One of the newest and most-rapidly spreading memes in popular science is what’s being dubbed the “Anthropocene.” According to this meme, human beings are having such an impact on the environment, especially the climate, that we’ve entered a new geological age.
That’s exactly the point a recent article that British geologist Colin Waters and his colleagues recently made in the journal Science. They argue that the combination of the “rapid global spread of novel materials including aluminum, concrete and plastics” and “fossil-fuel combustion,” and the “atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons” has produced “rapid environmental change” sufficient to call our times a new geological age.
Now to put this in perspective, the last shift in geological ages from the Pleistocene to the current Holocene, saw the end of the Ice Age. Average global temperatures rose 20 degrees in a century, drastically more than the worst-case scenario 3.5 degrees spike that climate change activists talk about today. Sea levels rose 400 feet, as compared to the one-to-two feet being worried about today. And when was the last time anyone saw a mammoth or sabre-tooth cat strolling down Sunset Boulevard?
Talk about the Anthropocene combines disdain for our species with an almost comically-inflated view of our power over the rest of creation.
And just how inflated is underscored by another story that came out around the same time as the article in Science.
According to a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, “the eruption of a ‘supervolcano’ hundreds of times more powerful than conventional volcanoes—with the potential to wipe out civilization as we know it—is more likely than previously thought.”
Now to understand what this means, we need to understand that volcanoes are rated from 0 to 8 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, or VEI, based on how much material they eject. Those rated 0 eject very little material. Those rated 8 eject at least 1,000 cubic kilometers or 240 cubic miles of material.
By way of reference, Mount St. Helens was a VEI 5 and it ejected 1 cubic kilometer of material. Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines was a VEI 6, ejecting 10 cubic kilometers, and lowered global temperatures by ¾ of a degree and one degree in the northern hemisphere. In contrast, the last time a supervolcano erupted according to scientists was 70,000 years ago in Indonesia. And it caused a volcanic winter that blocked out the sun for between six to eight years, and resulted in a period of global cooling that lasted a thousand years.
The impact of such an eruption today would be truly catastrophic: average global temperatures would plunge by nearly 20 degrees Fahrenheit for a decade; temperatures would remain abnormally cool for the better part of a millennium; crops would fail on a massive scale; and countless millions would die.
And here’s the thing: There’s nothing we can do about it.
Now, there’s no reason to panic or even be concerned. “More likely than previously thought” is not the same thing as “imminent” or even “likely.” The leader of the team responsible for the study told the UK’s Independent that “there are no known supervolcanoes that are in danger of erupting in the foreseeable future.”
But it does put all the talk about the “Anthropocene” in its proper perspective. In just a few days or weeks, Nature can plunge temperatures to Ice Age levels, while we name geological epochs after ourselves because we think we’ve caused a rise in global temperatures to the level that they were during the Roman Empire.
The historian Will Durant once said that “civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.” A more Christian view would add that this “consent” ultimately comes from God, who created all things, and particularly from the second member of the Godhead, Jesus Christ, who is above all things and in whom all things hold together.
And so the favorable conditions that made civilization possible are His gift. That being the case, a lot more humility on our part is in order.
John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.