With their mark on Earth, humans may name era


By Seth Borenstein, AP

WASHINGTON–People are changing Earth so much, warming and polluting it, that many scientists are turning to a new way to describe the time we live in. They’re calling it the Anthropocene �X the age of humans.

Though most non-experts don’t realize it, science calls the past 12,000 years the Holocene, Greek for ��entirely recent.�� But the way humans and their industries are altering the planet, especially its climate, has caused an increasing number of scientists to use the word ��Anthropocene�� to better describe when and where we are.

��We’re changing the Earth. There is no question about that, I’ve seen it from space,�� said eight-time spacewalking astronaut John Grunsfeld, now associate administrator for science at NASA. He said looking down from orbit, there was no place he could see on the planet that didn’t have the mark of man. So he uses the term Anthropocene, he said, ��because we’re intelligent enough to recognize it.��

Grunsfeld was in the audience of a ��Living in the Anthropocene�� symposium put on last week by the Smithsonian. At the same time, the American Association for the Advancement of Science is displaying an art exhibit, ��Fossils of the Anthropocene.�� More than 500 scientific studies have been published this year referring to the current time period as the Anthropocene.

And on Friday the Anthropocene Working Group ramps up its efforts to change the era’s name with a meeting at a Berlin museum. The movement was jump started and the name coined by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen in 2000, according to Australian National University scientist Will Steffen.

Geologists often mark new scientific time periods with what they call a golden spike �X really more of a bronze disk in the rock layer somewhere that physically points out where one scientific time period ends and another begins, said Harvard University’s Andrew Knoll, who supports the idea because ��humans have become a geologic force on the planet. The age we are living now in is really distinct.��

But instead of a golden spike in a rock, ��it’s going to be a layer of plastic that covers the planet, if not a layer of (heat-trapping) carbon,�� said W. John Kress, acting undersecretary of science for the Smithsonian. Kress said the Smithsonian is embracing the term because ��for us it kind of combines the scientific and the cultural in one word.��

It’s an ugly word, one that many people don’t understand, and it’s even hard to pronounce, Kress admitted. (It’s AN’-thruh-poh-seen.) That’s why when he opened the Smithsonian’s symposium, he said, ��We are living in the Anthropocene,�� then quickly added: ��the age of humans.��