Published on Jul 9, 2017
An ocean that contains as much plastic as fish, an atmosphere filled with CO2 choking the whole mankind and mass extinction of animals. The destructive influence of mankind will be at least as disastrous as the asteroid element that wiped the dinosaurs off the planet. Reason for Dutch scientist Paul Crutzen to introduce a new geological period: the Anthropocene, or the age of mankind.
Original title: Tijdperk van de mens
German explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was one of the first to see how everything in an ecosystem is connected. Von Humboldt introduced the idea of the Earth as a living organism in Western thinking, which eventually became the basis for the later environmental movement. Geologists from now see the impact of mankind at an increasing pace: climate warming, plastic soup, nuclear fallout, a disturbed water supply through erosion and tar sands, higher CO2 concentrations and diminishing biodiversity.
During the last century, the influence of mankind on our Earth and atmosphere has become so great that it is judged by some scientists to be irreversible. To name this influence, a group of geologists recently proposed to date the Anthropocene back to 1950, with the exponential growth of the fossil economy. But earlier it was also discussed that the beginning of the industrial revolution was the starting point, or the first forms of agriculture or even the first mining in the Stone Age.
The influence of mankind on the Earth is so great that next generations will be able to see it back in the Earth’s layers over hundreds of thousands of years. But if mankind really creates its own geological period, how can we deal with it in an adult way without reliance on a naive belief such as the self-solving ability of God or nature? How can mankind take responsibility and benefit from its influence? We are also finding solutions for climate change and depletion of our mineral resources here on Earth: from the cultivation of cucumbers in the desert, the mining of platinum into the space to the regreening of eroded land. Are these breakthrough just a bandaid on an hemorrhage or can mankind shape the Anthropocene by means of technological intervention so that we meet a viable future?
With: Andrea Wulf (historian and author of ‘The Inventor of Nature’, a biography of explorer Alexander von Humboldt), Bruno Latour (philosopher associated with Sciences Po in Paris and author of, among others, Facing Gaia. Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime ‘) and Phil Gibbard (British geologist setting up a working group to see if the Anthropocene can be introduced as an official geological term).
Originally broadcasted by VPRO in 2017.
© VPRO Backlight January 2017