By David Lameiras
The planet we inhabit has been formed in a span of 4,500 million years. Throughout that time, various events and processes have shaped our space rock and changed its characteristics.. To record and understand this trajectory, categories of time emerged from the discipline of geology: eons, eras, periods, epochs and ages; They are used to classify earth dynamics in spans of millions of years. Like Russian dolls, the aeon contains the age, which contains the period, which contains the age, which contains the age.
I will not stop to break down each one of them, I will only tell you that today we are in the megalayense age (which is estimated to have started 4,200 years ago with a drought of two centuries), from the Holocene era (which is estimated to have started 11,000 years ago with the last thaw), from the Quaternary period (which is estimated to have started 2 and a half million years ago, with the recent cycle of glaciations) of the Cenozoic era (which is estimated to have started ~ 66 million years ago with the famous asteroid mata- tell us), in the Phanerozoic Aeon (estimated to have started ~ 540 million years ago with the separation of the Pannotia / Gondwana landmass).
The purpose of locating ourselves on the geological time scale is not to stop using the Gregorian calendar, rather it helps us to dimension the drastic changes that exist between one stage and another. For example, the beginning of the Holocene epoch meant the stabilization of the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, also allowing the planet’s temperature to be maintained in the range to which all species are accustomed today. The example from the beginning of the Cenozoic era is also illustrative; the asteroid’s impact caused the fifth recorded mass extinction, drastically changing the evolutionary flux on Earth. It can be seen that the events or processes that mark the changes do not only matter for their magnitude in itself, but for the great planetary changes to which they give rise.
Humanity as a geological force
I share the previous technical brief to enter one of the most important issues that we must deal with as a human community: How do we relate to each other and to the planet that houses us?
Due to human technology, the Earth’s surface and the diverse ecosystems that exist on it have been irreversibly modified. As never before, materials such as concrete, plastic and aluminum proliferate; Hydrocarbon particles, pesticides, heavy metals, and residues of nuclear activity can be found in sediment and in ice sheets.; the flora and fauna have been homogenized according to the agricultural industry … How has the Mexican territory changed? I will only mention the disappearance due to mining activity of the Cerro de San Pedro, in San Luis Potosí, and the constant erosion of the soil by deforestation and hyper-fertilized monoculture agriculture.
This effective capacity to transform the environment will leave sequels such as the sixth mass extinction and an increase in the average temperature of the planet of between 1 and 4 degrees Celsius, among others that cannot be clearly seen in the present. That is why it has been proposed to integrate a new epoch to the geological time scale: the anthropocene, which with its etymology refers to the force that our species has exerted to shape the planet.
Due to the complexity of the concept, there is still no scientific consensus around this new era, even what the starting marker might be is still debated: Will it be the eighteenth-century industrial revolution and its race to use fossil resources to transform other non-fossil resources? Will it be the 1950s with motorization and the start of large-scale use of nuclear technology? Or will it be the shift to agriculturally based settlements more than 11 thousand years ago? Despite the diffuse beginning, it is enough to look out the window or take a look at the google earth to notice “our” force in action.
Is humanity the virus?
You might think that the Anthropocene is the name of the victimizer, victim and crime. And how not to think about it! Is it not because of us the current crisis if the increase in global temperature and deforestation enhance the transmission of infectious diseases between human and non-human animals?
But humanity is neither a virus nor a parasite; does not necessarily tend to the destruction of its environment. Proof of this is the cornfield. A planting system that associates species to benefit from each other; strengthening the soil and biodiversity while supporting the culture. Another test is terra preta, a type of soil in the Amazon whose composition of carbon, minerals and microorganisms is not found elsewhere. What secret makes her so kind? Poop composting, a practice prior to colonization. The indigenous communities of that area did not throw their poop into the water, but instead re-integrated it into the soil to give life to life.
What message do these examples bring to 2020?
Today, the Anthropocene means the anguish of thinking that our destiny is to cause-observe the collapse of what we know: piped and depleted fresh water; diseased and razed forests; Poisoned crops without biodiversity, and fossils and other plant matter converted to gaseous carbon, among other apparently suicidal habits. But if we can learn something from our past and from the resistances of the present, it is that human ability and inventiveness do not have to be directed by natural law to the capitalist-imperialist idea and practice of the domination of people and resources in pursuit of consumption and “increase”. On the contrary, if we orient our collective energy to the reproduction of life, we will be able to manifest our geological strength in communities that flourish and evolve along with the ecosystems that support them.
This, then, is the mission: resignify the Anthropocene, orienting human activity towards the regeneration of the Earth-system and of social systems. A first step that must be taken on this path is to adopt the notion of ecological condition or “belonging to nature”: we are part of the web of life that has evolved along with this rock from space, and therefore the care of that network is the care of oneself and of the human community. So, for our strength to manifest as regenerative and evolutionary, our ethics and the economy must be based on this notion, and not based on dominance, exploitation and accumulation. Thus, the agency and conscience of humanity would be at the service of this same network, cultivating the relationships and diversity of life … taking that path is a matter of deciding to do it.
David Lameiras He is an environmental activist.