Birth of Anthropocene

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Birth of Anthropocene

CHANG HYE-SOO
The author is the head of the sports team at the JoongAngIlbo.


A single term can be used differently in different fields of study. For example, “recorded history” refers to the period when humans left written records on history, dealing with the post-homo sapiens era. Recorded history is used in contrast to prehistory.

In geology, the term refers to the time after the appearance of mankind, in comparison to the geologic age, which is studied through geological evidence such as strata and fossils instead of traces from mankind. The study began after the 18th century.

One branch of the study is paleontology. While researching fossils, several examples were found of animals going through radical changes. The geological time scale goes from eons, eras, periods, epochs and ages.

Why did the fauna change so drastically? In geology, mass extinction is considered a main cause. For some reason, living organisms disappeared, and new ones appeared through evolution.

There have been five mass extinctions until now. The first was Ordovician-Silurian extinction 450 million years ago. The second is Late Devonian-Carboniferous extinction 370 million years ago. The third was Permian-Triassic extinction 252 million years ago, and the fourth was Triassic-Jurassic extinction 200 million years ago. The fifth was Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction 66 million years ago.

The fourth Cenozoic era that began 2.6 million years ago is divided into Pleistocene Epoch and Holocene Epoch, and the boundary is the point when human civilization began 10,000 years ago after the last Ice Age ended. Some argue that the present needs to be named as a new geological epoch rather than Holocene. They suggest, “Anthropocene.”

The term was first used by Soviet scientists in the 1960s. American ecologist Eugene Stoermer and Dutch chemist Paul Crutzen began using the term in the context that human activities changed the environment of Earth. Crutzen, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1995 with his study on the cause of ozone layer destruction, popularized the term Anthropocene in 2000.

On Jan. 28, Dr. Crutzen passed away at the age of 87. Despite his efforts to prevent human extinction, many scientific evidences warn that the sixth mass extinction has already begun. In the far future after the sixth mass extinction, plastic wastes, greenhouse gas, traces of nuclear test fallout and even the chicken bones would be the indicators of Anthropocene. This is the story of us that we cannot laugh off, not about the dinosaurs from a long time ago.
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