The Anthropocene as Process: Why We Should View the State of the World through a Deep Historical Lens


  • Todd J Braje Irvine Chair of Anthropology and Associate Curator - Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability. California Academy of Sciences San Francisco, CA 94118



The geological community and the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) are moving ever closer to formalizing a new geologic epoch, the Anthropocene. First proposed to raise awareness for planetary stewardship, the Anthropocene will likely be defined, according to the AWG, based on patterns of near-synchronous anthropogenic change that place its boundary marker in the mid-twentieth century during the Great Acceleration. While a number of anthropologists, archaeologists, sociologists, and other social scientists have argued against such a designation, the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) mandates the process and criteria for evaluating potential formal units of the geological timescale; and, the Anthropocene, with a recent boundary maker, likely will be ratified by the Executive Committee of the Internal Union of Geological Sciences. In light of this, I review biotic, atmospheric, and stratigraphic evidence offered by the AWG for a mid-twentieth century Anthropocene and demonstrate how failing to consider deeper historical processes may result in resource management policies and environmental science actions that exacerbate, rather than alleviate, future anthropogenic impacts.


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Academic Paper