A new era? – On the final recognition of human influence on the global climate

The „International Geological Congress“,which since 1878 takes place every three to five-years,normally does not create a great deal of public attention. The importance of that meeting for the lives of the vast majority of our contemporaries ranks somewhere between the annual meeting of the US Wrestling Federation and the congregation of the Ornithologists‘ Society. However,this year is different: Due to the extraordinary human impact on our planet, the earth scientists now voted to proclaim a new era, the so called „Anthropocene“. They want the era of the „Holocene“ be declared terminated and assert the Anthropocene as the present age within the Quaternary.

Now geologists have hardly been noticed as political activists. Like other of their scientist colleagues they are rather temperate people. However, a large majority of them supported are solution which carries no small political explosiveness. The formal adoption of such a new term could be a strong signal in the ongoing heated discussion onman-made climate change. It conceptually and notionally manifests the significant human influence on the conditions on our planet. First critics thus already suspect this exclamation of the new era to be mainly a political statement on climate change. However,the 34 out of 35 voting experts (with one abstention) see „the Anthropocene as geographically real“.

Now, the political and social debate about the human impact on our planet, in particular on its climate, has unfortunately moved away from any scientific rationality in some circles. Otherwise, the discussion would have likely finished some time ago, as scientific evidence has by now moved far beyond any level of reasonable doubt. Although the complexity of the underlying relationships still forbids unambiguous forecasts or formulations of clear causal links by those who understand the most about the issue, plus it is in the nature and professional ethics of the scientific-protagonists to always declare their statements and models unfinished, there existsnevertheless overwhelming circumstantial evidence for an inconvenient truth:Our climate is changing dramatically fast.And all reasonably plausible causal relationships indicate that this change is man-made.And not only that: What the geologists believe are further indications of man-made changes in our planet’s ecological profile are: the proliferation of plastic, aluminum, concrete particles, combustion residues of wood and fossil fuels, lead from engines, radioisotopes and decay products of nuclear tests, all of which are clearly identifiable in sedimentary deposits across the globe, large-scale changes in the cyclesofe.g. carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, the unprecedented global spread of animal and plant species, and at the same time a massive extinction of species.

But to speak of a new age is not only anabstemious result of systematic scientific research. It also describes an unpleasant insight which many people refuse to accept. Our unsustainable consumption of energy resources causes changes in the ecosystem of our planet, which locally as well as globally intervene massively with (or even potentially destroy) the ecological basis for life on Earth.Thus, the invocation of an era of Anthropocene would be an important symbolic act for bringing these important insight into the minds of more people, especially to political opinion and decision makers. The latter expect clear, simple and consistent answers and truths – and in the absence of such tend to create their own. In their large majority they do not realize that the features of the climate on our planet with its numerous nonlinear feedback loops present themselves so completely different from the usual linear trend structures they normally assume political and social developments to display.

But in an unpleasant combination of arrogance and ignorance a vocal minority of political protagonists goes even further: Without any scientific basis they simply doubt any human influence on the observed developments. In equally interesting as revealing wording „they simply reject climate change“ (should we maybe also “reject” the law of gravity, perhaps this would enable us to fly?). Trying to come up with alternative models to those implying a human-induced climate change and suggesting different (and often very complex) causal chains is surely legitimate and even complies with the very spirit of good science. Only should we not consider those in the public and political debate as more than what they are: Models that with a certain, however mostly very low, probability describe the climate dynamics correctly, but which by no means allow a proposition as daunting as the one that there simply exists no man-made climate change at all.

Besides simple considerations on the ethics of risk it is at this point useful to recall an old methodological principle of science: According to „Ockham’s Razor”, should there be two explanations which describe a given observation or phenomenon equally well, we should select the one which is simpler(connection between CO2 emission and global warming) and not the one that is complicated for whatever reason seems more pleasant to us (external factors that act along a long causal chain). The former one is more likely the more accurate one.

Now it may be that some scientists, as often claimed by „climate skeptics“,are driven by their own agendas, i.e. by motives such as personal ambition, greed for power of interpretation, or career desires. It would even be insincere to exclude just scientists from the possibility of such motives.But the scientific community as a whole surely possesses a powerful and intact mechanism of self-correction, which will not let such motives become dominant influences. There are simply too many scientifically reputable as well as honestly working critical voices, who are willing to get to the bottom of even the smallest irregularities in the published data and inconsistencies in the designed models. Critics of mainstream theories of man-made climate change and researchers posing alternative models are an integral and essential part of academic life. Anyone who thinks these views “are suppressed”, simply does not know the mechanisms of the scientific community. Rather we must ask ourselves inversely, whether those act in good faith (or perhaps have their own agenda – the campaign-financing of some US politicians and self-proclaimed climate skeptics often speaks volumes) who use any of these disagreements and alternative explanations immediately as pseudo-strong argumentative evidence against an established and in itself coherent consensus.

So in terms of symbolic-politics we must welcome the geologists’ intention to declare this new geological era. They have thereby come up with something quite extraordinary. According to their view the new era in the history of our planet started with a huge explosion:  the detonation of the first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945, the radioactive consequences of which we can still measure on the surface of our planet today.

One criticism of the Anthropocene is that the preceding era of the Holocene having lasted 12,000 years is quite short. But who says the Anthropocene will even last anywhere close to that long: Some researchers in the field of artificial intelligence are already talking about an imminent overcoming of human rule on this planet. Does soon after the Anthropocene follow the „Robotocene”?

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