Buzzword: n. proposed epoch that starts when human activities began to have a significant impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems.


Derivational Affixation

anthropo- (Greek, ἄνθρωπος,”human”) + -cene (from Greek kainos, for “new”, now meaning “recent” in terms of Geologic periods; part of Cenozoic era)


The term was originally used by Soviet scientists in the 1960s to refer to the most recent geological tiAnthropocene-copyme period. However, in the 2000’s it was popularized with a new sense by chemist Paul J. Crutzen, who believed that human behavior had such a significant impact on the Earth’s atmosphere that the start of humans’ impact on Earth should constitute the creation of a new geological epoch. In January of  2016, a paper in Science suggested the time since the mid-20th century should be a distinct geological epoch, separate from the Holocene, the most recent epoch, as a result of the impact of human activity.

Sociolectal Information:

A buzzword in the debates over climate change. Since the first proposal to make the Anthropocene a formal part of the Geological Time Scale was presented to the Geological Society of London in 2008, environmentalists who believe that humans are to blame for many recent atmospheric and geographical changes have been pushing to formalize the term. However, many geologists and stratigraphers (scientists who study rock layers) are skeptical that there really is enough evidence to constitute the creation of a brand new epoch, especially since it is hard to define when exactly humans started having an impact on the Earth (some say it began with the Industrial Revolution, while others trace it as far back as the agricultural revolution). Other skeptics point out that the effect of human activity on the Earth should not be attributed to all of humanity, especially since it was capitalists in the Western world who were originally responsible for the Industrial Revolution.

Not only has the term become important in the rhetoric of environmental scientists and conservationists, but it has fueled new ideas and thought in both politics and the humanities in terms of how to attempt to correct the environmental issues humans are now finding themselves faced with. One of the more radical ideas associated with the term is the idea that the division between human beings and the natural world no longer exists, since there is no place or living thing that humans have not effected. Thus, we as a species should not be focusing on how to protect the environment from human impact. Rather, we should be considering how we should shape a world that we can’t avoid affecting. Many activists and politicians are using the idea of the Anthropocene as a useful starting point for arguments for more inclusive democracies and a world where people are able to come together and work towards a common goal of surviving in a world that we are constantly changing.


The idea of the Anthropocene seems to emphasize a feeling of urgency for most scientists and conservationists and a sense of responsibility to make immediate changes. It doesn’t change anyone’s minds about the effects of humans on the environment, but it amplifies fears and concerns and makes people even more invested in the debate. The Anthropocene works in a similar way that the terms ‘the environment’ and ‘the ecological crisis’ did in the past by combining multiple serious issues in the modern world like extinction, litter, radiation, and deforestation, and thus causing an increased sense of panic and urgency.

Survival Predictions:

A proposal to make the Anthropocene a formal part of the Geological Time Scale is set to be reviewed by the International Commission on Stratigraphy later in 2016, and the survival of the term seems likely to depend on the outcome of the committee. If it is approved, the proposal would be ratified by the International Union of Geological Sciences before it was formally adopted as part of the time scale, and if this should occur, the term is likely to become a standard term in scientific discussions.


I think that the term is very likely to survive and that it is a useful tool for defining issues revolving around climate change. Even if the Anthropocene does not become a formal part of the Geological Time Scale, I think it will remain a useful term in climate change debates. Even though people who do not support the idea that climate change is a direct effect of human activity will be forced to at least acknowledge the words in debates about global warming, so it isn’t likely that the word will just disappear. As long as climate change is a relevant discussion or “hot topic”, and as long as we are constantly faced with a changing environment, the Anthropocene will be a useful word for various sides to lay out their arguments.

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  1. Hannah Menchel says:

    I loved this post! It introduced me to a word that I was not aware of, and was very clear and well written, as well as engaging. It captivated my interest, and provoked me to do my own research on the word and learn more about it. The video was also amazing- it was great that you were able to get an interview with an expert in the field that you are researching, and it was a wonderful addition to the post that helped explain the word and its place in the world without seeming redundant. This post seemed to be very thoroughly researched as well, and was specific enough without being too technical. I also really loved that you included outside sources, like the other video and the links to different web pages, as those provide a wonderful jumping off point for people to look more in-depth about the word.
    I think it might also be interesting if you expanded on whether or not the word carries any particular emotional or political charge. Does it have a negative connotation? How do politics factor in to who uses the word and who doesn’t? It might also be interesting to see what opinions some students at William and Mary may have about the word.
    Overall, this was a wonderful post! Excellent job.

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