Metanexus Blog: Thinking Big

The Anthropocene and the Noosphere

In 2008, a group of 21 scientists at the Geological Society of London concluded that the planet was no longer in the Holocene epoch. The 12,000-year interglacial period in which humans have flourished is over. We are now living in a new epoch—they called it the Anthropocene—a period characterized by a human-dominated environment. The term has caught on and recently made the cover of The Economist and National Geographic. It takes a lot of informed imagination, however, to “grok” just what the Anthropocene means and why the term is so fitting.

A team of French graphic designers at Globaïa, an organization that promotes global education through new media, has rendered this new reality in stunning maps and video simulations. The three-minute movie below captures the new reality of the Anthropocene with stunning visuals, mapping the Earth at night with major sea and air transportation routes, most of these less than a 100 years old.

The reality of the Anthropocene was already grasped by the French paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin some 75 years ago. Teilhard was a remarkable cosmopolitan who travelled the world, though not always of his own choice. His most important book, Le Phénomène Humain, was written between 1938 and 1940, but his superiors in the Catholic Church forbade him from publishing it. It was only after Teilhard died in 1954 that The Phenomenon of Man was published. The first English translation appeared in 1959. 

The Vatican denounced the work at the time as “abound in such ambiguities and indeed even serious errors, as to offend Catholic doctrine” (Holy Office Monitum, 1962). Teilhard, however, was extremely prescient and profound. He offered a scientific, philosophical, and spiritual interpretation of evolution even more relevant today, so much so that the Vatican is slowly rehabilitating this intellectual giant of the 20th century. Teilhard wrote:

Really I can see no coherent, and therefore scientific, way of grouping this immense succession of facts but as a gigantic psycho-biological operation, a sort of mega-synthesis, the 'super-arrangement' to which all the thinking elements of the earth find themselves today individually and collectively subject.

He called it the Noosphere to remind us of the biosphere, lithosphere, and the atmosphere. He saw an emerging sphere of consciousness encircling the planet. In Teilhard's view, recognizing this new reality and living in that awareness was essential to solving the major problems of humanity. “A new domain of psychical expansion—that is what we lack,” he wrote in 1940. “And it is staring us in the face if we would only raise our heads to look at it.”

So raise your heads and take a few minutes to look at the short movie below to understand the Anthropocene and plug into the Noosphere. And then be sure to pass it on.

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