It’s not Ebola. It’s you and me.
Sometime during the last few hundred years, perhaps it was a Tuesday, we changed ages and entered the Anthropocene Age. A quick glance over your shoulder and you may have seen the back end of the Holocene Age spiralling off into the distance.
It was about time. It had been ages since we’d had a decent epoch update.
As far as ages go, the Holocene was short; a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it era, lasting barely 12,000 years. Its predecessor, the Pleistocene Age was a member of the old school of geological epochs, weighing in at a respectable 1.8 million years. The Holocene was the post Ice-Age period when Earth slowly warmed. It also coincided with the growth and development of our species.
So what’s this new age all about?
Anthropocene literally means ‘new human’. It’s all about you and me; members of that rapacious species known as Homo-sapiens.
A growing number of scientists believe we are living in a new geological epoch in which humans have become the most “globally potent bio-geophysical force”. We now influence the Earth on a scale similar to the great forces of nature such as volcanoes and earthquakes. There are now so many of us, using so many resources, that we’re disrupting the age old cycles of biology, chemistry and geology by which elements like carbon and nitrogen circulate between land, sea and atmosphere. We’re changing the way water moves around the globe and we’ve altered most of the global ecosystems.
According to the dispassionate men and women in white coats, we are slap bang in the midst of a mini-epoch known as the 'great acceleration', which began in the 1950s and has seen an exponential growth in our presence and our demands on the planet. We are finding it difficult to lift our heavy foot off the accelerator. We are locked into our self-serving epoch of entitlement.
Humans on the Earth behave in some ways like a pathogenic organism, or like the cells of a tumour or neoplasm. We have grown in numbers and disturbance to Gaia, to the point where our presence is perceptibly disturbing … the human species is now so numerous as to constitute a serious planetary malady. Gaia is suffering from Disseminated Primatemaia, a plague of people.
It took tens of thousands of years for the population of human beings to reach 2 billion. It did so in 1928, the year my father was born. Today he is 86 and the population of humans is almost 7.3 billion.
Philosopher John Gray says that human population growth over the last few hundred years resembles the spikes or peaks that occur in the plague numbers of rabbits, house mice and rats.
Humans are like any other plague animal. They cannot destroy the Earth, but they can easily wreck the environment that sustains them. The most likely outcome in which the human plague is cured is by a large scale decline in human numbers.
Naturalist Sir David Attenborough says that the only way to save the planet from famine and species extinction is to limit human population growth.
We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us.
Their comments are not unlike those of Agent Smith who tells Morpheus that ‘humans are a virus’ in the film The Matrix.
It’s unlikely the Anthropocene Age will be famous for its historical endurance. The next age already has a name. It’s waiting in the wings for its stage debut. Biologists know it as the Eremozoic Era while poets know it as the Age of Loneliness or the Era of Solitude; when most species, apart from our own, will be extinct.