Age of Anthropocene: Let the Sunshine In

I learned today that there’s a chronological term (like Jurassic and Cretaceous) to mark when human activities negatively impacted (I’m a little hasty with the past tense here) the Earth’s ecosystems. The Anthropocene, to my surprise, started 8,000 years ago when humans first started clearing forests and fields to cultivate crops. Our effects were pretty stagnant until about 2,000 years ago when Romans and Chinese were running around building their empires and dynasties. But our destruction really gained speed during the Industrial Revolution when we started spitting plumes greenhouse gases, soot, and metals into the air.

We’ve messed up a lot of things. We know that. Or, at least, most of us know that.

To further prove that our actions really do have consequences, a recent publication in Nature Communications studied the effect of human influence on global tree cover. I had hoped they used Google Earth to map the tree cover, but they were more advanced than my armchair science. To get topography information they used data from Shuttle Radar Topography Mission and something called MODIS, which makes me think of TARDIS but is actually nothing like that (I’ve been watching a little too much Doctor Who lately). Both are NASA projects using satellites to map various aspects of Earth.

They found slopes “act as a refugee for trees.” The more humans came the more trees fled to the slopes, like frightened cats running up the stairs every time the front door opens and someone new struts in. With enough people around, our activities start to dictate where the trees go. Areas with low fertility rates and low projected population growth (they mentioned Switzerland by name) managed to increase tree density on slopes. Which is nice, we’re learning to cohabitate with plants… as long as they stay on the bumpy parts.

Taken from Figure 3.

Relationship between slope and tree cover, which is “strongly skewed” towards positive values.

Another interesting aspect is that they found political and economic models could predict changes in tree coverage. And they made a decent model of just how much our (not so) little human dealings affect the environment. Surprisingly they found tree coverage actually increased between 2000 and 2005 (why they studied tree coverage almost a decade ago is beyond me).

Hopeful researchers predict a transition into the Sustainoscene through renewable energy (the paper I linked was very excited about solar cells) and more environmentally friendly industrial practices. Maybe one day we’ll learn to live on this world without ripping it up. That or discover FTL space travel and a suitable world so we can keep ripping shit up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s