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Anthropocene may be 4000 years longer than previously believed

Posted August 30, 2019

We are changing the face of our planet, but how long have we been doing that? Typically people think that since the beginning of the 20th century we’ve been the dominant force on Earth’s climate and landcover change. In fact, this geological age, called Anthropocene, is described as starting in the 20th century. But a new study from the University of Queensland showed that humans have been changing the landcover for up to 4000 years longer than we’ve previously thought.

Deforestation is one of the ways we are shaping the face of the Earth, but it is definitely not the only one. Image credit: Aidenvironment via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Anthropocene is the current geological era, which is defined as a period, when human activity has been the dominant influence on Earth’s climate and environment. This is mostly due to our extremely high population growth as well as growing industrial capabilities. In simple terms, we need more food and more stuff, which leads to more deforestation, due to growing farmland demand, and air pollution, which in turn causes climate change.

It is generally believed that these changes are happening since the 20th century. At least on a more extensive scale globally it started fairly recently, right? Industrial pollution and population growth rates would suggest exactly that, but a new study showed that human-induced landcover change was globally extensive by 2000BC. In other worlds, humans have been a dominant force on Earth’s face for over 4000 years.

How can this be? Very simple – humans have been farming for quite some time. Then add hunting, harvesting lumber, gathering and you end up having a pretty extensive cocktail of lancover changing activities. Scientists came up with these results after analysing archaeological data. Of course, the scale on which we are changing the Earth now is far greater, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is not an entirely new phenomenon – Humans have been a significant wrecking force in this planet for thousands of years.

But what does this mean for us now? Does it mean that we should feel less worse about our current impact, because it is a natural development of the events? Well, no.

We should still strive to protect our nature and promote sustainable development. In fact, we should improve our efforts. These results do not change the fact that for past couple of hundreds of years we cause havoc on our planet. However, this does present scientists with an opportunity to research long-term damage that humans have done. By studying the past, we can predict the future more accurately, which is always a good thing.

Humans will always be a dominant force on Earth’s climate and environment. Even if our impact someday will be positive, it will still be us making changes. However, we should strive to make the end of the Anthropocene victorious, when nature is thriving next to our civilization.


Source: University of Queensland

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