Anthropocene Epoch – Our unwelcome ‘viral’ impact

If you are unfamiliar with the term Anthropocene Epoch, it is the informal name which has been given to describe our impact on the Planet. It is the geological period of time in which man’s activities has had significant influence over the eco-systems of this World.

Anthropocene Epoch, residential area of Marrakech's medina Morocco on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography

Do we respect our planet?

Moments ago I was writing a piece on making better use of your camera, a documentary on television which was detailing some of these effects. Some of the facts maybe specifically regurgitated to shock us into a response, well in this case aim achieved!

Making an impact

To date unfortunately our impact on the Planet has been more detrimental than beneficial, and we have managed this in an extraordinarily short period of time. The greatest impact has been since the dawn of the industrial revolution, just four hundred years! However ever since the introduction of agriculture, we have been changing the surrounding environment and influencing eco-systems.

During our time on the Planet we have dramatically changed over seventy five percent of the surface of the Earth which is not permanently covered in ice! Cities have been built, with dams and irrigation systems to provide water for their population, land fill sites are common in all areas of human habitation. We have deforested vast areas to both build cities or to provide arable land for farming.

Over seven billion people living on a small piece of rock the surface of which is mainly covered in salt water are busily ‘farming’ every possible resource that can be harvested. Much of this once it has been used becomes a waste product that is difficult to recycle or dispose of. A stark example of this is the ‘Boneyard;’ the aircraft graveyard in Tucson, Arizona which contains over four thousand disused aircraft, just sitting silently there for eternity.

The residential tenements of Marrakech, Morocco in the Anthropocene Epoch on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography

Local accommodation in Marrakech

We have caused directly or indirectly the extinction of many species of animal and continue to do so. Huge tracts of land have been deforested, effectively destroying the ‘lungs’ of the Planet, causing widespread soil erosion and even effecting the water cycle. Perhaps the greatest and most documented impact made has been the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon; however all but the most intentionally blinkered of us now accepts that we have speeded up this process dramatically in the past Century.

Dam less water

The water or hydrologic cycle was briefly mentioned earlier, this is the method by which rainwater from mountain streams and rivers flows to the sea where is evaporates and reforms rain clouds. There are very few rivers that complete their journey without interference from mankind. The Colorado river and its tributaries for example provide the populations of Arizona, Los Angeles and the surrounding area with much of their drinking and have over twenty dams within their system. In some years, none of the rainwater that falls in the hills reaches the sea!

There is more freshwater stored in the amn-made reservoirs than in all the rivers, streams, brooks or lakes on Earth.

The sedimentary rock that is being laid down now is even being affected; huge swathes of plastics and other detritus make up huge garbage dumps in the oceans. One is so large it has its own name; The Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch and is almost as large as the United States, reaching from the shores of California to those of Japan! This rubbish breaks down extremely slowly, but as it does it releases toxins into our oceans and eventually falls to the ocean floor. It is deposited here and eventually will form the rocks of the future; the very geology of our planet will one day contain a percentage of our waste from today, our geological legacy!

It is estimated that over a million sea birds die each year from ingesting plastic detritus, not to mention small animals and even large ones that either ingest it or become entangled in it!

New clean beaches of Blackpool, Lancashire northern England  on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography

Blackpool beaches are showing signs of improvement

Natural power

Any of us that have witnessed the awesome power of Nature, hurricanes, tornadoes or the incredible power of a rough sea with huge waves crashing against the shore could be excused for believing it is impossible to tame. So far this is generally true, but mankind now has the ability to affect our Planet to an almost equal degree.

What legacy do we wish to leave, how does this generation wish to be remembered? Our predecessors had some excuse; they were for over two centuries relatively ignorant of the effects of our industrialisation and agricultural practices. We do not have any such excuse, even the most remote mountain or forest tribe is becoming aware of the damage we are causing.

Sea acidification, diminishing forests, expanding deserts, global warming, shrinking ice caps, collapsing ice fields and eco-systems, dying coral reefs, terminally endangered species and a rapidly disappearing natural world these are currently the legacy we are set to leave.

It is easy to think we have only affected the Planet in a detrimental manner, but this is not the case. We have proven in the past we are capable of making changes for good as well as bad, remember CFCs which were responsible for ozone depletion. Once the true effects of these were fully understood, production was pretty much phased out completely in a few years! This will enable the ozone to naturally ‘heal’ in around fifty years.

As travellers we seek the pristine areas of the planet, but these are rapidly disappearing. Vast tracts of wilderness are shrinking to make way for housing or farmland to feed the growing population. We want to become immersed in the culture of the destinations we visit, but these are in many places also disappearing being integrated into the modern culture of the developing world. We want to see the amazing diversity of the various eco-systems, and the incredible creatures that inhabit them, but there are some that believe half of the existing species will be extinct by 2100.

We are a mass extinction event!

Amphibians are on the verge of total collapse, frogs, salamanders and their relatives are under extreme threat. Close to two hundred species of frogs have disappeared in the last decade, and a further nineteen hundred are severely threatened. Their thin skins are extremely sensitive to temperature change and to a particular fungus which maybe more prolific due to this climate change. There are other reasons for their demise, habitat destruction, pollution and predation by us.

An English park, Salford, Great Britain in the Anthropocene Epoch on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography

The clean-up starts around the corner from home

It is not just small creatures that are in decline either; fifty percent of mammals are also under threat. Some of the Planet’s most beautiful and charismatic creatures are struggling for survival, the reasons in each case are startling similar, habitat loss, hunting, pollution, introduced species, all have an impact. There are fewer than thirty five Amur leopards in the wild; scientists believe the majority of polar bears will have disappeared by 2050; please read that last sentence again.

These are just two examples, but can you imagine a World without these beautiful creatures? What sort of planet will our children and grandchildren have to travel around in fifty or a hundred year’s time? How will they look back on our contribution to the history and health of this wonderful planet we call home?

We are almost certainly the only creature aware of the problems that are facing Earth and also the only one capable of affecting those problems. How long before we finally face up to our responsibilities?

Nature is awesome, with our help it can undoubtedly heal much of the damage already done, but action needs to be taken now, and we all have some responsibility for this.

There are many small ways in which we as individuals can make a difference, reduce, reuse and recycle should at the very least be a way of life by now.

“An individual may only make a small difference, but many small differences can have a huge impact!

Road through the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography

Pristine untouched environments are becoming harder to find

Ensuring our politicians know how we feel is also imperative, they are not only the makers of policy they are the implementers. If we truly live in a democratic society they should react to the wishes of their respective constituents. I for one believe it is about time that they took this into account, and placed a greater emphasis on our concerns, and the well being of our Planet, rather than the greed of large scale conglomerates! Is it time to write a short but heartfelt letter to the local politician?

“A single voice may not be heard, but a million speaking in unison can be deafening.”

What will you do today, what about tomorrow, what will your grand children be doing in one hundred years time?

“The time for thinking was yesterday; today is the time for action!”

Some sites that maybe of interest:

Copyblogger – The butterfly effect

The Daily Galaxy – Images of the human sprawl

TeacherVision – Global Warming: We CAN Make a Difference!

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Comments 6

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  1. John

    Iain, I spend a lot of my time researching this and find a massive black hole where there should be information. We now know the carbon footprints of flying, but try to find the same figures for ferries and cruise ships and you get articles entitled “Greenest cruise ship ever” including a statement saying how they have reduced their carbon footprint by 30%, but fail to mention exactly what that footprint is. Hotels are another are of travel that has scant information, but I am cheered to see some of the big hotel chains publishing average figures for their rooms, though no distinction is made between staying in their budget hotels or renting a suite at their top luxury hotel. Currently I am working in the range of 3kg CO2 eq for a night up 60kg CO2 eq per night although I have a feeling this latter figure could go higher. (I think your hammock made for two is even less than the lower figure, as long as you don’t use your air conditioning 😉 )
    The food we eat can also cause a massive amount of damage, from increasing greenhouse gas production, to destroying all life on the ocean floor with industrial scale fishing operations. Locally produced fruit and vegetables have a much lower footprint than out of season air freighted food, but perhaps surprisingly, locally (UK) produced tomatoes, grown in heated greenhouses have a bigger footprint than air freighted naturally grown versions.
    The fact is that carbon based fuels are in finite supply, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps in heat. Most of the parties making one case or the other overstate their own case. Then the travel companies just want to keep us consuming their products, so they are not going to say “The answer is to reduce your consumption of certain travel products”, instead they say “You can book with us in the reassuring knowledge that our product is much more sustainable than it was 10 years ago”. My quest is to find some travel options that are appealing but at the same time sustainable. I get the feeling that you share these same ideals.
    I think we need to see the figures and make our own travel choices. I know that the eco colour coding and figures for cars, electrical appliances influence me when I do need to make purchase, so I assume others also consider the ratings.

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      Author
      Iain

      Thank you for this comment John, and interesting to hear the figures you have been able to unearth so far. Ditching the air con for my hammock as we speak.

      I have heard about the cost of producing tomatoes on a large scale over here and it is both fascinating and disturbing that the ‘environmental’ costs are higher than freight imports.

      I also agree totally that there needs to be much more transparency in the carbon footprint of major companies and even countries, it is improving but is still a long way short of being where we need it. As more people become conscious of green issues pressure will mount and I truly believe that that it will become not only essential for companies to detail their environmental impact but probably illegal not to do so. A bit like the nutritional information which is now required on all food products.

      The main issue for me is that people need to respect their own neighbourhoods, countries before they will even begin to consider the bigger picture. Too many are happy to throw their rubbish wherever. I have seen people standing right next to a public bin just discard their garbage on the floor, until people care about their immediate environment they will never care about the larger one.

  2. Gian Faye

    I find this very direct to the point. I know most people are already aware of this. The technology is almost at the hands of every individual on this planet. Yet, they seem to act as if they do not know anything about it.

    My nerves are really twisting everytime I see people throw their garbage everywhere. I even see kids who throws plastic wrappings without care after eating. To point out that their parents are there. They are not even correcting them!

    I have observed that we are getting more tornado cases on our country (Philippines) than before. I believe it has something to do with climate change. Summers are getting hotter. Rainy days are getting colder. I can see what’s coming to the next few years if they wouldn’t do a simple act of doing what’s right for our environment.

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      Author
      Iain

      I here what you are saying Gian the problem is a matter of respect people do not respect their own neighbourhoods let alone the our Planet. It is very true that I often witness kids and parents standing right next to a garbage bin and yet they merely throw their litter onto the floor, just shocking and so sad. We need to act right now.

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