Life on Earth is so resilient that usually extinction is followed by extensive diversification and emergence of new flora and fauna to exploit and occupy the available resources and niches. The emergence of Man on Earth is also due to disappearance of the huge dinosaurs from Earth. Dr Shaju Thomas, Senior Writer Fellow of the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment ( KSCSTE), shows how the same Man, who emerged as an outcome of extinction, is causing extinction in a big way
Today, Mother Earth is severely affected by the actions of her own children – the Homo sapiens. Human dominance on Earth has an all-pervasive effect, despite the fact that humans emerged only 2 million years before present, which is a miniscule time compared with the origin of life, which happened around 3.5 to 3 billion years ago. But, human impact on Earth, and the way in which we modify our surroundings are unheard of or unseen in the history of life on Earth. And, this prompted ecologist Eugene Stoermer and Nobel Prize winning chemist Dr Paul Crutzen coined the term ‘Anthropocene’ in 2000 to denote the present time interval, in which many important geological and biological changes are happening owing to human activities.
The term ‘Anthropocene’ is not a formally defined geological unit within the geological time scale. A proposal to formalise the ‘Anthropocene’ is being developed by the Anthropocene Working Group for consideration by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, with a current target date of 2016. Most probably, this proposal will be accepted and it will get a place in daily usage to denote human dominance on Earth.
Why are we bothered about the term and its impact? The main reason is the emerging extinction of many life forms due to human interventions in nature. We know that all organisms modify their environment and humans are no exception. From our hunter-gatherer to present-day techno-centric way of life, our alterations of the environment are huge, irreparable and irrecoverable.
A majority of the animals build nest for living. We, too, construct dwelling places. From the traditional thatched hut, to the tiled, to the asbestosed, to the current concrete jungles, our abodes are quite different from all other animals. The way in which we cultivate, too, underwent massive changes, from the beginning of agriculture, which, in turn, helped our ancestors a settled life and food security.
The jump into industrial revolution and the mode of natural resource use, production and marketing of things also underwent revolutionary changes over time, from need-based to mass-produced and globally marketed. All these, heavily impacted our planet – both its abiota and biota in a big way, and we really are in the midst of a mass extinction of plants and animals. This mass extinction, which is the first of its kind in the past half-billion years, is designated as the ‘Sixth Mass Extinction’ by scientists and conservationists.
(Read more on this article in the December issue of Safety Messenger Magazine 2015)