ORIGIN STORY: Stone Age Extinctions, c. 50,000 years before present (ybp)
Hundreds of species of large animals, including woolly mammoths, giant sloths, marsulial hippopotamus, saber-tooth tigers, and land-dwelling birds, are likely extinct due to early human hunters. The resulting changes in the fossil record are evidence of human effects on a continental and global scale and mark the beginning of the Anthropocene record. (Martin 2005; Doughty 2013)
Beginning the story of the Anthropocene with large animal extinctions that are attributable to early human hunting insists on the inevitability of a measurable human impact on the environment. According to this story, a return to a simpler past will not erase that impact; rather, this story fosters lessons of ecology: everything is connected and may well have planetary effect. The only “solution” is to cease to exist as a species! This story does not suggest we do nothing about our environmental impact. As the species most capable of reflecting upon our actions and their consequences, we have a responsibility to solve problems we create. If we can accept that human beings have been a planetary force of nature since the Stone Age, we may begin to make more conscious choices, identifying problems we create, consequences we find unacceptable, and changes we must make in our practices and behaviors. What level of environmental impact is acceptable? How clean is clean? How should we think about extinction and biodiversity? What is our obligation to other species? To our own? To the planet generally? To the future?