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We live in epoch-making times. I mean this literally, rather than as a tool to dramatise the global economic crisis or latest political scandal. An epoch describes a geological time period. The end of the last glaciation, some 11,000 years ago, saw the transition from the cool Pleistocene to the warmer Holocene. This relatively stable epoch saw humans turn to agriculture and our population rise considerably. Now geologists, ecologists and climate scientists, myself included, are reporting we have entered a new and much less stable geological epoch: the Anthropocene.
Just as changes to the Earth's orbit, volcanic eruptions and asteroid impacts in the distant past have set the world on radically new courses, humanity itself has now become a collective force of nature, with far-reaching consequences. But what does this startling discovery – that humanity has become a globally significant geophysical force – mean for society, solving environmental problems, and perhaps more profoundly, how we see ourselves?