The Earth will continue without us, and it will hardly notice we are gone, just as it hardly knew we were here.
A cinematic meditation on humanity’s massive reengineering of the planet. The Holocene Epoch gave way to the Anthropocene Epoch in the mid-twentieth century, because of profound and lasting Human changes to the Earth. From concrete seawalls in China to the biggest terrestrial machines ever built in Germany, to psychedelic potash mines in Russia’s Ural, to metal festivals in the closed city of Norilsk, to the devastated Great Barrier Reef in Australia and surreal lithium evaporation ponds in the Atacama desert.
Humanity’s impact on the Earth is so profound that a new geological epoch needs to be declared. Holocene must give way to epoch defined by nuclear tests, plastic pollution and domesticated chicken. The new epoch should begin about 1950 and was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet, by nuclear bomb tests, by carbon dioxide emissions, sea level rise, mass extinction, and the transformation of land by deforestation and development. Many of the changes are irreversible. Welcome to the Anthropocene
Since the planet is our life support system – we are essentially the crew of a large spaceship – interference with its functioning at this level and on this scale is highly significant. If we were crew on a smaller spacecraft, it would be unthinkable to interfere with the systems that provide us with air, water, and climate control. But the shift into the Anthropocene tells us that we are playing with fire, a potentially reckless mode of behaviour which we are likely to come to regret unless we get a grip on the situation.
The darkest prognosis for the next millennium is that biological, cyber or environmental catastrophes could foreclose humanity’s immense potential, leaving a depleted biosphere. This does not mean we are heading towards some kind of one-off cataclysm – another extinction event. It means we are already living through one.