Anthropocene: is it for real?

 A bit of background

The term Anthropocene epoch refers to the different geological, ecological, sociological, and anthropological variations in the contemporary history of the Earth (Waters et al 2016) caused by human activity. The epoch most recent to that of the Anthropocene is the Holocene which is used in comparison to identify the differences in terms of geological deposit signatures between the current Earth system and the Earth system during the time of the Holocene epoch.

 Introductory ideas

The comparison made between the Earth system of the Holocene epoch and the Anthropocene epoch with regards to geological deposit signatures is for the purpose of identifying differences between the two epochs in order to see whether or not human activity is leaving a signature on the Earth and so its fauna and flora as well as other ecosystems.

A soundscape of the Anthropocene that focuses on two factors namely whether prevailing sounds in the chosen landscape is caused by the humanities and if the identifiable bird sounds originate from a variety of bird species or not in attempt to reflect that biodiversity is decreasing in the Anthropocene.

Interviews with previous generations aim to reveal fauna and flora that existed when they were growing up to account for biodiversity changes that has occurred over the years.

Then based on a scientific account, a personal account and the account from previous generations this piece aims to illustrate how our soundscape exposes that we are living in the Anthropocene and how the Anthropocene is proved by the decrease in biodiversity and ecosystems.

Key propositions of the Anthropocene
and how these threaten fauna and flora as well as other ecosystems

There are various key factors that cause the change in the relationship between human beings and the global environment thus resulting in the Anthropocene epoch because the Earth is moving out of the Holocene epoch and that human activity is mainly responsible for this transition (Steffen, Grinevald, Crutzen & McNeill 2011).

Steffen et al (2011:842-843) identifies that human beings are altering other element cycles apart from carbon dioxide (CO2) such as nitrogen and sulphur that is vital to life on Earth, humans are changing the terrestrial water cycle by diverting river flow from uplands to the ocean and modifying the water vapour flow from the land to the sky and that human beings are most likely driving the next mass extinction.

Palsson et al (2013:3-5) pinpoints environmental change and global warming caused by the emission of fossil fuels such as CO2 due to human activity as the main perpetrator in changing the relationship between human beings and the global environment resulting in the Anthropocene.

Waters et al (2016) recognises three human drivers that are responsible for the shift in epoch namely increased technological developments, prompt growth of the human population and an increase in the consumption of resources. These drivers have many consequences such as fossil fuel emission and an increased alteration of land and marine ecosystems to sustain and convenience human life.

 Urbanisation

An activity that is a direct consequence to maintaining human life as conveniently as possible is urbanisation. As human beings advance on to newer and better things the more the environment is being effected. Fauna and flora as well as other ecosystems such as marine ecosystems are threatened by human activity. Firstly let us consider threatened fauna species: the Bateleur Eagle and the Riverine Rabbit.

The Riverine Rabbit
Figure 1: The Riverine Rabbit, Cape Province, 2012. Photographed for the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Figure 1 represents “The Riverine Rabbit” which is an endangered rabbit specie in South Africa. The Karoo Dessert in the Cape Province is the rabbit’s main habitat which is also ideal for agriculture. The Riverine Rabbit is critically endangered because it has lost most of its habitat to farming activities. There is a lack in lack formal habitat preservation such as a provincial nature reserve or national park in the Karoo (EDGE 2010). Lindt & Sprüngli (South Africa) has joined forces with the Endangered Wildlife Trust in attempt to save the Riverine Rabbit.

Lindt Gold Bunny 02
Figure 2: Lindt Gold Bunny.

The “Lindt Gold Bunny” (Figure 2) initiative has funded various conservation interventions (EWT 2015).

Final
Figure 3: The Bateleur Eagle, Mpumalanga, 2016. Photographed by the author.

Figure 3 shows “The Bateleur Eagle” a bird species that is endangered in South Africa due to poisoning (Watson 2010). Secondly let us consider threatened flora species namely the Leadwood Tree and Cycad Plants. The wood of the Leadwood tree is dense and beautiful making it valuable for commercial use leading to over-exploitation of the tree in some areas and it also has traditional medicinal and conventional purposes making it more difficult to preserve (Sabi Sabi 2016).

 Preservation of the fauna and flora in an increasing urban world

As seen with the Riverine Rabbit and the Leadwood Tree formal preservation structures such as provincial nature reserves or national parks are vital in protecting biodiversity and other ecosystems such as marine ecosystems. Marine ecosystems are predominantly threatened by pollution and over-exploitation due to human activity. One species that is threatened due to this is the South African Penguin that is threatened by oil pollution (Earthwatch Institute 2014).

 Soundscape of the Anthropocene

Constant sounds in the environment in question include the sound of car tires on tar roads, people yelling back and forth, the sound of electronic devices such as computers that people have become accustomed to, music in the background, the sound of lawn-mowers, dogs barking at the passer-by and birds singing. Most of the sounds can be associated to the hustling and bustling of city life one of the by-products of Industrial Revolution (Steffen 2011:842). Human activity can be considered a driver of change in the environment; where natural sounds were once dominant that which is man-produced has taken over (Palsson et al 2013) and is evidence of a Anthropocene. With reference to barking dogs, even though the dog species has not always been domesticated, human beings have grown accustomed to hearing dogs barking at various things over the years whether it is to herd sheep or alert the household of an intruder, it is seldom that one does not hear a dog barking at something or other. Birds singing are a natural occurrence which may be decreasing due to factors such as urbanization and therefor I consider myself lucky to still hear birds, every day, around me. However, the biodiversity of the bird species that I blissfully listen to every morning should also be taken into consideration and this shows a different side of the story and perhaps even raises the issue of decreasing biodiversity.

 Birding

Bernie Krause states that human activities cause ecological and sonic disruptions (Whitehouse 2015:53). This is problematic as bird sounds contributes to human beings’ sense of place, time as well as season and the desire that many people have to reconnect with their natural environment. Human beings and their activities have led to a new epoch, that of the Anthropocene. New man-produced sounds not only interfere with natural sounds such as birds chirping but everyday human activities also threaten everyday experiences of birds (Whitehouse 2015:55). An Anthropocene soundscape as explored previously has various interferences in terms of sound and activities that threaten the natural environment and consequently biodiversity, in context, that of birds.

DSC_0531
Figure 4: The Ring-necked Dove, Pretoria, 2016. Photographed by the author.

Even though I am exposed to a few different bird songs in my environment I had never realized the limit in bird species until now; the bird species sounds that I come across are limited and the only birds I could identify include “Ring-necked Doves” (Figure 4), the Yellow Canary and “The Hadeda” (Figure 5).

The Hadeda
Figure 5: The Hadeda, Mpumalanga, 2016. Photographed by the author.

Which shows why it has become a point for worry that biodiversity may be threatened by the Anthropocene and how we as human beings get used to such a drastic change whereas if our human activities are not regarded as superior to birds and nature we could strive for a companionship and in doing so learn to listen to birds as well as the rest of the world.

 The previous generations’ account

After an interesting talk with my grandmother and both my parents I have come to realise that what I see as a safe haven for birds and small animals may have been the very reason for the decrease in biodiversity.

Thick-tailed Bushbaby
Figure 6: Thick-tailed Bushbaby, Mpumalanga, 2016. Photographed by the author.

Mrs. Talie (my grandmother) points out that even though she cannot recollect the species of birds that are not constant in their appearance she has encountered other animal species such as the “Thick-tailed Bushbaby” (Figure 6) that she has not seen since the encounters which may once again raise the question of whether or not human activity threatens biodiversity. She also says that the Myna, which originates from India, has in the past, and still do to this day, frighten-off other bird species. The Hadeda originates from South Africa. “The Hadeda” (Figure 5) is not a threatened bird species and is growing in population (Chittenden, H, Allan, D & Weiersbye, I 2012:46) whereas the Myna is considered a foreign pest but human activity ruined its natural environment causing it to relocate to other regions of the world including South Africa. Mr. and Mrs. Thompson (my parents) could not identify any animal life that they miss from their environment except for the Barbet but our relocation could be a reason for this as our new environment does not have many trees and may not be ideal for this bird species to survive. But the environment in which we live has also been developed by human beings and had to be altered for urbanisation resulting in less trees and degradation of an ecosystem that might have been the perfect habitat for Barbets before human interference.

 Conclusion

Our soundscape is diverse in both man-produced and natural sounds such as the twitter-chatter of birds. Many of these natural sounds have been submerged beneath the everyday noise of human life (Whitehouse 2015:53). This fusion of sounds reveals that we are living in the Anthropocene because human activity is leaving a signature in the environment by changing it in a noticeable and rapid manner that is different from the Holocene epoch. By taking into consideration the few examples of endangered South African fauna and flora as well as the marine ecosystem specifically focusing on the Penguin the Anthropocene is proved by the loss and severe reduction of both biodiversity and ecosystems mainly due to human activity.


For more information search #DigEcoAction


Sources consulted

Chittenden, H, Allan, D & Weiersbye, I. 2012. Roberts Geographic Variation of Southern African Birds. Cape Town: JVBBF.

Earthwatch Institute. 2014. South African Penguins. [O]. Available: http://earthwatch.org/expeditions/south-african-penguins
Accessed 10 April 2016.

EDGE. 2010. Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis). [O]. Available: http://www.edgeofexistence.org/mammals/species_info.php?id=3
Accessed 10 April 2016.

Endangered Wildlife Trust. 2015. The Lindt Gold Bunny Helps Save The Riverine Rabbit. [O]. Available: https://www.ewt.org.za/media/2015/THE%20LINDT%20GOLD%20BUNNY%20HELPS%20SAVE%20THE%20RIVERINE%20RABBIT.pdf
Accessed 10 April 2016.

Endangered Wildlife Trust. 2012. The Riverine Rabbit. [O]. Available:
https://www.ewt.org.za/newsletter/2012/EWTalk%20March%202012/index.html
Accessed 10 April 2016.

Palsson, G et al. 2013. Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research. Environmental Science & Policy 28:3-13.

Lindt Gold Bunny. Sa. Hospitality Marketplace. [O]. Available:
http://www.hospitalitymarketplace.co.za/news/chocolate_&_chocolate_products/
lindt_gold_bunny_comes_to_aid_of_endangered_rabbit_this_easter.html
Accessed 10 April 2016.

Steffen, W et al. 2011. The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369:842-867.

Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve. 2016. The Leadwood Tree.

Thompson, N. 2016. The Bateleur Eagle. Mpumalanga.

Thompson, N. 2016. The Hadeda. Mpumalanga.

Thompson, N. 2016. The Ring-necked Dove. Pretoria.

Thompson, N. 2016. Thick-tailed Bushbaby. Mpumalanga.

Waters, CN et al. 2016. The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. Science 351(6269):[sp].

Whitehouse, A. 2015. Listening to birds in the Anthropocene: the anxious semiotics of sound in a human-dominated world. Environmental Humanities 6:53-71.

Watson, R, marine zoologist specialising in raptor ecology. 2010. Interview by author. 12 September. [O]. Available:
http://www.africanraptors.org/the-bateleur-an-interview-with-dr-rick-watson/ Accessed 10 April 2016.

 

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