I am a child of the Anthropocene.
In my lifetime I have leaped, not just from one century to the next, but from one geological epoch to another.
Scientists calculate the beginning of Anthropocene at roughly the mid-20th century, when World War II ended and humanity reached the 3 billion served mark.
That’s when we plunged feet first into the “Great Acceleration,” and all of our consumptive indicators suddenly jumped off the charts.
The great acceleration of population, energy use, industrialization, technological development, globalization…next-gen warfare. It’s when we filled our atmosphere with all of the detritus of our excesses, from carbon dioxide to radionuclides. When we began in earnest to alter the very face of the Earth itself with our machines and our ambitions. When we began to treat our water like dirt. On a global scale.
Talk about being there at the creation.
They weren’t kidding when they called us baby boomers. It was the booming birth of sprawl, suburbanization, highways snaking out in every direction, strip mines and oil derricks and all of the accoutrements necessary to nudge our planet into the next geological age. The booming dawn of a period of Earth’s life span when the prime force of change would be the activities of a single species.
But you can call me AM for short.
And, listen, there was nothing we couldn’t do.
We literally moved mountains to get at the coal under them. We drilled deep into the ocean bed to bring up the oil. And when conventional carbon wells seemed exhausted, we used pressurized water and chemicals to coax out the leavings.
We piled up plutonium in cooling pools, where they will remain for generations to come, so we could hard boil eggs.
Listen, there was nothing we couldn’t do with cheap oil, cheap water, cheap food, cheap mobility, cheap politics and cheap asphalt and concrete.
We split the atom and then scattered radioactive isotopes to the four corners of the world. We develop new chemicals to wash our hair, scrub our skin, debug our crops, clean our clothes. And then we spewed all of those chemicals into our air and our water and, ultimately, into our very bodies.
Sure, all of the chems we’ve been creating and absorbing may be lowering our collective intelligence and making us more susceptible to cancers and other diseases.
But that’s surely a small price to pay for the Great Acceleration.
Because the payback is The American Dream writ large. That five bed-three bath on a cul-de-sac. The McMansion. The Quarter Pounder. Donald Trump. Big shiny SUVs stacked up eight-, ten-, 12-lanes abreast as far as the eye can see and beyond.
A new new epoch.
The last epoch, Holocene, lasted 11,000 years, just long enough to create a near-perfect environment in which to grow our civilization. Imagine what AM will create.
Melt the ice cap? Why not? That’ll just open the Northwest Passage and make it even easier for us to get at all oil and gas reserves that have been hiding from us under the Arctic ice.
Stronger, wetter and more destructive hurricanes? Listen, every time one blows ashore it creates the opportunity to build bigger and more expensive beach houses and condos atop the wreckage of the ones that washed away.
Rain forests? Indonesia needs that land to grow the palm oil we need to run our cars on “clean” bio-fuels. And if we were doing proper forest management (cutting down trees) to begin with, we wouldn’t have all those fires in California. The President Of The United States says so.
Red tides? Easier to catch fish when they’re already dead.
Plastic landfills the size of cities? Our descendants will be mining them for generations to come, picking through the detritus of our greatness for the leavings.
Call it the ultimate recycling revolution.
I suppose this is all very easy to say at my age. The advantage of being born at the very dawn of the Anthropocene is that I won’t be around to witness the worst of the inevitable downsides; rising seas, mass extinctions, desertification, droughts, floods, fires, killer storms, acid oceans, exhausted fisheries, waves of climate refugees, exotic plagues, resource wars and on and on.
I’m a pioneer by birth. We break new ground and leave it to others to figure out what comes next.
Like the crew of the Enterprise, AMs are going where none have gone before.
And God help our children. And their children.
But don’t worry about the Earth. The Earth will be fine by the time we’re over and done with it. We really can’t hurt the planet.
Oh, we’ll alter it in lots of negative ways. At least for the short term.
But the Earth Abides. Always has and always will.
Our species? Different story entire.