Involve social scientists in defining the Anthropocene

Ellis et al in Nature:

GettyImages-590468153_CMThree dozen academics are planning to rewrite Earth's history. The Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (of which one of us, E.E., is a member) announced in August that over the next three years it will divide Earth's story into two parts: one in which humans are a geological superpower — an epoch called the Anthropocene — and the other encompassing all that came before our species had a major influence on Earth's functioning1. Where to put the transition is being debated. Discussions have narrowed to defining one or more 'golden spikes': sharp global signatures in the rock record derived from the introduction of mid-twentieth century technologies, from radionuclides to plastics. Such markers will be put forward as the basis for ratifying the epoch by the International Geological Congress.

We agree that human influences on the planet should be recognized — but the formalization of the Anthropocene should not be rushed. And we question the privileging of 1950s-era markers. This ignores millennia of previous human influences, from our use of fire to the emergence of agriculture2–6. Moreover, these markers misrepresent the continuous nature of human changes to our planet. They instil a Eurocentric, elite and technocratic narrative of human engagement with our environment that is out of sync with contemporary thought in the social sciences and the humanities3, 7–9. Decades of rigorous scientific research into the history, causes and consequences of the long-term reshaping of Earth systems by humans is being ignored in the group's discussions. How can a human-centred geological period be defined without characterizing the development of societies, urbanization, colonization, trading networks, ecosystem engineering and energy transitions from biomass to fossil fuels?

We call for the Anthropocene formalization process to be rebuilt on a rigorous, transparent, open and sustainable foundation in which the human sciences have a major role.

More here.