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Commentary

The Anthropocene is here

No, it is neither some mysterious creature from “Jurassic Park” nor some creeping giant insect. Since The Economist declared “Welcome to the Anthropocene” on its cover in May 2011, the concept has steadily crept into mainstream discourse. The actual genesis of this notion started in 2000 when two scientists (Crutzen and Stoermer) coined the term in its modern sense. Just like any new concept, it spawned a healthy debate among scholars with diverse backgrounds, with no end in sight.

According to Yadvinder Malhi of the University of Oxford, “The core concept that the term is trying to capture is that human activity is having a dominating presence on multiple aspects of the natural world and the functioning of the Earth system, and that this has consequences for how we view and interact with the natural world — and perceive our place in it.”

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In other words, it is now recognized that human activities have become the most influential factor of change on Planet Earth, making the Anthropocene the human-dominated geologic epoch.

Consider the following facts. Fossil fuel emissions and deforestation have dumped record levels of greenhouse gases on the atmosphere, leading to a warming climate. We are the first living organisms to inhabit an Earth with more than 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

According to the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment Report, some of the key global changes that have taken place as a result of human activities include: more land was converted to cropland in the 30 years after 1950 than in the 150 years between 1700 and 1850; around 20 percent of the world’s coral reefs have been lost and an additional 20 percent have been degrading in the last several decades of the 20th century, while approximately 35 percent of mangrove area have been lost during this time.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services recently released its report, which concluded that about 1 million of the earth’s 8 million species are threatened with extinction because of human activities.

The Philippines is no stranger to the impacts of humans on our ecosystems. We have lost more than 50 percent of our forest cover in the last century, which is about 15 million hectares of prime tropical forest ecosystems. Our mangroves declined by 80 percent, from more than 500,000 hectares to about 100,000 hectares. We are a megadiversity country yet also a global hotspot because of the high risk of species loss. Let us not even talk about air and water pollution, especially in Metro Manila and surrounding areas.

What does the age of Anthropocene mean for us? First, it is a wake-up call about the power of humans to determine the course of the planet. Quite astonishingly, our collective action can alter the condition of the world we live in. Each individual act may be insignificant, but combined with that of others, it becomes an irrepressible force whose outcome will affect us all.

Second, with such power comes great responsibility (to paraphrase Spider Man). We must not lose sight that we humans are mere stewards of the natural environment. We are here not to destroy, but to nurture. Our nobility lies not in how much we can extract from nature, but in how hale and hearty we leave the planet for future generations.

The age of the Anthropocene may be here. But it is up to us to define what power or influence humans exert on the Earth system. Beyond rhetoric, there must be action. And not just any action, but science-based action. For as science has helped humankind understand and recognize what’s wrong with our climate, so will science help in finding solutions.

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Rodel D. Lasco is an author of several Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, including the forthcoming sixth assessment report. He is the executive director of The OML Center, a foundation devoted to discovering climate change adaptation solutions (http://www.omlopezcenter.org/).

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TAGS: Anthropocene, human dominance, Inquirer Commentary, Rodel D. Lasco
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