Entering a Dangerous Epoch- the Anthropocene - Miller-McCune
The global environmental change community has gathered in London and online this week to forge a more effective voice on sustainability.
According to scientists studying global environmental change, the Earth is moving out of the Holocene — the period of remarkably stable climate that began roughly 12,000 years ago — into the Anthropocene, an era in which a single species, humans, are driving the Earth’s systems.
“Can we return to the nice, steady Holocene stage where we know humanity can survive or will we be able to transition to a new, much hotter state?” asked Will Steffen, executive director of the Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute, on the first day of the Planet Under Pressure Conference in London. “We are at the cusp of some big changes. Can we turn the ship around or are we going to an uncertain future on a much hotter planet?”
The Holocene has been an era with a “nice, steady” climate, but from 1950 to 2000 scientists have graphed steep increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is driving average global temperatures higher. When the Planet Under Pressure moderator asked for a show of hands from an audience that included 2,000 scientists, decision-makers, and others knowledgeable about global change, most were pessimistic about the future. (She didn’t poll the additional 2,000 people attending the conference online.)
But pessimism was mixed with hope, if only because of the gathering itself. Eleanor Ostrom, 2009 Nobel laureate in Economics, opened the Planet Under Pressure proceedings arguing that the conference can move the world forward to address global environmental problems, “because we have scientists from all across the sciences — biophysical and social — as well as humanities and from over 100 countries.” Three years of planning preceded the conference, intended to gather and generate science and knowledge “to navigate the Anthropocene.” The conference steering committee selected parallel sessions (about a dozen in each time slot over four days) that offer a mix of social and biophysical research, a focus on solutions to complex problems, and a broad geographic range.