Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” (J. Robert Oppenheimer)

This was Hollywood’s “Barbenheimer” weekend, the weekend that saw two summer ‘blockbuster’ films vie for consumers’ attention and $$$. It was Barbie vs. Oppenheimer. This post, you will discover, favors the latter, a serious docudrama that exploded upon the silver screens of theaters across America, the country that first introduced the planet to the “Atomic Age.”

Under the code name Trinity (inspired by the poetry of John Donne), the detonation of the world’s first nuclear device (dubbed the innocuous nickname of the ‘Gadget’) took place at 5:29 a.m. MWT on July 16, 1945, at a site located 210 miles south of Los Alamos, New Mexico. It was the dramatic climax to the top secret Manhattan Project, the race to beat fascist Germany in developing the atomic bomb and bringing an end to WWII. As the lead physicist and “Father of the Atomic Bomb,” J. Robert Oppenheimer witnessed the detonation, the movie reveals the piece of Hindu scripture that came to his mind at this cataclysmic moment in time: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” (Bhagavad Gita )

With the subsequent dropping of ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 of 1945 and the awesome devastation that followed, the world was shocked into a new place and time that would forever alter the course of human history and the destiny of the planet. Indeed, now for the first time humanity had created the means to become Death, the destroyer of the world that had given it life.

The debut of this movie chronicling one of the most momentous moments in world history, coincidentally comes on the heels of news from the international group of scientists known as the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG). The term “Anthropocene” to describe the current human-dominated geological epoch has been in play for many years now, but has never ‘officially’ been recognized as a new epoch replacing the Holocene. To determine a new epoch geologists seek to identify what is known as a “golden spike,” a sediment or rock sample providing a record of a certain and rapid change in the condition of the Earth that would signal a new stage in geological time. Discovering a golden spike is like finding a “smoking gun,” clear and indisputable evidence of a quick and dramatic change.

Now the AWG has taken a deep dive to locate its golden spike at the bottom of Crawford Lake in southern Ontario, Canada. There in the depths of this fresh water lake is a perfectly preserved sedimentary record of the telll-tale changes that humanity has wrought on planet Earth over just the past few centuries. Like observing the rings of a tree, the AWG scientists are able to see the progression of markers our species has deposited. Or to use another metaphor, we have left our fingerprints all over the scene of our crimes against Nature.

The recent “Atomic Age” shows up in the sediments with a surge in plutonium isotopes. The age of colonization of North America shows up in the decrease in pine pollen as settlers cut down immense forests. The 1800’s are marked by a vast increase in traces of copper, lead and fly ash as the industrial revolution embraced coal burning. And as the climate began its rapid change pollen shifted to more heat-loving species. And then there is the appearance of micro-plastic fragments, which we now know cover every nook and cranny of the planet as well as the bodies of its creatures, humans not excluded. In fact, researchers have found that “every hour we inhale more than 16 bits of microplastic – that’s a whole credit card’s worth of plastic in one week.”

While the designation of Crawford Lake as the golden spike for officially declaring the Anthropocene is a quietly profound moment in history, there are yet more hoops to be jumped through before science will place its stamp of approval on the Anthropocene. But at this point it is just a matter of time before we as a species own up to the vast array of evidence that convicts us being the cataclysmal force that Oppenheimer stared in the face on that fateful morning nearly 80 years ago. With the existential threat of climate chaos that we have unwittingly and now knowingly unleashed upon creation, we have the means to destroy the biosphere that has supported the evolution of life and enabled human civilization.

This generation of humanity that occupies our common home is the first to live in a “world-destroying time,” the literal translation of “Death” in Oppenheimer’s quote. Our decisions and actions, and that of those who follow us will soon indicate whether we choose life in all the abundance that God intends, or whether “man-the-wise” (Homo sapiens) plays the fool. If the box office battle between those who choose to grapple with the sobering reality of Oppenheimer and those who just want to escape to the glitzy fantasy world of “Barbie” (Land) is any indication of our mental attitude toward the gargantuan task before us, then we have a long way to go in a short amount of time. (According to the LA Times, “Barbie” debuted in first place at the box office this weekend, earning $155 million in the United States and Canada. The PG-13 comedy easily defeated Universal Pictures’ “Oppenheimer,” which opened in second place with $80.5 million.”)

In Barbie, the characters are called upon to transition from Barbie Land into the Real World and deal with the complexities and injustices found there. That, in effect, is the challenge facing humanity, to exist and thrive in the real world and preserve it for generations to come rather than becoming Death, the destroyer of worlds. Let us seize the day!