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The proposal that the impact of humanity on the planet has left a distinct footprint, even on the scale of geological time, has recently gained much ground. Global climate change, shifting global cycles of the weather, widespread pollution, radioactive fallout, plastic accumulation, species invasions, the mass extinction of species – these are just some of the many indicators that we will leave a lasting record in rock, the scientific basis for recognizing new time intervals in Earth's history.
Even with such robust evidence, the proposal to formally recognize our current time as the Anthropocene remains controversial both inside and outside the scholarly world, kindling intense debates. The reason is clear. The Anthropocene represents far more than just another interval of geologic time. Instead, the Anthropocene has emerged as a powerful new narrative, a concept through which age-old questions about the meaning of nature and even the nature of humanity are being revisited and radically revised.
This Very Short Introduction explains the science behind the Anthropocene and the many proposals about when to mark its beginning: the nuclear tests of the 1950s? The beginnings of agriculture? The origins of humans as a species? Erle Ellis considers the many ways that the Anthropocene is affecting the sciences, humanities, and politics.
2: Earth System
3: Geologic Time
4: The Great Acceleration
Erle C. Ellis is Professor of Geography and Environmental Systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). His research investigates the ecology of human landscapes at local to global scales towards informing sustainable stewardship of the biosphere in the Anthropocene. He teaches environmental science and landscape ecology at UMBC, and has taught ecology at Harvard's Graduate School of Design. Ellis is a member of the Anthropocene Working Group of the Subcommission of Quaternary Stratigraphy of the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the scientific steering committee of the Global Land Programme, formerly of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), now of its successor organization, Future Earth, and a senior fellow of the Breakthrough Institute.
"This is a controversial and complex subject. Fitting the key ideas into a limited space might leave the reader wanting more detail (for which the reference section would help) but the overall depth and grasp allow for a broader understanding of this topic. Overall, an excellent read. It scores on two levels – for the ecologist wanting to get a better grasp of the topic, and the student needing to see how and why there is such concern about current planetary trajectories."
– Paul Ganderton, The Niche (British Ecological Society magazine), June 2019