The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship

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.

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Acknowledgments

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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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

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Keywords

  • Earth System
  • Anthropocence
  • Planetary stewardship
  • Ecosystem services
  • Resilience