Anthropocene: A Big Word – with Bigger Implications!

Published on by Green Initiatives

Humans have become the single most influential species on the planet, causing significant global warming and other direct and indirect changes to land, environment, water, organisms, and the atmosphere.

What’s more, by the end of this current century, we could lose half of all the living species on our planet. History shows that, whenever there is a mass extinction, it can take up to 10 million years for new life-forms to appear.

The ‘Sixth Mass Extinction’

Geologists and Scientists tell us that we are now living through the sixth mass extinction of multiple life forms, caused by our fossil fuel-dependent society and human activity leading to global warming and its deadly consequences for life on earth. What this means is:


  • Species becoming extinct 100 times faster than they would without human impacts.
  • Populations of wild animals halved since 1970, while the human population has doubled.
  • Only 5 times before in the history of our planet have so many species and so much biodiversity been lost so quickly. The last was when the dinosaurs were wiped out.

Why Should ‘Mass Extinction’ Matter to Us?

According to a 2019 report published by the UN’s Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, roughly 1 million species of plants and animals face extinction over the next few decades as the result of human actions.

200 years ago there were less than 1 billion people on our planet, today there are 7.8 billion of us and the population is still growing. According to a UN estimate, there is likely to be 30% more of us by 2050 or roughly 11 billion people by 2100.


“Every one of us places demands upon our planet—the very demands that have caused the changes that threaten us and the natural world we depend on,” says Population Matters, in an article titled “Welcome to the Anthropocene!”

What is the ‘Anthropocene’? What is ‘Epoch’?

‘Epoch’ means a particular period of time in geological history or the beginning of a period of something in history. The current epoch is called the ‘Holocene’ which began after the last ice age, some 12,000 years ago.

The word Anthropocene originated in Greek, where, anthropo means "human" and cene means "new". The word was coined by Dutch Nobel Prize winner,  atmospheric chemist, Paul Kruzen, in 2000. According to NatGeo, “Anthropocene is used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when the human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems.”

There is still plenty of debate in academic and scientific circles as to when the ‘Anthropocene epoch’ officially began. The two most commonly used references on when it began are:

  • at the start of the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, when human activity increased the concentration of methane and carbon in the atmosphere, and/or;
  • in 1945 when humans tested the first atomic bomb, and later, dropped them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, resulting in radioactive particles globally in rocks, trees, and the atmosphere.

Filmmakers record an atomic bomb blast in Nevada in 1957.Credit: Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty

The latter reference was agreed by the Anthropocene Working Group in 2016 since it coincided with a period of a dramatic increase in human activity and with a significant impact on the planet.

In fact, the last 60 years have been referred to as the ‘Great Acceleration’ characterized by the dramatic, continuous, and roughly simultaneous surge in growth rate across a large range of measures of human activity.

Anthropocene – The Human Epoch: A Documentary by an Award-Winning Canadian Team


Four years in the making, this feature documentary film from the multiple-award-winning team of Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, and Edward Burtynsky follows the research of an international body of scientists, the Anthropocene Working Group which, after nearly 10 years of research, are arguing that the Holocene Epoch gave way to the Anthropocene Epoch in the mid-twentieth century, because of profound and lasting human changes to the Earth.


From concrete seawalls in China that now cover 60% of the mainland coast, to the biggest machines ever built in Germany, to psychedelic potash mines in Russia, to metal festivals in the closed city of Norilsk, to the devastated Great Barrier Reef in Australia and several other unbelievable locations, the filmmakers have traveled globally and documented the experience of human-planetary domination using state-of-the-art camera techniques.

Green Initiatives x Canadian Consulate Film Screening

The Consulate General of Canada in Shanghai and Green Initiatives invite you to the screening of ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch, a cinematic meditation on humanity’s massive re-engineering of the planet.

The film comes with Chinese subtitles, and screening will be followed by discussions with several thought leaders. Click here to sign up.