Welcome to the Anthropocene

In our Chilrdren's Hands
In our Chilrdren's Hands (Photo credit: fred1st)

I’m curious to know about the general awareness among typical Americans with this term, Anthropocene. I suppose one could do a formal polling if they had an adequate supply of potential participants. This blog no longer does. So I’ll just guess.

My guess would be that among the general public, probably 20% have heard the term, and maybe 25% of those have a pretty good understanding of its usage and significance. Those numbers will be much higher among the self-selected audience at Land’s Sake–our Earth Day event at Floyd High School on May 5.

In our effort to bring people together to consider our place in the world this new growing season, I’ll hope to guide us towards a grounding, not so much in place as in time.

We’ve been here so briefly. We’ve changed everything–the soils, the land surface, the atmosphere, hydrosphere and oceans. We have created what, in past epochs, was the degree of change in all these conditions brought about by massive world-wide volcanism, sea-floor spreading and continental drift, meteor impacts and like cataclysms. This time, we are the cataclysm.

And yet, in this proposed new geological epoch that may be called the Anthropocene (it is not yet official), there is hope that this one dominant species at cause for most of the negative impacts can, now that we know, now that we have the skills to predict and the technologies to correct, be the best hope for a sustainable future. It is those “hopeful changes” that I want to point towards in my 10:00 presentation.

The last hopeful change I’ll mention is the fact that we are now both aware of and distressed by the distance we have withdrawn from the natural world. This is most apparent in our obese, socially-awkward, indoor-cloistered young people, though it is the fault of our generation that they are so sadly de-natured.

The idea of “nature deficit disorder” is putting the outdoor world back on the maps of many American families and organizations. And it is essential that we do so. I will offer a visual essay  towards this end.

Nature is far more than a walk in the woods. It is, as I will say “everything between bedrock and the stratosphere that has always sustained our very existence, now no less than when the glaciers first retreated and civilizations took root on the land masses.” Nature holds every biome, every species, every environmental service that even in our ignorance, we depend on for a healthy, functioning and resilient planet.

Through our close-at-hand encounters with nature, we learn to grasp a local land ethic, and beyond that, a planetary ethic. If we do NOT grow quickly in this way, the Anthropocene may become mankind’s biogeophysical epitaph–a brief and lonely layer of plastic deep in the sands of time.

▶ Highly recommended: A Vimeo short film with narration called Welcome to the Anthropocene. 

I will make my full resource list available here after the Land’s Sake event. — Fred


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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I would guess you’re overestimating the understanding of that term by at least a factor of 5. I consider myself pretty widely read (at least in terms of science news and such) and have only ever encountered it on your blog.

  2. I know it but I am one who has been fretting about Man’s impact on the planet for the last forty years so I guess I am not your ‘normal’ middle-aged woman?

    btw I quite like it when folk speak in tongues 🙂

  3. You are speaking with your tongue and an added disrespect to those that don’t know the lingo. Isn’t that the goal of all things? Learn a new vocabulary, compete with your classmates, and everyone else is a dumbass. Ignorant maybe, not stupid.

    I thought I knew what geology was. I equated it to some grade school classes labeled Earth Science. Generally it was focused on solid stuff such as dirt, soil, minerals, rocks, and anything else found in the ground or underground. I didn’t forget fossils or fossil fuels. Isn’t it all natural? Using stuff is natural too. Drawing the lines of exploitation is difficult when the present needs continue to grow.

    One old paperback dictionary suggests I was mostly correct. It says it is the science that deals with the history of the earth and it’s changes. Especially as it is recorded in it’s rocks.

    It’s fine with me if suddenly the nerds can debate if this new term should be widely accepted or even fit into the category of records in rocks. What’s the latest speculation about what type of stuff will be formed in our landfills a billion years from now?

    This human era is just another thing, a small blip on the big screen. I agree with and support your views, but I don’t discount the geology of the greater past when huge changes occured and mankind was still a mere bug with little impact on much. Those things will never be controlled.

    All efforts to consume responsibly are in our best interest. Finite is still a word that applies to some items. A lifetime of conversations hasn’t figured out how to sustain anything, or most importantly, the population of consumers.