The Anthropocene: A governance perspective

March 31, 2014

EarthSystemGovernanceNick Loughlin on:

Biermann, F. (2014) The Anthropocene: A governance perspective. The Anthropocene Review, 1, 57-61.

This comment piece looks at the Anthropocene as a political construct and a tool to constrain the concept of ‘Earth System Governance’ within the social sciences. To quote the author ‘the Anthropocene is political’ and this is indeed the case when attempting to organise disparate and often conflicting bodies into a global community that can guide society to a way of working within nature, but it is also a biological, ecological and geological term and as such a scientific rational to understanding our Anthropocene is required not just a political one.

The writer succinctly demonstrates the interdependence of countries, social groups and global organisations within the modern era along with the intergenerational aspect of a range of social and environmental issues. However it places the Anthropocene as a marketing tool targeted at a political audience rather than a scientific term that denotes a currently unverified chronostratigraphic unit.

It is in no doubt that humans are a significant driving force behind changes to the biosphere and the concept of ‘Earth System Governance’ as described within this paper demonstrates the wide ranging global issues that require consensus.

A sociometabolic reading of the Anthropocene

March 28, 2014


Human impacts on environments

Human impact on environments takes many forms and varies in space and time

Phil Jardine on:

Fischer-Kowalski, M., Krausmann, F. & Pallua, I. (2014) A sociometabolic reading of the Anthropocene: Modes of subsistence, population size and human impact on Earth. The Anthropocene Review, 1(1), 8 – 33.

Regardless of whether it’s worthwhile designating the “Anthropocene” as a new geological epoch (I have my doubts), determining the trajectory of human impact upon the Earth system is important. It provides context for how people see their relationship with natural systems and resources, and can help shape environmental policy and its acceptance by the public. But where to put the onset of this impact – where does the Anthropocene start? The authors of this paper belong to the Institute of Social Ecology at Klagenfurt University, Austria, and take a social sciences approach to the problem. Rather than focusing on physical evidence in the environment, as a geologist might do to delimit a geological epoch, Fischer-Kowalski et al. use a model where human impact is measured as the product of population size, affluence (= energy available per person) and technology, summed over three modes of subsistence: hunter-gatherers, agrarian and industrial. This avoids problems of time lags between human activity and the signature it leaves, and allows the authors to pull apart different driving factors across different societal types.

Using this approach shows a definite shift at around AD 1500: human impact was gradually increasing prior to this, but there is a sharp upturn at ~AD 1500, energy use becomes more important for amplifying the impact of population growth, and a shift from biomass to fossil fuel driven energies enhances this further. While there are problems with this approach – determining energy throughput for long-dead societies will always involve a lot of extrapolation from modern patterns – the authors are careful in stating their assumptions, and going through possible issues with the model itself. It would have been nice to see a comparison between the model output and the empirical evidence though, to help bridge the gap between these two different takes on the same question.

The Anthropocene Review – reviewed

March 26, 2014

AnthropoceneReviewThe Anthropocene Review is a new journal focusing on the impact of humans on planet Earth through time; information on the latest publications can be found on the associated blog.

Given that much of the research we are interested in relates human-environment interactions in the past we decided to take a closer look at the range of articles being covered by this journal. Our thoughts on seven articles published in the first issue of The Anthropocene Review will appear in a series of blog posts soon. To get started here are a list of the papers we will be covering:

Full Anthropocene Review table of contents here.




Blog at