Anthropocene

Update: 2016-09-301
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Some scientists say we're in a new geological age where humans are having an unprecedented impact on Earth. This hour, TED speakers ask what this means for the future of our planet, and our species.

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support for this podcast in the following message come from concur a service where employees get simplified expense reports and business leaders get full visibility into their company spending habits expense travel invoice learn more at concurred dot com slash Radio Hour this the the is the Head Radio Hour each week the groundbreaking Ted talks Technology Design at Stanford delivered and Ted conferences around the world gift of the human had to believe in impossible the true nature of reality beckons just beyond those talks those ideas adapted for radio NPR guy rise know that the birthplace of dinosaur paleontology is actually in New Jersey B as the world's first really substantial dinosaur skeleton was found in Haddonfield New Jersey in eighteen fifty eight and the world's first harass or was found about a mile from my quarry hundred and fifty years ago this week dishes can like of our bees a paleontologist and dean of the School of Earth and Environment at Rowan University which runs a dinosaur quarry in New Jersey wonderful place yet the New Jersey Turnpike doesn't exactly scream birthplace of paleontology it has not yet because just about like factories and yet the dinosaurs we're there to be do you do when you're driving in New Jersey Turnpike will I do because I know what Geological formations I'm driving over ok so it's just a dressy driving down in New Jersey Turnpike if you like a dinosaur and went back to what would that the war that look like real well if the if you are back in the Cretaceous period the last of the time of the dinosaurs and you're driving from New York to Philadelphia on the New Jersey Turnpike you would be driving across water for the most part so the coastline would be a little bit to the west of there and so the dinosaurs that we find in New Jersey are what we call the float and float dinosaur so these are dinosaurs that died on the beach and get up in the water probably initially sank when they get a lung full of water and then the body starts to decay and as those decay gases build up in the body the carcass floats they become like this big giant Bobby me through Etsy and as the body to K's and pieces of the skeleton start to drop out of the carcass and settle to the seafloor and that's what we find in the Cretaceous deposits of pictures and those Cretaceous deposits mark a Geological Europe and here is how geologists measure time and the usually created by these big world changing events and so when the dinosaurs go extinct and seventy five percent of life goes extinct after meteor hits the plan that's in your abound that's when we change from the masses are to the centers are so think of an era like an hour clock right it's a lot of time tens of millions of years and like an hour it's made up of smaller increments but instead of minutes and seconds they're known as periods and epics in our case we are in the center's owh era which started at the end of the time of the dinosaurs we are in the kwa tertiary period which is within the Senate so Kara and within the contrary the house scene at the Coliseum epic basically defined by the development of our human civilization but in Geological time the hall a scene is tiny only the last eleven thousand seven hundred years basically since the end of the last ice age it's roughly correlated with the technical definition the policy has to do with the extinction of a snail species in Sicily don't really Yeah how just one fine day yet they have to find a marker wow so other geologists can say with arid as there's the snail there's not a snail that's when we set the boundary humans here's your age or snail died in Italy right yeah but here's the thing a lot has changed since that snail died in Italy we humans have made our presence felt on the planet more than any other species in Earth's history and what that means for our future isn't yet clear and so it was Winston Churchill who said the further back you look the further ahead you can see and so if we want to know how the Earth biosphere is going to respond to the things that humans are doing to the planet right now the only evidence that we have is is how biotech systems have responded in the past and based on the past several million we know the earth goes through natural cycles of cooling effect twenty thousand years ago most of North America was covered in a giant ice sheet might have been a mile or more high at the North Pole that extended all the way down to East Brunswick New Jersey or the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania or deep down and Illinois in the Midwest just south of Agra southern New Jersey is that was thunder and based on that past we know that the Earth and should be getting cooler right about now but it's not it's getting warmer and the divergence between ought to be and where we're going we can attribute that to the human influence that we're having on the climb and for that reason some scientists have proposed thinking about our place in Geological history differently that the world today is a lot different than it was when that snail died in Italy and that we need a new term for a new epic The nt prophecy the A and prophecy and essentially would be the time of human influence on the planet is controversial though because geology is a retrospective disciplined the rocks of the three posts seen haven't been deposited yet really but at the same time I think it's a really useful tool in the same way that we would discuss the the Iron Age or the bronze Age certainly we have entered into a new age on our planet we're changing things in many cases in irreparable ways and that will certainly be recorded in the Geological record there's no doubt if you can go the five ten fifteen million years into the future and dig down to two thousand sixteen you would be able to find the Geological evidence that humans occupy the planet so today on the show be and promising ideas about a new human age an age that changing our planet in unprecedented ways and what that might mean for future like of our returns later with the story of one dinosaur that reveals a lot about where we're headed but first how should we relate to the idea at the end trap a scene right now we just kill me just clarify This Is It and prophecy in or throw proceed or answer Pacino or Anthro Pacino I I've heard that it's the US UK difference this is an American writer and discover nature and the environment for years with the Say Say Say and the Pacino you do and saying prophesy my interviews and making a sound like a pompous jerk you know what it's possible that either version makes us sound like it's okay right however you say it and I believe the world is full of signs that were living in the and prophecy no matter you're looking at no matter how many days you spent hiking away from the road you're still in a landscape shaped by humans because of climate change every place on earth has more carbon dioxide in it than it use to those who have influence of humans is everywhere I even in places we think of as I'm touched the camera picks up the idea from the third stage races like Yellowstone or the ongoing staff or the Great barrier reef or the Serengeti places that we think of as kind of the deck representations of nature before we screwed everything up and away they are less impacted by our day to day activities many of these places have no roads are few roads but ultimately even these evenings are deeply influenced by finance analysis ignores America for exams and SATs were meeting crater Lake in Southern Oregon which is my closest national park is a beautiful example of a landscape that seems to be coming out of the pass but they are managing it carefully one of the issues they have now is wait for hym die off my crankiness a beautiful native flora that grows up at high altitude and it's got all these problems renowned disease there's a blister rust was introduced bark beetle so to deal with this the Park Service has banned planting rust resistant white bark pine seedlings in the park and if anything is really much more common than you'd think national parks are heavily manage the wild laces kept a certain population size and structure fires are suppressed fires are started non native species are removed native species are introduced it takes a lot of work to make these places look of taps additionally these sort of e dentist places are often distant from where people live and they're expensive to get to their hard to visit so this means that they're only available to the elites and that's our real problem and then a further irony these places that meal of the most other places that we love a little too hard sometimes a lot of us like to go there and cover managing him to see stable in the face of a changing planet they often are becoming more fragile over time and because nature is changing the mare says we need to start to rethink how we define what nature is the and that starts when we're kids I got two kids six and for the gas pedal of time and nature yes the is a lot of bug in an observation that happens all the kids love to look for grasshoppers the SF is in the dragonflies and Raleigh police and the cool thing about really poses that when you touch them they roll up the two little balls I the the the the we don't tend to make you very much ground we don't tend to really rack up the miles roll the kind of exploring what's around me the the list those we are actual kids we're just hearing that Woody says that because this cat well some places my kids love the most are empty lots and little un moon strips by the sides of a commercial building or just alongside the road with all this is happening and in the empty lots yeah they love them the way you raise your kids to think that nature in a while totally different way yes I do because we keep making all these rules for what you can as nature you know it's gotta be pristine or it's gonna be wild and Scott and have only native plants animals in it and they're they're they're not coming up with these these kind of exclusionary categories there see nature everyday so as they walk out the door cuz they're down they're looking at the Hanson leads in the street trees and the burden of the Robinson the pigeons and we stop seen the small bits of nature as nature partially to set a familiarity and partly because we have these grand categories but but they don't make those distinctions necessarily mean to them it's just like bugs and plants right and you know they come into this world with a very open huge inclusive definition of nature and what I worry about is that we then train them to not see a lot of that nature with answer of talk them out of enjoying a lot of the nature that's available to them on a daily basis the the At the rate of climate is changing the rate that species are moving around a lot of earth is going to be changed then another generation there was really necessarily be that many of those places left in the the the merits is back in just a minute with more ideas about rethinking nature in the age of humans the end prophecy and Guy rise endure listening to the Ted Radio Hour from NPR The O Haven one just a quick thanks to two of our sponsors who help keep this podcast going first two stamps dot com was damn stuck on You can avoid time consuming trips to the post office buy and print official US postage for any letter or package right from your computer over six hundred thousand small businesses already use stamps the comp right now if you signed up for stamps that come you get a special offer a four week trial plus postage and the digital scale that stance dot com click on the microphone and tape in NPR thanks also to Pres the business better way to present if your tired of selling to customers using the same old deck slides tribe as a business near the engaging interactive presentation platform that features built in Analytics cloud based collaboration tools and the unique ability to adapt with the flow of conversation perhaps it's time to update your marketing in your professional reputation with presentations customers will actually enjoy and remember schedule your free demo at Pres the dot com slash NPR it's the Ted Radio Hour from NPR guy rise and on the show today ideas about the end probably seen this new age of unprecedented human influence on the planet and we're just hearing from environmental writer and a mess whose idea is that since the natural world is changing we have to change how we perceive it I remember I was in Hawaii once I was in a car with a bunch of apologists and we were driving down this jungle and was beautiful it was young flowers cascading down the waterfalls and huge leaves dripping with water and there was a sign that said it was a scenic Byway and all the colleges and cards laughed and who did because none of those plants were from Hawaii and so in their eyes it was hideous they had trained themselves to only see ugliness when it was a pristine you know that's a real shame yeah so what are we going to do with this this interesting nature that surrounds us are we going to be able to see the beauty Anna are we going to be able to value it even though our fingerprints are on it here's Emma again from the Ted stage I think that nature is and where life thrives anywhere where there are multiple species together anywhere that is green and blue and thriving and filled with life and grow and under that definition things look a little bit different all the sudden we see this monarch caterpillar munching on these plants and we realize that there is in this empty lot in Chattanooga I mean there's like probably a dozen minimum plant species growing their support in all kinds of insect life this is a kind of wild nature radar knows that we don't even notice here's an example Philadelphia there's this cool elevated railway that you can see from the ground has been abandoned now this may sound like the beginning of the Highline certain Manhattan it's very similar except they haven't developed this into a park yet although they're working so for now it still does all sort of secret wilderness in the heart of Philadelphia and if you know with a whole is in the teeming fans you can scramble up to the ha and you can find this completely wild Meadow is floating above the city of Philadelphia every single one of these plants grew from a seed that planted itself there is is completely autonomous self willed nature and there over fifty plant species such as plants this is an ecosystem functioning ecosystem is creating soil of sequestered carbon there's pollination going on I mean this is really an ecosystem scientists assert current cases like these novel ecosystems because they are often dominated by non native species and because they're just super weird they're just unlike anything we've ever seen before for so long we dismiss all these knowledge ecosystems as trash talking that we grown agricultural fields timber plantations that are not being managed on a day to day basis second growth forests generally entire East Coast where after agriculture word moved west to the forest sprang up and of course pretty much all of Hawaii where the weaknesses of the norm where exotic species totally dominate you can make an anomaly caused it it's really simple you to stop calling you on the mean even if we all stumble in airlines raining there's still a lot of actual May trout are being destroyed so had we had to keep some of that the thing is that as planned changes it's going to be more and more expensive and time consuming this keep ecosystems from changing but I do think it's worth doing in small areas so there's a guy named Greg applique he's a really smart guy and he's come up with the sort of landscape level solution for how we do conservation which I think it's brilliant and basically the way you do it is you divide up your landscape into three chunks and one chunk you classically restore you to keep the place looking the way it did at whatever sort of time period you have data about the pre development state and the second chunk you do innovative approaches and you you bring things in that you think might do better under the new climate try stuff out because we're going to need more innovative approaches in a changing world and then the third child you do nothing you just watch as nature itself adapts to all of these new challenges and changes and you take note of what becomes the new resilient tough ecosystem that emerges yes and we're not really sure yet which of these strategies will be most effective in doing things like preventing extensions so trying all three I think is a great idea yeah I guess is it's kind like hedging our bets because we don't really know when nature is going to be like for future generations might write because we're not sure what our great grandchildren are really going to value are they going mostly to be concerned that we kept species from going extinct are they going to be really upset if we manage everything and there's nothing that's really wild what are they going to value we don't know the nature is going to survive in some shape or form and it's probably going to be more fantastic than we think so by restoring some things in the way we always have letting some things go wild and trying experiments in other places we can ensure that we're going to lease do something right the Mass is the author of rambunctious garden you can see her entire Ted talk that come ok so it may still be possible to appreciate nature in the future even as we continue to change with nature it is but we also can't deny that change its massive and in Geological time massive change usually means one thing extinction Geological time is really a history of gravestones this is a paleontologist of the low bidder Warner Peter Ward I am a professor of biology and a professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington and Peter says the age of humans the promising will not just be about how we change the planet will be about what disappears from the planet if you name the new period is probably because a lot of stuff died out in the period before and lo and behold that certainly is happening in fact Peter says most of the species that ever lived on planet Earth have disappeared oh yes again five mass extinction each of these big mess extensions has at least half of the species going extinct and probably way more than that you probably know about my personal favorite sixty five million years ago when something moves really big exactly a big comic or big asteroid slammed into Earth bang bang right near the Gulf of Mexico and that one asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs and pretty much everything else and we know of at least one other mass extinction caused by something similar giant comet or asteroid but the other three those were caused by big changes in the climate the first of these is the order mission period somewhere four hundred and fifty million years ago that particular mass extinction happened what when and what what happened it just like things just are dying this is the most peculiar and relatively unknown of the five big mass extinction is known from the time of animals lots of thing started dying and the things that died mostly were coral reef type animals including lots of corals it's very mysterious but you had a pretty much reliably tropical world from pole to pole and all the sudden we see we've gone into a short period of global cooling and justice if you're to take the beautiful Indo Pacific coral reefs the Great barrier reef and stick ice Berg surround it for a few millennia I guaranteed a great barrier reef would be really dead so of things die and most of it see life in the ordination period and then I guess Matt hundred million light years later he and other mass extinction yes in the second one is called the Devo knee in a mass extinction of this is one that wasn't caused by getting colder this one really appears to have been caused by it suddenly got really really hot and presumably this was also a problem for the ocean right well he does a very good killer and the trouble with when you heat a notion you lose the ability of the upper surface waters to continue to oxygen eight the deep waters once you stop letting the deep ocean bottoms have arts in upon them it kills all the animals but there was one extinction that completely dwarfed the others this was dubbed the mother of all mass extinction is the Permian extinction the Permian two hundred fifty one million years ago and we had the largest extensive swelling and extreme illusion of lava that the world's ever seen for reasons that still aren't totally clear the earth suddenly got a lot more volcanic lava flows spread all across the earth giving up massive amounts of SEO to these things cover the landscape but would be the permanent special killer is that all of these nasty volcanic layers moved into cold Bering Strait and began burning the coal subterranean and that produced even more carbon dioxide and so we had this really fast fast fast heat spike the most unpleasant yup this was known as a runaway greenhouse effect more SEO two in the atmosphere kept things hotter at the lava flowing which burned more coal which released more SEO two into the atmosphere which made things hotter you get the idea right and Peter says that should sound very familiar oh absolutely and what's the difference between the volcano of oval in terms of the gas that comes out of it should say that I love my evil eye because Professor Sean what are they going to drive to show what we're doing is we're starting again one of these what we call green house extensions that are caused largely by carbon dioxide heating so we are absolutely creating a case where we are killing off species the Lord explains more from the Ted stage the week and really now predict what's going to happen to our particular planet we are right now in the beautiful Oreo of existence of the lease life on planet Earth in the cabinet explosion life emerge from the swamps complexity arose from what we can tell we're halfway through so our planet Mike us is going to have an age and older age and where it's cold in summer age right now the earth has never had any ice on it when we've had a thousand parts per million C O two we are three eighty and climbing should be of two thousand and three centuries of the most but my friend David Batiste in Seattle says he thinks a hundred years so there goes the ice caps and there comes two hundred and forty feet of sewer us I live in a view house now on to waterfront along with sea level rise what else is going to happen well you can take the optimistic view or what I think is the realistic view I think realistically we're not going to stop on fossil fuels being burned we're going to continue to cause from the outside to go up we're going to continue cause sea levels go up and so that means moving into new areas that perhaps at the moment haven't been formed and that means deforestation so once you do deforestation than you're taking out a great number of endemic species that we don't see in the fossil record the insects for instance are really creatures that they have no latitude in what they eat and where they live in the temperatures these are the ones that go out the door when used analogy the wedge that there's a new species as to wedge something out well we're not as wedding were sporting the log in half and in this particular case we are were certainly do make a huge number of species from habitat destruction ok if that's not enough there is one the final thing we haven't mentioned it could mean even more trouble for the nt prophecy in the photo aspect of the message during the one that should be scariest to us is that people really watching what's going on in the oceans we are seeing increasingly low oxygen areas covering parts of the oceans because we're changing the velocity in the nature of the currents to take oxygen from the surface to the tea you might remember that happens when the ocean gets warmer and it causes animals to die but something else happens to four of the five mass extinction is not just accompanied by volcanic gases in the app is fear there was also the formation of toxins coming out of bacteria one of the worst of these hydrogen sulfide which is very very poisonous and that is what people are most worried about hydrogen sulfide is very fatal to humans as small as two hundred parts per million will kill you don't have to go to the Black Sea and a few other places some lakes and get down and you'll find at the water itself turns purple turns purple for the presence of numerous microbes which have to have some light and have to have hydrogen sulfide and the worst affected global warming it turns out hydrogen sulfide being produced out of the oceans we can easily go back to the hydrogen sulfide world give us a few millennia should last few millennia will happen again if we continue to happen again we have a huge problem facing us as a species we have to beat this so how are humans different from all these other species that have gone extinct in the past humans we have the golden ticket were able to put a coat on if it gets colder able to build air conditioners was too hot so I think we are essentially extinction proof and I fight this concept that we are in danger I think we are the least endangered species on the planet in many respects simply because we have not just the experience but the intelligence to deal with so many of these challenges and I just think we're going to be the long term survival and happiness might be something else that will we survive on right well there's that I mean you certainly see all the post apocalyptic thrillers and the depressing sorta looks into the future
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