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Crossing Boundaries - The Age of the Anthropocene: Humanity's Impact on the Planet

College of the Pacific sponsored its second annual Crossing Boundaries discussion, The Age of the Anthropocene: Humanity's Impact on the Planet, on Jan. 31. Before a packed room and more than 2,000 Facebook Live viewers, faculty from engineering, law, history and the geosciences, spoke on the importance of addressing a new geologic age, the Anthropocene. 

Arturo Giraldez at X-Boundaries event

Anthropocene definition and what it means to humanity

The Anthropocene is a geologic term used to describe the impact on the earth by human activities, explained modern language and literature professor and world historian Arturo Giraldez. Industrialization and the dependency on oil, he said, have resulted in increased greenhouse emissions, affecting our environment. Human impacts such as exponential population growth contribute to the greenhouse effect, which leads to decreased biodiversity, changing ocean patterns, and below-average temperatures.

Why a new time period is necessary

Weighing in from the geologist's perspective, Laura Rademacher, associate professor and chair of the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, spoke about how human activities have impacted the earth and its cycles, leaving chemical traces in the rock record and accelerating extinction rates. This new time period, she suggested, will direct scientific attention toward understanding how humanity's domination of the world has driven these changes on the planet.

The Anthropocene and the balance of nature

Humans have a tendency to interfere with nature, explains Karrigan Börk, assistant professor of geological and environmental sciences, but leaving nature alone won't fix all the problems humanity has caused. Börk discussed the consequences for humans as a result of the destruction of nature. To solve the issue, he said, humans must take action. Börk pointed out that current laws attempt to maintain a balance with nature but, in studying the Anthropocene, it becomes evident that there isn't actually a balance. He concluded that humans must take an active role in maintaining and preserving natural ecosystems if we are going to rectify our past mistakes.

Age of the AnthropoceneThe Anthropocene and the Earth's oceans and waterways

The industrialization of the planet's oceans has affected the marine cycles, according to McGeorge School of Law professor Rachael Salcido. Human activities such as offshore drilling and deep-sea mining have caused a need for some way to establish a more holistic approach to jurisdiction over the oceans in order to preserve marine life. The oceans are closely related, Salcido said, and they should be considered as a whole, rather than as disjointed parts of territories. Studying the Anthropocene then, would encourage international cooperation that could ultimately help protect the oceans' biodiversity.

The hydrologic cycle also has been altered by climate change, a result of the Anthropocene, said Mary Kay Camarillo, associate professor of civil engineering. California especially has been severely affected by changing climate patterns, as decreased snow melt has impacted the water supply, and the state's prolonged and severe drought has caused increasing water demand. Camarillo gave three key takeaways to be considered from California's example: 

  1. Water supply and sanitation are difficult challenges, and climate change makes it worse.
  2. Policy and infrastructure investments make a difference.
  3. The water infrastructure could be vastly improved.

A call to action

All five speakers agreed that studying the Anthropocene could, ultimately, have its benefits. Understanding the ways in which humankind has directly or indirectly changed the world will lead to a greater understanding of how those changes will, in turn, affect humanity. That understanding inevitably leads to the awareness that significant and consistent action must be taken to repair the damage and prevent further impact, as well as improve humanity's relationship with nature.

If you missed the event, check it out here!