During the Guatemalan Civil War, from 1960 to Dec. 29, 1996, many people fled the Highlands for relatively safer climes, such as the Peten Jungle. Once there, they cut down trees and foliage and built basic homes (left). This huge, deforested region of the Peten Jungle had no electricity or running water when I shot this photo in the summer of 1997. Extensive deforestation is one of the reasons that some scientists believe Earth entered a new geological epoch … 66 years ago (yes, in 1950). / J.D. Vivian

According to some scientists, the Holocene era has ended. More specifically, it ended in 1950, the group said. Scientists from the Working Group on the Anthropocene (the name they gave to the new geological age), meeting in South Africa, recommended the change.

The Holocene era lasted 12,000 years, since the last Ice Age, the WGA contends. But humankind’s intense activity has been so powerful since 1950 that it forced the creation of the new Anthropocene epoch, the group said.


The scientists said that nuclear-bomb tests, pollution (from materials such as plastic, and from emissions such as carbon dioxide), deforestation, widespread extinction of species, and other problems ended the Holocene era. That is why we need sustainability now more than ever.

Those problems were all caused by humans, beginning in the middle of the 20th century, according to the group. In late August, the International Geological Congress (IGC), meeting in Cape Town, heard the arguments of the Working Group on the Anthropocene. The IGC must decide whether to accept the recommendation.

Professor Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester and chairman of the Working Group on the Anthropocene, told the British newspaper The Guardian, “If our recommendation is accepted, the Anthropocene will have started just a little before I was born,” he said.

“We have lived most of our lives in something called the Anthropocene and are just realising the scale and permanence of the change.”

The group began researching the subject in 2009.