Climate Change Lecture: The Anthropocene: a new geological epoch dominated by human activities


by Paul J. Crutzen
Max Planck Institute for Chemistry


Despite their relatively small mass, 10-5 of the earth biosphere as a whole, generations of ambitious ‘homo sapiens’ have already played a major and increasing role in changing basic properties of the atmosphere and the earth’s surface. Human activities accelerated in particular over the past few hundred years, creating a new geological era, the ‘Anthropocene’, as already foreseen by Vernadsky in 1928: “…the direction in which the processes of evolution must proceed, namely towards increasing consciousness and thought, and forms having greater influence on their surroundings.”

Vernadsky’s predictions were more than fulfilled. Human activities are affecting, and in many cases out-competing, natural processes, for instance causing the ‘ozone hole’, the rise of greenhouse gases with their impact on climate, urban and regional air pollution, ‘acid rain’, with all their consequences for human and ecosystem health. These problems are also increasingly affecting the developing nations of the world. Despite the tremendous progress that has been made, major questions remain and much research needs to be done.


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