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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
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.
ASPO (Association of the Study of Peak Oil and Gas). 2010. www.peakoil.net.
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.
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.
Barrett, S. 2008. The incredible economics of geoengineering. Environmental & Resource Economics 39: 45–54.
Berger, A., and M.F. Loutre. 2002. An exceptionally long interglacial ahead? Science 297: 1287–1288.
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.
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.
Canning, D. 1998. A database of world stocks of infrastructure: 1950–1995. The World Bank Economic Review 12: 529–548.
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.
Castells, M. 2010. The rise of the network society, 2nd ed. London: Blackwell.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Crowley, T.J., and W.T. Hyde. 2008. Transient nature of late Pleistocene climate variability. Nature 456: 226–230.
Crutzen, P. J. 1995. My life with O30NOx and other YZOxs. In Les Prix nobel [The Nobel Prizes]. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 123–157.
Crutzen, P.J. 2002. Geology of mankind: The Anthropocene. Nature 415: 23.
Crutzen, P.J. 2006. Albedo enhancement by stratospheric sulfur injections: A contribution to resolve a policy dilemma? Climatic Change 77: 211–219.
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.
Diamond, J. 2005. Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. New York: Viking.
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.
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.
Erwin, D.H. 2008. Macroevolution of ecosystem engineering, niche construction and diversity. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 23: 304–310.
Falkner, R., H. Stephan, and J. Vogler. 2010. International climate policy after Copenhagen: Towards a ‘building blocks’ approach. Global Policy 1: 252–262.
FAO. 2011. FAO food price index. http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/wfs-home/foodpricesindex/en/. Accessed 4 May 2011.
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/.
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.
Fraser, E.D.G., and A. Rimas. 2011. The psychology of food riots. Foreign Affairs Jan 30: 2011.
Galloway, J.N., and E.B. Cowling. 2002. Reactive nitrogen and the world: Two hundred years of change. Ambio 31: 64–71.
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.
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.
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 Press
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.
IRRI. 2010. Paper on global food crisis—Section 1. IRRI, Los Baños.
ITU. 2010. ITU world telecommunication/ICT Indicators database http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ICTEYE/Indicators/Indicators.aspx#; http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/statistics/index.html.
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.
Kolbert, E. 2011. Enter the Anthropocene: Age of man. National Geographic 219: 60–77.
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.
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.
Liljenström, H., and U. Svedin (eds.). 2005. Micro meso, macro-addressing complex system couplings. New Jersey: World Scientific.
Lovelock, J.E. 1979. Gaia: A new look at life on Earth. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Lovelock, J.E. 1988. The ages of Gaia: A biography of our living earth. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co.
MA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment). 2005. Ecosystems and human well-being: Synthesis. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Mason, M. 2005. The new accountability: Environmental responsibility across borders. London: Earthscan.
McNeill, J.R. 2000. Something new under the sun: An environmental history of the twentieth century world. London: W.W. Norton.
Moberg, F., and C. Folke. 1999. Ecological services of coral reef ecosystems. Ecological Economics 29: 215–233.
Ostrom, E. 2010. Polycentric systems for coping with collective action and global environmental change. Global Environmental Change 20: 550–557.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Raupach, M.R., and J.G. Canadell. 2010. Carbon and the Anthropocene. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2: 210–218.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Royal Society. 2005. Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, June 2005. London: The Royal Society.
Ruddiman, W.F. 2003. The anthropogenic greenhouse gas era began thousands of years ago. Climatic Change 61: 261–293.
Scheffer, M. 2009. Critical transitions in nature and society. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Scheffer, M., S.R. Carpenter, J.A. Foley, C. Folke, and B.H. Walker. 2001. Catastrophic shifts in ecosystems. Nature 413: 591–596.
Schellnhuber, H.J. 1999. ‘Earth System’ analysis and the second Copernican revolution. Nature 402: C19–C23.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Svedin, U. 1998. Implicit and explicit ethical norms in the environmental policy arena. Ecological Economics 24: 299–309.
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.
Tainter, J.A. 1998. The collapse of complex societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Taylor, M.S. 2009. Innis lecture: Environmental crises: Past, present and future. Canadian Journal of Economics 42: 1240–1275.
UNDP. 2010. Human development report 2010—the real wealth of nations: pathways to human development, 20th Anniversary Edition. New York: UNDP.
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.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. USDA (2010). World Bank world development indicators. Washington: USDA
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.
WF, W. 2010. Living planet report 2010: Biodiversity, biocapacity and development. Gland: WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature).
Wilkinson, R., and K. Pickett. 2009. The spirit level—why more equal societies almost always do better. London: Penguin.
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).
World Bank. 2010. World Bank world development indicators. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?page=5.
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.
Zalasiewicz, J., P. Crutzen, and W. Steffen. 2012. Anthropocene. In A geological time scale 2010, ed. F.M. Gradstein (in press).
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.
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.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
Steffen, W., Persson, Å., Deutsch, L. et al. The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship. AMBIO 40, 739 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-011-0185-x
- Earth System
- Planetary stewardship
- Ecosystem services