Should humans get their own geologic era?

The debate over the Anthropocene epoch, explained.

The debate over the Anthropocene, explained.
Laura Bult came to the video team via Vox’s Netflix show, Explained , and previously worked on documentary series for National Geographic and Zero Point Zero Production.

The word “Anthropocene” has gained cultural resonance in recent years, as it’s become clearer that humans have made an indelible and destructive impact on our planet. But it’s also a term with a specific technical meaning: an epoch, or geologic unit of time, named for humans.

In 2009, a group of scientists first started investigating whether the Anthropocene should be formally recognized as part of the way we record geologic time. They did this by way of a discreet process laid out by a global body of geologists called the International Commission on Stratigraphy. This video explains what happened next: how a team of scientists looked for the evidence to make their case, and what it means to consider humanity’s impact as part of the Earth’s 4.6 billion-year history.

Senior reporter Sigal Samuel has covered the Anthropocene debate for the website here and here.

We don’t mention this in the video, but Phil Gibbard and Erle Ellis co-authored a paper proposing the Anthropocene as a geological “event” rather than an epoch:

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