From Le Monde, this article delineates 1995 Chemistry Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen’s contention that we have entered a new geological era: the anthropocene era (the era that follows the holocene ere, which covers the last 10,000 years – holocene meaning “entirely new”). The concept of “anthropocene” is meant to capture the increasing human impact on the biosphere.
The anthropocene era started in the 1800s with the industrial revolution and the massive use of fossil fuels. Ultimately, this is at the heart of the greenhouse gas effect and global climate change. From the 1800s until 1945 was Phase I of the anthropocene era. Since 1945 and expected to last until 2015 is Phase II, characterized by unprecedented human impact on the biosphere. According to Crutzen, humankind is now a “planetary geophysical force” upon which we must act before it’s too late and the damage is irreversible.
If human impact on the biosphere is still in Phase II, that is, still accelerating, there is a positive side: the greater human awareness of such impact and of the need to do something about it. The question is, are we up to the task? International treaties and conventions, scientific research as well as social movements have all contributed to promoting the preservation of biodiversity.
In any even, according to Crutzen, in 2015 and beyond, we will have entered Phase III when we will face three possible scenarios:
“Business as usual“: we do nothing and hope / pray that human adaptability and the market will have worked their magic to solve these problems. A risky proposal.
“Mitigation“: through better environmental management, we aim to considerably reduce our impact on the biosphere through environmental restoration and population control which will involve major changes in social values and behaviors (less consumerism and religious natalism). Nice but will that be enough?
“Climatic geo-engineering“: desperate situations require desperate and radical measures. This would involve powerful manipulation of climates on a planetary scale, such as storing excess CO2 in underground reservoirs. Radical solutions to be sure, but the remedy might be worse than what ails us.
No matter which option we end up adopting (and they are not mutually exclusive), all will be matters of political decisions and all will be matters of political action on a planetary scale, which will require some degree of global cooperation and governance. And, of course, the big polluters should be required to make the most sacrifice for the common good.