Have human activities so impacted the Earth that their actions deserve a new official geologic time segment called Anthropocene?
It’s a question of importance to Stanley Finney, professor and past chair of the Department of Geological Sciences at CSULB who also chairs the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). Finney is responsible for overseeing discussions of this proposal as well as the commission’s ongoing work in identifying the boundaries of other geologic time periods such as Jurassic.
In April, the Geological Society of America named Finney a Fellow, its top honor for distinguished contributions to the geosciences.
Finney likens the role of ICS to historians trying to answer, “When was the beginning of the Renaissance?” He said the ICS was established in the late 1970s to agree on a single set of standard global time scale units and to define their precise boundaries based on the rock records formed during Earth’s history. The ICS’ Geologic Time Scale is composed of a hierarchy of units—eons, eras, periods, epochs and ages. Final decisions must be approved by the IUGS executive committee, after which they are considered as global geostandards.
With respect to the proposed Anthropocene, “The people who are promoting it are giving all the reasons for it, but my concern is that they critically look at it. Is it really geologic time or human time? How would you define it and what rank should it be?” he said. “My opinion is one vote out of 18, but I have to make sure the process is open, deliberative, that all points of view are considered at all levels, and that every point of view is challenged.”
Stan Finney, far left, and Markel Olano, president of the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa, Spain, participate in an International Commission on Stratigraphy geological boundary ceremony in May 2010. (Photo courtesy of Stan Finney)