Geologists can’t agree if humanity has pushed the earth into a new geologic era. A photographer goes searching for evidence.
The Anthropocene (literally, “human new”) is a disputed geologic chronological term used to reference the epoch of human activity impacting the Earth’s ecosystems. Proponents of the term regard the influence of human behavior as significant enough to constitute a new geological epoch, though to date, the term has not been adopted as part of the official nomenclature of geological study. The International Union of Geological Sciences has convened a group of scholars to decide by 2016 whether to officially declare the end of the Holocene and the beginning of the new epoch.
A large part of the dispute about the legitimacy of the Anthropocene has to do with contention over what physical evidence exists of Homo sapiens in geological terms. Will human activity manifest in the rock strata as has the activity of other organisms from earlier epochs? Or are we a short phase within the Earth’s geologic timeline, assembling only transient proof?
New epoch or not, as geologists reflexively assess our body of evidence, Homo sapiens marks the first species of global-scale influence that is simultaneously aware of this fact. This self-consciousness of human experience will not survive in the fossil record.