Anthropocene, the challenge for "Homo sapiens" to set its own limits

F. Valladares, S. Magro, I. Martín-Forés

Abstract


The Anthropocene as a distinct geological era has been the subject of active discussion within the scientific community. This era includes the notion that Homo sapiens has had a large impact on global planetary processes. Here, we aim at connecting the notion and nature of the Anthropocene with the social-economic success and the unexpected or unplanned environmental impacts of the anthropogenic activity. Some of the main achievements along the history of humankind have been important developmental steps for many human civilisations but they have also had undesired results that we could not foresee, including the rise of greenhouse gases emissions, the shifts in the area of species distributions or the affection of all major biogeochemical cycles. Increasing human life expectancy and health has promoted an exponential population growth, which together with the increased environmental footprint per capita has pushed many core variables for Earth functioning (e.g. biodiversity, nitrogen cycle, climate change) out of their safety limits. We illustrate examples of many ecosystems that have collapsed around the world because we have crossed the limits of their sustainable exploitation. Paradoxically, it is humanity itself who is pushing the Planet to conditions in which our own survival will unlikely be possible. The reason behind such a strong ecological and functional impact on the Planet within a relatively short space of time is an unsustainable economic system based on the assumption that a perpetual economic growth is not only possible but also desirable. Our awakening should lie on a global framework aimed at changing our relationship with the Planet.


Keywords


Anthropocene; biodiversity; climate change; drought; environmental impact; erosion; geochemical cycles; global change; invasive species; planetary limits; sustainable development

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References


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18172/cig.3681

© Universidad de La Rioja, 2013

ISSN 0211-6820

EISSN 1697-9540