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Has Earth Entered the Age of Humans?

December 23, 2015

It’s as much philosophy as science — essentially asking, “Are humans that big of a deal?”

An international commission is expected to announce whether Earth has entered a new geologic epoch — one that puts humans front-and-center. 

The decision will consider whether we have made enough lasting changes to the planet to warrant a shift from the Holocene to a new epoch:  the Anthropocene — with "anthro" meaning human.

It’s being debated by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the group that standardizes names and dates for periods of Earth history.

Supporters argue human-caused changes to climate, land, oceans, plants and animals are on scale with other major shifts in Earth’s geologic history.

Detractors say it’s nothing but pop-science.

If the Anthropocene is adopted, the commission will also have to decide exactly when it began — the advent of human agriculture? The age of exploration? The industrial revolution? The atomic age?

And the length of that debate could give a new meaning to the concept of geologic time.

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Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes, Washington. Developments like this are fueling scientists' debate whether the Earth has entered a new human-shaped era, called the Anthropocene age.

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