Welcome to the Anthropocene
In 2000, scientists Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer invented the word “Anthropocene” to denote the ever increasing influence of humans on Earth. It has since become a word popularly used in scientific literature to express the degree of environmental change on planet Earth, caused by humans. Never in the Earth’s history have humans caused as much environmental change as they do today. This information comes from The British Geological Society, where you can read about it in much more depth.
The impact on the landscape first started when prehistoric people started to dig through the earth for stone to make implements. Since then humans have modified the landscape through the excavation of rock and soil, the generation of waste and the creation of artificial ground. An estimated 57000 million tonnes of earth and rock is now shifted annually by humans, compared to just 22000 million tonnes of sediment annually transported by our rivers and oceans. As the population increases, so does the amount of earth and rock that is moved by humans. We directly move material in the following ways:
- burial and defensive purposes
- construction and infrastructure for settlement
- processing of metal ore
- waste generation
We also indirectly cause material to be moved. Humans expose soil through agricultural activities, and sediment is deposited as a result of dam construction. This material is then transferred through wind and water.
It is not just the landscape that has changed through the actions of humans. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) in the atmosphere have soared.
Sea Level Rise
The next threat to humans is one of sea level rise. We are already seeing how our UK coasts are being battered by high winds and rising tides. This is only set to get worse as the Earth’s temperature rises and more and more Arctic ice melts and falls into the sea. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), sea levels have risen some 3.1 mm per year since 1993. Around the world, we are seeing the effects of this already. Low-lying island nations, especially in equatorial regions, have been hit hardest and some are threatened with total disappearance. On Samoa, thousands of residents have moved to higher ground as shorelines have retreated by as much as 160 feet. Could we see this happening in other countries around the world, especially smaller islands, such as the UK? What would this cause? Could we see wars breaking out over the ownership of land?
What we do now will affect the future climate for years to come. So, as part of this week’s course, we asked what we, as individuals, can do to help our planet recover? After doing a little research and discussing the issue with other course members, I have come up with these suggestions:
- Insulate your walls and loft
- Turn off any lights or electric appliances that aren’t being used
- Walk, cycle or use public transport where possible
- Work online from home
- Install double glazing
- Lower the central heating thermostat
- Recycle as much as possible
- Try growing your own fruit and vegetables
- Eat less meat
- Switch off electronics at the wall
- Buy energy efficient appliances
- Reduce food waste
Your Carbon Footprint
A carbon footprint is described as the amount of carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere because of the electricity and fuel you use. It mostly depends on:
- how much energy you use to heat your home
- the electronics and appliances you use
- what kinds of transport you use day-to-day
- how often you fly
You can calculate your carbon footprint at the DirectGov website. Mine came out as follows:
- Home – 1.32 tonnes per year
- Appliances – 1.29 tonnes per year
- Travel – 0
Overall that is a carbon footprint of 2.6 tonnes a year. It was interesting to compare my total with others on the course and on the website. The national average is 4.46 tonnes a year. I found that my travel was low because I don’t own a car anymore and I rarely go out. When I do, I rely on lifts from other people. I am sure my score is more than 0, but it is a difficult one to calculate in my case. My appliance use was higher than the NA of 0.76 tonnes per year. I think this reflects my lifestyle. As I am ill a lot of the time and don’t go out much, I spend a lot of time at home watching television or using the computer. However, it is one a need to watch and could maybe lower if I remember to turn things off instead of leaving them on standby, or maybe unplug devices that I am not using.
It is an interesting thing to think about and as the UK aims to reduce carbon emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, we can all do our little bit to help. Many towns and cities around the world are joining the Transition Network. Our town, Honiton, has joined and we have made a start in making our town “greener”. There is now a herb wall in town, tended by volunteers and available to anyone who would like to stop by and try some of the home grown herbs. We have a gardening group that tends any patch of land they can find in the town, planting seeds and keeping our green areas looking good. They have also planted trees in some of our parks. They promote Fairtrade goods by having a regular fayre in the town’s Mackarness Hall where they also host many other fundraising events, and lots more. Check the Transition Network website to see if your town is linked and then see if there is anyway you can get involved.
That is the end of this course. I believe it will be run again later on in the year if anyone wants to join. It is well worth doing and you learn a lot about climate change and how it is affecting the Earth. I had never heard of snowball earth before I joined this course and it didn’t occur to me that carbon dioxide could so badly effect sea creatures. It has really opened my eyes and made me much more thoughtful about how I use electricity, for example. It has also posed many questions that I will continue to research. I would like to learn a lot more about the different forms of sustainable energy and what, if any, are being proposed locally. I am already looking at other courses on Future Learn and I intend to sign up for another one straight away!