The Age of Man

“It’s grand to be an Englishman in 1910. King Edward’s on the throne; it’s the age of men!”

I had no idea what these words meant when I first heard them sung in the film Mary Poppins as a young child. I just knew that Mr. Banks was happy with his life, even though he was very clearly unhappy with his life. But the age of men meant nothing to me, other than it stuck in my mind because of how emphatically it was sung. The “Age of Man” is a term that has been kicked around for some time, as we humans examine our time on this planet and our impact on this little space rock we call home. But now it is official. Scientists voted overwhelmingly to designate a new geologic age: The Anthropocene or, literally, the Age of Man, due to the effects humans have had on the earth.

Scientists presented the case for a new geologic age at the 35th International Geologic Congress, with such evidence as the spread of radiation from nuclear tests, global warming from rapidly rising levels of CO2 in our atmosphere, mass extinctions of species with many more on the way, so much plastic in our oceans and water that it will make it into the fossil record, double the levels of phosphorous and nitrogen in our soil thanks to fertilizers, and even the sheer volume of chicken bones we have created thanks to the poultry industry and our inexhaustible love for the McNugget. The planet is on a new path now, and we humans put it there. Welcome to the age of man.

Women, I hope you don’t feel left out. You have also contributed to the planet’s course alteration. “Mankind” means men and women, because it is short for humankind. Age of man means age of human, so we will need both men and women in the coming days and years as we determine what kind of future there is going to be for us on this mudball. Because here’s the thing; we get to decide now.

It is proven and accepted by virtually everyone that humans have an impact on the planet and the environment. There is no debate about it anywhere in the world, except in some conservative strongholds in the US who are in self-enforced denial for economic and political reasons. So let us take it as fact that we get to shape the planet. Now that we know we have this power, don’t we get to decide how to use it? Can we not take this incredible gift of a planet and make it into something safer and better for all people? Now is the time to decide to do this. The excuses are gone. The old “nothing I can do will make a difference argument” is out the window. We are talking about our children here. We are talking about our grandchildren. We are talking about friends and family. Every single person you know and love happens to live on earth. And you have the power to affect it. How about we make it better for them?

As the environment destabilizes, things get worse for the poor and the vulnerable. As resources shrink and disasters cause chaos, wars break out around the globe as fearful people try to hold on to what is left. It doesn’t have to be that way. We have the ability to change it. Not overnight, but look at what we have to done to ourselves since 1950, the proposed beginning for the Anthropocene epoch. In less than 70 years we have fundamentally altered the planet. We all know it takes a lot longer to clean up a mess than to make one, but let’s not pretend that there’s nothing we can do anymore. This is the Age of Man. The Age of Human. Let’s get it together and act like it.

Posted in Climate, Environment, Parenting, Science.

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