The anthropocene: Are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature?

Will Steffen*, Paul J. Crutzen, John R. McNeill

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    2284 Citations (Scopus)


    We explore the development of the Anthropocene, the current epoch in which humans and our societies have become a global geophysical force. The Anthropocene began around 1800 with the onset of industrialization, the central feature of which was the enormous expansion in the use of fossil fuels. We use atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration as a single, simple indicator to track the progression of the Anthropocene. From a preindustrial value of 270-275 ppm, atmospheric carbon dioxide had risen to about 310 ppm by 1950. Since then the human enterprise has experienced a remarkable explosion, the Great Acceleration, with significant consequences for Earth System functioning. Atmospheric CO 2 concentration has risen from 310 to 380 ppm since 1950, with about half of the total rise since the preindustrial era occurring in just the last 30 years. The Great Acceleration is reaching criticality. Whatever unfolds, the next few decades will surely be a tipping point in the evolution of the Anthropocene.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)614-621
    Number of pages8
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2007


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