Last Friday was a different experience to the previous sixteen days that I had been working at AprilSix Proof. Instead of my usual commute to the office, I ventured East to the convention centre ExCeL London, and spent the day at New Scientist Live. The enormous exhibition hall had a buzzing atmosphere, with four main theatres and an extensive number of stalls showcasing science, technology and engineering organisations. Amazing examples of their work were exhibited, ranging from robots, race cars and yachts, to humans literally acting as lab rats in cages, to posters and fun science experiments. At one point, I was stirring a bowl of corn flour and water whilst a scientist explained its similarity to a material that could improve the mobility of bullet proof vests.
With the four different theatres – Earth, Cosmos, Technology, and Brain and Body – I was faced with making a decision every hour about which talk to attend. Every talk I sat in on was captivating to say the least, but what I learnt from one in particular has stuck in my memory since. ‘Adventures in the Anthropocene’ was presented at the Earth theatre by Gaia Vince, a journalist, broadcaster and author specialising in environmental, science and social issues. The talk covered her experiences during a 2.5 year adventure across 36 countries in 5 continents. She primarily explained what she found regarding the effects of climate change and the various strategies populations are employing to cope with them.
But first, you might be wondering what the Anthropocene is. To communicate complexity, as we do here at AprilSix Proof, the simple definition of the Anthropocene is the current geological epoch, during which human activity has been the dominant influence on the Earth’s environment, climate, ecosystems and geology.
Gaia started by explaining the extent to which the Earth has become a human planet. Today, most of the global population lives in a human-created environment, and the Earth’s systems are experiencing enormous changes as a result of human-led modifications. Her eye-opening examples included the fact that we decide whether a forest stands or is burnt down, and whether pandas exist or go extinct. However, the pace of planetary changes and particularly climate change has sped up in recent decades, and continues to occur much faster than we can adapt to biologically, environmentally and culturally.
The striking stories from Gaia’s travels demonstrated how humans are finding incredible ways to cope with the adverse effects of planetary changes, which humans themselves have inflicted. For example, Gaia encountered a population in a rural area of Peru who, rather than migrating to city slums to rectify their lack of access to fresh water, stayed in their villages and embarked on a project of painting mountain sides white. Although this probably would not strike you or me as a logical solution to water shortage, these Peruvian villagers are painting their mountains white in the attempts of creating an artificial glacier. Still not make sense? White reflects light, and so any water that falls from melting glaciers higher up will settle on the cold surface, re-freeze as ice, and thus be a water source.
Although the other stories Gaia shared demonstrated the incredibly unique strategies that various populations worldwide are using to combat climate change, her message was simple: Planet Earth in the Anthropocene is changing at a record-breaking pace, and we must slow this change down before we run out of methods to cope with it. A simple way I know this talk has stuck with me since last Friday? I haven’t turned my kitchen tap once without thinking about how some people are literally painting mountains to have the same luxury.
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