Steffen etal2011 - AMBIO DOI 10.1007/s13280-011-0185-x...

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INVITED PAPER The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship Will Steffen, A ˚ sa Persson, Lisa Deutsch, Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams, Katherine Richardson, Carole Crumley, Paul Crutzen, Carl Folke, Line Gordon, Mario Molina, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Johan Rockstro ¨m, Marten Scheffer, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Uno Svedin Received: 29 June 2011 / Accepted: 29 June 2011 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 funda- mentally 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. Keywords Earth System Á Anthropocence Á Planetary stewardship Á Ecosystem services Á Resilience PEOPLE AND THE PLANET: HUMANITY AT A CROSSROADS IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY The twin challenges of ‘‘peak oil’’—decreasing petroleum resources and increasing demand—and climate change are redefining the pathways of human development in the twenty-first century (Sorrell et al. 2009 ; ASPO 2010 ; Richardson et al. 2011 ). Less well known is the potential shortage of the mineral phosphorus and the increasing competition for land—sometimes referred to as the ‘‘land grab’’ in relation to Africa—as the new economic giants of Asia move to secure food resources in non-Asian territo- ries. The pathways of development followed by today’s wealthy countries after the Second World War—built on plentiful, cheap fossil fuel energy resources, an abundance of other material resources, and large expanses of pro- ductive land to be developed—cannot be followed by the 75–80% of the human population who are now at various stages of their trajectories out of poverty, and are beginning to compete with today’s wealthy countries for increasingly scarce resources.
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