The climate change convinced dared to dream a dream: that human beings, single-handedly, uniquely, in the 4.2 billion year geological history of planet Earth, had, some time within the last few hundred years, initiated a new geological epoch they dubbed the Anthropocene. They have lovingly nurtured their dream for nearly two decades now, eagerly anticipating the day when it would finally be officially accepted as the most recent geological epoch, the one which ended the (natural) Holocene, replacing it with the decidedly unnatural, man-made Anthropocene. Alas, ’twas not to be.

It already wasn’t looking that good for the Anthropocene to be honest. It had many critics among geologists especially, then along came this excoriating article recently by Mark Sagoff of George Mason University who renamed it, rather aptly and somewhat amusingly, the Narcisscene. As Sagoff points out pertinently in his article:

Geologic epochs typically last around three million years. In establishing them, the ICS has historically proceeded by first identifying a stratum or “chronostratigraphic unit,” which is usually categorized in terms of the fossils it contains. By figuring out how long fossil layers took to accumulate, geologists date them and derive the geologic time scale, which is used to estimate the age of the Earth.

By contrast, in convening the AWG to determine the onset of the Anthropocene, the ICS apparently abandoned this practice, instead presuming that the new epoch had already begun and then casting about for a fossil record or other stratigraphic evidence of the existence of the Anthropocene and of when exactly it began.

This has been the main bone of contention among opponents of the Anthropocene; the fact that it cannot be defined conventionally according to evidence dug up from the past, i.e. a clearly defined stratigraphic layer of fossilised remains and mineral deposits combined with the palaeo-climatological evidence of the changing climate and the abrupt increase in CO2 from ice cores. Anthropoceenies have countered with various arguments re. the onset of farming, mass tree felling/land clearance, nuclear tests and most recently the widespread problem of plastic rubbish floating around in our oceans. These things, they contest, will demarcate the beginning of the Anthropocene once they’ve been squished down into a thin layer by Mother Nature and buried beneath more recent deposits. But Anthropoceenies can’t wait that long so they ask us to suspend our scepticism and basically imagine that in several millennia from now, the incontrovertible evidence for a new geological epoch will be there, in the hard geological record; a globally identifiable, well-defined, stratigraphic layer. Meanwhile, they can flaunt their new epoch to politicians and policy-makers as ‘evidence’ that humans are indeed profoundly affecting the planet and that we must do something about it.

Anthropoceenies got their very own working group at the ICS (International Commission on Stratigraphy) and it was all going swingingly until another group of scientists at the ICS announced earlier this month that the most recent unit of the Geologic Time Scale is now officially the Late Holocene Meghalayan Age. Not a new geological epoch, just a most recent subdivision of the Holocene, starting around 4200 years ago, precipitated by a natural climatic event which coincided with the collapse of civilisations across the globe.

The Late Holocene Meghalayan Age, newly-ratified as the most recent unit of the Geologic Time Scale, began at the time when agricultural societies around the world experienced an abrupt and critical mega-drought and cooling 4,200 years ago. This key decision follows many years of research by Quaternary scientists, scrutinized and tested by the subcommissions of the International Commission on Stratigraphy under the chairmanship of Professor David Harper, Durham University, UK.

Agricultural-based societies that developed in several regions after the end of the last Ice Age were impacted severely by the 200-year climatic event that resulted in the collapse of civilizations and human migrations in Egypt, Greece, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and the Yangtze River Valley.  Evidence of the 4.2 kiloyear climatic event has been found on all seven continents.

The 4.2kyr climatic event was one of a series of North Atlantic Cold Events which affected climate and circulation patterns across the globe and involved the slowing of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), at least some of which also coincided with a marked downturn in solar activity. The Little Ice Age Maunder Minimum marked the culmination of the last Holocene North Atlantic Cold Event. The 4.2kyr event resulted in cooling and intense aridification across many regions of the globe, including North Africa, Spain, the Arabian Peninsula, south central Asia and India, Mesopotamia and China.

Afterwards, the global climate continued to gradually cool and stayed dry, unlike in the early Holocene when the ‘norm’ was hot and humid. Quite obviously then, the beginning of the latest geological subdivision of the Holocene coincided with natural climate change (a transition to cooler and drier). It remains to be seen if the modest warming we’ve seen since 1850, the early phase of which consisted of a recovery from the LIA, will reverse that cooling and drying trend. There is little convincing evidence thus far that modern climate change is highly unusual in that it exceeds the bounds of past natural Holocene climate variability.

Prof Mark Maslin, of University College London, has invested considerable time and energy in researching and promoting the Anthropocene, along with his colleague Simon Lewis, and as such is considerably peeved by it being effectively sidelined by this new official ratification from the ICS:

I doubt this will mark the end of efforts to try and get the Anthropocene officially recognised, but it deals a severe blow to that endeavour and to the concept that humans drive global environmental change. Quite the opposite in fact, it affirms that the most recent subdivision of geological time involved human civilisation being severely affected by natural global climate change.

NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt wasn’t too happy about Judith Curry effectively dissing the Anthropocene by quoting Sagoff’s excellent article above either. Bizarrely, he posted this tweet in response as somehow providing ‘proof’ that the signal of the current warming episode and the accompanying increase in atmospheric CO2 is comparable to the signal of the PETM warming episode 56 million years ago! (Hint: just look at the chronological scales of both ‘events’ and note also that most of the ‘signal’ in the modern event consists of model projections).

Not really a very convincing argument for adopting the Anthropocene I think!


  1. The BBC has picked up on the news and quotes Maslin:

    “Already the decision to discriminate ages within the Holocene has drawn fire from some scientists who believe the move is premature. They question whether some of the climate shifts used as anchors for the new ages were truly global in their impact.

    They are also concerned that the divisions have been approved when there is still an active debate about assigning a new geologic slice of time to reflect specifically the influence of humans on the planet.

    Tentatively referred to as the Anthropocene, its precise definition – its beginning point and the spike used to denote its initiation – is the subject of ongoing research.

    Mark Maslin is professor of geography at University College London, UK, and a key figure in the Anthropocene discussion.

    He told BBC News: “After the original paper and going through various committees, they’ve suddenly announced [the Meghalayan] and stuck it on the diagram. It’s official, we’re in a new age; who knew? We have lots of new definitions that perhaps now contradict the Anthropocene Working Group and go against what most scientists perceive to be the most important change on Earth in the last 10,000 years.”


  2. I posted this over at Bishop Hill and thought it relevant here

    “Meghalayan, Anthropocene. Who cares? It’s not important. Even the Holocene is not important and really is only the latest interglacial within the Pleistocene, making the Quaternary (Pleistocene + Holocene) unnecessary. It’s only because we think ourselves super-important that we give so much importance to these latest slivers of time that involve us. Some humans also believe we are so damn important that we can affect the Earth globally and this is unique – they forget the evolution of turf-forming grasses in the Miocene that clothed semi arid areas with vegitation for the first time, creating grasslands, that must have substantially reduced erosion of those regions and allowed evolution of the savanna biota.

    There are also confusions about subdivisions of time (which actually can only be subdivided artificially) and subdivisions of the geological rock record. Thus we can talk about the London Clay (a rock unit) being of Eocene age (a time Unit).

    My advice, ignore this squabble, it’s of no importance.”

    Liked by 3 people

  3. There are two things (as always): what it really means in scientific terms, and what it means in the world. The latter was always the laser-like focus of the Anthropoweenies. The goal was always to get something officially sanctified in the attempts of which the activists are not at all averse to using the scientific aspect to persuade, beg, and plead their way through. Once done (which is now thwarted), the next step would have been to turn around, shed the pious robes of science and declare ‘it is now official, mankind has changed Earth forever.’

    Dump this anti-scientific nonsense.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Maslin is whining. Dozens of sulky tweets from him today. But the IUGS are having none of it, in fact accusing him of “seriously misrepresenting” things:


  5. Is Maslin really arguing that scientific papers exist that state that periods of time – the Quaternary and the Holocene – should not exist? How can time not exist? This does not seem to represent the reasoning of a sane person. Could it be that Maslin does not understand what chronostratigraphic units are?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Alan, indeed he does seem to suggest that such papers exist. See if you can guess who wrote them.

    Yes, it’s a paper by Lewis and Maslin. But they cite other authorities in their argument, for example Maslin and Lewis, before drawing conclusions about “the anomaly that the Holocene Epoch was ratified”.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, just going through the tweets. There’s enough dust being kicked up by this new classification to be able to define the beginning of a new geological epoch, once it settles! Geology just got exciting!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. :Gosh “the Late Holocene Meghalayan Age, newly-ratified as the most recent unit of the Geologic Time Scale, began at the time when agricultural societies around the world experienced an abrupt and critical mega-drought and cooling 4,200 years ago. This key decision follows many years of research by Quaternary scientists, scrutinized and tested by the subcommissions of the International Commission on Stratigraphy under the chairmanship of Professor David Harper, Durham University, UK.”

    So strange that the beginning of this new time unit, advertised as being so important and well marked at 2250 BC, was not identifiable previously in Europe where the boundaries between the Atlantic, a warm moist phase and the Subboreal at 5700BP and between the Subboreal and the Subatlantic at 2600BP have been recognized for decades (see–Sernander_system).

    Might be interesting to pursue who has been pushing the “official” subdivision of the Holocene and why, but I can’t really be arsed.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Interesting article at The Atlantic on this dispute:

    “What the fuck is the Meghalayan?” asked Ben van der Pluijm, a geologist.

    “Whatever the Meghalayan is, we live in it now.”

    “I was stunned by this whole thing,” says van der Pluijm, who is a professor of geology at the University of Michigan. “I think they’ve trivialized the Anthropocene by doing this.”

    Van der Pluijm believes that the ICS slighted the Anthropocene by chopping the Holocene into three. The timescale “shouldn’t be cut into smaller and smaller pieces,” he told me. “This is a bit of a silly activity. It’s very Monty Python—the Ministry of Silly Cuts.”

    Finney agreed that the new subdivisions were not meant to slight the Anthropocene working group. “People have tried to say, ‘Oh, this was hidden, it was not transparent, it was dumped on the world. There’s a bitter fight between the Holocene and the Anthropocene working group,’” he said.

    But Zalasiewicz’s support for the new subdivisions proved this was not the case, he told me. “The chairman [of the Anthropocene working group] voted to approve these subdivisions, and he did it back in 2016. So there’s no collusion. Nothing’s hidden. Those charges, they’re lies.”

    He then criticized the Anthropocene working group at length, accusing them of committing ethical lapses and of courting an unseemly amount of press coverage.

    “They have an incredible press campaign that has misrepresented the science and history of the units of stratigraphy,” he said.

    He charges that the Anthropocene working group has fixated on finding a “golden spike” in time to start the new epoch. They have failed to find “a stratigraphic unit,” a rock layer that associates with the Anthropocene.

    “Anthropogenic climate change is real, there’s no doubt about that,” Finney said. But he said that geologists didn’t need a new “core stratigraphic unit” to discuss this change: They could just say the year when things happened. “If you find a pile of garbage somewhere, then ‘That’s the Anthropocene!’ No, that’s a garbage dump,” he said.



  10. Strata of the Anthropocene used to identified on British geological maps as “made ground”.


  11. As Jaime reports, Sagoff’s article is excoriating indeed, all the more so for being so erudite, matter of fact and low key. It brings into sharp focus the astonishing hubris of those who seek to reverse the Copernican revolution by placing Man back at the centre of the cosmos, as he puts it.

    Sagoff’s statement that, “It is the first rule of rationality that reason recognize its limits” is an apt rebuke to Maslin et al, and to Colose and Seitz, who commented negatively under the article, the former calling it “extremely poorly thought out”! Pearls and swine come to mind.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Oz, Great Southern Land, is a land of distances, hence our screeching cockatoos,
    the carrying laughing song of kookaburras and boy scout call … ‘coo-ee!’

    Don’t think Brad heard me, Alan. )


  13. Beth. I lived for a time in the great white equivalent of Oz – Canada, with its sounds of howling wolves.
    There is a perhaps apocryphal tale of messages passed between English and ex-pat relatives living in the Prairies at a time when trans Atlantic flights had to refuel at Gander in Newfoundland.
    English relative: “uncle Fred flying to see you, suggest you meet him at Gander”
    Canadian relative: “You meet him, you’re nearer!”


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