The Human Plague: the Anthropocene epoch

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 We live in an age where social media, fashion and even the Kardashians are a part of our daily life; staring at a TV, cellphone or computer screen thinking we are making a change by sharing a post of a starving child.  We are stuck in routine, in an industrialized and globalised world. Welcome to the Anthropocene epoch, a.k.a. ‘The age of Humans’  (Palsson 2013). 

The following blog post will focus on the Anthropocene epoch, discussing how our environment has changed due to industrialisation by referring to numerous articles relating to this subject.

The Anthropocene epoch refers to the new geological period,where human activity and influence caused extreme environmental changes that has effects on the oceans, the atmosphere, species and soil (Steffen 2011:843) (Palsson 2013:6).

 Numerous human actions are believed to be the cause of the geological shift; agriculture started to impact ecosystems and biodiversity ,the exploitation of fossil fuels resulting in the deterioration of the ozone layer, nuclear arms race, overpopulation, worldwide industrialization embedding a definite human imprint. Human intervention can be seen everywhere; from genetically modified foods to modifying the terrestrial water cycle (Steffen 2011: 847-849).

Humans are also responsible for the extinction of various animals, some believe that the beginning of the Antropocene epoch was during the last ice age, as humans had a profound role in the overhunting of large animals which resulted in the extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna (Steffen 2011 846).

Human relationship to nature drastically transformed since the industrial revolution which led to the great acceleration; coal being used as the main source of energy, the invention of the steam engine to nuclear bombs. Nuclear bombs creates radioactive dust and ash when it explodes, leaving distinctive traces in rocks globally (Pharand-Deschênes 2012). 

The Anthropocene reflects that human transformation of global environments are occurring at much larger rates than usual; more than 50% of Earth’s terrain are modified for human use. This is leading to massive loss of natural ecosystems to agriculture, buildings, roads and increased consumption of resources (Waters 2016: 1-3). 

Human activity does not only cause ecological issues but also causes sonic disruption; sounds of nature and ‘the animal orchestra’ are disappearing beneath human noise (Whitehouse 2015:53). The sound of birds chirping are rarely heard and fades beneath the sounds of  human inventions. The soundscape of the Anthropocene epoch consists of cars driving by or hooting in the distance, the sounds of aeroplanes passing regularly, people talking, televisions, radios, vacuum cleaners and machinery. 

The sounds of animals in their natural environment tend to fit together in harmony and balance, in contrast to human noise, disrupting and competing with one another. The different kinds of sounds can be regarded as ‘sonic epochs’, and instead of merging, human sounds (anthrophony) are drowning the sounds of animals (biophony) and the natural environment (geophony) (Whitehouse 2015:57).

Birds and other wildlife are under threat from human intervention and environmental changes as humans have the power to remove nature from society, instead of working towards unity between nature and mankind (Whitehouse 2015: 54, 70).

The Anthropocene glorifies humans as the only species powerful enough to change earth systems, capable of the destruction and the silencing of ecosystems. Human actions led to the disappearance of the daily presence of birds and other wildlife; where one can only hear and see a large number of birds in a bird sanctuary. Even though anxiety in relation to environmental concerns is not a new occurrence, the Anthropocene epoch caused observable change not only in nature but also led to the extinction of certain species (Whitehouse 2015: 54-55).

According to my mother when she was young they were surrounded by nature, being one of three houses in the neighbourhood (Wonderboom area in the 1970’s), enclosed by feld, hearing sounds of water,cicadas and finches. A car was rarely seen passing by as they were walking to school through trees and feld, seeing all kinds of animal life, from hyraxes and hedgehogs, to even once seeing a deer. They were surrounded by the smell of nature; fresh ground, trees and water. People had more patience, stopping in the middle of the road for an animal, instead of driving over it.

Unfortunately with the growth of urbanization, animals do not have the same secure areas as they did in the past. Urbanization caused massive decrease in biodiversity. When the youth is asked which animals they see in their surroundings and on their way to school, the answer is only domestic pets or hyraxes seen as roadkill.

It is difficult to listen to the sounds of nature in the Anthropocene as human sounds are dominating. The Anthropocene, a.k.a ‘The age of Humans’, reveals that humans took over, like a plague, the sounds and biodiversity of our environment. 

The two images below confirms the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity. The one image shows how nature flourished next to a highway in 1970, and 46 years later it was replaced with more roads and buildings. 

               William Nicol Interchange 2016 VS William Nicol Interchange 1970 

Many believe that humans and nature are two separate entities and that nature should take its course, but human activity is connected with nature and we are changing its course. Humans have the power to create extraordinary technologies, we invented cures for diseases and even walked on the moon, but even though we are aware of the impact of our activities, we are not making any changes for the better and for our own selfish reasons. 

 We are an intelligent species doing stupid things. 

Sources

Palsson, G et al. 2013. Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research. Environmental Science & Policy 28:3-13.

Pharand-Deschênes, F. 2012. Welcome to the Anthropocene. [O]. Available:
http://www.anthropocene.info/about.php
Accessed 09/04/2016. 

Steffen, W et al. 2011. The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369:842-867.

Waters, CN et al. 2016. The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. Science 351(6269):[sp].

Whitehouse, A. 2015. Listening to birds in the Anthropocene: the anxious semiotics of sound in a human-dominated world. Environmental Humanities 6:53-71.

 

 

 

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