AMBIO

, 40:739 | Cite as

The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship

  • Will Steffen
  • Åsa Persson
  • Lisa Deutsch
  • Jan Zalasiewicz
  • Mark Williams
  • Katherine Richardson
  • Carole Crumley
  • Paul Crutzen
  • Carl Folke
  • Line Gordon
  • Mario Molina
  • Veerabhadran Ramanathan
  • Johan Rockström
  • Marten Scheffer
  • Hans Joachim Schellnhuber
  • Uno Svedin
Invited Paper

Abstract

Over the past century, the total material wealth of humanity has been enhanced. However, in the twenty-first century, we face scarcity in critical resources, the degradation of ecosystem services, and the erosion of the planet’s capability to absorb our wastes. Equity issues remain stubbornly difficult to solve. This situation is novel in its speed, its global scale and its threat to the resilience of the Earth System. The advent of the Anthropence, the time interval in which human activities now rival global geophysical processes, suggests that we need to fundamentally alter our relationship with the planet we inhabit. Many approaches could be adopted, ranging from geo-engineering solutions that purposefully manipulate parts of the Earth System to becoming active stewards of our own life support system. The Anthropocene is a reminder that the Holocene, during which complex human societies have developed, has been a stable, accommodating environment and is the only state of the Earth System that we know for sure can support contemporary society. The need to achieve effective planetary stewardship is urgent. As we go further into the Anthropocene, we risk driving the Earth System onto a trajectory toward more hostile states from which we cannot easily return.

Keywords

Earth System Anthropocence Planetary stewardship Ecosystem services Resilience 

References

  1. Arrhenius, S. 1896. On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground. The London, Edinburgh and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science (fifth series) 41: 237–275.Google Scholar
  2. ASPO (Association of the Study of Peak Oil and Gas). 2010. www.peakoil.net.
  3. Bäckstrand, K., J. Khan, A. Kronsell, and E. Lövbrand (eds.). 2010. Environmental politics and deliberative democracy: Examining the promise of new modes of governance. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  4. Barnosky, A.D., N. Matzke, S. Tomiya, G.O.U. Wogan, B. Swartz, T.B. Quental, C. Marshall, J.L. McGuire, et al. 2011. Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature 471: 51–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barrett, S. 2008. The incredible economics of geoengineering. Environmental & Resource Economics 39: 45–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berger, A., and M.F. Loutre. 2002. An exceptionally long interglacial ahead? Science 297: 1287–1288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Biggs, D., R. Biggs, V. Dakos, R. Scholes, and M. Schoon. 2011. Are we entering an era of concatenated global crises? Ecology & Society 16(2): 27.Google Scholar
  8. Butchart, S.H.M., M. Walpole, B. Collen, A. van Strien, J.P.W. Scharlemann, R.E.A. Almond, J.E.M. Baillie, B. Bomhard, et al. 2010. Global biodiversity: Indicators of recent declines. Science 328: 1164–1168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Canning, D. 1998. A database of world stocks of infrastructure: 1950–1995. The World Bank Economic Review 12: 529–548.Google Scholar
  10. Canning, D. and M. Farahani. 2007. A database of world stocks of infrastructure: Update 1950–2005. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/faculty/david-canning/files/A_Database_of_World_Stocks_of_Infrastructure.doc.
  11. Castells, M. 2010. The rise of the network society, 2nd ed. London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  12. Chapin III, F.S., S.R. Carpenter, G.P. Kofinas, C. Folke, N. Abel, W.C. Clark, P. Olsson, D.M. Stafford Smith, et al. 2010. Ecosystem stewardship: Sustainability strategies for a rapidly changing planet. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 25: 241–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Claussen, M., C. Kubatzki, V. Brovkin, A. Ganopolski, P. Hoelzmann, and H.J. Pachur. 1999. Simulation of an abrupt change in Saharan vegetation at the end of the mid-Holocene. Geophysical Research Letters 24: 2037–2040.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cordell, D., J.-O. Drangert, and S. White. 2009. The story of phosphorus: Global food security and food for thought. Global Environmental Change 19: 292–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Costanza, R., L. Graumlich, W. Steffen, C. Crumley, J. Dearing, K. Hibbard, R. Leemans, C. Redman, et al. 2007. Sustainability or collapse: What can we learn from integrating the history of humans and the rest of nature? Ambio 36: 522–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Crowley, T.J., and W.T. Hyde. 2008. Transient nature of late Pleistocene climate variability. Nature 456: 226–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Crutzen, P. J. 1995. My life with O30NOx and other YZOxs. In Les Prix nobel [The Nobel Prizes]. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 123–157.Google Scholar
  18. Crutzen, P.J. 2002. Geology of mankind: The Anthropocene. Nature 415: 23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Crutzen, P.J. 2006. Albedo enhancement by stratospheric sulfur injections: A contribution to resolve a policy dilemma? Climatic Change 77: 211–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. deMenocal, P.B., J. Ortiz, T. Guilderson, J. Adkins, M. Sarnthein, L. Baker, and M. Yarusinki. 2000. Abrupt onset and termination of the African Humid Period: Rapid climate response to gradual insolation forcing. Quaternary Science Review 19: 347–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Diamond, J. 2005. Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. New York: Viking.Google Scholar
  22. Doughty, C.E., A. Wolf, and C.B. Field. 2010. Biophysical feedbacks between the Pleistocene megafauna extinction and climate: The first human-induced global warming? Geophysical Research Letters 37: L15703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ellis, E.C., K. Klein Goldewijk, S. Siebert, D. Lightman, and N. Ramankutty. 2010. Anthropogenic transformation of the biomes, 1700 to 2000. Global Ecology and Biogeography 19: 589–606.Google Scholar
  24. Erwin, D.H. 2008. Macroevolution of ecosystem engineering, niche construction and diversity. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 23: 304–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Falkner, R., H. Stephan, and J. Vogler. 2010. International climate policy after Copenhagen: Towards a ‘building blocks’ approach. Global Policy 1: 252–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. FAO. 2011. FAO food price index. http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/wfs-home/foodpricesindex/en/. Accessed 4 May 2011.
  27. Folke, C., S.R. Carpenter, B.H. Walker, M. Scheffer, F.S. Chapin III, and J. Rockström. 2010. Resilience thinking: Integrating resilience, adaptability and transformability. Ecology and Society 15: 20. http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss4/art20/.
  28. Folke, C., Å. Jansson, J. Rockström, P. Olsson, S. Carpenter, A-S. Crepín, G. Daily, J., Ebbesson et al. 2011. Reconnecting to the Biosphere. Ambio. doi:10.1007/s13280-011-0184-y.
  29. Fraser, E.D.G., and A. Rimas. 2011. The psychology of food riots. Foreign Affairs Jan 30: 2011.Google Scholar
  30. Galloway, J.N., and E.B. Cowling. 2002. Reactive nitrogen and the world: Two hundred years of change. Ambio 31: 64–71.Google Scholar
  31. Gibson, D.G., J.I. Glass, C. Lartigue, V.N. Noskov, R.-Y. Chuang, M.A. Algire, G.A. Benders, M.G. Montague, et al. 2010. Creation of a bacterial cell controlled by a chemically synthesized gene. Science Express. doi:10.1126/science.1190719.
  32. Global Footprint Network. 2011. Our human development initiative. http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/fighting_poverty_our_human_development_initiative/. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  33. Hibbard, K.A., P.J. Crutzen, E.F. Lambin, D. Liverman, N.J. Mantua, J.R. McNeill, B. Messerli, and W. Steffen. 2006. Decadal interactions of humans and the environment. In Integrated History and Future of People on Earth. Dahlem workshop report 96, ed. R. Costanza, L. Graumlich, and W. Steffen, 341–375. Boston, MA: MIT PressGoogle Scholar
  34. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2007. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed. S. Solomon, D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K. Averyt, M.M.B Tignor, H.L. Miller Jr, and Z. Chen. 996 pp. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  35. IRRI. 2010. Paper on global food crisisSection 1. IRRI, Los Baños.Google Scholar
  36. Kates, R.W., W.C. Clark, R. Corell, J.M. Hall, C.C. Jaeger, I. Lowe, J.J. McCarthy, H.J. Schellnhuber, et al. 2001. Sustainability science. Science 292: 641–642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kolbert, E. 2011. Enter the Anthropocene: Age of man. National Geographic 219: 60–77.Google Scholar
  38. Le Quéré, C., M.R. Raupach, J.G. Canadell, G. Marland, L. Bopp, P. Ciais, T.J. Conway, S.C. Doney, et al. 2009. Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide. Nature Geoscience 2: 831–836.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lenton, T.M., H. Held, E. Kriegler, J.W. Hall, W. Lucht, S. Rahmstorf, and H.J. Schellnhuber. 2008. Tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system. Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences, USA 105: 1786–1793.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Liljenström, H., and U. Svedin (eds.). 2005. Micro meso, macro-addressing complex system couplings. New Jersey: World Scientific.Google Scholar
  41. Lovelock, J.E. 1979. Gaia: A new look at life on Earth. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Lovelock, J.E. 1988. The ages of Gaia: A biography of our living earth. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co.Google Scholar
  43. MA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment). 2005. Ecosystems and human well-being: Synthesis. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  44. Mason, M. 2005. The new accountability: Environmental responsibility across borders. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  45. McNeill, J.R. 2000. Something new under the sun: An environmental history of the twentieth century world. London: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  46. Moberg, F., and C. Folke. 1999. Ecological services of coral reef ecosystems. Ecological Economics 29: 215–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ostrom, E. 2010. Polycentric systems for coping with collective action and global environmental change. Global Environmental Change 20: 550–557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Parry, M., O. Canziani, J. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden, and C.E. Hanson (eds.). 2007. Contribution of working group II to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Petit, J.R., J. Jouzel, D. Raynaud, N.I. Barkov, J.-M. Barnola, I. Basile, M. Bender, J. Chappellaz, et al. 1999. Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica. Nature 399: 429–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Ramanathan, V., and Y. Feng. 2008. On avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system: Formidable challenges ahead. Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences, USA 105: 14245–14250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Ramanathan, V., and Y. Xu. 2010. The Copenhagen Accord for limiting global warming: Criteria, constraints, and available avenues. Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences, USA 107: 8055–8062.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Raudsepp-Hearne, C., G.D. Peterson, M. Tengö, E.M. Bennett, T. Holland, K. Benessaiah, G.K. MacDonald, and L. Pfeifer. 2010. Untangling the environmentalist’s paradox: Why is human well-being increasing as ecosystem services degrade? BioScience 60: 576–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Raupach, M.R., and J.G. Canadell. 2010. Carbon and the Anthropocene. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2: 210–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Raupach, M.R., G. Marland, P. Ciais, C. Le Quéré, J.G. Canadell, G. Klepper, and C.B. Field. 2007. Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions. Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences, USA 104: 10288–10293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Richardson, K., W. Steffen, D. Liverman, T. Barker, F. Jotzo, D. Kammen, R. Leemans, T. Lenton, et al. 2011. Climate change: Global risks, challenges and decisions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Rockström, J., W. Steffen, K. Noone, Å. Persson, F.S. Chapin III, E.F. Lambin, T.M. Lenton, M. Scheffer, et al. 2009a. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461: 472–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rockström, J., W. Steffen, K. Noone, Å. Persson, F.S. Chapin III, E.F. Lambin, T.M. Lenton, M. Scheffer, et al. 2009b. Planetary boundaries: Exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and Society 14: 32.Google Scholar
  58. Royal Society. 2005. Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, June 2005. London: The Royal Society.Google Scholar
  59. Ruddiman, W.F. 2003. The anthropogenic greenhouse gas era began thousands of years ago. Climatic Change 61: 261–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Scheffer, M. 2009. Critical transitions in nature and society. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Scheffer, M., S.R. Carpenter, J.A. Foley, C. Folke, and B.H. Walker. 2001. Catastrophic shifts in ecosystems. Nature 413: 591–596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Schellnhuber, H.J. 1999. ‘Earth System’ analysis and the second Copernican revolution. Nature 402: C19–C23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sorrell, S., J. Speirs, R. Bentley, A. Brandt, and R. Miller. 2009. An assessment of the evidence for a near-term peak in global oil production. London: UK Energy Research Centre.Google Scholar
  64. Steffen, W., P.J. Crutzen, and J.R. McNeill. 2007. The Anthropocene: Are humans now overwhelming the great forces of Nature? Ambio 36: 614–621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Steffen, W., A. Sanderson, P.D. Tyson, J. Jäger, P. Matson, B. Moore III, F. Oldfield, K. Richardson, et al. 2004. Global change and the earth system: A planet under pressure. The IGBP global change series. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  66. Steffen, W., Å. Persson, L. Deutsch, M. Williams, J. Zalasiewicz, C. Folke, J. Rockström, C. Crumley, P. Crutzen, L. Gordon, M. Molina, V. Ramanathan, K. Richardson, M. Scheffer, J. Schellnhuber, and U. Svedin. 2011. The Anthropocene: From global change to planetary stewardship, Working Paper No. 2. Prepared for the “3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability: Transforming the World in an Era of Global Change”, in Stockholm, 16–19 May 2011. Stockholm Resilience Centre, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Stockholm Environment Institute, the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.Google Scholar
  67. Svedin, U. 1998. Implicit and explicit ethical norms in the environmental policy arena. Ecological Economics 24: 299–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Sverdrup, H.U., and K.V. Ragnarsdottir. 2011. Challenging the planetary boundaries II: Assessing the sustainable global population and phosphate supply, using a systems dynamics assessment model. Applied Geochemistry 26: S307–S310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Tainter, J.A. 1998. The collapse of complex societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Taylor, M.S. 2009. Innis lecture: Environmental crises: Past, present and future. Canadian Journal of Economics 42: 1240–1275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. UNDP. 2010. Human development report 2010—the real wealth of nations: pathways to human development, 20th Anniversary Edition. New York: UNDP.Google Scholar
  72. UNISDR (United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Secretariat). 2009. Global assessment report on disaster risk reduction. Risk and poverty in a changing climate: Invest today for a safer tomorrow. http://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/publications/9413.
  73. U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. USDA (2010). World Bank world development indicators. Washington: USDAGoogle Scholar
  74. Walker, B., S. Barrett, S. Polasky, V. Galaz, C. Folke, G. Engström, F. Ackerman, K. Arrow, et al. 2009. Looming global-scale failures and missing institutions. Science 325: 1345–1346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. WF, W. 2010. Living planet report 2010: Biodiversity, biocapacity and development. Gland: WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature).Google Scholar
  76. Wilkinson, R., and K. Pickett. 2009. The spirit level—why more equal societies almost always do better. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  77. Williams, M., J. Zalasiewicz, A. Haywood, and M. Ellis. 2011. The Anthropocene: A new epoch of geological time? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 369: 835–1111 (special issue).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. World Bank. 2010. World Bank world development indicators. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?page=5.
  79. Young, O., and W. Steffen. 2009. The Earth System: Sustaining planetary life support systems. In Principles of ecosystem stewardship: Resilience-based resource natural resource management in a changing world, ed. F.S. Chapin III, G.P. Kofinas, and C. Folke, 295–315. New York: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  80. Zalasiewicz, J., P. Crutzen, and W. Steffen. 2012. Anthropocene. In A geological time scale 2010, ed. F.M. Gradstein (in press).Google Scholar
  81. Zalasiewicz, J., and M. Williams. 2009. A geological history of climate change. In Climate change: Observed impacts on planet Earth, ed. T.M. Letcher, 127–142. The Netherlands: Elsevier B.V.Google Scholar
  82. Zalasiewicz, J., M. Williams, R. Fortey, A. Smith, T.L. Barry, A.L. Coe, P.R. Brown, P.F. Rawson, et al. 2011. Stratigraphy of the Anthropocene. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 369: 1036–1055.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Will Steffen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Åsa Persson
    • 2
    • 3
  • Lisa Deutsch
    • 2
  • Jan Zalasiewicz
    • 4
  • Mark Williams
    • 4
  • Katherine Richardson
    • 5
  • Carole Crumley
    • 2
  • Paul Crutzen
    • 6
  • Carl Folke
    • 2
    • 7
  • Line Gordon
    • 2
  • Mario Molina
    • 8
  • Veerabhadran Ramanathan
    • 9
  • Johan Rockström
    • 2
    • 3
  • Marten Scheffer
    • 10
  • Hans Joachim Schellnhuber
    • 11
  • Uno Svedin
    • 2
  1. 1.The ANU Climate Change Institute, The College of Asia and the PacificThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Stockholm Resilience CentreStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  3. 3.Stockholm Environment InstituteStockholmSweden
  4. 4.Department of GeologyUniversity of LeicesterLeicester UK
  5. 5.Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate Biological InstituteUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  6. 6.Max-Planck-Institute for ChemistryMainzGermany
  7. 7.Beijer Institute of Ecological EconomicsRoyal Swedish Academy of SciencesStockholmSweden
  8. 8.Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  9. 9.Scripps Institution of OceanographyUniversity of CaliforniaSan Diego USA
  10. 10.Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management GroupWageningen UniversityWageningen The Netherlands
  11. 11.Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact ResearchPotsdamGermany

Personalised recommendations