What’s your canary? The Anthropocene Epoch

Crawford Lake is a small body of water in Ontario, Canada. It’s surrounded by trees on all sides, the water is clear and blue, and it’s shaped sort of like a kidney bean. It’s a pretty ordinary-looking lake.

However, Crawford is now a model example, as scientists work to define a new geological era. This little lake in Ontario is key to acknowledging the profound transformations we humans have brought on our planet.

Within the sediments of Lake Crawford lie remnants and evidence of our fossil fuel use, and even small amounts of plutonium from nuclear bomb trials. We have left our tracks deep in the earth.

In the layers of Lake Crawford’s sediments, scientists have seen the palpable hastening of our consumption over the years. The mud traces the “Great Acceleration” – an era that has begun in this decade, where human population and consumption patterns have surged forward. This era aligns with the pervasive proliferation of “techno materials” like aluminum, concrete, and plastic.

It’s these geological markers that scientists are looking to as they decide the dates to officially begin the new era: The Anthropocene Epoch. The age of dominant human activity.

Now, we can ask questions about whether or not this kind of delineation between ‘humanity’ and ‘nature’ is accurate, but it’s interesting to think about Lake Crawford as a canary, a sentinel species.

Back in the day, miners in Britain, the US and Canada would take small warm-blooded animals down to detect the presence of carbon monoxide. The small animals would get sick before the miners did, and so the workers could take action before it was too late.

Lake Crawford’s sediment is our canary; a sentinel. But as well as considering the sentinels that could guide our behaviour on a global scale, what are the ‘canaries’ that can guide our behaviour on a company level, on a community level, on an individual level, in the micro-groups we are all part of in our everyday lives? What do our senses, our bodies, the people around us, repetitive thoughts or actions, tell us about how we are navigating current challenges?

As leaders of companies and communities, using these behavioural markers is key to understanding how we can better guide our employees and colleagues on a sustainable and ethical course.

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