Evidence of the Anthropocene: Four Ways Humans Have Changed the Earth

You don’t have to look far for signs that we are living in the human age, or the Anthropocene. Every day we’re exposed to evidence of human impact. For a city dweller a tell-tale sign might be a tall skyscraper whereas for a person living in a rural area it may be the miles and miles of cropland. Last week, the New York Times, published Signs of the ‘Human Age’ recounting a few examples of human-led activities that are responsible for ushering us into the new geological epoch.

Four ways humans have changed the Earth:

  1. Modern agriculture – While it is true that modern agriculture has allowed us to better feed our growing global family, there are significant consequences that stem from the increased use of fertilizers needed to keep up with high crop demands. For more evidence of modern agriculture’s impact on our planet check out this Food and Agriculture timeline.
  2. Aluminum, Concrete, and Plastic – Science and technology have allowed us to manipulate elements that may otherwise be limited or hard to extract. This human innovation is central to building our human-made landscape. For more evidence of scientific and technological advances check out the Science and Technology timeline.
  3. Landfills – Waste is an inevitable byproduct of our existence and has to go somewhere. You name it, you can probably find it in a landfill. From personal use products to building materials waste is responsible for adding more minerals to the environment than the Earth has seen in the past 2 billion years. For more examples of human impacts on the environment visit the Environment Timeline.
  4. Urban structures – Arguably the greatest sign of human existence is our capacity to build. Humans have transformed a huge portion of Earth’s land surface to meet our needs for schools, homes, roads, dams, and mines. For more examples of how we, as a society, have altered our planet check out the People and Society Timeline.

Classroom Ideas for Exploring the Anthropocene

Engage your students in finding their own evidence of the Anthropocene by sharing the PopEd lesson The Human-Made Landscape. In this lesson students use the World Population History website to find evidence of human-driven historical events that have altered the physical landscape of our planet. Students utilize GIS to create a StoryMap Journal of their findings.