The cost of living in the Anthropocene

The most recent epoch, the Holocene, has been a period of relative environmental stability, allowing humans to develop agriculture and establish settlements, culminating in modern civilization. Human activities have now reached such a scale that we are having significant impacts on planetary systems, and these effects are of sufficient magnitude to suggest that we have triggered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. Neither climatic nor biogeochemical stability is likely to continue in the Anthropocene, and the Earth systems we rely on to provide a liveable environment for human society are likely to become much less predictable. The stability of our infrastructure, the reliability of our production systems and the liveability of our cities will all be much less certain in the future. More research on the diverse aspects of global change will certainly help to improve predictions on the timing and extent of changes, but will not alter the basic conclusion that global change is upon us. There is now a pressing need for much more interdisciplinary work, addressing such questions as the global societal changes that must accompany responses to environmental change, and dealing with the true economic consequences of a less predictable environment. Conceptualizing the challenges that face humanity under the umbrella of the Anthropocene should allow different disciplines to collaborate and develop strategies for dealing with global change in a coherent and rational manner. Researchers in diverse fields must work together with primary producers, politicians, business interests, policy makers and the public to formulate strategies to minimise or mitigate the risks that face all of humanity over the next centuries. Here we provide a summary of the environmental triggers that are pushing us into the Anthropocene, and outline the consequences of transgressing the boundaries beyond which earth systems are likely to become unstable.

Gillings M. R. & Hagan-Lawson E.L., 2014. The cost of living in the Anthropocene. Earth Perspectives 1: 2. doi: 10.1186/2194-6434-1-2. Article.

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