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What is the Anthropocene Era and What Does it Mean?

The Anthropocene is a term you might have encountered, referring mainly to the modern human era. It’s a geological epoch (or period of time) which has been long debated, and still remains an ‘unofficial’ geological period according to the powers that be. 

However, the reasons for the term Anthropocene existing are important ones – especially when it comes to discussions about the extreme effects humans have had on our planet, such as increased carbon emissions, global warming and oceanic pollution. To distinguish this period from the rest of geological history is important, especially with problems facing the world today. It allows space to imagine how the world might look without the existence of humans. 

This is a vital part of the reckoning we all have to do with mending our planet. At Balance, we strive to create clothing which is ethically sourced and manufactured, cruelty free, and which supports the industries that aid in its production instead of exploiting them. 

So, in this article we’re going to take a look at what the Anthropocene Epoch is, and what we might be able to learn from it in order to treat our Earth with greater respect.

Ethical Clothing Production in the Anthropocene Age

Balance the Label, being an environmentally conscious clothing brand, strives to be a catalyst for change in the Anthropocene age. We do have time to change things, but it will only happen if it starts now. 

The argument that environmentally-friendly production is too costly is a moot point – it’s becoming more and more accessible, as we’ve discovered in our sourcing and manufacturing journey. It’s also ironic, as cost will not come into factor if we progress to the point where our air is too polluted to breathe, or our environments are destroyed to the point where cotton and other natural resources can no longer be grown. 

What We’re Doing at Balance

At Balance, we’ve attempted to future-proof our eco-friendliness in all stages of the process. We started with the basics, like using ethically sourced fabrics, non-harmful natural dyes, and using manufacture that’s not happening in a massive factory halfway across the globe. 

We then looked further into where we could reduce our footprint, with methods like one-size-fits-all packaging, and even green-friendly hosting for our website! This was a big lightbulb moment, since the impact the internet has on the environment is often overlooked in the discussion about global warming. 

Lastly, and possibly most important, is establishing this blog and our social media presence. Between the two, you can expect a whole lot of learning coming your way – from deep-dives into ecological theory like this piece, to eco-friendly living guides, interviews with other brands attempting to make a change, and much more. 

We may be in a very scary time in terms of the human impact on the globe. But, taking a step back, we can see that we’re just at the tip of the iceberg, and there is still time to change our methods, and to fix things. 

So, What is the Anthropocene?

The Anthropocene is a modern epoch. It refers to the period of time from which humans and our societies began to have notable impact on the Earth, in terms of its natural ecosystems and climate. The term was coined in the year 2000, by scientists E. Stormer and P. Crutzen. 

In Geological study, Earth’s history is divided into time periods called epochs which are defined by the changing geological landscape of the planet as a whole. Epochs, however, are just one measure of geological time (or geochronology). There are also eons, ages, chrons, and a number of others. 

You’ve likely heard of some of these time periods before even if you didn’t already know their meaning. Some of the most well-known come from the Mesozoic era: the Crutaceous, Jurassic, and Triassic periods. Like all other epochs, they’re differentiated primarily by one thing: changes in the earth’s strata, or rock layers.

While it might seem a little odd to classify periods of time with such criteria, it makes a lot more sense when you take a step back and see how the continents and their tectonic plates have shifted. After all, in the Cambrian period (one of the earliest), the shape of the continents is nearly unrecognizable compared to what we know as the earth today. 

What is The Definition of the Anthropocene?

The etymology of Anthropocene is ‘new man’. It’s a neologism created from the Greek anthropo (meaning ‘man’), and cene (meaning ‘new’). One might read further into this translation, and further detail it to something like “The New Age of Man”, or to be a little more modern about it, “The New Age of Humankind”.

However, definition goes deeper than just literal meaning. The idea came about at a point where scientists sought to differentiate the earth’s natural progression through time, and the altered path it’s taken since humans have harnessed the immense power and spread required to alter the course of nature. As such, the name needed to refer to the idea in itself, and not simply a period of time relating to rock-layer structures.

A Look at the Anthropocene Timeline

Like any massive scale of time, geological periods and epochs span millions of years and don’t have specific starting points. How long is an epoch? Well, some are a mere 20-30 million years in length, and others are upward of 200 million. At these scales, it would be inaccurate to try and provide an exact start and end point – however, the Anthropocene is a little different. 

When did the Anthropocene Begin

The anthropocene began, according to its definition, when humans began to have an impact on the earth, notable enough that it would interrupt our predictions of how the current epoch might have otherwise progressed. 

Most scientists who favour the term would define the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s as the real start of the Anthropocene. As we all now know, the first Industrial Revolution would eventually lead to many of the pertinent issues the world is dealing with today, such as a rise in carbon emissions; ocean, land and air pollution; etc.

However, humans began to understand pollution as early as the 13th century – so as with other epochs, the start of the Anthropocene is debatable. 

Some scientists even think that the impact of carbon and methane emissions shouldn’t be the core focus. This group thinks that the dropping of an Atomic Bomb signalled the start of the Anthropocene. They see the effect of these as much more drastic.

The Holocene vs Anthropocene

If you were to ask a Geologist what era we’re currently in, they would likely tell you that we’re in the Holocene epoch. The Holocene refers to a period starting around 10 000 years ago in the Neolithic period, just after the last Ice Age.

The Neolithic period was defined, much like the Anthropocene, by massive development in human culture and technology. It was in this age that there was a marked shift from a nomadic lifestyle to an agricultural and ‘civilized’ one. In this case, civilized refers to literal civilizations and organised settlements. 

Similarly, the Holocene period in some ways relates to the ideas of the Anthropocene. The era is largely discussed and defined in relation to the human advancement which rapidly took off during this period. 

What Era are We Actually In?

In comparison, it’s clear that at their core, the Holocene and Anthropocene describe similar concepts – however, the former is a scientific view which accounts for the advancement of humans; while the latter is a more Homo Sapien-centric view. It’s clear why scientists favour one over the other – past ten thousand years ago, dividing time in relation to human advancement makes little sense. 

However, the benefit in defining the anthropocene is clear. We’ve become desensitized to the impact of humans on the earth. We’re currently altering it at such a rapid rate, that a system soundly used to classify each period of the earth’s existence as a planet might no longer be fit for defining geological changes.

This is a concept that should ring alarm bells in anyone’s head, nevermind just the scientists attempting to have the term officially recognized.

Welcome To the Anthropocene… What Next?

Now that we’re all up to speed, one thing should be clear: humans have, near irreversibly, altered the course of nature on the earth. We’re in an era that can no longer be defined by all the same measures as we’ve previously used, and we’re only at the start of it. 

It’s clear that in both schools of thought (the Anthropocene crowd, and the Holocene crowd), the scientific community agrees that humans are affecting the earth in increasingly destructive ways, and we’re not exactly on track to fixing things just yet. Every year, we’re seeing dirtier skies and seas, warmer temperatures, and more waste than we’ve ever experienced as a species – and none of it is simply occuring because of nature.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The global consciousness relating to treating the earth with care and respect (and undoing as much of the damage as we can) increases every day. We’re seeing more and more initiatives encouraging ethical and positive change, and as a result awareness has increased. With increased awareness, we see better-funded research, and we can begin to better understand the extent of our damage, and some possible remedies. 

Asking “What’s next?” or “When will the Anthropocene End?” often simply begs more questions than answers. However, two things are clear: Firstly, we’re still near the start of the era, which means we have time to change things. We’ve got the ability to change, in a few thousand years, whether the Anthropocene will refer to an epoch in which we saved the planet, or an epoch in which we didn’t act fast enough.

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