What is the Anthropocene?

Jun 7th, 2012 | By Aubrey Yee

For about the last 10,000 years we’ve been living in an epoch called the Holocene. This time period has been defined by the worldwide spread of the human race and a relatively stable climate. In 2000, renowned atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen came to believe that he was no longer living in the Holocene. That in fact mankind’s affect on planetary systems had become so pervasive and so influential that a new era had begun. He named this new era the Anthropocene and over the next few years the term began to gain acceptance in first academic and then more popular circles.


The Anthropocene, as Crutzen and others now see it, is “the recent age of man.” A time in which all manner of ecological processes from the macro to the micro are being changed and affected in significant ways by our presence on the planet. Acknowledging that humankind’s influence is central and ubiquitous is no small shift in thinking. It is in fact a massive paradigm shift in the scientific field. A field that previously saw humans as observers of natural processes rather than creators of them.

In 2009, Crutzen along with a group of academics, published a paper titled The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives in which they contend:

The human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system…In this paper, we put forward the case for formally recognizing the Anthropocene as a new epoch in Earth history, arguing that the advent of the Industrial Revolution around 1800 provides a logical start date for the new epoch.

We live in a time where geoengineering, genetically modified organisms and artificial intelligence are part of our reality and increasingly we are finding new ways to both create and affect life. Crutzen and others believe that by acknowledging the advent of a new era we force ourselves to accept our new role in managing and stewarding the processes of the natural world. Rather than seeing humans as outside observers of nature, the Anthropocene asks us to envision humans as both creators and managers of a world that we are intimately interconnected with. There is a responsibility inherent in humankind’s ability to effect biological and chemical processes all the way down to the cellular level.

In 2009 a group of international academics joined forces to create the planetary boundaries manifesto which outlines nine planetary boundaries that must be maintained for life on planet earth to sustain. Published in the journal Nature, the group calls for intervention in planetary processes where we have crossed these boundaries so as to recreate and sustain the climactic environment we have adapted to during the Holocene era. In our new role as stewards of the future, the Anthropocene era challenges us to examine much more deeply our impact on the planet and all manners of life that depend upon Earth to survive.

Tagged: peak oil, geologic time, sustainability, alternative energy, sustainable living, carbon footprint, anthropocene, holocene, geoengineering, geo, genetically modified organisms, GMO's, fuel efficiency, fuel, Science & Tech, Innovation

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