Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

anthropocene_oil-1

Our marks on the planet don’t have to be permanent. They were put down by us and can be taken up or out by us too. (Photo:Getty/stock photo/Aleksandr Gavrilychev)

Anthropocene Means The Future Is in Our Hands

Ecologists around the world are making the case for societies to change the systems that oversee development and resource extraction so that ecosystem functionality—which supports all life—can be maintained or restored.

David Suzuki

 by David Suzuki Foundation

Geologists have classified most epochs in Earth's history according to fossils, radiometric dating and composition of the strata. The widely endorsed label for our current era, the Anthropocene, describes the extent to which our collective human footprint is changing the planet. It's a proposed "geological epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on Earth's geology and ecosystems."

Although life on Earth has undergone vast changes over millions of years, never before has one species been the cause.

It's not a surprise to hear that humanity's impact is negative overall, as evidenced by global climate change, biodiversity loss and species extinction. Although life on Earth has undergone vast changes over millions of years, never before has one species been the cause.

Happily, in response to our negative impacts, many humans are engaged in repairing historical and ongoing ecological damage. Alongside our long list of negative impacts, examples of positive effects abound.

Actions that degrade and repair the planet's ecosystems do not amount to a zero-sum game, though. At any moment places are being destroyed and restored, but they're not the same places, and the actions don't happen in equal measure. We haven't repaired nearly as much as we've degraded and destroyed. (In fact, most restoration initiatives are pet projects of the very industries damaging the land.)

It's unrealistic to imagine that human lives, coupled with our many wants and needs, could ever be benign for the planet. But no one is arguing for this. Ecologists around the world are making the case for societies to change the systems that oversee development and resource extraction so that ecosystem functionality—which supports all life—can be maintained or restored.

Figuring out and upholding thresholds to ensure ecosystem health is not easy. Much thought has gone into determining goals to tip the scales in nature's favour, so that initiatives to heal the planet will outweigh activities that further degrade it, and ecosystem health can be restored where it's been lost.

Some scientists have argued that "nature needs half"—that half the planet's natural areas should be protected to maintain the processes that support human and non-human well-being. Considering we're just one of around 10 million animal species, and many areas we grudgingly yield are covered with rock, ice and snow, that's not a lot.

Last year, a group of international conservationists released a paper that advanced benchmarks to achieve a "nature positive" world. The goals are to reach zero net loss of nature after 2020, damage less than we repair by 2030 (become "net positive") and achieve "full recovery" by 2050.

Full recovery could mean many things. The Convention on Biological Diversity links it to ecosystem services maintenance: "By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people."

Our federal government is responsive to these targets and has made commitments to achieve them. However, it has not come up with a plan that outlines how these goals will be assessed and reported, nor defined what full recovery would look like in the Canadian context.

But there's wind in the sails; the UN has even declared this the "decade on restoration."

Our marks on the planet don't have to be permanent. They were put down by us and can be taken up or out by us too. We can apply the same ingenuity we used to construct the infrastructure we've imposed on the world around us to reconfigure it. Roads that fragment wildlife can be pulled out and replanted with vegetation; dams that block fish can be torn down.

As the editors of the essay collection Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet write, acts of restoration give us an opportunity to explore the question, "How can we repurpose the tools of modernity against the terrors of Progress to make visible the other worlds it has ignored and damaged?"

Our impacts on the planet are ongoing. One way of looking at the Anthropocene is to recognize that we are continually shaping the world with every development and restoration plan. Restoration initiatives give us the chance to hold the ground, literally, until, as Barry Lopez wrote in his book Horizon, "industrial expansion ends and begins to show signs of drawdown" and the scales tip back toward the health of lands and waters and the life they support.


© 2019 David Suzuki Foundation
David Suzuki

David Suzuki

David Suzuki , an award-winning geneticist and broadcaster, co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation in 1990. He was a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, and is currently professor emeritus. Suzuki is widely recognized as a world leader in sustainable ecology and has received numerous awards for his work, including a UNESCO prize for science and a United Nations Environment Program medal.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Trump Says Mar-a-Lago 'Under Siege, Raided, and Occupied' by FBI

"I'm glad to see the FBI taking steps towards accountability," said U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

Common Dreams staff ·


New Ad Against Herschel Walker Features Ex-Wife's Domestic Violence Accusations

A leader at the anti-Trump group behind the advertisement targeting the U.S. Senate candidate said that "our campaign is built around the voices of Georgia Republicans who know that he's unfit for office."

Jessica Corbett ·


Michigan AG Urges Probe of Alleged GOP-Led Effort to Break Into Voting Machines

"We must denounce the Big Lie and those who refuse to uphold the will of the people in our elections," said one democracy defender.

Brett Wilkins ·


Hopes Rise for Return to Iran Nuclear Deal Destroyed by Trump

"We stand five minutes or five seconds from the finish line," said one negotiator, who added that "three or four issues" that are "sensitive for Iranians and Americans" remain to be resolved.

Brett Wilkins ·


Sinema Received Over $500K From Private Equity Before Shielding Industry From Tax Hikes

"Remember the days when taking half a million bucks from an industry, and then passing legislation that only benefits that industry, while passing the costs onto everyone else, would be called corruption?" asked one critic. "Today it's just lobbying as usual."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo