The cost of living in the Anthropocene

Mar 24, 2014
Storm surge. Credit: David Baird

A biologist and an anthropologist have joined forces in a new journal article considering the true cost of living in the Anthropocene.

The Anthropocene is becoming increasingly recognised as a new geological epoch for the Earth, where for the first time in the planet's history, humans are having significant effects at a global scale.

Published recently in Earth Perspectives, Professor Michael Gillings and Elizabeth Hagan-Lawson urge for further interdisciplinary cooperation to ensure human welfare is maintained on a less predictable planet.

"The terms 'ecology' and 'economics' both use the same Greek root as a prefix, with 'oikos' meaning home," says Hagan-Lawson. "When we examined models across both fields for counting the cost of the Anthropocene, we found it surprising that there has not been more cross-disciplinary work between the two fields."

Gillings and Hagan-Lawson estimate the costs of the nine environmental tipping points, first identified by Johan Rockstrom, that are pushing us into the Anthropocene:

  • climate change
  • ocean acidification
  • ozone depletion
  • atmospheric aerosol loading
  • phosphorus and nitrogen cycles
  • global freshwater use
  • land system change
  • loss of biodiversity
  • chemical pollution

They have also explored the consequences of transgressing the boundaries beyond which earth systems are likely to become unstable, and solutions available through interdisciplinary cooperation.

Dealing with the problems wrought by the Anthropocene will require increasing communication between workers in different fields, argue Gillings and Hagan-Lawson, including those in the natural and environmental sciences, international relations, economics, psychology and sociology.

"The challenge is that we need to work together, but our governance across these fields is required at time scales beyond past experience," says Gillings.

"The systems we are affecting operate at a time scale that is inherently mismatched with human decision making and our economic systems."

If policies continue to ignore intangible and long term costs, Gilings and Hagan-Lawson argue that we run the unacceptable risk of squandering our inheritance. By neglecting the true cost of consumption, we ignore the real value of natural capital.

Explore further: Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

More information: "The cost of living in the Anthropocene" is available online: www.earth-perspectives.com/content/1/1/2

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The age of Aquarius? Nope, it's the Anthropocene epoch

Apr 14, 2010

In just two centuries, humans have wrought such vast and unprecedented changes to our world that we actually might be ushering in a new geological time period that could alter the planet for millions of years, ...

Anthropocene continues to spark scientific debate

Nov 01, 2012

How have humans influenced Earth? Can geoscientists measure when human impacts began overtaking those of Earth's other inhabitants and that of the natural Earth system? Responding to increasing scientific ...

The Dawn of a New Epoch?

Mar 26, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Geologists from the University of Leicester are among four scientists- including a Nobel prize-winner - who suggest that the Earth has entered a new age of geological time.

Recommended for you

Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

18 hours ago

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

New challenges for ocean acidification research

Dec 19, 2014

Over the past decade, ocean acidification has received growing recognition not only in the scientific area. Decision-makers, stakeholders, and the general public are becoming increasingly aware of "the other carbon dioxide ...

Compromises lead to climate change deal

Dec 19, 2014

Earlier this month, delegates from the various states that make up the UN met in Lima, Peru, to agree on a framework for the Climate Change Conference that is scheduled to take place in Paris next year. For ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.