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The Anthropocene: Living in a New Age

April's Shell London lecture, delivered by Jan Zalasiewicz (Leicester University) at the Geological Society on 20 April 2011.

We have become accustomed to living through continual change. The evolving faces of the internet are transforming the lives of the current generation, just as the internal combustion engine transformed the lives of our parents, and the railways the lives of their parents. Yet, until recently, this extraordinary human odyssey has taken place upon a stable planetary foundation. Civilization has grown around stable shorelines and climate, and exploited a diverse biosphere, of an interglacial phase – the latest of many - that geologists call the Holocene Epoch.

This underlying stability seems to be ending. With the explosion in both human numbers and energy use since the Industrial Revolution, the physical landscape has transformed, in city and country. Biodiversity loss on land and in the sea has risen sharply. And, there is humanity’s ongoing, accelerating global geochemical experiment, with carbon dioxide levels threatening destabilization of both climate and oceans within a century or less.

Hence the suggestion that we are now living through the beginning of the Anthropocene - an interval of geological time dominated by human influence. In this talk, I explore this concept, and its significance for life on Earth.


Jan Zalasiewicz


Jan Zalasiewicz is a Senior Lecturer in Geology at the University of Leicester, before that working at the British Geological Survey. A field geologist, palaeontologist and stratigrapher, he teaches various aspects of geology and Earth history to undergraduate and postgraduate students, and is a researcher into fossil ecosystems and environments across over half a billion years of geological time. Jan has long association with the Geological Society of London, having served on its Council and Science Committee; he is a member (formerly Chair) of the Society’s Stratigraphy Commission, a body of scientists which has been notably involved in analyzing the Anthropocene phenomenon.