Anthropocene: mankind rules the world

Food and society

Anthropocene: mankind rules the world

Anthropocene: mankind rules the world

We are living in an era when mankind and its actions are the main driving forces behind climate change and the profound transformations which the world is undergoing to adapt to the new demands of the human species.

The anthropocene, literally the era of mankind, defines the epoch we are currently living through, characterised largely by the actions of one species (humans) on the planet. Although we are just one species among many on Earth, humans have taken on a leading role, for better or for worse, with regard to the environment and other living things, modifying them until, in some cases, they are completely eliminated. Mankind is now the main driving force behind the transformations taking place, including the negative effects of climate change and the positive adaptations brought about through sustainable development, implemented with an awareness and a respect for our surroundings. 

Turbulence and transformations

The anthropocene presents scientists and mankind as a whole with a scenario of constant change and turbulence with unexpected and surprising consequences. The experts at GRAID, a programme funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), explain it well by showing how the complex interactions which have developed during the era dominated by humans have led to entirely unexpected ecosystem reactions, markedly different from what might be expected based on experience. 

With this in mind, it is crucial to recall the idea of panarchy, which refers to the interdependence of the systems on Earth. Actions carried out at one level always have consequences, of varying significance, on other levels, in an interconnected planet made up of complex relationships which are very hard to define, especially for those working to achieve sustainable development

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A clear example is the effect of human activity on the extinction of many living species, as well as the creation of new ones. “In 12,000 years, scientists have recorded 1,359 plant and animal extinctions. Meanwhile, humans have relocated 891 species and domesticated 743 of them – for a total of 1,643 species”, explains Joseph Bull of the University of Copenhagen, highlighting how the creation of new species, as well as the extinction of others (thus a growth in biodiversity), is one of the hallmarks of the anthropocene


A “New Renaissance”

For many years, we ignored the consequences of our actions on the environment (such as climate change and damage to biodiversity) and other living species, but we are now at a new stage of sustainable development: a more mature anthropocene with an awareness and a focus on the specific effects of individual actions is a key part of evolution. As a result, there is now an abundance of initiatives in a period defined by experts as a ‘new Renaissance’. 

For instance, in central America, organisations such as Nature Conservancy are striving to save coral reefs from climate change by inexorably altering the marine environment through ‘assisted evolution’ projects, creating new species which are more suited to the new marine setting modified by human activity. 

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Meanwhile, McGill University, in Canada, is working on the Seeds of good Anthropocene project, developed in collaboration with Sweden’s Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition in South Africa. 

According to the project’s website, “the idea is to collect and nurture seeds to create a positive anthropocene, and a prosperous environment driven by sustainable development”. These ‘seeds’ take the form of various initiatives (social, economic, urban, etc.) around the world. Many of them focus on the agri-food chain, such as, for example, the restoration of old irrigation systems in Spain or the project to increase the size of productive areas to ensure food security in a small valley in Colombia.

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