By Colin N. Waters

About Colin N. Waters

Colin N. Waters is a geologist with twenty-seven years’ experience working at the British Geological Survey, with particular interest in Carboniferous and Anthropocene stratigraphy. He is Secretary of the Geological Society Stratigraphy Commission and Anthropocene Working Group. Relevant publications include Zalasiewicz et al., “Are We Living in the Anthropocene?” GSA Today 18, no. 2 (2008): 4–8; and Zalasiewicz et al., “Stratigraphy of the Anthropocene,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 369 (2011): 1036–55. He is Senior Editor of “A Stratigraphical Basis for the Anthropocene,” Geological Society, London, Special Publications 395 (2014).

Anthropocene

The world today is undergoing rapid environmental change, driven by human population growth and economic development. This change encompasses such diverse phenomena as the clearing of rainforests for agriculture, the eutrophication of lakes and shallow seas by fertilizer run-off, depletion of fish stocks, acid rain, and global warming. These changes are cause for concern—or alarm—among some, and are regrettable if unavoidable side effects of economic growth for others.

How significant are these changes in total? How might they evolve, and what might their ultimate consequences be? One way of studying these changes is to consider them as the latest phase of the many environmental changes that have affected the Earth since its origin, a little over four and a half billion years ago. Humans may be considered as geological agents, and anthropogenic environmental change may be compared with events in Earth’s deep history.

Such analysis dates, perhaps surprisingly, from the …

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