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Anthropocene: The Unofficial Epoch

Humanity has reached a point where virtually every living person has experienced or at least has heard about the Climate Crisis. The pervasive apocalyptic narration pictures the issue as urgent and hopeless, calling for immediate action and leaving people with a feeling of powerlessness at the same time. An effort made by an individual is said to have an impact and no impact at the same time, at least that is the contradictory message coming from the mainstream media (Fisher et al., 2012). The aforementioned contradictions are not the only ones present in the debate; if one would follow the media coverage of the Climate Crisis-related problems one might come to a conclusion that there are still many aspects of the problem that remain uncertain or disputed by the scientists, therefore there is not enough data and knowledge to determine if humans have played any role in the current situation on the planet. However, this conclusion would be wrong. Regardless of the information shared by the mainstream media, the scientific consensus on Climate Change is clear and unambiguous: “Earth's climate is being affected by human activities.” (Oreskes, 2004). The frequent and repeated inconsistencies between the opinion of the scientists and the media coverage, decreasing trust in experts’ opinions, and multiple contradictions are characteristic of the Anthropocene – the epoch of the human.

Figure 2: Darkened Cities, San Francisco

The Problem of Naming

A proposition to name the current geological epoch the Anthropocene was put forward by Paul J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer in their article ‘The “Anthropocene”’ in May 2000 (Crutzen & Stoermer, 2000). They decided to introduce this name to “emphasize the central role of mankind in geology and ecology”, and to recognize the unimaginable impact that human actions have on the Earth, its climate, and its atmosphere (Crutzen & Stoermer, 2000). As clarified later by Crutzen and Jonathan Williams, the name Anthropocene comes from “‘Anthropo-’ meaning human and ‘-cene’ meaning new” (Williams & Crutzen, 2013) and it is supposed to highlight the fact that humankind has become a geological force, in other words, “they have ‘written themselves’ into the rocks of the earth.” (Rickards, 2015). The name Anthropocene, however, is still not officially accepted by the International Union of Geologic Sciences (IUGS) as the next epoch in the Cenozoic era after Holocene, which technically is still the epoch we currently live in. The process of defining new epochs in geology is long, complicated, and formal: to finalize, or even propose an epoch “[g]lobal-scale changes must be recorded in geological stratigraphic material.” (Lewis & Maslin, 2015).

Regardless of the fact that Anthropocene has not yet been accepted as the official name of the epoch, it is already recognized and widely used by scholars of different disciplines, including Cultural Studies. Therefore, the Anthropocene virtually functions as the epoch’s name already, even though it is still waiting for the International Union of Geologic Sciences' official approval. However, this is not the only controversy connected to the name. As already established in the previous fragment, ‘Anthropo’ means human, therefore it puts the whole people kind in the spotlight and in the center of the discourse around the causes (and possible solutions) of the Climate Crisis, namely, who should be considered guilty and who should be held accountable. In order to focus on the particular group or a problem responsible for the current state of things, various scholars proposed different names such as Capitalocene (proposed by Andreas Malm, Jason W. Moore, and Donna J. Haraway), Necrocene (proposed by Justin McBrien), Cthulucen (proposed by Donna J. Haraway), and more (Binczyk, 2019). One thing that all the proposed names have in common is the human factor – in the end they all focus on a particular group of people, or on a system developed by them. That leads to another important problem in the Anthropocene discourse: dating.