Anthropocene – Waves and Epochs

Alvin Toffler, the fururist who died recently, posited the ideas that the world had lived through three “waves”, each one pushing the next wave further on. The first wave was that of the spread of Agriculture which replaced the hunter-gatherer societies of the Mesolithic periods. That, in its turn, was replaced by the mid seventeenth century Industrial Wave based on the mass production, distribution and consumption of goods as we became bedazzled with mass media, recreation, entertainment, and weapons of mass destruction. Combined with standardization, centralization, concentration, and synchronization, this second wave resulted in bureaucracy which was swamped by the Third Wave – the title of Toffler’s 1980 book which described the post-industrial society, beginning in the late 1950s.

For me, the amazing thing is the time spans involved with the first wave enduring for several thousands of years while the second wave only lasted a few centuries. How long will the third wave last? A few decades and then what? Will the fourth wave consist of …?

I’m not sure how these waves fit in with geological time but the notion that the world has entered a new geological age is currently being reviewed by scientists worldwide and the term Anthropocene is being proposed as the latest subdivision of geological time.

The search is now on for a “golden spike”, a marker that can designate the start of the Anthropocene Epoch, meaning the current phase of Earth history known as the Holocene has terminated. The best spike should reflect events on Earth around the 1950s – the start of Toffler’s Third Wave – and would probably be plutonium fallout from bomb tests in the 1950s, found in marine or lake sediments or ice layers This is seen as the beginning of what is often referred to as the “great acceleration”, when human impacts on our planet suddenly intensified and became global in extent.

Anybody care to suggest what the Fourth Wave might be?