Earlier this month, scientists announced that Earth has entered into a new geological epoch that is largely of our own making. We – that is, humans – have such a strong impact on the evolution of this planet that the next geological epoch will be called “Anthropocene,” derived from the Greek words for “man” and “new.” In one of the latest issues of the Smithsonian, journalist Ker Than observes:
The researchers conducted a review of the published scientific literature and found evidence for numerous ways that humans have changed the Earth to produce signals in ice and rock layers that will still be detectable millions of years from now. Among them: a preponderance of unique human products such as concrete, aluminum and plastics; elevated atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane; higher levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil from fertilizers and pesticides; and radionuclide fallout from above-ground nuclear weapons testing in the 20th century.
Scientists seem to agree that the Anthropocene epoch started in the mid-1950s with the detonation atomic bombs. But the latest news from the Smithsonian is that the Anthropocene epoch might be known not for our nukes, but for our plastic. Yes – plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic plates, and more and more plastic airplanes, a lot of which may be printed by 3D printers, which use plastic to print objects. According to Cara Giaimo’s report for Atlas Obscura, plastic “has redefined our material culture and the artifacts we leave behind,” and “will be found in stratified layers in our trash deposits.”
So if you were as amazed as I was by how quickly and broadly kiwi and arugula spread around the globe in the last two decades, forget it. There will be no traces of them when geologists of the distant future start their work. There might not even be enough traces of fish for geologists to pick up, I read.