In an article in Nature, author and journalist David Adam states "Beyond stratigraphic definitions, the name (anthropocene) has broader significance for understanding humans’ place on Earth."

He says that after 15 years of discussion, geologists recently decided that the Anthropocene — generally understood to be the age of irreversible human impacts on the planet — will not become an official epoch in Earth’s geological timeline.

For Prof Yadvinder Malhi, Ecosystems programme lead at the Environmental Change Institute, the term Anthropocene can help to broaden the discussion in a world in which the threat of climate change dominates environmental debates. He said:

I use it all the time. For me, it captures the time where human influence has a global planetary effect, and it’s multidimensional. It’s much more than just climate change. It’s what we’re doing. The oceans, the resources we are extracting, habitats changing.”

He adds: “I need that term when I’m trying to capture this idea of humans affecting the planet in multiple ways because of the size of our activity.”

The looseness of the term is popular, but would a formal definition help in any way? Prof Malhi thinks it would. “There’s no other term available that captures the global multidimensional impacts on the planet,” he says. “But there is a problem in not having a formal definition if people are using it in different terms, in different ways.”

Although the word ‘Anthropocene’ makes some researchers think of processes that began 10,000 years ago, others consider it to mean those of the past century. “I think a formal adoption, like a definition, would actually help to clarify that.”

In fact, this concept that the Earth has moved into a novel geological epoch characterized by human domination of the planetary system, is one Prof Malhi was discussing in a paper in 2017. The Concept of the Anthropocene was published in Annual Review of Environment and Resources.

Read the article in full: Ditching ‘Anthropocene’: why ecologists say the term still matters