Summary: While scientists debate if we live in the Anthropocene era, let’s not fall into delusions of grandeur. Natural forces can wipe away cities and destroy regions despite our impressive powers. We have prepared poorly or not at all for most of these. This is a luxury we can no longer afford.
Some scientists have proposed designating the post-WWII era as the start of the Anthropocene, a new geologic time when humanity’s power becomes a major force shaping Earth’s geology. Here’s a good introduction by Paul Voosen in Science, describing the both sides of the issue.
If scientists decide to accept this proposal, it is vital not to misinterpret its meaning. Our power can reshape the surface of the world. We can destroy it quickly with nukes or slowly with pollution. Let’s not engage in delusions of grandeur. But we remain helpless before the ordinary processes of the Earth.
Eventually one of the certain-to-happen disasters will demonstrate our low place in the hierarchy of natural forces. We face a bewildering range of threats: a magnitude 9+ earthquake (such as these), a volcanic eruption of 7+ on the volcanic eruption index (such as these; VEI 8 is a supervolcano), a global pandemic (such as the 1918 flu or worse), a Category 5 cyclone (wind speed >157 mph, like these) hits a city, a powerful solar storm that wrecks the planet’s electronics (as a repeat of the 1859 Carrington Event would do), the impact of a largish asteroid or comet, or one of the many other perils of the Earth.
All these things have occurred in the past and will occur again. We lack the ability to predict their dates and locations — but we can prepare for them. But with a few exceptions we do not do so, as our ruling elites preferring to focus instead on threats with politically useful cures (i.e., those that justify increased government powers). That might be an expensive obsession.
Humanity faces many dangers, as it always has. For all our power we remain subject to nature’s whims. Our crowded world, sustained by complex global systems, could suffer a million deaths and vast physical damage. Failure to prepare rationally for the full spectrum of risks — natural and anthropogenic — is a luxury we can no longer afford. Our resources are limited, so we must use them wisely. See the next section for posts discussion how we can do so.
For More Information
- We are so vulnerable to so many things. What is the best response?
- Preparing for the future: should we be precautionary or proactionary?
- The first step to protecting the world from its many dangers.
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb looks at the risks threatening humanity.
- Collapsitarians and their doomster porn.