The debates about naming the unfolding times of anthropogenic global change the ‘Anthropocene’ are ultimately debates about the ‘human condition’. The proposal to amend the geological time scale by adding an ‘Anthropocene’ epoch (that is, the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ in its strict sense) is both an intra-geoscience debate about scientific sense-making and a debate about the societal context of the geosciences. This essay juxtaposes these debates, starting from three postulates: first, that the scientific methods of geological chronostratigraphy are applied rigorously; second, that anthropogenic global change is happening; and third, that the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ may be rejected if it does not meet the conditions required for its approval based on the rigorous application of the scientific methods of geological chronostratigraphy. These postulates are analysed through the lenses of the Cape Town Statement on Geoethics and the normative statements of the ‘geoethical promise’. It is found that an ethical quandary would arise if the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ were to be rejected. Consequently, and given the societal contexts of the geosciences, it is explored whether distinguishing between the geological past (as demarcated according to current chronostratigraphic methodology) and contemporary geological–historical times (characterised somewhat differently) could offer a work-around to tackle the quandary.
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