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Anthropocene controversies

Geological Debate

As of 2020, there is still ongoing debate about when to date the Anthropocene. Following guidance form the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy and the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the Anthropocene Working Group has been tasked with the job of determining a start date for the Anthropocene.

There are three suggestions for how the Anthropocene should be integrated into the Geological Time Scale. Option 1 has the Anthropocene following Holocene, so retaining what would be a normal interglacial as an anomalous very short Holocene Epoch. Option 2 has the Anthropocene directly following the Pleistocene. Under the second option, it would be called the Holocenian, since all formally defined Ages have an -ian suffix[1] Option 3 removed the Quaternary Period, allowing the Neogene ('new life') Period to run to the present day and removes the anomalously short Holocene Epoch.[2]



The Columbian Exchange

Industrial Revolution

Great Acceleration

In Humanities and Social Sciences


Postcolonial studies

Race and ethnicity studies

The concept of the Anthropocene has been approached by race and ethnicity studies. In the scholarly world, it has been the subject of increasing attention through special journal issues[3][4], and books[5]. The Anthropocene prompts questions about racial and ethnic exclusion in dialogues concerning the concept.  

Some race and ethnicity scholars suggest that imperialism and capitalism have already led to the extinction of masses populations during the Anthropocene and these populations have not been taken into account by geologists debating the dating[5]. Examples are the Colombian Exchange, the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonization. Axelle Karera states how the Anthropocene does not account for these past and current imperial injustices[3]. To this end, they argue how the Anthropocene is configured in a future tense rather than in recognition of the extinction already undergone by black and indigenous peoples[5].

Scholars argue suggest this is problematic because the Anthropocene then omits non-white narratives and blames the entire human race for a crisis caused by imperialist powers (scientific America[6]. A contemporary example given includes the last survivor of an uncontacted hunter-gatherer tribe in the Brazilian Amazon compared to Rex Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil[6]. In 2017, Rex Tillerson’s company is the fifth-largest carbon emitter in the world[7] while the last tribe member’s carbon emission is essentially zero.

Proposed solutions are centered on including non-white narratives of origin stories[5] and when discussing the Anthropocene to “systematically grapple with the problem of black suffering”[3]. Nancy Tuana says that racism needs to be removed from various institutions and social practices that are relevant to the current climate regime[4].

Gender studies


Politics/non-human agency

Popular culture

In the 2010s the Anthropocene has become more mainstream in its use in popular culture. It is more widely included in documentaries, music, magazines, poetry and podcasts.

The concept gained attention of the public via documentary films such as The Antarctica Challenge: A Global WarningThe Polar ExplorerL'homme a mangé la TerreAnthropocene: The Human Epoch and Anthropocene.

In 2019, the English musician Nick Mulvey released a music video on YouTube named "In The Anthropocene".[8] In cooperation with Sharp's Brewery, the song was recorded on 105 vinyl records made of washed-up plastic from the Cornish coast.[9]

The poet Alice Major wrote Welcome to the Anthropocen. Her work, art that reckons with science, is part of a long tradition.[10] 

"The Anthropocene Reviewed" is a podcast by author John Green, where he "reviews different facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale".[11]

Multidisciplinary impact

Alternative framings





  1. Lewis, Simon, and Mark Maslin. 2015. “Defining the Anthropocene.” Nature 519: 171-180
  2. Lewis, Simon, and Mark Maslin. 2018. The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene. Yale University Press.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Karera, Axelle. 2019. “Blackness and the Pitfalls of Anthropocene Ethics.” Critical Philosophy of Race. 7(1): 32-56.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Tuana, Nancy. 2019. “Climate Apartheid: The forgetting of Race in the Anthropocene”. Critical philosophy of race 7(1): 1-31.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Yusoff, Kathryn. 2019. A Billion Black Anthropocenes of None. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  6. 6.0 6.1 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-term-anthropocene-is-popular-and-problematic/
  7. Carbon Majors Report https://climateaccountability.org/carbonmajors.html
  8. "In the Anthropocene" song from Nick Mulve. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYnaQIvBRAE
  9. CMU: Nick Mulvey releases vinyl made from recylced plastic washed up on Cornish beaches.
  10. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/02/frank-kermode-revisited-apocalypse-pop-culture/581803/
  11. "The Anthropocene Reviewed - WNYC Studios and Complexly. Spotify. Retrieved 28 April, 2020.