Forget the anthropocene: we have entered the age of synthetic

One fact about our time is becoming more known. No matter how far you travel, which direction to point, anywhere on Earth there is no place free from traces of human activity. Chemical and biological characteristics of our species everywhere. The fingerprints of humanity migrated across the globe strong atmospheric winds, persistent ocean currents and roomy cargo holds of millions of cars running on fossil fuels. The untouched nature was gone forever.

The Holocene has been replaced by anthropocene

These planetary changes have been described by geographers, geologists and climatologists as the end of one geological era, the Holocene, and the beginning of another, the anthropocene. In this newly designated “human life” impact our view of the oceans, land and atmosphere have become an integral feature of the Earth. And this idea that humanity has caused the geologic transition, attracting people’s attention not only because of the era rarely replaced. The fact that our species is obsessed with the idea that we have of planetary forces.

The second fact about our era much less attractive. We are changing the planet. It is not only that human activity has tainted every corner of the planet. The simultaneous emergence of a number of powerful new technologies starts signaling about a possible interception of the basic operations of the Land to its most daring. Starting today, technologies such as gene editing CRISPR and climate engineering will turn the already ruined planet in an increasingly synthetic whole.

In February of this year, when the entomologist Ruth Mueller opened the container of genetically modified mosquitoes in the laboratory with a strict regime in the Italian city of Terni, it is not just experimenting with a powerful new tool from the world of biotechnology. She made changes to the Mendelian laws of inheritance that govern all life on Earth.

Mosquitoes, which she released, claimed “gene drive”, activated with the help of CRISPR distribution in the group of mosquitoes. This will test whether people successfully to impose a modified hell the entire free-living population of the species. The laboratory in which Muller has been carefully designed so that at the moment changes have occurred on a limited scale and strictly indoors. But gene drives in theory can spread without assistance to any corner of the globe in which they live population skew mosquitoes. They change the genetic rules wherever you travel.


Research laboratory Muller literally make changes to the planetary rules.

Earlier this summer, a group of scientists from Harvard University will conduct the first field testing climate geoengineering. They plan to use high-altitude balloon for placing reflective particles in the stratosphere over the arid landscapes of the southwest USA. There they will examine how effectively particles reflect incoming solar energy. In a proper scale this technology can be used to change the planetary rules so that they balance changes, included gene drive.

Anthropogenic climate change has already changed the process of heat transfer through this system. But climate change was never a question of deliberate planning and design. Our species has never before tried to calibrate what the sun delivers. This thermal efficiency has been baked into the physics of the Solar system. If we decide on a large scale placing reflective particles in the stratosphere, it will rewrite the equation in our own hands.

Technologies such as genetic engineering and climate engineering make a qualitative leap beyond what I had in mind stratigraphy recommending to rename this era the anthropocene. Stratigraphy are specially trained people who are responsible for the naming of eras. Between accidental change and deliberate change is a huge chasm. David Keith, one of the scientists of the Harvard project on climate engineering indicates a huge difference between intentional development of something and create a mess. In the first sense of responsibility is much higher. Think about why premeditated murder is much worse unintentional.

Unlike habitat destruction, carbon emissions and other signatures of the epoch of the anthropocene, the test techniques are designed for conscious control of some key physical processes that shape our world. The natural laws of nature do not disappear, but become the subject of deeper manipulation. Think of them as “cosmetic” changes and as “metabolic”. Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel and the agreement on atmospheric physics become a delicate subject to revision.

Crossing that line is a completely new territory for our species and the planet. Nature itself will be formed by processes redesigned and “improved” geneticists and engineers. We should call this transition is the beginning of the “synthetic century”, the time when the background constants are increasingly being replaced with artificial and “enhanced” versions of themselves. Thisof the metabolism of the Earth touches the core of our understanding of the environment and our role in it.

Scientists, politicians and people of all countries will have to work together to overcome these thresholds. For some they promise exciting prospects, for others terrible. The anthropocene demanded psychological adaptation. Synthetic era will require something much larger.