, 40:739 | Cite as

The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship

  • Will SteffenEmail author
  • 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


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.


Earth System Anthropocence Planetary stewardship Ecosystem services Resilience 



The article is based on Steffen et al. (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. We acknowledge support from Ebba och Sven Schwartz Stiftelse, Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation, Formas, and Mistra through a core grant to the Stockholm Resilience Centre, a cross-faculty research centre at Stockholm University.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Will Steffen
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • 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

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