The herd of independent minds seem especially keen to declare Crawford Lake, a small freshwater body near Milton, Ontario, just west of Toronto, the “global ground zero“ for the “Anthropocene”. But while we’re all for local-smalltown-kid-makes-good stories, and Crawford Lake definitely grew up in the boonies, the whole story is rubbish. Including that the hype centres on the “Anthropocene” having started in 1950 whereas the disastrous effects of man-made climate change supposedly already started at about 13 different points in the past, and also loom in 2030. But none of those points was in 1950.
Even The Economist got into the act, or the pond, with “A Canadian lake could mark the start of humanity’s geological epoch/ Plutonium, carbon and plastic mark a new phase in Earth’s history”. Carbon? Really? You don’t find that supposed pollutant before 1950?
“The beginning of the Holocene was marked by a natural warming of the climate and the retreat of the world’s ice sheets. The idea behind the Anthropocene is that human activity has disturbed the planet on a similarly grand scale. Humans have boosted the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by about half in the past 250 years, to its highest level in around 3m years. That spike will be clearly visible to geologists 100,000 years from now, assuming any exist, and may have delayed the start of the next ice age by tens of thousands of years.”
Bosh. The ice core record does not operate on anything like that precise a scale, which means we have no idea whether CO2 has fluctuated sharply upward briefly in the past either. As a matter of fact, Greg Easterbrook argued convincingly in A Moment on the Earth that if humanity were suddenly to perish, there would probably be no trace of us at all in 65 million years. But if there is, it won’t be plant food.
Don’t try telling the zealots. The Economist concludes:
“Indeed, the AWG [Anthropocene Working Group] has proposed that the subsequent spike in plutonium – an element which was vanishingly rare before the atomic age – should serve as the ‘primary marker’ for the beginning of the Anthropocene. Not everyone is convinced, for plutonium is unstable. The isotopes that the AWG have in mind have half-lives of 6,500 and 24,000 years, meaning almost all the plutonium will be gone within 200,000 years. Dissidents suggest that fly ash from fossil-fuel combustion would make a better alternative. Like plutonium, it is not something that the planet has seen before. And unlike plutonium, it will, if left undisturbed, hang around in the rocks for many millions of years to come.”
Likewise a Canadian Press story quoted “Francine McCarthy, a Brock University geologist who was on the research team for the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Union of Geological Sciences” that:
“It’s a bit sobering. Within that short span of time, the system flipped and can’t go back to the way it used to be.”
What flip? And what short span? 1950 to 2023? 1950 to 1990? In any case while we recognize that alarmists are remarkably flexible about when the drastic effects of warming hit, it’s usually very recently. For instance “Global warming is accelerating, and it’s starting to show”. Starting. Not when Truman was president. This summer.
Also, why can’t it go back? If we got atmospheric CO2 back to 1950 levels, and crop productivity, what would be so different?
The CP story adds that:
“Geologists are to debate the issue, including whether the Anthropocene should be declared at all, in the fall. The matter is to come to a final vote at the International Union of Geological Sciences in August 2024. That will bring to a close a debate geologists have been having since 2009: have humans altered the planet’s functioning profoundly enough to change its geology, and if so, should a new geological epoch be declared? Some geologists initially suggested a new epoch should begin with the Industrial Revolution, when fossil-fuel combustion began in earnest. But many currently prefer the year 1950. That’s when plutonium-239 begins to show up in geological strata. The element does not occur in nature and is the result of widespread nuclear weapons testing.”
Actually it does. But journalists don’t seem to have Google on their computers nowadays. Nor any other kind of scientific training or they’d know debates don’t stop because some bureaucratic body has a vote. The essence of science is skeptical questioning, no matter what their liberal arts professors said about climate science being settled and skeptics being evil morons. Whether evolution operates was not settled permanently by a vote of biologists in 1873, now was it? Nor was relativity ever put to a show of hands and that was the end of string theory. (We also don’t think the uncertainty principle was, since the ballot would have had to include “Yes and no.”)
A total softball MSNBC story, in which one journalist interviews another one, claims that Crawford Lake has “really unique chemistry, that’s found pretty much nowhere else on the planet”. In that it has sediment layers. Woooooo. And it’s “very deep” so the bottom tends not to get disturbed. Very deep meaning 22.5 metres, but the story didn’t say that bit. Are we really meant to believe that among the thousands and thousands of lakes in the world there aren’t others that have such geology? (Crawford Lake is also small, 2.4 hectares in area, which helps make it “meromictic” meaning top and bottom layers don’t mix. But it can’t be the only small deep lake around.)
It did say these layers create “this a thousand-year-long-record, that starts with indigenous people”. And around 1950 “human impacts really started piling up around the planet”. (We want to know what the record says about the Medieval Warm Period but it wasn’t in that MSNBC story either.) The big deal in 1950 is (drum roll please) the “great acceleration”, a “world-wide surge in human activity” unknown to history that “really changes the planet in fundamental ways”. Or at least plutonium, which never occurs naturally except when it does. Or Pu-239, which um ditto.
According to Canadian Geographic “Francine McCarthy, a geologist at Brock University… led the team of about 75 scientists who made the case for the site to win the candidacy.” Apparently scientists travel in packs and settle things by voting nowadays, unlike the great darkness when lonely researchers challenged orthodoxy.
In keeping with the modern instant-gratification culture of TikTok and climate science, all this hype is going on even though Canadian Geographic mentions that:
“Its nomination still needs to be voted on by three higher bodies of geologists over the coming year, but if they, too, approve the candidacy, Crawford Lake will be endowed with the ‘golden spike,’ a literal brass marker that signifies that the planet shifted, in about 1950, from one unit of geological time to the next.”
We won’t ask why the golden spike is a literal brass marker or what it would mean if it were instead figurative. But we will note that it’s up against 11 other contenders that:
“spanned five continents and included Antarctic ice, tropical corals and mountain peat bogs. Scientists were surprised by how consistently each of the 12 sites showed the global marks of human activity, explained Colin Waters, chair of the Anthropocene Working Group, the body of stratigraphers established in 2009 and charged with choosing the best site.”
So not so unique after all. And not exactly a disinterested body of researchers.
In fact, Canadian Geographic explains of Martin Head of Brock University, who is deeply involved in the research and the golden-spike lobbying:
“Some of the handfuls of stratigraphers who will vote at the three remaining levels vociferously disagree with his assessment, he said. ‘They are stratigraphers who primarily work with deep time, so they don’t really see these things, even when they’re close up to them,’ he said. ‘So it’s very unfortunate and I don’t think they fully appreciate the responsibility we have to make the right decision about the Anthropocene.’ One option is that they will reject the entire proposal. Or they could reject just the Anthropocene and proclaim the Crawfordian era as part of the Holocene. Head and his colleagues on the working group are pressing for a third option, which is to enshrine the Anthropocene, the new age of humans, as the youngest geological age, with all its unknowns.”
If you’re wondering whether there isn’t some debate not involving people who are blind and obtuse, why yes, there is. Nature allows that:
“Not all Earth scientists are enthused by the idea of an Anthropocene golden spike, saying that pegging the start of the epoch to a recent time and place misses the point that humans have been changing the planet for much longer. ‘European scientists seem to be quite captivated that this time period starts very recently,’ says Zoe Todd, an anthropologist with Red River Métis ancestry at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, who has published on the Anthropocene. ‘For Indigenous and other displaced and dispossessed peoples who were impacted by massive forms of violence that characterize the last 600 years, everything that leads up to what makes this global shift possible starts much earlier.’”
Must… decolonize… alarmism. Though waaay waaay back when leftists were in favour of free speech and inquiry, it was generally acknowledged, for instance in William Cronon’s 1983 Changes in the Land, that aboriginals used wildfires to alter the habitat in much of North America by creating game-rich fringe habitats.
Nature also quotes a geochemist who thinks a Chinese site should have been nominated for the golden spike. This person is, astoundingly, based in China. But according to the magazine:
“Earlier this year, the group narrowed the list down to two finalists: Crawford Lake and Sihailongwan Lake in northeastern China. In April, Crawford Lake gained approval from 60% of the working group to earn the title of candidate golden-spike site…. But unlike Crawford, which reflects the influence of nearby Toronto, Sihailongwan is relatively undisturbed by local influences and thus contains a broader record of change, says Yongmin Han, a geochemist at the Institute of Earth Environment of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in X’ian.”
So apparently the notion that Crawford Lake is unique is not well-researched. Nor possibly is that thing about 1950 being when humans went from clinging to the surface of the planet to wrecking the place. At any rate Nature also says:
“Previous studies of the lake’s sediments revealed two major periods of change: one lasting from the thirteenth to fifteenth century, when Indigenous peoples speaking the Iroquois language lived in the area, and another beginning in the nineteenth century, marking the arrival of European colonists.”
Of course we may never know because, Nature adds:
“McCarthy does not plan to collect cores at Crawford Lake again. The lake is sentient according to Indigenous groups who live or have lived in the area, and taking samples from the lake violates that personhood.”
If you really think the lake is sentient, why not interview it? Respectfully, of course: “How does it feel to be unique?” “Does each of your layers have a personality?” “Does plutonium taste bad?” Stuff like that. Or was that just more woke babble?