Monday, April 4, 2011

Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?

Please comment by Thursday morning - The Anthropocene

40 comments:

Ann McCampbell said...

The Anthropocene article suggests humans are overwhelming nature. The article looks at global climate change from a historical perspective, showing a history of polution. Anthropocene is the current geologic age that began about 200 years ago with significant human impact on the ecosphere. Humans began having significant impact on the ecosphere when humans discovered the fire and transitioned from hunting-gathering to farming. Initial human impact was minimal, it first began to significantly increase with China's use of fossil fuels in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In the 11th century China attained coal production levels equal to Europe in 1700. The article points out that while humans had an impact on the environment the most notable and serious degradation started with the Industrial revolution. Industrialized societies tend to use four or five times the energy of agrarian societies which use three for four times the energy of hunter-gather societies. Suggesting there has been a massive increase in the amount of energy used, accelerating since 1800 while accelerating more since the end of World War II in 1945. Data shows sharp increases in population, GDP, water use, motor transportation as well as other variables since 1950 showing acceleration of environmental degradation due to human action is real. Given Anthropocene, options to ameliorate the situation are business-as-usual, mitigation or geo-engineering. If the past in an indicator of the present business-as-usual would be a terrible idea. Mitigation seems to be the most feasible and effective way to combat climate change. With the help of human initiative and technology mitigation would alleviate the Earth.

Bobby Gorman said...

This period may be deserving of the new epoch title that the authors call for, but we should first wait and see if temperatures actually increase significantly enough over the next few thousand years before we make that decision. Geologic time is not measured on such short time scales so as to give a name to a period that only lasts a century, and temperatures only change a few degrees. The authors made interesting claims about human capabilities in the future. If humans were ever able to control the climate, they would be the first species to be able to do so, though they are not the first species to have a dramatic effect on the climate through their way of life. As a matter of fact, our impact on climate change is dwarfed by the impact of cyanobacteria four billion years ago. At a time when the atmosphere was composed of mostly CO2 and only about 1% oxygen, cyanobacteria entered the scene and used CO2, converting it to oxygen. The organism’s population expanded rapidly, it caused many chemo-synthetic organisms to die out, and as a result cyanobacteria completely altered the composition of the atmosphere by extracting CO2 and letting out oxygen. The Earth cooled significantly with less CO2 in the air and allowed for the existence of oxygen-breathing organisms. When looking at the magnitude of climate change that other organisms have caused, it shows that we should really wait and see what our impact is over the next few thousand years before devoting an epoch to ourselves.

Joe Moravec said...

Being in Global Climate Change with Professor Greer leads me to conclude that at least much of the arguments in this paper are correct. The evidence is there and there is confirmed consensus in the scientific community that anthropogenic climate change exists, is warming the mean temperatures of the earth, and is caused heavily by increased emissions of CO2 since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The wealth of evidence is so overwhelming that the only cause for any debate is purely political, not scientific. The truth is, in our present political climate, I believe that the "Business-as-usual" scenario outlined in the paper is the only viable option, not because it is what SHOULD be done, but because those who stand to pay the price are not yet willing. As discussed in Tuesday's class, the model dictates that emissions will not be reduced until people are willing to pay for it. Even this point is debatable. The free-rider system may be too strong without intervention, and as I said, it seems our politicians are in no position to do much more than talk. Alternatives will then come through technology either developed out of benevolence or through private development to gain an advantage in the market. The societal value changes are the key to change. As I see it, there is a chance to achieve the "Geo-engineering" options described in the paper, but they will not be a result of government-led interventions, but private sector reforms as a result of financial advantages.

curriee13 said...

As the human population has grown and humans have developed into creatures with higher mental capacities, they have moved from stages as hunter-gatherer tribes to agricultural communities and finally to industrial societies. As we have moved from one stage to the next, humans have become a more and more influential geophysical force on the Earth System. Unfortunately, in all of these periods, as technological, political and social growth flourished, concern for arguably the most important aspect of human existence was and is ignored my much of the population: the Earth System. However, thanks to the advancements in the technologies of research and the internet and other along with increased international relations, more and more people are becoming aware of the damage that we are doing to the Earth System. Hopefully, as awareness increases, the well-informed population will be able to decide what will be the best solution for humanity and the Earth System whether it remain business as usual, or it adopts cautious measures such as mitigation or geo-engineering options. I do not doubt that humans have the potential to “overwhelm the great forces of nature”, but the question remains if we decide to address this enormous influence we have over the Earth System or not, and what the implications will be if we decide to change our behavior or continue as we do now.

michelle said...

Looking back at history during the first stage of anthropocene, we see the beginning of humans slowly draining the resources. With the growth in efficiency and technology, population exponatiated, and to keep up, there is the rapid growth in energy need, in turn supporting future population growth or increase in standard of living. Thus the argument made by the author is reasonable, human will overwhelm the great forces of nature sooner or later, if not already. In addition, with the greater emissions from higher energy use there exists more health implications, although technologies now exist for treatment, but even more resources need to be allocated to support the treatments, which just increases the health issues. Again, here exists an other cycle. The demand for energy will not decrease, but there are alternatives and new technology to mitigate the emission damages. However, because the actual damages from CO2 emissions are unclear, its difficult to know which of the three strategic approaches to take, which differ in timing and aggressiveness. Though, with the unprecedented growth, it might be a safer approach to implement mitigation or geo-engineering options, to at at least slow down or prevent the future dangers, rather than the business-as-usual approach. If using business-as-usual, for all we know, drastic future climate change may occur tomorrow. Especially looking at the past emission rate and the past damages, it is important to act now before the "tipping point of the evolution of the Anthropocene" is reached, and nature won't be able to self sustain.

Mackenzie Doss said...

Crutzen’s Anthropocene begins with the Industrial Revolution; still, others say it started when Paleolithic hunters exterminated mammoths after the last ice age. Other Paleoecologists suggest that deforestation and agriculture have been boosting CO2 concentrations for the last 8000 years. The geologic time scale has blurry lines but what is even more interesting to examine is what it will be like from here on out. Records show that natural greenhouse gas buildups triggered a warming period shortly after the demise of the dinosaurs- forests covered both polar regions, sea level stood hundreds of feet higher than today. 55 million years later, we are repeating the same greenhouse event. The most important difference being that the cause of the former hot house is unclear but we know exactly what is causing this one: humans. Outlines of the Anthropocene future have been sketched through the use of computer modeling- what we know is that the fumes leaking from out tailpipes and smokestacks won’t just go away, they will linger in the air for tens of thousands of years. Most of our CO2 will dissolve into oceans but some will remain in the air. The Earth will become significantly warmer. Climate Modeler David Archer says that “global warming is essentially forever”. Stage 3 of the Anthropocene is labeled “Stewards of the Earth System”. If the projected view of the Anthropocene is correct, then we who live in this century are endowed with the power to determine the climatic future of the planet. If we continue to burn coal, oil, and gas until resource depletion forces us into alternatives, our emissions could keep the Earth in a primeval warm-state for half a million years. Switching to non-fossil fuels sooner will be a long, slow recovery but is our only alternative. We are the producers of this new epoch, but we are also the products.

George Brooke said...

It is interesting to see an extended history about humans effect on the environment and society's growth as a global geophysical force. These forces include the alteration of the biological fabric of Earth, stocks of major elements, and the Earth's energy balance. These effects have caused the earth to leave its natural geological epoch into a less biologically diverse, less forested, and much warmer state. Before the Anthropocene humans lived in small groups of hunter-gatherers that did not have the technological or organizational capability to overwhelm natural forces. It is interesting to pinpoint the beginning of the path to the Anthropocene with the mastery of fire. The use of fire helped develop stone tools and weapons, which would eventually lead to extinction events, developed agriculture, forest clearing, and irrigation. These are the very first notable effects humans made on natural forces, perhaps even preventing a second ice age. Although these effects are unproven, the early technologies eventually were developed and expanded to the point in the Industrial Era when negative impacts were undoubted. After WWII the population doubled in just 50 years substantially increasing species loss, GHG concentrations, and the erosion of Earth's atmosphere. The three approaches mentioned in this paper to dealing with changes are business-as-usual, mitigation, and geo-engineering options. Mitigation probably has the most convincing arguments and hopeful outlooks. Business-as-usual is clearly not effective thus far and geo-engineering options seem to risky.

Ann McCampbell said...

The article of Anthropocene indicated humans are overwhelming the great forces of nature. The article takes a historic look at human contribution to climate change. Humans have been having an environmental impact since discovering fire and converting to agriculture rather than hunting and gathering. In the 12th century China's coal emission were equivalent to those of Europe in 1700. However, the industrial revolution is the initial point where the environment started to see real change. Energy use and CO2 emissions spiked as the world developed. Developed countries use 4 to 5 times as much energy as agricultural societies who in turn use 3 to 4 times the energy of hunter gathers. In looking at history this paper shows the sharp amplification of human impacts on nature since the industrial revolution and even more seriously since the end of World War II in 1945. Business as usual wlll lead to skyrocketing CO2 levels which cannot be sustained. Mitigation seems to be the best option to halt the overwhelming of nature by human activity.

Katie Garratt said...

To me one of the most obvious pieces of evidence for anthropogenic climate change is the interaction between CO2 levels and human behavior. As the paper points out, preindustrial atmospheric CO2 levels were 270-275ppm and later increased to 310ppm by 1950. This increase coincides with the “Industrial Era” as use of fossil fuels expanded. From 1950 onward (the “Great Acceleration”) CO2 levels increased significantly to a level that is now greater than 380ppm. Unfortunately, the impact of human behavior on the Earth System has not been a significant factor in decision-making during this period. In thinking of sustainability like a bank account, our past behavior has simply been to continue making withdrawals with little disregard for the account balance.

As we enter the 3rd phase of the Anthropocene, the impact of human behavior on the environment is becoming more important in decision-making. The business-as-usual approach is risky because a threshold could very well be crossed at some point in the future. The ultimate goal of mitigation is to reduce human impact on the environment to avoid dangerous environmental change. In the bank account analogy, this would be similar to reducing withdrawals while increasing deposits, eventually restoring the deposit-withdrawal flow. The end of the paper discusses a tipping point in the evolution of the Anthropocene whereby human behavior overwhelms the Earth’s system and leads to irreversible consequences. The risks associated with the business-as-usual path combined with the way that CO2 accumulates as a stock in the atmosphere necessitate immediate action to mitigate human impact.

Ben Bartlett said...

While the article is interesting and eye-opening on a number of levels, I was most intrigued by the author’s ability to drive home how strong of a correlation exists between human development and environmental degradation. To this end, they provide an interesting framework with which to think about this relationship. They explain how “prior to the widespread use of fossil fuels, the energy harvest available to humankind was tightly constrained.” These constraints afforded a certain balance between humans and the earth’s systems, never letting humans affect too much change. However, once mankind learned how to utilize fossil fuels, energy constraints vanished and development skyrocketed exponentially as a new era of unprecedented environmental degradation began. The authors provide some staggering empirics to evidence the rapid rates of human development that ensued. They write, “between 1800 and 2000 population grew more than six-fold, the global economy about 50-fold, and energy use about 40-fold.”

While they do present some upside towards the end of the article with the discussion of the current era of human interaction with the environment, the so-call “Stewards of the Earth Systems” stage, I think the takeaways from this article are still quite dire. I agree with what Joe wrote in his blog about the current political climate precluding any significant earth saving actions. Like he says, people simply are not ready to foot the bill for costs that are going to be incurred over decades to come. This is very troublesome because of the notion of momentum as it pertains to climate change. With each year that passes by, the task of getting the earth’s systems back on track, becomes more difficult, more costly, and ultimately slip further out of reach.

Jeffrey Stirling said...

To start off I would like to mention that my previous post got deleted somehow, so I will do my bet to replicate it.
The reading states that our world is currently in the Anthropocene era (a time where human activity is more powerful than the acts of nature). After the Pre-Anthropocene age, our world was set in motion for three stages, the Industrial era, the Great Acceleration, and the Stewards of the Earth System. We are currently in the Great Acceleration stage where "Earth is in its sixth great extinction event." By having the knowledge that the world is over 6 billion years old and that we are currently in one of six great extinction event (where our species has only been living for thousands of years), it may have freaked me out a little bit. It was quite intriguing to read the thoughts of the authors on the future of our species in regards to protecting the planet. "Future generations of H. sapiens will likely do all they
can to prevent a new ice-age by adding powerful artificial
greenhouse gases to the atmosphere" and even further into the future "deflect meteorites and asteroids before they could hit the
Earth." As there is no scientific sources backing these claims, I thought they were amusing.

Amy said...

This article is an interesting approach to climate change, placing the phenomenon in a historical context of human development. The authors posit three general trends moving forward. People may believe that climate change is not going to have a large effect on global economic conditions and so it does not need to be treated. This approach seems less likely given the convergence of recent scientific findings; climate change is real and it is significant. The second approach explained by the authors is mitigation, which would involve developing new technologies in order to reduce emissions and thus slow climate change. This is the approach we have mainly discussed in class, but the problem remains that the effects of the current pollutants in the atmosphere will continue to cause climate change for years or decades to come. It may not be enough to mitigate current emissions, but the pollutants already in the atmosphere need to be dealt with as well. This leads to the final approach which is geoengineering, or humans manipulating the environment on a global scale. Sequestering atmospheric carbon in underground reservoirs is one possibility, but the concept of humans engineering the environment is highly controversial. Humans in their early development were at the mercy of the environment, but humans now have a modicum of control over their environment. However, we are far from understanding all of the workings of climate change and environment, so mitigation may be the best option moving forward.

Jennie Norcini said...

The history of how humans have evolved was worrisome to read because it seems as though environmental degradation may be engrained in our cultural framework. The authors state that the first commission in London to look into the negative effects of coal was created in 1285. However it seems that this commission was largely ignored and the businesses of London did not curtail their fuel use. During the period of the great acceleration humans also new that there were externalities associated with their energy use but continued to consume at exponential rates. However during those periods the externalities were not as certain as they are now. Scientists can now almost completely agree on anthropogenic climate change and the health effects of poor air quality. Hopefully this certainty will shock humans to the point where they are actually ready to make real changes to reduce carbon emissions.
Another point that stood out in the article was the correlation between growth and emissions, starting with burning fire and then moving to energy sources such as coal. People have this correlation engrained in them and thus assume that reducing emissions will hurt the economy. This view is myopic and does not consider the long run economic benefits of adapting now before we reach criticality.

Kelsey Sizer said...

The authors present three general approaches to dealing with the global climate change that has occurred since the industrial era began and will continue to occur unless actions are taken. Just as many of the other papers discuss, I think the "solution" will come down to a comprehensive blend of policies and techniques. Combining the local approach from the business-as-usual, the technology from the mitigation approach, and geo-engineering/sequestering will be key to getting effective results. They each have their associated risks, but as the changes become greater and more obvious, the gamble of not implementing various policies becomes more dangerous.
I also thought it was interesting that the authors suggest mitigation through technology improvements and follow it with the statement that technology "may not be enough on its own" and that "changes in values and individual behavior will likely be necessary." I would argue that it isn't even an option to address mitigation without altering individuals' standards and shifting the norms regarding energy and resource consumption. They do conclude with the statement that degradation will continue unless there are significant changes in societal values and management, but I think the need for change in the mentality towards the environment and resources should be emphasized even more.

Paige G said...

When this paper started discussing the difference between pre-industrial modifications of coastal and terrestrial environment and the Anthropocene that has set in since WWII, it made me think of the Outing Club guidelines for picking a campsite. Let’s compare the world to a pristine and remote national park. The occasional backpacker will come through and pick a spot to camp based on a few crucial rules. The most important of these rules is if the place you want to camp looks like its been used before (rocks moved, vegetation disturbed, fire pit, etc.) then don’t use it. The changes incurred from one camp-out will be corrected over time, as long as the site is left undisturbed. However, if this park becomes more popular and people begin using the same campsites over and over again, the sites will lose their ability recover. Backpackers call these “sacrifice sites,” and then its recommended to use them because they are essentially a lost cause anyway. This literature on CO2 buildup in the atmosphere and the momentum of the Anthropocene warns that because our decisions are imperfectly matched with results, by the time we begin mitigation we could still be facing irreversible climate change that could deeply affect overall quality of life on Earth. In essence, it will be too late, and we don’t want our planet to become a “sacrifice site.”

Ben Fass said...

This article was very insightful in that it provided us with a timeline of the human environmental footprint. This is very important because we can see how evident it is that most of the Earth System change that we are responsible for has been extremely recent in the human epoch. Humans began to alter the Earth in prehistoric times mainly through the means of fire. But evidence shows that we have not actually been able to alter "Nature" until pretty recently. It is relatively easy to measure what atmospheric CO2 levels are today and monitor the climate. But the greatest evidence for climate change has come form the technology that can measure climate alteration over thousands of year. The paper does not go into great detail on how this is done, but I think that it is a key technological advancement. Experts can observe rocks from previous periods and determine the atmospheric makeup from that time period. Through this process we can see that atmospheric CO2 has increased exponentially pretty much parallel to human development. After giving a detailed history of human development and Earth System alteration, the article focuses more on what we have discussed throughout this course. It presents the various strategies and policies to get this problem under control. We have focused mostly on the mitigation section in class, but the geo-engineering options were pretty interesting. We briefly mentioned that aerosols actually were effective in blocking sunlight and cooling the climate. This article talks a great deal about the purposeful manipulation of the Earth System to counteract what we have done. They do mention that there are many unintended and hard to predict consequences from doing this. It just surprised me that there are a great deal of scientists who feel that this is a viable option. It seems that "unanticipated side effects" are the reason that we are in this position in the first place. I just don't think that we would be able to properly predict what something on this large of a scale would really do.

Katie Garratt said...

To me one of the most obvious pieces of evidence for anthropogenic climate change is the interaction between CO2 levels and human behavior. As the paper points out, preindustrial atmospheric CO2 levels were 270-275ppm and later increased to 310ppm by 1950. This increase coincides with the “Industrial Era” as use of fossil fuels expanded. From 1950 onward (the “Great Acceleration”) CO2 levels increased significantly to a level that is now greater than 380ppm. Unfortunately, the impact of human behavior on the Earth System has not been a significant factor in decision-making during this period. In thinking of sustainability like a bank account, our past behavior has simply been to continue making withdrawals with little disregard for the account balance.

As we enter the 3rd phase of the Anthropocene, the impact of human behavior on the environment is becoming more important in decision-making. The business-as-usual approach is risky because a threshold could very well be crossed at some point in the future. The ultimate goal of mitigation is to reduce human impact on the environment to avoid dangerous environmental change. In the bank account analogy, this would be similar to reducing withdrawals while increasing deposits, eventually restoring the deposit-withdrawal flow. The end of the paper discusses a tipping point in the evolution of the Anthropocene whereby human behavior overwhelms the Earth’s system and leads to irreversible consequences. The risks associated with the business-as-usual path combined with the way that CO2 accumulates as a stock in the atmosphere necessitate immediate action to mitigate human impact.

Shane Ramee said...

There is no question that humans are an overwhelming force capable of changing the environment at every level. So far our actions have had a severely negative impact on the world around us. From the extinction of the mega fauna to the current massive extinction rate, from the invention of agriculture to current sever rates of deforestation, from the invention of the steam engine to our current addiction to fossil fuels, we have proven to have a drastic effect on the world around us. Maybe we have not been around long enough to be considered a geologic epoch. I would argue that this is still the very beginning of the Anthropocene. We are only just realizing and excepting the extent of our effect on the environment and our potential ability control the global earth system. It seems we are no longer just one of many species on the earth but are the earths shepherds. This biblical reference to man as earth's shepherd has troubled environmentalists for decades. It is frightening to think of us as being in control of the natural world. But the evidence of our effect on other species, soil and water ecosystem services, the atmosphere and climate are undeniable. The question now is now that we realize our impact on the environment, how will we go forward in the future? Will we be like the one celled cyanobacteria that, in the process of trying to survive, completely changed the nature of the earth, causing mass extinctions and leaving the survivors to adapt to new environmental conditions. Will the Anthropocene be marked by business as usual and driving us to burn through our resources and the world around us. Or will we assume a roll as shepherds and manage the earth in a way that will preserve it and extend the Anthropocene for millennia to come.

Graham Sheridan said...

As we go farther and farther into the Anthropocene, it is ever more imperative that we understand what we are doing. For example, the authors note that, frustratingly, reducing certain particulate air pollution could speed climate change. How do we think about that trade-off?

Also, how do we inspire the same kind of industrial revolution-fervor into a Green Revolution? How do we get a lot of people excited about a more clean world?

Finally, how do we set policies that allow more to enjoy the benefits of the anthropocene? So far, most people in the world will have to face climate change without having gotten a lot of the benefits of the technologies that created climate change. It seems only fair that they get to benefit in the same way, if they have to take the punishment.

JP Sauer said...

Steffen's et al.'s presentation of The Anthropocene is quite interesting. Their arguments are all very sound, but there is one assumption that they have based much of their work off of and not really discussed in their paper. The certainty that human's are truly causing these changes, and that it is scientifically proven that we are not in the midst of a global warming period. I understand that this is a very hotly debated topic, but I feel like the data he employs is all worst case scenario data. I feel like the idea of tracking atmospheric CO2 concentrations as the indicator for the progression of the Anthropocene is foolish. It can be seen that CO2 varies greatly, and they have only employed data that assumes the greatest increases in carbon. I feel like he would have benefitted from reading Tol's article and his more standardized data. I guess the idea of the Anthropocene just comes down to one's thoughts on global warming.

David Dennis said...

It's obvious that humans are overwhelming nature and consuming resources at a much higher rate than ever observed in the past. We are like parasites on a host (Earth) and we’re starting to realize that if we keep following the business as usual policy, there may be drastic consequences for our race. As Shane notes, we are like shepherds on Earth but I would think more for ourselves. The Earth will keep going and life will continue even after our existence. Humans are the frail species that has to live/die by the results of our actions.

With technological advances, I believe we’ll also be able to adapt to changes in the future. The question is whether we want to bear the costs now or potentially overwhelming costs later down the road. I think all three policies in the paper have their own merits and obviously, as with most policies, a combination of sorts would be best. Geo-engineering options such as pumping the CO2 underwater seems to have far more benefits than potential consequences. However, some efforts to control may need “trial” runs so we do not actually worsen problems. For the mitigation side, it seems that all low-cost methods should be employed immediately. This would call for widespread education on the importance of reducing energy dependence and showing the world that a similar lifestyle can be attained while reducing inefficiencies. The business-as-usual model seems have the greatest potential for higher total costs. Research and Development has to be pursued and furthering the general publics education on issues is very important. Also, there is no need for inefficiencies both for the US public debt and the environment.

Colin Elliott said...

Undeniably I believe humans are overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature. As is illustrated in "The Anthropocene," we are uncertain the ultimate outcome derived from our polluting and increased CO2 levels and this uncertainty has spurred our ignorance. From the discovery of fire, to the domestication of animals and crops during the Holocene, atmospheric C02 levels are predicted to have risen 5-10 ppmv but on a more local scale. The transformation of our ancestors from omnivores to carnivores contributed to our increased education levels and allowed the human brain to expand to 1300 cm cubed, creating language and methods of communication between generations. As our ancestors converted from hunter-gathers to an agrarian society, C02 emissions increased by three or four fold. From an agrarian society to an industrial society, C02 emissions increased another four to five fold. Thus, the onset of the Industrial Era distinctly altered atmospheric C02 levels, a measurement soon to exponentially increase following the mining of coal by the Song Dynasty and later by the English and Low Countries. Stage two of the Anthropocene, the Great Acceleration, most notably depicts the alteration of the Earth by human beings. Following World War II came an onset of science, technology, research and development, improved health standards, and rising birth rates. With the population rising from three to six billion people in only 50 years, C02 emissions similarly rose prom pre-industrially 270 ppmv to 380 ppmv today, with the most rapid growth occuring after 1970 as technology rapidly increased as well as inter-cultural communication through the internet. Alternatives of action include business-as-usual, mitigation, and lastly geo-engineering. The business-as-usual scenario is particularly frustrating as widespread global belief in global warming and its consequences has not risen to a level capable of strong political action. As mentioned in the paper, it is possible we are at a pivotal point of no turning back and without including the cost of our externalities in the cost of our goods we are rapidly heading towards a much different world with consequences we can only predict. Mitigation techniques will be expensive and include alternatives such as carbon tax, carbon sequestering, command and control, or ITQ's. For instance, researchers at RFF hypothesize the price of a carbon tax to be no more than a quarter per day per person in the United States and much less for less Industrialized countries. Geo-engineering alternatives include releasing aerosol into the atmosphere to artificially cool the environment much like a volcanic eruption, however, we do not know the unintended consequences that may arise from such an alternative, although the aerosol would only remain in the atmosphere for one to two years. As stated in the paper, "about 60% of ecological services are already degraded and will continue to degrade unless significant societal changes in values and management occur," i believe it is our moral obligation to prior generations and future generations to not destroy the Earth for the rest of man kind. We are uncertain the consequences, yet, we are likely leaving a much different Earth for future generations than the one who have exploited and flourished in during the past century.

Elise Parker said...

The authors provided convincing evidence for their thesis - that the human imprint is in fact discernible on the global scale (and the impact can be traced back to the industrial era) and that the magnitude and rate during the Great Acceleration is greater than forces of nature on the Earth System. I was surprised to read that about 60% of the ecosystem services are already degraded as a result of the Great Acceleration.

I thought some of the geo-engineering options were really interesting, such as purposely injecting SO2 into the stratosphere before they settle in the troposphere. This method seems very risky to implement without finding a way to model the tests first. SO2 could injected into the stratosphere but may shift in such a way to alter the distribution of atmospheric heating. That could cause just as much damage as if no SO2 had been injected in the first place. Another option that has been proposed - solar shields. It would require creating large mirrors that orbit the Earth and shield it from the sun's rays. This would be an even more effective strategy if the mirrors' orbit could be controlled from the Earth. They would be more sensitive to smaller changes in reflecting rays (in terms of timely response and location) than SO2 in the stratosphere.

Alli Shearin said...

The article discusses the history of humans’ impact of the great forces of nature and the Earth System. I always knew that the industrialization of humans had huge impacts on the Earth System, as far new technologies and increased use in fossil fuels. What I didn’t realize, however, was how big of an impact humans had on the Earth System even in the preindustrial era. I always thought fire was just a natural process and didn’t realize that its use by humans could have noticeable environmental impacts. I also didn’t realize there were impacts in the hunter-gatherer stages of human development. Even though humans have had an impact on the Earth System pretty much since the beginning of their existence, I think it is truly frightening how rapidly we are impacting the environment since the beginning of the “anthropocene”. I also think it is worrisome how we have already negatively impacted the environment so greatly, and we have only been on the Earth for a tiny fraction of its existence. The fact that we have had such an impact in such a short amount of time is really troublesome for the future unless we decide to change our ways and take our negative impact on our Earth System more seriously. Hopefully, people will become more educated about these potential threats and we can make a change. As far as giving this time period a new epoch title (the anthropocene) with Bobby. The authors give many compelling arguments that support the change to a new epoch title, however, I think we need to first wait and see if the projected climate and environmental changes actually occur over the next few thousand years before we can truly make a new epoch title for this time period.

Matt Benson said...

Bobby beat me to the punch. I completely agree that devoting an entire geologic epoch to ourselves is a bit rash. The massive influx of carbon into our atmosphere is without precedent during the period of time humans could have occupied earth, and the temperature wil definitely increase as a result of this impact. However a geologic epoch is defined by a shift in the rock record. This shift typically occurs with dramatic changes in biodiversity and the type of species present in the time period. This said, I think its very possible that in the distant future the impact of humans will be seen in the rock record in terms of a mass extinction event at the onset of human expansion. Furthermore, dramatic climate change is often a driver for these mass extinction events that have defined past epochs. I believe humans will not be capable of surviving this mass extinction event while maintaining current levels of consumption. There is simply too many people to feed with what will be increasing variability in not only crop yields, but the locations on the planet in which those yields will occur. The article spoke of humans going forward as stewards of the environment, but I believe that the end the author speaks of in this case will come too little too late. People do not value the distant future enough to bear the costs of changing energy supplies now rather than in the future.

Bobby R. said...

I found this paper to be very informative. I did not know that fossil fuels such as coal were used as energy as early as 960, and it is even more surprising that China’s coal “industry” in 960 was bigger than Europe’s in 1700. I do, however, find it hard to believe that the agricultural development that occurred 8,000 years ago had a tangible effect on the earth’s climate. Lacking both a large population and organized society it seems unlikely for this to be true.
The crux of the paper is the discussion and analysis of the third stage of the Anthropocene–the stage we are entering. The authors take great care to emphasis the important role technology plays in mitigating the burden of the “Earth System.” This parallels the graphical analysis that we did in class, where technological improvements rotated both the production function and environmental resource graph up.
Technological improvements can come in many different forms. The authors discuss many of these possibilities as forms of geo-engineering. (In particular, they mention carbon sequestration), but they also assert that geo-engineering presents society with many moral and ethical dilemmas.

Peter O'Donnell said...

I think this paper provides excellent background on the dawning of the Anthropocene. It elaborates on how humans have continuously established an ecological footprint whether it be the Pleistocene overkill, emergence of agriculture, or the Song Dynasty iron industry. However, the reason we are now in the Great Acceleration of the Anthropocene is because our current ecological footprint outsizes all of the past.

The incontrovertible evidence is accessible to the U.S., however little action takes place to mitigate carbon. The authors outline dim futuristic possibilities as a result of the inability to reduce carbon emissions. And although the authors indicate technology has been the driver of increased carbon emissions throughout history, technology must now play a role in the sequestration and mitigation, otherwise we will not recognize the world when we're older.

Sarah Monte said...

This article was a little more my speed, economically speaking, in comparison to the other articles we’ve read. I have taken many geology courses at W&L and it is interesting to see the broad picture without narrowing the focus to science or economics. While scientists don’t agree on the exact causes, start date, or future expectations, it is clear that humans are causing climate change hence the name anthropocene. Out of the three long-term plans presented in the article I think the mitigation plan would be most effective simply because it’s middle ground. The business as usual plan could easily leave the planet destroyed and not allow humans time to correct their mistakes. The geo-engineering plan may overestimate the detrimental effects of climate change and cost an unnecessarily large amount. The mitigation plan cuts back on current use and “ultimately allows the Earth System to function in a pre-antropocene way.” Just by seeing the language used in the article, this plan stands out as the best. Humans must be proactive in combating climate change and cannot afford the to continue with today’s practices.

Becca Bolton said...

I think that this article is pretty convincing that humans are the driving force behind the changes in the “Earth System.” It was definitely interesting when the author went through the different time periods that led to the Great Acceleration. The hunter-gatherers were not the earth lovers that some believed them to be, but their impact on the environment was nowhere near the type of impact that we are having today. The people living in the pre-industrial era degraded the environment as well, but the lack of technology and organization prevented large-scale disruption. This author believes that the beginning of the anthropocene was during the industrial era, and most of the papers that we have read would tend to agree with this statement. The notion that the invention of the steam engine and the increase in fossil fuel use “shattered the energy bottleneck” is an important point. There is a phenomenal amount of energy lost as you move up the food chain, but the industrial era allowed humans to surpass this biological constraint. I like that the author ends the article by questioning whether the last stage of the anthropocene will involve humans becoming stewards of the Earth. I think that the evidence is overwhelming for what we have done to the Earth, but I am definitely optimistic and hopeful for the future. The science and technology is available to prevent the “business as usual approach.” I do not like the idea of releasing sulfate particles into the air to slow global warming though. We have already done enough to the environment, and I think that this type of geo-engineering would cause more problems than it would solve.

Guilherme fernandes said...

One thing I liked about this article refers to its holistic approach: it does not focus on whose fault global warming is or whether developed countries should bear a higher cost, etc., but mainly attributes responsibility to us all.
On the other hand, I thought that one of the main shortcomings of the paper was its over pessimistic tone. This probably led to a few biased arguments - for instance, when he says that global warming is "no longer in serious doubt". As we read throughout this course, there are still many people, including scientists, who either affirm that it is not happening or that it does not have anthropogenic causes.
Finally, it was interesting to see "geo-engineering options" as part of our "philosophical approaches" portfolio. However, the fact that aerosol particles mitigate the effects of CO2 in the atmosphere is actually an unintended consequence, we're just "lucky" about it. I really think that doing it on purpose - emitting massive amounts of aerosols into the atmosphere - should be one of the last options to be seriously taken into consideration, as there will probably be an array of unintended, unforeseen consequences associated with this action. As far as I am concerned, we have often been very unsuccessful at introducing nonnative species in order to fix a problem. If effects are catastrophic when we're dealing with a regional scenario, I suspect things could get much worse if we tried to intervene globally with such an invasive way.

john said...

Technological advancement by the human race has led to increased environmental impact throughout evolution, but we now enter an era where our interaction with the environment could dictate future survival. Prior to the anthropocene, hunters and gatherers lived in relative harmony with nature, other than consistent predation and burning tactics. While these things altered landscape and affected biodiversity in certain areas, population levels were low enough that the environment could bounce back easily. The agricultural era began and landscapes were altered dramatically, but the real change came when machinery was needed to make farming more efficient. These new agricultural machines utilized steam or combustion engines and the burning of fossil fuels ensued. These new technologies evolved and the industrial era began, with a great acceleration following World War II. Population growth and economic growth led to major industrialization in big cities and suburbs. I don’t know that this period should be deemed its own geologic era, but it certainly could be if the trend of global warming continues in the distant future. At this point, we have to address the issue of environmental degradation and atmospheric warming on a global scale. No matter how this is done, the future health of earth’s ecosystem lies in the hands of the human race.

sturgesa12 said...

It was interesting to read about human impact on the environment through history. Generally people just focus on the past 100-150 years when the talk about human impact. However, humans have had a large impact on the environment for thousands of years. People focus on the past 150 years because that is when humans have really taken off i terms of energy consumption. The atmospheric CO2 has gone form around 275ppm to close to 400ppm in this short amount of time. This explosion of CO2 is due to human consumption of fossil fuels. The massive increase in fuel consumption is directly connected to the drastic increase in population. this has caused Earth to leave the natural geological epoch to a state that is warmer, wetter, less bio-diverse, and deforested. However, humans have the ability to halt this process and can consumer cleaner energies. It is a decision that must be made soon. Do humans want to pay the cost now so that the future benefits from a better environment, or do we want to wait until we begin to feel the effects and then try to fix the environment at a much higher cost. Our hunger for energy will not decrease, growth is coupled with consumption. We just need to alter the form of consumption to a more sustainable method.

john said...

Technological advancement by the human race has led to increased environmental impact throughout evolution, but we now enter an era where our interaction with the environment could dictate future survival. Prior to the anthropocene, hunters and gatherers lived in relative harmony with nature, other than consistent predation and burning tactics. While these things altered landscape and affected biodiversity in certain areas, population levels were low enough that the environment could bounce back easily. The agricultural era began and landscapes were altered dramatically, but the real change came when machinery was needed to make farming more efficient. These new agricultural machines utilized steam or combustion engines and the burning of fossil fuels ensued. These new technologies evolved and the industrial era began, with a great acceleration following World War II. Population growth and economic growth led to major industrialization in big cities and suburbs. I don’t know that this period should be deemed its own geologic era, but it certainly could be if the trend of global warming continues in the distant future. At this point, we have to address the issue of environmental degradation and atmospheric warming on a global scale. No matter how this is done, the future health of earth’s ecosystem lies in the hands of the human race.

gioioson12 said...

In this paper, it was pretty shocking to see just how much of an effect humans have had on the Earth’s environment in such a short amount of time, with an estimated three-quarters of anthropogenically-released CO2 discharged since 1950. The “Great Acceleration,” as the authors term it, has only being in progress for about 60 years, yet the consequences of the proud developments of humanity may hinder us for centuries to come. This acceleration looks to continue at a steady or increased pace, so we are probably going to have to choose our course of action soon if we don’t want to choke out the forces of Nature.

The authors present the likely scenarios that humankind will have to choose between – business-as-usual or mitigation or geo-engineering options. Business-as-usual is the adaptation method, in which we continue at our pace and have to deal with environmental problems only as they come. Mitigation entails attempts to head off problems before they happen in order to “ensure the sustainability of Earth’s life system” for future generations. Finally, geo-engineering options imply the alteration of the natural processes of the Earth’s environment to cool it down and avoid problems associated with global warming. All of these methods have drawbacks, including massive costs and consequences, whether short-term or longer-term, hidden or apparent, environmental or economic.

But when it comes down to it, humanity will probably just have to (hu)man up and answer for the externalities that energy consumption produces.

Siwan said...

The article offered several interesting insights. It is somewhat reassuring, albeit not less worrisome, that anthropogenic negative effects on the Earth System is not a problem exclusively facing our generation. However, comparing the magnitudes of anthropogenic impacts on the environment during hunter-gatherer vs. pre-industrial vs. industrial vs. the current era of the “great acceleration,” emphasizes once more, how we, as human beings, need to learn to practice constraint immediately, if we don’t want to be responsible not only for the extinction of numerous plants and animals, but our own extinction.

Interestingly, the authors argue that two of the factors that lead to growing awareness of human influences on the Earth System are firstly, “more free and open societies, supporting independent media and growth of democratic political systems” and secondly, the “narrowing of the scope for the exercise of arbitrary state power and a strengthened role of civil society.” However, the authors’ statement is conditioned upon two premises:
that an autocratic government always chooses to act against environmental protection and
that under a democratic system, there is always a striving, well-informed and concerned civil society that supports environmental protection.

I would argue that China and the U.S. as the biggest polluters today, are empirical examples, in which these premises certainly often do not hold (they are rather turned upside down with regards to trying to combat anthropogenic causes of climate change) and hence challenge the authors’ statement. The single, centralized decision-making body of the Chinese Communist Party (undoubtedly oftentimes also for the worse), can implement policies more efficiently. For instance, subsidies for R &D that make alternative energy resources less costly are a lot larger than in the U.S. today. Here in the U.S., public sentiment against policy measures that aim at decreasing emission levels and the lack of information about anthropogenic climate change amongst the general public, despite freedom of the press and an independent media, is striking. In order to implement policy agendas, the public needs to be convinced and reforms and regulations need to be passed by Congress - processes that are, even though democratic, also more bureaucratic, time-consuming and involve more uncertainty. With this in mind, I think the authors are very optimistic to believe that “humanity is, in one way or another, becoming a self-conscious, active agent in the operation of its own life support system.”
With regards to more radical proactive measures, geo-engineering sounds highly risky - even if there won’t be any negative side effects in the short run, what if we remain dependent on such measures and eventually face unpredictable long-term impacts or adverse effects far out in the future?

Van Nguyen said...

Tracing back the development of Anthropocene and its connection with the socio-economic development of human species, this article made the illustrative case that the activities of human beings have led to the significant increase in carbon emission and dramatic changes in climate patterns. We as inhabitants of the Earth essentially gambled our own living habitat due to our insatiable needs to grow and improve our living standards, rapidly pushing us toward the Great Recession Period.

The article concluded with three philosophical approaches that human beings can undertake to respond to the current climate change: business-as-usual (no interference), mitigation (interfere to fix our mistakes), and geo-engineering options (directly manipulate the climate and planet Earth to mitigate the effects of climate change). Implicitly, the paper's author made the argument that whatever we, as the collective human beings, decide to do, Mother Earth would be under our control.

Nonetheless, the article also alluded to the historical circular pattern of ice-age formation that the Earth seems to exhibit over its long course of history. In addition, geo-engineering seems to be a powerful tool at the moment; nonetheless, scientists are no where close to understand and concretely pin-point what would be the unintended consequences if geo-engineering goes wrong. Mitigation by economic incentives and command and control policy might be efffective to some extent; yet there is a huge mismatched in time between policy implementation and the actual changes that the Earth already went through.

Thus, I would argue that humans are not the overwhelming great force of nature.

Ryan Hanson said...

This article traces humanity through time, noting a change from pre-industrial humans to industrial humans that shape the environment they live in. The authors point out that pre-industrial society altered their landscape with the discovery of fire and through the domestication of animals and plants, which led to small scale deforestation for agricultural lands. The difference between this human-environment action and that of today's circumstance, is that population levels and the scale of fossil fuel use, etc. was much smaller.

Between 1800 and 1945, there was an expansion of the use of ff's and population began to grow rapidly, leading to an increasingly dependent humanity. While levels of GHGs increased during this time, it was not until the "Great Acceleration" with WWII, that things really began to change. Globalization and technology changed the face of the planet, increasing the use of ff's and skyrocketing population growth. This is the state the planet is in now, and we are on a dangerous path to alter the planet dramatically, according to the authors.

There are three options pointed out in the paper that society may choose. Business-as-usual could be a bad option if climate change is as impending as scientists expect it to be; we could mitigate, which not only requires technology, but willpower; or we can use geo-engineering options, which raises much concern.

This paper is particularly haunting in that it provides no "best solution." There is a chance that if we mitigate, it could actually have a "paradoxical" effect, where clean-up results in amplifying effects and feedbacks that actually hurt the environment more. On the other hand, geo-engineering brings up ethical questions of altering the natural pattern of the earth.

In sum, the authors give no solution to the problem of anthropogenic climate change, leaving the fate of humanity in question.

Ryan Hanson said...

This article traces humanity through time, noting a change from pre-industrial humans to industrial humans that shape the environment they live in. The authors point out that pre-industrial society altered their landscape with the discovery of fire and through the domestication of animals and plants, which led to small scale deforestation for agricultural lands. The difference between this human-environment action and that of today's circumstance, is that population levels and the scale of fossil fuel use, etc. was much smaller.

Between 1800 and 1945, there was an expansion of the use of ff's and population began to grow rapidly, leading to an increasingly dependent humanity. While levels of GHGs increased during this time, it was not until the "Great Acceleration" with WWII, that things really began to change. Globalization and technology changed the face of the planet, increasing the use of ff's and skyrocketing population growth. This is the state the planet is in now, and we are on a dangerous path to alter the planet dramatically, according to the authors.

There are three options pointed out in the paper that society may choose. Business-as-usual could be a bad option if climate change is as impending as scientists expect it to be; we could mitigate, which not only requires technology, but willpower; or we can use geo-engineering options, which raises much concern.

This paper is particularly haunting in that it provides no "best solution." There is a chance that if we mitigate, it could actually have a "paradoxical" effect, where clean-up results in amplifying effects and feedbacks that actually hurt the environment more. On the other hand, geo-engineering brings up ethical questions of altering the natural pattern of the earth.

In sum, the authors give no solution to the problem of anthropogenic climate change, leaving the fate of humanity in question.

ChampionJ said...

This article by Steffen, Crutzen and McNeill takes a more extreme approach to explaining global climate change than most articles, stating that ‘The Great Acceleration is reaching criticality.” In fact, they basically claim that humans have entered a new geologic period as a result of human activity. In actuality, it seems in my opinion that this is true. In taking Professor Greer’s global climate change class, we have seen that the climate has been slowly cooling throughout the Holocene; however, temperatures have begun to rise very recently, geologically speaking, resulting in the Anthropocene period.
In essence, this article states that technological advancements are the cause of global climate change but improvements in these advancements may help ‘mitigate’ the effects we have had on global climate. The article also claims that society has formed a ‘business-as-usual’ attitude towards climate change, assuming the market-oriented economic system can deal autonomously with any adaptations that are required. In reality, we cannot rely on this because 1) the market system is not perfect and 2) it is only theorized that the demand for environmental quality increases with income per capita. This theory is still subject to much discussion.
Quite simply, society cannot rely on the market system to alleviate the burden humans have placed on themselves. This is a problem created by humans and technology and it is a problem that humans can solve. Although geo-engineering seems like a potential solution to climate change, it is only a short-term solution. I believe the true solution comes in the form of more technological advancements. However, these should rely on resource flows, such as wind, solar insolation or water, instead of fossil fuels. The main question now, just as Graham said, is “how do we inspire the same kind of industrial revolution-fervor into a Green Revolution?”

Wendelbo said...

The authors are right. It is that simple. There are two ways in which we can reasonably answer the question: 1. Yes, human are altering the earth at a speed which seems to outpace even some of the larger natural effects of the world. Or, 2. Maybe human are affecting the climate this way (whatever shred of doubt we have that humans are at fault is long gone, but at least this way we are safe), but we can’t afford to use any amount of uncertainty to prolong coordinated action. Unless, of course, we are not concerned that the Anthropocene will see only the second species in the world which has affected global climate to this extent – after the stromatolites changed our atmosphere from CO2 and methane rich to oxygen rich, making human life possible. Yes, cyano-bacterie (as Bobby notes) did change the world more than we probably ever will, but we have to realize that there is a significant difference. Cyano-bacteria expanded were the conditions allowed them to and they slowly, as a simple byproduct of their life, changed the atmosphere and the oceans. Humans, conscious of the change we are causing is in a different position: we can live and thrive without changing the atmosphere, which means that we have a choice. No other specie or climate forcing mechanism ever did. We are unique, even if our actions have yet to put our climate back in the Cretacious. We are, I am certain, living in the anthropocene.