Should scientists proclaim a human geological epoch, creating a “weapon” for both sides in the “battle over the fate of the planet”?For scientific reasons but also for framing—for distilling into language calculated to steer thinking—Nature’s editors and many others want scientists to elevate the increasingly used term Anthropocene to official status as science’s formal, permanent name for the present period in Earth’s deep geological time. Under the headline “The human epoch” four years ago, with words those editors repeated verbatim this month, they argued that the name “provides a powerful framework for considering global change and how to manage it.”
Framework indeed. The editors’ 2011 subhead predicted that “official recognition for the Anthropocene would focus minds on the challenges to come.”
In recent years, journalists have been gradually introducing the name to the public, but the coverage has generally overlooked a lurking concern that Nature’s editors phrased as a question: “Is it wise for stratigraphers to endorse a term that comes gift-wrapped as a weapon for those on both sides of the political battle over the fate of the planet?”
Weapon? Political battle? Fate of the planet? Two sides? In other words, if scientists at the International Commission on Stratigraphy decide formally to assert this broadly encompassing name for known physical realities planetwide, they’ll unify an argument that’s enormous, but they’ll also incite accusations of perpetrating a propagandistic enormity.
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