One of the most influential and well-respected physicists, Albert Einstein, once said that “The environment is everything that isn’t me”. While his observation may seem quite obvious by stating that people cannot be trees, or grass, or icebergs, I don’t believe Einstein was ready for the shift of the geological epoch that is known to be the Anthropocene. First coined in the early 2000’s, atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen gave the present-day era a fitting name that emodies the essence of the people’s influence on the environment.
According to the article “Geologists drive golden spike toward Anthropocene’s base”, Paul Voosen states that the earliest human influence on the environment could be dated back 40,000 years ago. However, Crutzen notes the “Great Acceleration” period of the early 19th century to be the most influential. With the introduction of the Industrial Revolution came not only a flourishing of businesses and new technology, but also a population growth that affected the environment since. According to the United Nations, the population in the 1950’s (right at the beginning of this acceleration period) was around 2.5 billion people, which was a lot for post-war period. However, the population recorded in 1999 showed that nearly 6 billion people inherited the earth and around 7 billion people today. According to this rise, population could be up to 9 billion people by 2050. What will this mean for the environment?
With the growth of people comes more greenhouse gas emissions, which is one of the causes of climate change and “global warming” in the environment. But, according to Will Steffen in his video lecture on the Anthropocene, there are many other factors that affect the environment which are caused by people, such as ozone depletion and ocean acidification.
There is still controversy surrounding the globalization of the term Anthropocene to be used as a scientific term. Many believe that we have indeed moved into a geological era that has been shaped and molded by people, but there are some (including Cruztzen) who feel that more stratigraphic research on the earth’s sediment layers is needed before jumping to conclusions. Most believe, though, that the term Anthropocene does indeed give people a sort-of “warning” about what kind of influence that they have on the environment that they live in. While Einstein might have had good cause for saying what he did, I don’t think that even his intelligence could have predicted that people would not only shape but eventually become their environment.