The Great Acceleration is real and provides a quantitative basis for the proposed Anthropocene Series/Epoch
The Anthropocene was conceptualized in 2000 to reflect the extensive impact of human activities on our planet, and subsequent detailed analyses have revealed a substantial Earth System response to these impacts beginning in the mid-20th century. Key to this understanding was the discovery of a sharp upturn in a multitude of global socio-economic indicators and Earth System trends at that time; a phenomenon termed the ‘Great Acceleration’. It coincides with massive increases in global human-consumed energy and shows the Earth System now on a trajectory far exceeding the earlier variability of the Holocene Epoch, and in some respects the entire Quaternary Period. The evaluation of geological signals similarly shows the mid-20th century as representing the most appropriate inception for the Anthropocene. A recent mathematical analysis has nonetheless challenged the significance of the original Great Acceleration data. We examine this analytical approach and reiterate the robustness of the original data in supporting the Great Acceleration, while emphasizing that intervals of rapid growth are inevitably time-limited, as recognised at the outset. Moreover, the exceptional magnitude of this growth remains undeniable, reaffirming the centrality of the Great Acceleration in justifying a formal chronostratigraphic Anthropocene at the rank of series/epoch.
MJH acknowledges support from a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant
CitationHead MJ, Steffen W, Fagerlind D, Waters CN, Poirier C, Syvitski J, Zalasiewicz JA, Barnosky AD, Cearreta A, Jeandel C, Leinfelder R, McNeill J, Rose NL, Summerhayes C, Wagreich M, Zinke J. The Great Acceleration is real and provides a quantitative basis for the proposed Anthropocene Series/Epoch. Episodes 2022;45:359-376. https://doi.org/10.18814/epiiugs/2021/021031
Author affiliationSchool of Geography, Geology and the Environment
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