GradLife McGill

When newspapers talk about your field… and confirm your worries


Being a fellow of the Economics for the Anthropocene project, I spend a lot of time reading and reflecting on the Anthropocene, i.e. the current epoch in which human activities are significantly impacting the environment (see, for example, here)I think about this most of the time, both as a graduate student, and as a human being: Our species has transformed the planet very deeply, and it wasn’t a smart decision, because while we were naively modifying this and that, we altered important equilibria we didn’t even know existed… and now we have to face the consequences.

I have a controversial relationship with newspapers: on the one hand I wish they were talking about the environmental problems more often and with more clarity and completeness, on the other hand, when this happens, I feel unsettled, because most of the time the news just reinforces my worries.

This is what happened a few days ago: I casually looked at the news, and read the title Humanity Officially Started Ruining The Planet In 1965 — Welcome To The Anthropocene Era. Basically, researchers from the University College London and the University of New South Wales found out that the heartwood of an extremely isolated tree on Campbell Island (Southern Hemisphere) had a radiocarbon peak in 1965, caused by atmospheric thermonuclear bomb tests carried out in the previous years mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, and this finding is now used to mark 1965 as the year in which we entered the Anthropocene (see also Loneliest tree in the world marks new age for our planet).

From an academic perspective, the news is that we now have a reliable marker for this new era. From a personal perspective, the news is that an extremely isolated tree isn’t immune from the impact of human activities. Now, the news of this radiocarbon peak in an isolated tree per se is not as worrying as, say, knowing that that climate change will probably increase the number of droughts. But still, the idea that even the loneliest tree in the world can’t be left in peace is unsettling if not scary. It reminds me of a video I saw a few years ago about the albatross birds living on Midway Island. It’s a very short video that I periodically rewatch to remind myself why I am doing what I am doing, and that I recommend to everybody–you can find it here.


Banner photo by @gradlifemcgill instagrammer @falisha.k // @gradlifemcgill.