The Size of a Footprint

Last week, the world’s largest dinosaur footprint was discovered in Australia. It is almost six feet long and is believed to be 100 million years old. We here at Scoville are impressed—and relieved that we will never have to encounter the dinosaur. But the news, combined with a recent piece by Slate’s Starre Vartan, also got us thinking about fossils and footprints more generally.


Vartan’s piece dives into research that Peter Haff at Duke University has been doing in recent years about the geologic impact of humans. In 2013, Haff coined the term technosphere to describe what he believes to be another major planetary system akin to the hydrosphere, atmosphere and lithosphere. The concept centers on the impact that human material goods have had on the planet: through landfills, human waste is creating a distinct geological layer. Yet unlike organic systems in which, for example, trees die and become fodder for the next generation of trees and forest creatures, human waste does not have a reuse cycle, throwing the balance of the earth’s natural systems out of whack.


Scientists are concerned: systems like the technosphere that aren’t closed have led to dire environmental consequences throughout the earth’s history. Vartan cites an example from the Archaen Eon: “so many volcanoes erupted all at once it sent Earth into a superheated greenhouse state.”


Of course there is of course still room to rectify the situation. As key cogs in this new technosphere, humans could help speed the process of evolving the system into a sustainable, closed process. The more we recycle and reuse, the more stable that the earth’s ecosystem will become.


But in order to do so, it is important that leaders acknowledge the human impact on the environment be widely acknowledged and build consensus to do something about it. While progress on that front seems increasingly dubious with the current administration, we are proud to work with many companies and organizations that are tirelessly working to making an impact regardless of political motivations.


Hopefully 100 million years from now, instead of being impressed by the size of a dinosaur footprint, researchers are impressed with how small the human footprint has proved to be.