THE ANTHROPOCENE: Humanity’s lasting influence on Earth
There are a number of compelling overviews of what is wrong with humanity and how to make it right. This one, by a group called Transition Earth, is on point and about as succinct as these planetary prescriptions come.
The Anthropocene is a new geological epoch that began with the Industrial Revolution and became
fully established after World War II, during what is called the ‘The Great Acceleration,’ when human
activities began to alter the state of the planet. The effects of the Anthropocene have already
percolated throughout virtually all aspects of the planetary system. Its impacts include rising levels of
greenhouse gases, mass extinctions, deforestation, and altered oceanic and atmospheric chemistry.
One predicted consequence of the Anthropocene epoch is that the planet may lose two-thirds of its wild animals by 2020. In the last fifty years, the Earth has lost 38% of its terrestrial vertebrate, 36% of it’s ocean vertebrates, and 81% of its freshwater vertebrates.
The impact of this goes far beyond just sentimentality – the interconnectedness of the web of life means all organisms serve
an ecological function upon which another relies, so to lose a species is to lose a part of the ecological system which sustains life.
How can we construct a future that will nurture the needs of the planet while protecting the rights of its vulnerable people in the face of an expanding population?
The previous epoch – the Holocene – nurtured modern day humanity, as agriculture thrived due to a relatively stable
climate; it is the only period we know to be able to sustain contemporary life.
As human pressures mount, and with the global population set to hit 10 billion by 2050, it is clear that the way we live and
run our world needs to be reformed. It is time to ensure that the natural earth systems which got us here today are
protected from irreversible repair, and most importantly, to support people’s rights while doing so.
How can we construct a future that will nurture the needs of the planet while protecting the rights of its vulnerable people
in the face oi anexpanding population?
Strategies for stabilizing the effects of the Anthropocene and securing a sustainable future include the following:
- Recognizing and protecting the rights of nature
- Shifting to a sustainable economic system
- Reducing or eliminating consumption of animal food products
- Investing in voluntary family planning services
Rights of Nature
In a world where, according to the Living Planet Report 2016, global populations of fish, birds, mammals,
amphibians and reptiles declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012, new approaches are needed to save
In 2014 New Zealand passed a law to recognize the Wanganui River as a natural entity with rights, protecting it
from threats such as pollution, and in doing so, protecting the abundance of life that the river fosters and the
ecosystem services it provides that enhance the well-being of people. Legally recognizing nature as an entity
means its rights to be and to thrive are protected, and not simply property to be plundered. As all life is
interconnected, this concept protects both wildlife and human well-being and is therefore a promising example
for future strategies.
In India, courts have granted rights to the sacred Ganges and Yamuna Rivers as living entities, and rights of
nature has been recognized in the constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador. Over 100 communities in the U.S. have
enacted some type of rights of nature legislation at the local level in an effort to protect both people and the
environment from threats such as fracking and toxic sludge waste.
New Economic Systems
The current global economic system is one that demands constant resource consumption and population
growth; not surprisingly, this system is unsustainable. While this economic model may have lifted people out of
poverty in the past, it is no longer viable, as Earth’s resources are limited, which in turn threatens the quality of
life for many people and harms the environment.
Alternative models exist that promote healthy communities living within the means of the planet. Steady state
economics is the ‘sustainable alternative to perpetual economic growth’, where population and resource
consumption mildly fluctuate or remain stable. In a steady state economy, the constant pressure to create more
jobs is reduced as population growth stabilizes, and the jobs that do exist are within enterprises of a more local
and sustainable nature. With less outside/foreign influences, jobs and local economies will be stronger and more
resilient while contributing to a cleaner and greener world.
A shift to a less meat-intensive and more plant-based diet is an effective, tangible way in which an individual can
reduce their contribution to planetary degradation. Animal agriculture is far more costly to the environment
than plant agriculture, in that it uses more water, land and nutrients, generates more greenhouse gases and
waste, and causes greater degradation to land by overgrazing and deforestation for pastures.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the total area of land dedicated to
growing feedcrop for livestock amounts to 33% of all arable land on Earth; the total amount of land used for
grazing by livestock itself amounts to 26% of all ice-free terrestrial land. These statistics combined mean that
livestock production comprises 70% of all agricultural land use and 30% of all land on the planet – land cleared
for food production equals the size of South America and Africa combined. A shift to a more plant-based diet
would mean less land and resources to grow more food.
With studies now showing that plant-based diets are linked to lowered risk of heart disease and some cancers,
this change in eating habits would benefit people’s health as well as the planet.
Invest in Voluntary Family Planning Services
One of the most overlooked but critical solutions for a sustainable future is the need to invest in voluntary family
planning services and women’s health. Some 214 million women and girls in developing countries who don’t
want to get pregnant do not use contraception, often due to a lack of access, supplies, money or information.
Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia are home to almost 60 percent of the women who want to avoid
pregnancy but cannot access proper contraception. The birth rate in 20 African nations exceeds five children per
Tackling this issue means that women will be able to support healthier families and communities by having a
choice of how many children they want in alignment with the resources they have, and will simultaneously help
manage population growth.
In countries where communities are facing the problems of climate change and ecological collapse, access to
family planning, reproductive rights and education will empower women to confront these challenges,
benefitting both their well-being and that of their families, as well as the planet’s.
Having constructed, reclaimed and drilled our way out of the last epoch and into a new, ecologically
impoverished, concrete Anthropocene, it is time to rethink the way we interact with the world in which we live.
It is vital that we put efforts into curbing the impacts humans have on the planet so that the Anthropocene does
not shift into an environmental state that is hostile to life, something that could happen if changes are not made.
This can be done by respecting nature and protecting it, realizing that we are part of a web of life that should be
nourished not exploited, shifting away from an economic model based on perpetual growth and consumption,
reducing the amount of food obtained from animal sources and investing in voluntary family planning services.
Published August 2017 by Transition Earth, a non-governmental organization that works to increase awareness of the
effects of increasing population growth and unsustainable economic growth on people and the planet.