SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is mankind changing Earth in so many long-term ways that it justifies changing the name from the current Holocene epoch to Anthropocene?
Zalasiewicz: Mankind causes significant changes to Earth’s biodiversity. Our CO2 emissions lead to such phenomena as global warming and ocean acidification. The list of human impacts on the Earth system is very long. Some of these changes are well under way. Others, such as the sea level rise that is likely to result from ongoing global warming, have only just started, and will develop over centuries and millennia to come. Based on our current understanding, a case to proclaim a new epoch called the Anthropocene can certainly be made. Our changes involve the refashioning of sedimentary pathways that build up new layers of soil. That includes the construction of those man-made strata that we call towns and cities…
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The idea of mankind as the owner of Earth — is that not disconcerting?
Zalasiewicz: While we now may be said to “own” the planet, that is not the same as controlling it. Our global experiment with CO2 is something that virtually every government would like to see brought under control, and yet collectively we are, at present, unable to do so. That seems to call for feelings of something other than hubris.