In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Anthropocene

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Electronic Resources
  • The Evolution of Ideas
  • The Start of the Anthropocene
  • The Power of Early Humans
  • The Great Acceleration
  • Human Impacts on Vegetation
  • Human Impacts on Animals
  • Human Impact on Soils
  • Human Impact on Rivers, Lakes, and Oceans
  • Human Impact on Landforms and Geomorphological Processes
  • Human Impact on Climate and the Atmosphere
  • The Future of the Anthropocene

Environmental Science Anthropocene
Andrew Goudie
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0005


The term “Anthropocene” has Greek roots (anthropo meaning “human” and –cene meaning “new”). It is a new term for an older concept, and a great deal of argument concerns how it can be differentiated, if at all, in terms of a boundary with the Holocene. It is agreed, however, that the human impact on the environment has been increasing hugely in the last few centuries and that humans are now a very potent geological force. It is also apparent that in coming centuries a combination of population increases, land cover changes, climatic changes, and new technologies will increase this force still further.

General Overviews

Paul Crutzen and colleagues introduced the term “Anthropocene” (e.g., Crutzen 2002; Steffen, et al. 2007) as a name for a new epoch in Earth’s history—an epoch when human activities have “become so profound and pervasive that they rival, or exceed the great forces of Nature in influencing the functioning of the Earth System” (Steffen 2010). Since the early 18th century, they suggest, we have moved from the Holocene into the Anthropocene. They identify three stages in the Anthropocene: Stage 1, which lasted from c. 1800 to 1945, is called the “Industrial Era”; Stage 2, which extends from 1945 to c. 2015, is called the “Great Acceleration”; and Stage 3, which may now be starting, is a stage when people have become aware of the extent of the human impact and may thus start stewardship of the earth system. However, there are many scientists who suggest that the Anthropocene has a much-longer history than this scheme suggests, with early humans causing major environmental changes through such processes as the use of fire and the hunting of wild animals. As Castree 2014 shows, awareness of the Anthropocene has many implications for geography.

  • Castree, Noel. 2014. The Anthropocene and geography I: The back story. Geography Compass 8.7: 436–449.

    DOI: 10.1111/gec3.12141

    The first of a three-part general overview from the point of view of a human geographer. Also see, in the same journal issue, “Geography and the Anthropocene II: Current Contributions” (pp. 450–463) and “The Anthropocene and Geography III: Future Directions” (pp. 464–476).

  • Crutzen, Paul J. 2002. Geology of mankind. Nature 415.6867: 23.

    DOI: 10.1038/415023a

    One of the first statements of the Anthropocene concept, in one of the most influential scientific journals.

  • Steffen, Will. 2010. Observed trends in earth system behavior. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 1.3: 428–449.

    A useful summary of a whole range of trends in human activities and in environmental indicators.

  • Steffen, Will, Paul J. Crutzen, and John R. McNeill. 2007. The Anthropocene: Are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature? Ambio 36.8: 614–621.

    DOI: 10.1579/0044-7447(2007)36[614:TAAHNO]2.0.CO;2

    This paper provides a cogent statement of the idea that the Anthropocene began in about 1800 and that a great acceleration has taken place since c. 1950.

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