The Great Acceleration: The Start of the Anthropocene

From The Anthropocene Review 

The ‘Great Acceleration’ graphs, created by Will Steffen, originally published in 2004 to show socio-economic and Earth System trends from 1750 to 2000, have now been updated to 2010. This new article is an update and follow up of the original article and graphs. Authors; update, extend to 2010, analyse and discuss the significance of the Great Acceleration graphs, including their relevance for the definition of the start date of the Anthropocene.

The update aims to maximise comparability by retaining, wherever possible, the same indicators that were used in the original graphs. For the socio-economic trends indicators were chosen that capture the major features of contemporary society. The original 12 included indicators for population, economic growth, resource use, urbanisation, globalisation, transport and communication. The combination of foreign direct investment, international tourism and telecommunication gives some sense of the rapidly increasing degree of globalisation and connectivity. Of all the candidates for a start date for the Anthropocene, the beginning of the Great Acceleration is by far the most convincing from an Earth System science perspective.

Abstract

The ‘Great Acceleration’ graphs, originally published in 2004 to show socio-economic and Earth System trends from 1750 to 2000, have now been updated to 2010. In the graphs of socio-economic trends, where the data permit, the activity of the wealthy (OECD) countries, those countries with emerging economies, and the rest of the world have now been differentiated. The dominant feature of the socio-economic trends is that the economic activity of the human enterprise continues to grow at a rapid rate. However, the differentiated graphs clearly show that strong equity issues are masked by considering global aggregates only. Most of the population growth since 1950 has been in the non-OECD world but the world’s economy (GDP), and hence consumption, is still strongly dominated by the OECD world. The Earth System indicators, in general, continued their long-term, post-industrial rise, although a few, such as atmospheric methane concentration and stratospheric ozone loss, showed a slowing or apparent stabilisation over the past decade. The post-1950 acceleration in the Earth System indicators remains clear. Only beyond the mid-20th century is there clear evidence for fundamental shifts in the state and functioning of the Earth System that are beyond the range of variability of the Holocene and driven by human activities. Thus, of all the candidates for a start date for the Anthropocene, the beginning of the Great Acceleration is by far the most convincing from an Earth System science perspective.

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Article details
Will Steffen, Wendy Broadgate, Lisa Deutsch, Owen Gaffney, and Cornelia Ludwig
The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration
The Anthropocene Review 2053019614564785, first published on January 16, 2015 doi:10.1177/2053019614564785

 

 

     
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