Jul 11, 2023 - Podcasts

A new chapter in Earth's history

Humans have changed the Earth in such profound ways that scientists are announcing that the Earth has entered a new chapter: The Anthropocene Epoch.

  • Plus, why corporate America is worried about the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action for universities.
  • And, why today is one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Guests: Axios’ Alison Snyder, Emily Peck and Kelly Tyko.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi, Robin Linn and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Tuesday, July 11th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering: why corporate America is worried about the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action for universities. Plus, why - today is one of the biggest shopping days of the year. But first, scientists say the Earth has entered a new era. That’s our One Big Thing.

Scientists say the Earth has entered a new era

NIALA: Humans have changed the Earth in such profound ways that today scientists are announcing what they think is the key piece of evidence that the Earth is entering a new geological chapter, the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene period is meant to provide scientists a new reference point for understanding the Earth's history and where it's headed, especially when it comes to climate change. Axios Managing Editor Alison Snyder is here with more. Hi, Alison!


NIALA: So, I'm guessing anthro refers to humans because of our role in this new geological period?

ALISON: Yes, that's absolutely right. So the idea is that humans have left a mark on the planet, so cities, climate change, pollution, all sorts of, you know, markers of the impacts of human beings on the planet.

NIALA: And so, what kind of features are characterizing this new chapter in geological history?

ALISON: The working group that was set up to figure this out, a working group of scientists, is looking at a couple of different things. They've sort of honed in on the nuclear weapons testing that occurred in the late 1940s and 1950s. And the reason is you can see that across the world, those tests, they spread radioactive elements all over the planet, and it's sort of a global change that you can see. And then the others that they're looking at are more like markers of industrialization and globalization. So things like nitrogen and mercury that are released from burning fossil fuels, microplastics, nitrogen from fertilizers, all of these sort of spiked at different places across the world, in the mid 20th century. So they're looking for evidence of them in the geological record, so a layer in the rock, stone, ice or sediment.

NIALA: How long have scientists been debating this new designation?

ALISON: The term sort of came to the forefront around 2000, and this working group was set up in 2009 to sort of evaluate whether Earth has entered this proposed Anthropocene. And in 2019 they sort of took a step further and went to set out to send scientists to find a site that would sort of be like their proof.

There are nine different sites, um, that are being considered, and they're very different. You know, there's a coral reef in Australia, there's a peat bog in Poland. And so today, the scientists are going to announce which site on Earth best represents, in their mind, this change.

NIALA: Alison, I guess I understand why scientists think this is an important designation for them. Why is it important for all of us?

ALISON: I think one of the things that researchers are trying to highlight is that the changes that they're seeing in the past 70 years are occurring much faster than they've seen in other geological periods. So times when there were natural fluctuations in temperature on the planet or glacial ice ages and mini ice ages, or even asteroid strikes. The impacts of this is happening faster than that.

NIALA: Alison Snyder is a managing editor at Axios and also writes our weekly science newsletter, and we'll include a link to this story in our show notes. Thanks Alison.

ALISON: Thank you.

NIALA: In a moment, what the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action in colleges means for corporate America.


Why corporate America is worried about the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action for universities

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

It's been a couple of weeks since the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action for college admissions, and it's still too early to see all the effects of that decision. But as Axios’ Emily Peck reports, companies are expected to face a talent pipeline problem. Hi, Emily.


NIALA: Emily, the Supreme Court overturned the use of affirmative action at the collegiate level. Can you explain why many companies were opposed to this decision?

EMILY: Companies were opposed to this decision because it is in their interest to have a diverse set of candidates for open positions, because, for a while now, companies have wanted to hire a diverse employee base. There's a lot of research that just finds diverse teams are better at decision making, better at creativity, better communicators. And so the companies that signed on, um, this brief to the court included really big ones – Accenture, Apple, GM, Google, United Airlines, um, and they have an interest in hiring diverse employees. And if affirmative action is banned nationwide, there's good reason to believe that colleges and universities are going to be graduating a less diverse student body.

We know, from what happened in Michigan and California after affirmative action was banned in those states, that Black enrollment in those schools declined by a significant amount. So, a lot of observers, diversity experts are thinking, okay, if affirmative action is now banned at a national level, that's going to mean a decline in enrollment of Black students. That's going to mean a decline in this diverse pipeline coming out of the schools. It's going to be harder to have a diverse employee base.

NIALA: And as you said, there were more than 20 major corporations that filed these briefs in support of colleges and affirmative action. Now that the SCOTUS decision is in, how are those companies saying they are going to prepare for having a better pipeline of workers?

EMILY: What's also happening besides companies worrying about this pipeline issue is they're worried. That there'll be the next shoe to drop. In other words, the Supreme Court decision didn't have anything to do with corporate America at all. Nothing has changed. They can still pursue Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs. And take into account diversity in hiring. That’s all unchanged. But there are fears now and rumblings that there'll be, um, litigation against companies for trying to hire diverse employees, just like there was litigation against the universities. So, companies are reacting. I think some are a little nervous. Some are doubling down on diversity, others are quietly not talking about it as much. It remains to be seen kind of how they react so early since the decision.

NIALA: Emily, even if there is this fear in corporate America that they may be next, isn't it very different the way companies approach DEI efforts and universities do admissions?

EMILY: Yeah, definitely. Companies don't really treat brace and hiring the way colleges handle it in admission practices. Like these corporate DEI efforts are typically more focused on reducing bias in hiring, recruiting from a broader talent base, figuring out how to reduce discrimination in the interview process. They're not typically saying, like, we need to hire X number of Black workers or something like that. It's more like, we need to be more inclusive in our hiring.

NIALA: Emily Peck is a business reporter for Axios. Thanks, Emily.

EMILY: Thank you.

Why today is one of the biggest shopping days of the year

NIALA: Today's one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Some are calling it Black Friday in July. From Amazon Prime Day to deals at Target, Best Buy, and many other retailers, consumers are expected to spend billions of dollars. Axios’ Kelly Tyko is here with what to expect. Hi, Kelly.


NIALA: So 7-Eleven is handing out free slurpees today, even Subway has a free sandwich giveaway. Why is today one of the biggest deal days of the year?

KELLY: Well, Prime day is one reason. All the sales at Target, Walmart, Best Buy, Macy's, Kohls. All of those have to do with Amazon in stores wanting to compete for part of that market share. Prime Day last year drove $22.4 billion in overall U.S. online sales, including $11.9 billion during the 48 hour prime day period.

NIALA: We've talked a lot about inflation on the podcast, Kelly, given that are Americans expected to spend money on these deals?

KELLY: Well, I think that consumers are hungry for deals and they're expected to take advantage of the sales, but some will spend less. The average Prime day shopper plans to spend $250 at Amazon and competing sales according to a RetailMeNot survey. This is down from $388 last year, and down from $594 in 2021. But one reason that people are gonna be shopping is because Prime day's considered the unofficial start to back to school shopping. And I've heard that some bargain conscious consumers will also be getting ready for Christmas and getting an early jumpstart there.

NIALA: Okay, so Kelly, there are some highly organized people out there who are starting their holiday shopping this July, but are there actually deals to be had over this next 48 hours or is this more of a marketing ploy to get consumers to spend?

KELLY: Well, it depends on what you're shopping for. If you're shopping for big TV, there's not gonna be a lot of doorbuster deals. Some of the sales are online only. But you need to know what you're shopping for. Consumers are expected to buy things that are more wants and needs versus indulgences, indulgence buys like in the past. If you're looking for deals on kids' clothes and back to school supplies, you might be able to save some money there.

NIALA: Axios’ Senior Reporter Kelly Tyko. Thanks, Kelly.

KELLY: You're welcome.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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