Meet Bigfoot, Father of the Anthropocene

Population Matters launched its Anthropocene campaign with a life-size sculpture of a human being squashing life out of the Earth outside the Natural History Museum in London. The charity has called on the museum to do more to educate the public about the effects of human activity on the living world and how those challenges can be addressed. The event was timed to mark the high profile public opening of the museum’s new Hintze Hall, featuring a skeleton of a blue whale.

In a letter sent last month to the director of the Natural History Museum, Sir Michael Dixon, Population Matters patrons Chris Packham and Professor Aubrey Manning OBE FRSE FRSB have urged him to ensure that the internationally renowned institution takes the lead in presenting the facts about the effect of our species upon the natural world – including those from exponential population growth. To date, no reply has been received. The charity will be extending its campaign to other science bodies over coming weeks, including zoos, botanical gardens, museums and conservation organisations.

Professor Manning said: “This campaign highlights the inconvenient truth that our numbers and consumption are grossly out of balance with the natural world and the life support systems upon which our long term survival depends. World-renowned and respected institutions like the Natural History Museum can start forcing our attention to the impacts of our own species upon the natural world and the dire consequences for own well-being and long-term survival. Positive action is needed now.”

In their letter, Mr Packham, Prof Manning and Population Matters director Robin Maynard highlighted the growing consensus that our geological era should be renamed the Anthropocene, to reflect human impact, saying:

“There is no shortage of reputable, scientific evidence underpinning the concept of ‘The Anthropocene Epoch’, the facts of ‘The 6th Great Extinction’, or the factors driving those negative impacts upon biodiversity and sustainability. What is lacking is clear, accessible information presenting the facts, communicating the urgency of the issue, and enabling people to make positive choices to mitigate the impacts. The Natural History Museum is admirably placed, with the heritage and necessary skills, to meet that need – one which would complement the Museum’s existing exhibitions and be consistent with your stated mission and purpose: “to challenge the way people think about the natural world – its past, present and future. We aim to stimulate public debate about humanity’s future and equip our audiences at every level with an understanding of science.”

The sculpture – known as ‘Big Foot’, to represent humanity’s ecological footprint  – attracted considerable attention from crowds queuing to enter the museum. Big Foot is composed of hundreds of steel “babies” and is shown looking down at his foot, where he has “trodden in” trees and animals, while the Earth is squashed flat. He will be taken on tour to other institutions in future.

Robin Maynard, Director of Population Matters said,

“Our human numbers and our levels of consumption are simply too great for the natural world to bear. Those are things we can change ethically and effectively but people need to understand the problem before that will happen. Museums and other organisations the public relies on to inform them about nature must stop pulling their punches and start doing that job effectively.”

More information about the Anthropocene is available at Population Matters’ website here.


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