The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives

Will Steffen, Jacques Grinevald, Paul Crutzen,  John McNeill

Abstract

The human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system. Although global-scale human influence on the environment has been recognized since the 1800s, the term Anthropocene, introduced about a decade ago, has only recently become widely, but informally, used in the global change research community. However, the term has yet to be accepted formally as a new geological epoch or era in Earth history. In this paper, we put forward the case for formally recognizing the Anthropocene as a new epoch in Earth history, arguing that the advent of the Industrial Revolution around 1800 provides a logical start date for the new epoch. We then explore recent trends in the evolution of the Anthropocene as humanity proceeds into the twenty-first century, focusing on the profound changes to our relationship with the rest of the living world and on early attempts and proposals for managing our relationship with the large geophysical cycles that drive the Earth’s climate system.

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