The Anthropocene Epoch

The geological time-scale of Planet Earth is classified at the highest level in supereons,  the first of which was the Precambrian.   The supereons break down into eons, then further into eras, periods, and finally epochs.  We live in the Phanerozoic eon of a post-precambrian supereon (that apparently does not have an official name for it today).  According to the experts, we are officially in the Holocene epoch, which began about 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age.  (Interestingly enough, this period of time only represents less than a millionth of the history of the earth.)

Recently, the argument has been raised that we should consider ourselves to be in a new new epoch after the Holocene. This epoch should represent the period of time when the impact of human beings on the earth has become significant and non-reversible.  In the past, epochs were broken down based on times of geological change, but the argument is now being made that one should also consider environmental impacts.  Regarding human beings, these changes probably began to accelerate with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, and the rate of change has only increased since then.  While there is probably no exact moment in time that can be pinpointed as a “turning point”, it is clear that we now cannot turn back our impact on the planet.  (I have argued in the past that all changes take place over some period of time even if some of these changes seem to be instantaneous within the time-frames that we are familiar with.)

Even though it is not officially recognized, people are calling the current period of time in the earth’s history the Anthropocene epoch.

Here is an online presence for an organization dedicated to this concept.

Even the Smithsonian is modifying its exhibition space to devote resources to talking about the human impacts on the earth.

A fundamental theme in the consideration of the existence of a new epoch is that humans have finally managed to change the nature of the planet to the extent that  we cannot ignore our environmental impacts.  The destruction caused is irreversible.   It is a sad consequence of our progress, of our knowledge and technology, of our “civilization”.  What will the post-Anthropocene epoch look like when all is said and done?   Or perhaps we will all be destroyed by some cosmic event that we have no control over and none of this will matter in the long run.  I suppose the post-Anthropocene epoch could still happen due to other reasons.

http://www.explainthatstuff.com/land-pollution.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soil_contamination

http://www.explainthatstuff.com/waterpollution.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_pollution

http://www.explainthatstuff.com/air-pollution-introduction.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_pollution

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_garbage_patch

Broken Wings (9/4/2008)

When I was a young lad growing up in Madras I used to enjoy the trips to Kerala for our summer vacations.  It did not take me too long to get bored during my stay in my grandmother’s place once I was there, but the travels on the train were one of the highlights of the summer experience.  The romance of these journeys by train never dimmed.  Arriving at the train station and wading through the crowds, to try to find one’s reserved compartment at the beginning of the journey; trying to sleep on the berths next to the noisy ceiling fans during the night as the train rocked rhythmically and sped on to its destination; trying to wake up at various points in the night so that I could see all the stations that the train stopped at, and perhaps even buy a cup of tea from a lonely chaiwalla on an empty platform; experiencing a sense of the power of the diesel locomotive while listening to its distant horn in the night – these are just some of the many, many, memories that come back to me as I write this.  The train would lurch back as the engine connected to the carriages of the Trivandrum Express at Madras Central Station, the horn would blow just as the train started inching forward into the evening, and from then onwards it was a nonstop adventure until the time we reached our destination.  Perhaps I was the only one sitting in the moving train during the daytime with my head against the iron bars of the open window peering towards the front trying to catch a sight of the engine every time it rounded a curve. Was I the only one trying to count the number of carriages on the train?  I might have been the only kid with the railway timetable for the Southern Railways in hand trying to figure out where the train was supposed to be at that particular time, watching the hundred meter markers by the side of the tracks and trying to figure out the speed of the train, trying to anticipate when exactly one would arrive at the next station.  I most likely was not the only one with my head stuck to the window staring at the passing green fields and coconut groves of the Kerala landscape, watching the local folk go about their the daily activities – magical people living their lives in a faraway enchanted land.

The first train stop in Kerala, after it crossed the Western Ghats, happened to be at a place that used to be called Olavakkot Junction.  (The name of this station has since been changed to Palakkad Junction.) If we were lucky we would break journey at Olavakkot Junction and we would make our way over the back roads to my aunt’s place the little village of Dhoni.  At that time there was nothing more than a few houses and surrounding farms in Dhoni.  But Dhoni was a great place to visit for a vacation. My aunt’s little house with its open front veranda looked out onto wide open spaces and the hills of the Western Ghats.  Up in the distance on the hills to the east you could see the trees and the forest, and if you looked up carefully you could even see the dirt road that led up into the woods.  Towards the front of the house was a bald hill where I probably experienced hiking and rock climbing for the first time.  From the top of the hill, one could survey the surroundings.  Getting to the top was a big achievement for me and I would feel a sense of elation.  In hindsight, I do not think that the hill was really as imposing as it appeared to me a child, but nothing got in the way of my imagination and the spirit of exploration.  I have to imagine that Dhoni these days is not the same as it was when I was growing up.  I am sure that the place has developed quite a bit and that one would be quite disappointed if one were to return, not just because the place has changed, but also because the sense of wonder seems to become more scarce as one becomes older, more jaded, and better trained for living and surviving in this world.

So, here I was many years later, a middle aged dude with internal plumbing problems, driving through the mountain passes on Route 15 north of Williamsport, PA, on our way back from Rochester after dropping Christina off at college, still feeling a little bit of that sense of awe and wonder while observing my surroundings.  It is not as if the hills of the Alleghenies are one of the great wonders of nature, but it still does not seem to take too much for me to be impressed when I out in the natural surroundings.  Hill after hill stretched out in front of me as the lanes of the endless highway weaved a magical path from mountainside to mountainside while leaping over the valleys that lay in between them.  Looking at the hills one wondered what it would feel like to be on top of them.  My instincts told me that I should explore the mountainsides on foot and look down on the valleys, the lakes, the rivers.    So long as it was a new experience in natural surroundings, it had to be interesting.  It occurred to me that perhaps in matters such as this I was still an easily impressionable little kid at heart – a kid occupying the mind of one who is supposed to be an adult.  Why is it that growing up and becoming a responsible person appears to be a somewhat orthogonal process to finding a way to continue to enjoy the simple and innocent things in life.  Something is wrong with the way we are being taught to think in this world.

The Call of the Cardinal (1/15/2006)

No, I am not talking about a religious leader – I am talking about the bird!

It was bitterly cold this morning, in the low 20s (Fahrenheit, that is), and the wind was howling. I somehow managed to drive to the Monocacy Aqueduct.  The local road was covered with broken tree limbs, and I had to navigate around the bigger ones, listening to the thumping of the broken branches against the bottom of the car.  There was nobody around.  The wind hit me the moment I got out the car bringing tears to my eyes. Having navigated cold mornings in the past, I was determined to go on.  But this was different.  About a half mile down the trail, I began to lose sensation in my toes and fingers completely.  What little feeling of pleasure I had about getting back on the trail after more than a month of absence vanished.   I may push things to the limit, but I am not foolish.  I returned to the car and quickly turned on the heat.  My fingers hurt.

Moon at Monocacy Aqueduct100_1455

I could have turned and returned home after this experience, but I still felt the urge to do something.  So I headed north.  I discovered the road to the parking lot at Nolands Ferry.  The road was in as bad a shape as that to the Monocacy Aqueduct.  The wind had done a number on the trees the previous night.  The cold front had come roaring through on Saturday, and in our part of the world this is usually accompanied by the icy Canadian winds from the north.  I stepped out of the car to think about running once again, but changed my mind quickly.  I then drove further north to Point of Rocks.

I had just parked the car beside the trail when the Cardinal landed on the side-view mirror on the passenger side and looked at me.  “What are you doing in there?” it seemed to be asking in a curious sort of manner. “Why don’t you join me out here?”  I was furiously trying to extract my camera from its cover while the bird was sitting there pecking at the mirror.  This one was sneaky.  The moment I got the camera in my hands, it flew away to a branch on a tree and I had to be content taking a picture from a distance.

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Anyway, this was my encouragement.  I stepped out onto the trail once again.  This time I made it a few 100 feet north before I was hit by a gust of icy wind that almost stopped me in my tracks.  The impact of the wind being channeled over the trail by the cliffs next to the river was tremendous.  I turned around and headed back on the trail, this time towards Nolands Ferry.  This I could do!  The space was more open and the wind did not seem to affect me too much, although I could still hear it howling through the branches up above me.  Gradually, I got back into my pace, remembering the way things were before I went on vacation.  It felt nice.

It was when I turned to head back towards Point of Rocks that I felt the effect of the wind once again. It was blowing into my face, but it was not as bad as before.  The sun had come up by now and its warming effect helped things.  In any case, I had no choice but to make it back to the car.  There had been a few other people in the park at Point of Rocks, but there was nobody to be seen on the trail at that point.  I think the wind had something to do with this.

So I completed the run, covering my normal distances, and got back into the comfort of the car.  I was disturbed by a banging on the back window as soon as I sat down in the driver’s seat.  It was the cardinal once again, furiously pecking at something on the back of the car!  Once again I tried to get my camera ready for a picture but the bird flew away.  As I settled into the seat to eat a donut, the creature performed its act once more, this time banging against the side window, looking at me all the time, and then flying away when I got my camera up.  I then decided to get out the car and back into the cold, and tried to follow the bird to get a close-up picture of it.  I managed to take a picture better than the one I had gotten during my previous visit to the trail, but it was certainly not as good as one I could have gotten if the bird were against the car itself.

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The bird would keep reappearing the moment I laid my camera down, and then it would fly away.  It was playing games!  So I decided to sit for a while with camera in hand, just waiting.  The bird came back, but this time it settled on the side-view mirror of another vehicle across the road.  It then started pecking at the mirror of that car.  I think what was happening was that it was seeing its reflection in the mirror and pecking at it.  (Does anybody have an explanation for this kind of a behavior?)  The bird never came back on to my car again. I had waited for about 10 minutes.  I then drove home.

I could have given up at the Monocacy Aqueduct and gone home when I first got started, but I am glad I persisted.  It felt good to do this once again, and I can thank my friend the cardinal for motivating me to get out there and brave the cold and the wind.  By the way, both the side-view mirrors on the car have scratch marks on them that do not look like they will come off. The cardinal must have a very sharp beak.

The country celebrates Martin Luther King Day tomorrow.  Lona Alias was playing excerpts from the “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech that Dr. King gave in Memphis on the radio.  This was the speech given just before he was murdered. He had a premonition about what was going to happen to him. What a great speaker!  His words moved people during his time, and they continue to be a source of inspiration.  Dr. King was not a perfect person, but he managed to influence the life of many people in a positive way.  We have to admit that we are also imperfect people ourselves.  If we find a way to leave a positive and lasting impact on people in spite of our weaknesses, then I think we have done well.

Enough preaching for today.

When local government fails the common man

Here is what the local government in Washington DC did to one of its residents who was in trouble.  Instead of trying to help, they took advantage of the situation and made money off his woes.  Apparently stuff like this happens regularly.  They are preying on the powerless.

http://wpo.st/9x2q0

The Falling Leaves

A dear friend of mine lost his mother recently.  Death is but a part of Life, but knowing this does not make the event any easier to deal with.  But even in the grieving that takes place when this happens, one also celebrates the life that was lived.

The falling of the autumn leaves and this season of change are an especially poignant time to be reminded of the transient nature of life, and my friend has experienced both the beauty and sadness of this moment multiple times in the passing of both his parents during different Fall seasons.  And in going though this experience, he has also been blessed with many wonderful memories that come back to him, memories that will always be with him, memories that he shares with his family and friends.

Life does go on, and we will continue to celebrate it even as we remember our loved ones.  This one is for you my friend.

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The falling leaves….

The Tent Angel

“We just gotta outlast the storm by one day,and I just want to be there to help someone through their storm”.
Arnold Harvey, Garbageman, Montgomery County, MD.

Here is somebody who is actually actively doing good work with the less fortunate in our part of the world.  Read the story of the tent angel.

I did a little more research on Arnold and found out that I had just touched the tip of the iceberg regarding the background of this remarkable person.  He is an amazing chap who with his wife Theresa has already been doing other notable charitable works in our part of the world for many years. He is called “The trash truck driver” by the homeless, and he has done a lot to help them in their immediate needs.  He manages to run a charitable organization while working as a garbageman, and he is making a difference the best way that he can.

Read the article that appeared about him in the Huffington Post here.  His life story is also quite interesting.

Here are a couple of videos.

https://youtu.be/EXUYujwCRGI

https://www.facebook.com/godsconnectiontransition/videos/vb.584956878230174/858936434165549/?type=2&theater

What would you rather be doing at 5:00am on a Saturday morning?