The Utility of Formalisation of the Anthropocene for Science

In J. Zalasiewicz, C. Waters, M. Williams and C. Summerhayes (eds), The Anthropocene as a Geological Time Unit: A Guide to the Scientific Evidence and Current Debate. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019, pp. 31-40.

The mandate of the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) consists of two tasks. Its first task is comparable to the process regarding any other proposed geological time unit: to identify and assess geological evidence on whether the Anthropocene is scientifically justified in stratigraphy, in having a sufficiently large, clear, distinctive and persistent 'geological signal' already preserved in strata. The second task of the AWG is specific to this proposed geological time unit: to explain the usefulness of formalization of the Anthropocene for both geological and wider scientific communities, which in this case include those beyond the physical sciences. Ongoing work by the AWG relates to both tasks. There is, however, a difference in the scope that can be expected in each. Evidence presented in a formal proposal by the AWG regarding the first task will have to be conclusive - and the study of the AWG in that respect must necessarily be comprehensive. For the second task - the study of scientific usefulness - the arguments by the AWG will have to be convincing, even if remaining introductory only. This area of study necessarily exceeds the confines of the AWG and even of geology, offering potential for broader, transdisciplinary impacts extending to other natural sciences as well as to social sciences and humanities. This, in turn, leads to a major engagement in explaining the transformative dimensions of the Anthropocene, once formalized, for science as a whole.