Since the retreat of the last Ice Age, 11,000 years ago, we have lived in a geological period known as the Holocene epoch. In its relatively gentle climate, we developed agriculture, enabling us to settle, grow in number and create civilisations. We invented the book, the combustion engine and the Internet. More than 100 years ago, scientists first noticed that Earth’s temperature was warming, correlating with an increase in atmospheric carbon, which was traced to the combustion of fossil fuels. Then, with the world’s first nuclear test in 1945, we embedded a radioactive marker in the geological record. We have altered the Earth system, climatically and geologically. This is so remarkable that a group of scientists has argued we have begun a new epoch, the Anthropocene, the time of humans.
Projections suggest that if we continue to extract, combust, manufacture, till and spray as we have been, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, we will have run out of fertile topsoil and we will be on the path to global warming of 3C by 2100. This would cause human progress to decline precipitously from the mid century, bringing greater poverty, hunger, sickness and inequality than we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Nobody wants this. Many of us are striving for something better, through new regenerative business models and equitable human development. We are transforming how we produce food, recycle resources, generate and use energy, distribute wealth and protect nature. At the heart of this is an acceptance that Earth doesn’t revolve around humans, that we are part of a vast ecosystem that relies on the sun. Our sustainability can’t be anthropocentric, it must be heliocentric. Our future is a new epoch, the Heliocene.
The word Heliocene was coined by paleo-climatologist Summer Praetorius in her article Dawn of the Heliocene, published in Nautilus in September 2020.