Anthropocene declaration warrants climate action

Laura Hallas

Last week, scientists reached another landmark climate change consensus with the recommended declaration of the Anthropocene epoch — a period of man changing Earth.  No doubt this pronouncement will have major implications, and on the eve of the upcoming Texas legislative session, one of these impacts should be the creation of the proposed Global Climate Change Commission.

This isn’t the time or place to draw out the effects of climate change — experts have studied and warned about the phenomenon for years. With UT’s climate experts less than two miles away and the relevance of climate change on Texas policy, the legislature should recognize their proximity to climate change and the discussion it warrants. 

Until recently, humans weren’t believed to have the ability to alter the Earth in a substantial way. The current geological epoch, Holocene, hasn’t changed for more than 11,000 years. The Holocene epoch started with the emergence from the Ice Age and was characterized by the development of civilization and stable climate warming — keyword, stable.

The expert panel has recommended Anthropocene’s beginning as 1950, around the time when nuclear testing began. These radioactive materials, as well as other man-made materials like plastics, have been detected in rock across the world, such as plastic water bottle fossils. And then, of course, there are usual climate change culprits: the exponential buildup of carbon dioxide, warming oceans, increased soil erosion and altered weather patterns.

Explicitly labeling the time since 1950 as a period of human change could serve as a powerful rallying point and remove much of the ambiguity surrounding human responsibility. Scientifically recognizing a period of human effects on the Earth also implies that we, those same humans, can do something about it.

Many states around the U.S. have already enacted committees in their legislatures, as has the federal government. In a presidential race where climate change may emerge as a defining issue, a group of policymakers dedicated to the issue is just a matter of keeping up with the times.

Timothy Beach, geography and the environment professor, emphasizes that individual states and cities can do a lot to minimize climate change, and that there are many different groups and fields who will continue to contribute to addressing climate change issues.

“I think the real implication for us, for humans living on the Earth, is that there may be a period where we have changed the Earth so much, that it compromises our existence,” Beach said. “Aspects of that are debatable, but the truth is that parts aren’t debatable, like climate change, sea level rise, loss of species, real strong potential for loss of plant productivity and thus agricultural productivity, the loss of land that we could use to grow crops.”

A state as large and diverse as Texas will almost certainly experience intense and widespread effects from Anthropocene activities. Historic flooding in 2016 and extreme droughts in 2014 have already been linked to climate change.

As the hottest year on record comes to an end, and the new legislative session begins, Texas policymakers should develop the framework for effective climate policy.

Hallas is a Plan II and health and society sophomore from Allen. Follow her on Twitter @LauraHallas.