%.

Around 700 to 800 million people are starving, and between one and two billion are malnourished. Population growth sparks both internal and international conflict and is in turn exacerbated by climate change driven by ever-higher global average temperatures.

The potential count of what researchers call environmental refugees − people driven from their homes by drought, poverty, civil war, flooding or heat extremes − has been set at anywhere between 25 million and 1bn by 2050.

And the scientists warn of political impotence: what nations and national leaders are doing to address any of these issues is ineffective in the face of what they call humanity’s “ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for boosting incomes in the short term.”

They write: “Ours is not a call to surrender − we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future.” − Climate News Network

Human handiwork’s mass exceeds world lifeforms

Human handiwork, all we’ve produced, now outweighs the plants and animals evolved over 3 billion years: a global takeover.

LONDON, 10 December, 2020 − Our domination of the planet may have just reached a new level: human handiwork now probably surpasses all that evolution has placed on the Earth. The mass of all the things made by humans − cities, roads, factories, houses, cars, trains, machines, bricks, concrete, steel, glass, tile, asphalt and so on − may have just overtaken the mass of all the living things on the planet.

Among those living things now being outweighed by buildings and roads are all seven billion-plus people on the planet and all their livestock, their cornfields and rice paddies, orchards and gardens.

This conclusion − open to challenge and difficult to establish with immediate certainty − is a fresh and startling measure of the scale of human change to the planet, and of the speed at which it has happened.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the mass of human-produced infrastructure probably added up to just 3% of the mass of the planet’s living tissue: its forests and savannahs, wetlands and scrub, its mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects and microbes.

But in the course of little more than a century, says a new study in the journal Nature, two things happened. The human population increased fourfold, and with those numbers so did human demand for manufactured things and built objects.

Forests erased

Humans’ demand for farmland has cleared the wilderness and reduced the overall mass of planetary foliage by about half.

Even though humans use ever more land for crops, the mass of those crops is vastly outweighed by the mass of trees and other forest plants cleared to make room for soy, or maize.

Once the planet was home to 2 trillion tonnes, or 2 teratonnes, of natural vegetable life. Now the tally of the green wilderness has been reduced to about 1 teratonne, according to researchers who have embarked on this global accounting of human profit and natural loss.

But the burden of human-fashioned hardware has been growing at around 30 billion tonnes a year, doubled in mass every 20 years or so, and is now estimated at 1.1 teratonnes.

In effect, a species that now numbers about 7.7 bn, and still adds up to only about 0.01% of global biomass, has quarried, mined, and built over so much of the planet that its infrastructure weighs more than the rest of living creation.

“If current trends continue, anthropogenic mass, including waste, is expected to exceed 3 teratonnes [3tn tonnes] by 2040 − almost triple the dry biomass on Earth”

Even the output of the plastics industries, at eight billion tonnes, adds up to more than twice the mass of all the planet’s animals.

Conclusions of this kind rest on how measurements are arrived at. And there is room for error. Ron Milo of the Weizmann Institute for Science in Israel and his colleagues settled for estimates of the dry weight of living things − that is, tissue as if without water − and this skews the raw figures, because humans and other animals are around 60% water by weight. If the same estimates were made with wet tissue, then the outcome would be different, but not very different.

If so, Professor Milo and his fellow authors suggest that the great crossover could be happening now, or in the next few years. But equally, human handiwork might already have reached its zenith in the last decade.

Either way, the broad conclusion remains the same. The scale of the takeover of the planet by one species is almost complete, and could be devastating to the rest of the natural world.

“The study provides a sort of ‘big picture’ snapshot of the planet in 2020. This overview can provide a crucial understanding of our major role in shaping the face of the Earth in the current age of the Anthropocene,” Professor Milo said.

“The message to both the policy makers and the general public is that we cannot dismiss our role as a tiny one in comparison to the huge Earth. We are already a major player and I think with that comes a shared responsibility.”

Rollcall of devastation

This study is yet another in a long series that demonstrates the now-overwhelming impact of human handiwork upon the environment in which they evolved. Two years ago Professor Milo and colleagues made estimates of the mass of all things living on planet Earth, and confirmed that humans probably outweighed by a factor of ten the mass of all other living wild mammals.

Another team tried to calculate the mass of the human technosphere − once again, all the things humans have ever made − and reached a figure of 30 trillion tonnes.

In the course of the last century or so, profligate human use of fossil fuels may have precipitated a new climate regime, halted the cycle of Ice Ages and reversed a 50 million-year cooling trend.

Geologists who argue that human handiwork has now shifted the planet into a new geological epoch − one still unofficially known as the Anthropocene − have compiled a devastating catalogue of change to the natural world. Other groups have also highlighted the human appropriation of the planet’s land and water, and its toll upon millions of other species with which humanity shares the sunlight.

Professor Milo and his colleagues settled for a more simple illustration. They reckon that for the last five years, humans have been accumulating anthropogenic mass − roads and buildings − at the rate of 30 billion tonnes a year. This is as if every person on the planet produced more than his or her own bodyweight in tarmac and bricks, cement and steel, every week.

They warn: “If current trends continue, anthropogenic mass, including waste, is expected to exceed 3 teratonnes by 2040 − almost triple the dry biomass on Earth.” − Climate News Network

Human handiwork, all we’ve produced, now outweighs the plants and animals evolved over 3 billion years: a global takeover.

LONDON, 10 December, 2020 − Our domination of the planet may have just reached a new level: human handiwork now probably surpasses all that evolution has placed on the Earth. The mass of all the things made by humans − cities, roads, factories, houses, cars, trains, machines, bricks, concrete, steel, glass, tile, asphalt and so on − may have just overtaken the mass of all the living things on the planet.

Among those living things now being outweighed by buildings and roads are all seven billion-plus people on the planet and all their livestock, their cornfields and rice paddies, orchards and gardens.

This conclusion − open to challenge and difficult to establish with immediate certainty − is a fresh and startling measure of the scale of human change to the planet, and of the speed at which it has happened.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the mass of human-produced infrastructure probably added up to just 3% of the mass of the planet’s living tissue: its forests and savannahs, wetlands and scrub, its mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects and microbes.

But in the course of little more than a century, says a new study in the journal Nature, two things happened. The human population increased fourfold, and with those numbers so did human demand for manufactured things and built objects.

Forests erased

Humans’ demand for farmland has cleared the wilderness and reduced the overall mass of planetary foliage by about half.

Even though humans use ever more land for crops, the mass of those crops is vastly outweighed by the mass of trees and other forest plants cleared to make room for soy, or maize.

Once the planet was home to 2 trillion tonnes, or 2 teratonnes, of natural vegetable life. Now the tally of the green wilderness has been reduced to about 1 teratonne, according to researchers who have embarked on this global accounting of human profit and natural loss.

But the burden of human-fashioned hardware has been growing at around 30 billion tonnes a year, doubled in mass every 20 years or so, and is now estimated at 1.1 teratonnes.

In effect, a species that now numbers about 7.7 bn, and still adds up to only about 0.01% of global biomass, has quarried, mined, and built over so much of the planet that its infrastructure weighs more than the rest of living creation.

“If current trends continue, anthropogenic mass, including waste, is expected to exceed 3 teratonnes [3tn tonnes] by 2040 − almost triple the dry biomass on Earth”

Even the output of the plastics industries, at eight billion tonnes, adds up to more than twice the mass of all the planet’s animals.

Conclusions of this kind rest on how measurements are arrived at. And there is room for error. Ron Milo of the Weizmann Institute for Science in Israel and his colleagues settled for estimates of the dry weight of living things − that is, tissue as if without water − and this skews the raw figures, because humans and other animals are around 60% water by weight. If the same estimates were made with wet tissue, then the outcome would be different, but not very different.

If so, Professor Milo and his fellow authors suggest that the great crossover could be happening now, or in the next few years. But equally, human handiwork might already have reached its zenith in the last decade.

Either way, the broad conclusion remains the same. The scale of the takeover of the planet by one species is almost complete, and could be devastating to the rest of the natural world.

“The study provides a sort of ‘big picture’ snapshot of the planet in 2020. This overview can provide a crucial understanding of our major role in shaping the face of the Earth in the current age of the Anthropocene,” Professor Milo said.

“The message to both the policy makers and the general public is that we cannot dismiss our role as a tiny one in comparison to the huge Earth. We are already a major player and I think with that comes a shared responsibility.”

Rollcall of devastation

This study is yet another in a long series that demonstrates the now-overwhelming impact of human handiwork upon the environment in which they evolved. Two years ago Professor Milo and colleagues made estimates of the mass of all things living on planet Earth, and confirmed that humans probably outweighed by a factor of ten the mass of all other living wild mammals.

Another team tried to calculate the mass of the human technosphere − once again, all the things humans have ever made − and reached a figure of 30 trillion tonnes.

In the course of the last century or so, profligate human use of fossil fuels may have precipitated a new climate regime, halted the cycle of Ice Ages and reversed a 50 million-year cooling trend.

Geologists who argue that human handiwork has now shifted the planet into a new geological epoch − one still unofficially known as the Anthropocene − have compiled a devastating catalogue of change to the natural world. Other groups have also highlighted the human appropriation of the planet’s land and water, and its toll upon millions of other species with which humanity shares the sunlight.

Professor Milo and his colleagues settled for a more simple illustration. They reckon that for the last five years, humans have been accumulating anthropogenic mass − roads and buildings − at the rate of 30 billion tonnes a year. This is as if every person on the planet produced more than his or her own bodyweight in tarmac and bricks, cement and steel, every week.

They warn: “If current trends continue, anthropogenic mass, including waste, is expected to exceed 3 teratonnes by 2040 − almost triple the dry biomass on Earth.” − Climate News Network

Geology’s human footprint is enough to spur rage

Once again science has presented evidence that a new geological epoch is here. This human footprint is all our own work.

LONDON, 21 October, 2020 − The human footprint has left its mark on Earth, in every sense. The United States alone is scarred by 500,000 abandoned mines and quarries.

Right now, worldwide, there are more than 500,000 active quarries and pits, employing 4 million people, excavating the sand and gravel needed for new roads, new homes and new megacities.

Humans have not simply pitted the face of the Earth, they have paved it. In 1904, beyond the cities, the US had just 225 km of sealed highway. Now it has 4.3m km of asphalt or concrete roadway, consuming more than 20 billion tonnes of sand and gravel.

By comparison, the Great Wall of China, the biggest and most enduring construction in early human history, contains just 0.4bn tonnes of stone.

Humans have changed the face of the waters. In 1950, trawlers, long-liners and purse seiners fished just 1% of the high seas beyond territorial waters. No fish species of any kind was considered over-exploited or depleted.

Extinction threat widens

Less than one human lifetime on, fishing fleets roam 63% of the high seas and 87% of fish species are exploited, over-exploited or in a state of collapse. Meanwhile somewhere between 5m and almost 13 million tons of discarded plastics flow each year into the sea.

Humans and human livestock now far outweigh all other mammalian life. At least 96% of the mass of all mammals is represented by humans and their domesticated animals. Domestic poultry makes up 70% of the mass of all living birds. The natural world is now endangered, with a million species at risk of extinction.

And humans have left an almost indelible radiant signature over the entire global surface: between 1950 and 1980, nations detonated more than 500 thermonuclear weapons to smear the air and surface of the planet with radioactive materials: one of these, plutonium-239, will be detectable for the next 100,000 years.

The catalogue of planetary devastation that is the human footprint is assembled in a new study by US and European scientists in the journal Nature Communications: Earth and Environment. It is part of a fresh attempt to settle a seemingly academic question of geological bureaucracy, the naming of ages.

“We humans collectively got ourselves into this mess, we need to work together to reverse these environmental trends and dig ourselves out of it”

The 11,000-year interval since the end of the last Ice Age and the dawn of agriculture, metal smelting, and the first cities, cultures and empires is still formally identified as the Holocene. The latest study of the human legacy is just another salvo in the campaign to announce and confirm the launch of an entirely new epoch, to be called the Anthropocene.

In fact, environmental campaigners, biologists and geophysicists have for years been informally calling the last six or seven decades the Anthropocene. But the authority with the last word on internationally-agreed geological labels − the International Commission on Stratigraphy − has yet to confirm the launch of the new geological epoch.

To help confirm the case for change, researchers have once again assembled the evidence and identified at least 16 ways in which humans have dramatically altered the planet since 1950, and the beginning of what is sometimes called The Great Acceleration.

For instance, humans have doubled the quantity of fixed nitrogen in the biosphere, created an alarming hole in the stratospheric ozone layer, released enough gases to raise the planetary temperature and precipitate global climate change, fashioned or forged perhaps 180,000 kinds of mineral (by comparison, only about 5,300 occur naturally) and − with dams, drains, wells, irrigation, and hydraulic engineering − effectively replumbed the world’s river systems.

Ineradicable scar

By forging metals and building structures, humans have become the greatest earth-moving force on the planet, and left a mark that will endure for aeons.

Altogether, humans have altered the world’s rivers, lakes, coastlines, vegetation, soils, chemistry and climate. The study makes grim reading.

“This is the first time that humans have documented humanity’s geological footprint on such a comprehensive scale in a single publication,” said Jaia Syvitski, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who led the research team that assembled the evidence.

“We humans collectively got ourselves into this mess, we need to work together to reverse these environmental trends and dig ourselves out of it.

“Society shouldn’t feel complacent. Few people who read the manuscript should come away without emotions bubbling up, like rage, grief and even fear.” − Climate News Network

Once again science has presented evidence that a new geological epoch is here. This human footprint is all our own work.

LONDON, 21 October, 2020 − The human footprint has left its mark on Earth, in every sense. The United States alone is scarred by 500,000 abandoned mines and quarries.

Right now, worldwide, there are more than 500,000 active quarries and pits, employing 4 million people, excavating the sand and gravel needed for new roads, new homes and new megacities.

Humans have not simply pitted the face of the Earth, they have paved it. In 1904, beyond the cities, the US had just 225 km of sealed highway. Now it has 4.3m km of asphalt or concrete roadway, consuming more than 20 billion tonnes of sand and gravel.

By comparison, the Great Wall of China, the biggest and most enduring construction in early human history, contains just 0.4bn tonnes of stone.

Humans have changed the face of the waters. In 1950, trawlers, long-liners and purse seiners fished just 1% of the high seas beyond territorial waters. No fish species of any kind was considered over-exploited or depleted.

Extinction threat widens

Less than one human lifetime on, fishing fleets roam 63% of the high seas and 87% of fish species are exploited, over-exploited or in a state of collapse. Meanwhile somewhere between 5m and almost 13 million tons of discarded plastics flow each year into the sea.

Humans and human livestock now far outweigh all other mammalian life. At least 96% of the mass of all mammals is represented by humans and their domesticated animals. Domestic poultry makes up 70% of the mass of all living birds. The natural world is now endangered, with a million species at risk of extinction.

And humans have left an almost indelible radiant signature over the entire global surface: between 1950 and 1980, nations detonated more than 500 thermonuclear weapons to smear the air and surface of the planet with radioactive materials: one of these, plutonium-239, will be detectable for the next 100,000 years.

The catalogue of planetary devastation that is the human footprint is assembled in a new study by US and European scientists in the journal Nature Communications: Earth and Environment. It is part of a fresh attempt to settle a seemingly academic question of geological bureaucracy, the naming of ages.

“We humans collectively got ourselves into this mess, we need to work together to reverse these environmental trends and dig ourselves out of it”

The 11,000-year interval since the end of the last Ice Age and the dawn of agriculture, metal smelting, and the first cities, cultures and empires is still formally identified as the Holocene. The latest study of the human legacy is just another salvo in the campaign to announce and confirm the launch of an entirely new epoch, to be called the Anthropocene.

In fact, environmental campaigners, biologists and geophysicists have for years been informally calling the last six or seven decades the Anthropocene. But the authority with the last word on internationally-agreed geological labels − the International Commission on Stratigraphy − has yet to confirm the launch of the new geological epoch.

To help confirm the case for change, researchers have once again assembled the evidence and identified at least 16 ways in which humans have dramatically altered the planet since 1950, and the beginning of what is sometimes called The Great Acceleration.

For instance, humans have doubled the quantity of fixed nitrogen in the biosphere, created an alarming hole in the stratospheric ozone layer, released enough gases to raise the planetary temperature and precipitate global climate change, fashioned or forged perhaps 180,000 kinds of mineral (by comparison, only about 5,300 occur naturally) and − with dams, drains, wells, irrigation, and hydraulic engineering − effectively replumbed the world’s river systems.

Ineradicable scar

By forging metals and building structures, humans have become the greatest earth-moving force on the planet, and left a mark that will endure for aeons.

Altogether, humans have altered the world’s rivers, lakes, coastlines, vegetation, soils, chemistry and climate. The study makes grim reading.

“This is the first time that humans have documented humanity’s geological footprint on such a comprehensive scale in a single publication,” said Jaia Syvitski, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who led the research team that assembled the evidence.

“We humans collectively got ourselves into this mess, we need to work together to reverse these environmental trends and dig ourselves out of it.

“Society shouldn’t feel complacent. Few people who read the manuscript should come away without emotions bubbling up, like rage, grief and even fear.” − Climate News Network