Friday, March 13, 2015

Anthropocene and Stewards of Creation

From Fig 1 of Lewis & Maslin 2015
Several fascinating papers in Nature but I should highlight SL Lewis & MA Maslin Nature 519, 171-180 (2015) "Defining the Anthropocene" which is a masterly overview of the issues. In particular there is a controversy over whether the Anthropocene should date from:
  • 1610 when there was a dip in atmospheric CO2 probably caused by the wiping out of indigenous Americans following the European conquests (largely due to pathogens) leading to fewer trees being cut down etc..
  • 1964 when there was a peak in atmospheric radiocarbon caused by testing atomic bombs.
Their concluding paragraph is worth quoting in full:
Past scientific discoveries have tended to shift perceptions away from a view of humanity as occupying the centre of the Universe. In 1543 Copernicus’s observation of the Earth revolving around the Sun demonstrated that this is not the case. The implications of Darwin’s 1859 discoveries then established that Homo sapiens is simply part of the tree of life with no special origin. Adopting the Anthropocene may reverse this trend by asserting that humans are not passive observers of Earth’s functioning. To a large extent the future of the only place where life is known to exist is being determined by the actions of humans. Yet, the power that humans wield is unlike any other force of nature, because it is reflexive and therefore can be used, withdrawn or modified. More widespread recognition that human actions are driving far-reaching changes to the life-supporting infrastructure of Earth may well have increasing philosophical, social, economic and political implications over the coming decades.
What we are seeing here is an overturning of the secular "Enlightenment" world-view which has led directly to the ecological crises that we are facing. Treating the Earth as a passive thing that can be ruthlessly exploited by an "enlightened" Man has been immensely damaging. Only by thinking of ourselves as stewards of Creation can we deal with this.

Of course to say  "Darwin’s 1859 discoveries then established that Homo sapiens is simply part of the tree of life with no special origin." is going much too far. But one must make allowances.

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