BINGHAM CANYON MINE, UTAH

Deepest Open-Pit Mine in the World
The Anthropocene

Twenty miles southwest of Salt Lake City is the Bingham Canyon Mine, the deepest open-pit mine in the world. It is currently more than three-quarters of a mile deep and more than two-and-a-half miles wide. It has been in operation for more than a century. Large amounts of copper have been extracted and appreciable amounts of gold, silver, molybdenum, platinum and palladium. But, for now, focus on the size of the hole.

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Apply the same amount and type of equipment now being used at the Bingham Canyon Mine and the number of people working at the site and, using this method of digging, the Grand Canyon could have been excavated in a few hundred thousand years. That is still a long time when compared to a human lifetime, but less than a tenth of the time it took for the Grand Canyon to form naturally.

And that is the point. Human activity must now be view as affecting the Earth on a global scale. For example, human beings are now moving ten times more rock and soil and sediment, both intentionally through mining and construction and unintentionally by accelerating erosion through agriculture and urbanization, that is being moved by all of the Earth's rivers combined.

Almost every major river system has been redesigned by reservoirs, levees and dams. Human activity has changed the content of the biological world. In 1900, the combined weight of all domesticated animals was about three times as large as that of all wild animals. Today it is twenty-five times. Three animals—cattle, humans and chickens—are now the planet's dominant forms of large animal life.

This is the result of the Great Acceleration, the rapid increase that has occurred geologically, biologically, economically and culturally during the last fifty years or so. The increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the consequential heating of the atmosphere and of the oceans is just one aspect of the Great Acceleration.

Human activity is now a major geologic force that is reshaping the planet.