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A Planet to Spare
A new epoch—the Anthropocene—has begun say an international group of geo-scientists, in a paper published in the journal Science. They point to waste disposal, fossil fuel combustion, increased fertilizer use, the testing and dropping of nuclear weapons, deforestation, and more as evidence that human activity has pushed the Earth into the new age that takes its name from the Greek anthropos, or human being.
Industrialization. "More than half the earth's surface has been transformed into settlements and cities, agricultural land, mines, waste dumps, baseball diamonds, and beyond," writes journalist Eric Roston at Bloomberg. What's more, he adds, "Mineral mining moves three times more sediment every year than all the world's rivers."
Plastics everywhere. "Even most mud samples taken from remote ocean beds now contain plastic fragments," academics Mark Williams and Jan A. Zalasiewicz write for The Conversation. "Buried in sediment, these materials may be preserved over geological timescales, forming new rocks and rapidly-evolving 'technofossils' for our descendants to marvel at."
Biologic changes. "We've pushed extinction rates of flora and fauna far above the long-term average," the Guardian reports. "The Earth is now on course for a sixth mass extinction which would see 75% of species extinct in the next few centuries if current trends continue."
Nuclear fallout. "Our war efforts have left their mark on geology," notes New Scientist. "When the first nuclear weapon was detonated on 16 July 1945 in New Mexico, it deposited radionuclides—atoms with excess nuclear energy—across a wide area. Since 1952, more explosive thermonuclear weapons have been tested, leaving a global signature of isotopes such as carbon-14 and plutonium-239."
Greenhouse gas levels. Geo-scientists point out, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are higher than they've ever been. "Depending on the trajectory of future anthropogenic forcing, these trends may reach or exceed the envelope of Quaternary interglacial conditions," the study authors write—in other words, conditions could become more extreme than in previous ice ages.
The expression “anthropocene may not actually be the appropriate description according to Jason Moore and others who argue that it is more historically accurate to understand humanity’s effects upon ecology as “the capitalocene". It is only during the relatively brief period of history when capitalism has existed and ruled the world system that human social organisation has developed the capacity and compulsion to transform Earth eco-systems. The human destruction of the planet’s environment is best explained by capitalism’s endless pursuit of profit and accumulation of capital.