Black: Welcome to the Anthropocene – what now?

At the Planet Under Pressure conference in London, Diana Liverman and Will Steffen present something of a contrasting couple. [Ed note: I assume that means Liverman is a rational individual]

The two professors have been working together on a State of the Planet report, which has involved trawling through numerous reports and scientific papers. At the end of it all, the message of one appears somewhat optimistic, the other fundamentally pessimistic.

They agree that changes to the world since about 1950 have been startling – rapid spread of the human population, accelerating exploitation of forests and marine resources, surging economic growth in successive waves across the world, and so on.

This radical reshaping of the natural world by a single species is certainly unprecedented in Earth history, which a few years back led to scientists Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer coining a special name for our epoch – the Anthropocene.

(The Planet under Pressure organisers have made an animated video of humanity’s journey of expansion, by the way, which you can see here.)

If you accept the premise that we have entered the Anthropocene, one of the over-arching questions is “what happens now?”; another is “can we get out of it?”

Prof Liverman, who studies social aspects of global change at the University of Arizona, has the task of assessing the societal trends that either indicate we’re heading further into Anthropocene territory or beginning to back out.

Since 2000, she says, some trends have begun to reverse – in particular human fertility, which has halved globally in the past few decades as women have had progressively more access to family planning and maternal health services. In time, this should see the global population stabilise.

There has been a change in food production too.

“In agriculture, the big idea used to be that we destroyed tropical forests [in order to raise food production],” she says.

“What we’ve seen is that is turning around in some parts of the world where people are growing more food without encroaching on forests – in countries such as Vietnam, the forests are starting to return.”

The carbon intensity of industry has reduced too. Companies are finding ways of doing business that are more frugal with energy than before, and saving money in the process.


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2 responses to “Black: Welcome to the Anthropocene – what now?

  1. Liverman is a Geography professor from the Oxford Environmental Change Institute, she set up yet another new institute at Arizona U. with Jonathan Overpeck in 2009, The Institute for Environment and Society. (Don’t you just love the names they come up with?).

    Surprise, surprise, who is on the Board of Directors at Arizona State Global Sustainability Institute? A certain Crispin Tickle, AGW veteran and Director of the Policy Foresight Programme at Oxford. I wonder who suggested Liverman to Arizona?

    Liverman was a PhD student under Stephen Schneider at NCAR, friend of Linda Mearns, Susan Solomon et al

    She was on the steering committee of the Earth System Governance Conference in Amsterdam, 2009. Includes people like Frank Biermann.

  2. I forgot this, from her own web pages:

    “This research has led me to a variety of leadership roles including chair of the US National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change and the science committee for GECAFS, chair of the Latin American Studies Association Environment section; co-chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Inter-American Institute for Global Change; and member of committees for IGBP-Analysis, Integration and Modeling in the Earth Sciences (AIMES), the US National Academy of Sciences committee on the US Climate Change Science Plan, NOAA Social Science Advisory Board, NASA, NOAA Global Change Program, the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research and the Global Change, Publication and Honors Committees of the Association of American Geographers.

    I am a member of editorial boards of the Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Global Environmental Change, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, and Climatic Change. (CC was set up by Stephen Schneider) I have been a contributing author and reviewer for three Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessments, including the most recent (2007) and have given evidence to congressional and parliamentary committees in the US and UK.”

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