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Satellite images of the earth give an impression of the magnitude of anthropogenic environmental influences based on the light pollution made visible
Human needs cause different environmental influences
The melting of the Arctic sea ​​ice is proceeding faster than all the climate models on the basis of the 4th IPCC assessment report from 2007 showed 

The term Anthropocene (in ancient Greek ἄνθρωπος ánthropos , German 'man' and καινός 'new' ) is a suggestion for naming a new geochronological epoch : namely the age in which man became one of the most important factors influencing biological, geological and atmospheric processes has become on earth.

Concept and representation

The term was brought into play in 2000 by the Dutch chemist and atmospheric researcher Paul Crutzen together with Eugene Stoermer : The two scientists want to express that humanity has become a geological factor. In 2002, Crutzen specified the term “geology of mankind” in an article in the renowned journal Nature . In doing so, he modified a suggestion made by the Italian geologist Antonio Stoppani , who had already proposed "Anthropozoic Era" or "Anthropozoic Era" as a designation for a new geological age in 1873 : "A new telluric power could rival the great forces of nature in terms of strength and universality" . Other scientists used the term " noosphere " or psychozoic . In 1995, Hubert Markl used in his publication Nature as a Cultural Task “Anthropozoic” as the current faunal cut for the sole responsibility of humans.

2008 the stratigraphic Commission of the Geological Society of London , the world's oldest geo-scientific association, convincing arguments for the thesis that the Holocene called interglacial era had come with stable climates to an end and entered a stratigraphic section for which "in the last million years no equivalent can be found ”. The increase in the production of greenhouse gases , the man-made changes in the landscape, which meanwhile significantly exceed the natural annual sediment production , the acidification of the oceans and the ongoing destruction of biota play a role here. They warn that “the combination of species extinction , worldwide species migration and the widespread displacement of natural vegetation by agricultural monocultures represents an unmistakable biostratigraphic signal of our time. These effects are permanent, as future development builds on the surviving (and often anthropogenically displaced) stocks. "

At the 35th International Geological Congress in Cape Town in 2016, the working group on the Anthropocene, formed in 2009 and led by the British paleobiologist Jan Zalasiewicz and currently consisting of 34 people, confirmed Crutzen's and Stoermer's theses. In May 2019, this body decided by a clear majority to submit a draft for the introduction of the Anthropocene to the International Commission on Stratigraphy by 2021 , including a definitive geological starting point for the beginning of the new epoch.

Chronological order

In 1873, the Italian geologist Antonio Stoppani noted the increasing human influence on the environment and coined the term "anthropozoic era".

At the 35th International Geological Congress in Cape Town , the working group for the Anthropocene spoke in 2016 in favor of a "Golden Spike" (Engl., Dt. Mutatis mutandis Golden Point ) to search and determine a characteristic change in the sediments at a certain location ( " type locality "): He is suspected in the mid-20th century, after the date on which the influence of the people on the earth exponentially growing, leaving very durable traces: above-ground nuclear bomb tests , the "great acceleration" ( great acceleration ) of economic activity and resource consumption, population growth , “explosion” in the use of oil and coal, development of erosion rates , use of artificial fertilizers in agriculture ; Fly ash , aluminum - and concrete - as well as many plastic particles in the sediments; global transport of animal and plant species on an unprecedented scale.

According to a proposal made by British geologists in 2008, the year 1800 (the beginning of industrialization ) should be set as the beginning of the Anthropocene . Investigations of ice cores also showed that the concentration of methane and CO 2 has increased since then . The official insertion of the Anthropocene into the chronostratigraphic system of the earth was seriously discussed for several years by the International Commission on Stratigraphy in its Working Group on the 'Anthropocene' . On August 29, 2016, the majority of the working group finally agreed that the human influence on the planet is significant enough to justify the introduction of a new epoch in the history of the earth. For the beginning of the epoch, however, the majority of geologists favored the year 1950. On July 16, 1945, the first nuclear weapon was detonated for test purposes in Alamogordo , New Mexico, thus "ringing in" the nuclear age . This date is suggested by the geoscientists around Jan Zalasiewicz (* 1954) from the University of Leicester as the beginning of the Anthropocene.

For geologists at the University of Leeds, however, the year 1610 marked the beginning of the Anthropocene: the introduction of diseases into the “ New World ” and the resulting mass extinction of the indigenous population led to a marked decrease in the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere because the fields used by the Native Americans lay fallow and were reclaimed by the carbon-fixing vegetation; in addition, an exchange of species between the naturally largely isolated continents began during this period, unprecedented in the history of the planet .

Examples of human impact on the environment

Air pollution over Indonesia and the Indian Ocean , October 1997; Marked in white: aerosols ( smoke ) from fires in the lower air layers; green, yellow and red: overlying smog in the troposphere

The impact of humans on the environment is better documented than in 1945 (at the end of the Second World War ) thanks to greatly improved measurement methods and data evaluation options (EDP, PCs ). With the beginning of the Cold War , which ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989/1990 and the collapse of the Soviet Union , the USA and the USSR began extensive activities to explore near-earth space as part of an arms race . Both developed launch vehicles with which satellites could launch into near-earth (later also geostationary ) orbits : The first satellite was Sputnik 1 , which was launched into earth orbit by the USSR in October 1957. This event received worldwide attention and gave the West the Sputnik shock .

Both sides soon developed increasingly powerful satellites. They served military ( espionage satellite ) and civil purposes (the term earth observation satellite is associated with civil purposes) - much of the research served both purposes at the same time. Areas of application were and are mainly meteorology ( weather satellites ), environmental observation ( environmental satellite ), mapping , geology .

Species extinction

After the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN, dt. International conservation organization ) were in 2007 around 12% of the species of birds , 20% of mammals , 29% of amphibians and 33% of gymnosperms as threatened under the plants. The " Living Planet Index " of the WWF stated in May 2008 that the diversity of species on earth had fallen by 27 percent between 1970 and 2005. According to these surveys, land and freshwater inhabitants in the Asia-Pacific region were particularly hard hit. According to WWF, around 34,000 species are currently threatened with extinction.

The populations of breeding bird species native to the agricultural landscapes of Europe decreased by almost 50% between 1980 and 2009, i.e. in thirty years.

The current extinction of species is often compared with the great mass extinctions of the past. In the 541 million years of the Phanerozoic , in addition to numerous smaller extinction events, there were five mass extinctions with a species loss of 75 percent or more. According to more recent findings, these ecological crises occurred in geologically very short periods of time (mostly within a few tens of thousands of years) and formed the most serious cuts in biodiversity . The most significant difference between earlier mass extinctions and the current situation is that the current species extinction is caused by a single biological species - namely humans with their activities and their space requirements and resource consumption - whereas geological faunal sections on the impact of cosmic objects ( comets , asteroids ) and in can be traced back to a considerable extent to the flood basalt emissions of magmatic large provinces . Researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Stanford University estimate that 75 percent of all species will disappear from the earth in a few centuries and that in the past 40 years, half of the world's wildlife has been wiped out by humans. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) assumes that the current extinction rate is 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the “normal” background extinction rate .

Species displacement

Through human activities (transport of goods, tourism, traffic) a large number of species are transported to other continents and thus to habitats in which they were not originally native. The current climate change often favors the adaptation to these locations (for example Asian tiger mosquito , Asian longhorn beetle ). Particularly robust and expansive species, which often lack natural predators in the new biotopes, can quickly form large populations, displace indigenous (autochthonous) species and in this way have a lasting effect on or disturb the ecological balance. Examples of this are the Chinese woolly crab and the giant hogweed in Europe, the cat and cane toad in Australia and the black rat worldwide.

Spread of disease

The spread of pathogens is also cited as an example of the transformation of the planet by humans in the Anthropocene. It is promoted by civilization-related transmission routes - easier transmission and to humans ( zoonosis ) as a result of human- related changes in ecosystems and accelerated global expansion through long-haul air travel.

Creation of new minerals

A factor directly affecting geology are newly formed minerals: Currently (2017), 208 of the officially 5,208 known minerals are attributed to human work, mainly mining . As a result, so many new minerals have been created in the last 250 years than probably never before in the history of the earth .

Climate change

Radiative forcing in the period 1951–2010 according to
The burning-embers graphic from the 2001 IPCC report (last updated in 2014), an illustration of the increasing risks with rising global temperatures , often shown in connection with the 2-degree target
Global average temperatures since 1880

According to current scientific understanding, humans have a decisive share in the modern anthropogenic global warming , the current climate change . According to the IPCC's fifth assessment report published in 2013/14, it is extremely likely that more than 50% of the warming observed during this period was caused by humans. The best estimate is that the human impact on warming is about the same as the total observed warming between 1951 and 2010. These values ​​are supported by other assessment reports. The human share in the observed global warming 1951-2010 in the Fourth National Assessment of the USA is put at 92-123%, with values ​​over 100% indicating that a cooling was counteracted. Natural factors only had a minor influence on climate development during this period.

The IGBP - Climate Change Index summarizes the development of the global consequences of climate change in a (steeply rising) curve. This includes the carbon dioxide content of the earth's atmosphere , the mean temperature, the height of the sea ​​level and the sea ice cover.

The possible compensation for the damage caused worldwide by the current climate change (" Loss and Damage ") has led to a sometimes heated international discussion that has been going on for decades: For example, the " Green Climate Fund " should make a contribution.

Triggering a global, possibly abruptly entering tilting elements ( " tipping points ") can lead to unpredictable and no longer reversible consequences. If the two-degree target set by the United Nations is exceeded , reliable predictions about further consequences are no longer possible.

The main consequences of climate change, which can also be determined geologically, are listed below:

Territorial / on the mainland

Animation on glacier retreat worldwide between 2003 and 2012
(in cm water column equivalent)
Yellow: glacier
blue / purple: glacier decline
Melting of the polar ice caps
" Albedo change in Greenland " shows the difference in the reflected radiation in 2011 compared to the mean value for the years 2000 to 2006 ( false color display recorded using the MODIS satellite )
Melting glaciers
Soil degradation
Decline in permafrost
Between 1993 and 2014 the sea ​​level rose 3.2 mm per year, 50% more than the average for the 20th century

World seas ("oceans")

Rise in sea level
Ocean warming

In addition to the air, the oceans have also warmed up as a result of global man-made warming : they absorbed over 90% of the additional heat energy available . The warming of the oceans with the associated volume expansion of the water is one of the decisive factors for the global rise in sea levels. → Section " Ocean Warming " under " Global Warming "

Estimated decrease in pH at the sea ​​surface due to anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere between the 1700s and the 1990s

Associated with global warming are other effects such as an increase in the CO 2 content of the earth's atmosphere and the acidification of the oceans .

Coral bleaching
Dead coral calcareous skeleton

The warming of the oceans has resulted in massive coral bleaching on various coral reefs , e.g. B. on the Australian Great Barrier Reef .

Change in oxygen content

According to researchers , the oxygen content of the oceans has decreased by around 2% worldwide since 1960 ; the warming of the upper water layers is made responsible for this.

Change in ocean currents

The additional fresh water input in the course of global warming in the Antarctic changes the dynamics of the “ thermohaline circulation ”; With the changing global wind regime, among other things, it is an essential factor for global ocean currents .

Overuse or loss of available resources

Summarized course and extrapolation of world oil production according to studies by ASPO , CERA and other researchers and associations

Another indication of our influence on our home planet is the " World Exhaustion Day ": It indicates the day of the year to which mankind has extrapolated the resources available for this year on earth and is thus a measure of the sustainability of ours Life. In 2014 it was reached on August 18, 2015 on August 13, 2016 on August 8. In 1987 it was still on December 19 of that year.


The rampant global loss, for example of agriculturally usable soils , is discussed at the annual international " Global Soil Week ". This involves topics such as soil degradation , erosion , protection or acidification . The global competition for remaining usable and valuable land is driving up the prices for leasing and buying land, see “ Landgrabbing ”.

Peak oil

The English-language "Peak Oil" describes the " global maximum oil production ", the historical point in time of the world's maximum production rate of crude oil .

Peak phosphorus

Worldwide phosphate mining since 1900

Peak phosphorus is an example of the finite breakdown and consumption of metals and “ non-metals ”, minerals and “ rare earths ” worldwide.

Peak sand

Sand is a result of the global construction (see concrete ) and land conservation (in the North Sea island Sylt ) or land reclamation as in Dubai and Singapore overused resource . Extracting it from the sea ​​floor becomes a man-made ecological catastrophe. The beaches around the world narrowed by 40 m between 1986 and 2008.


Global overfishing of the oceans is a pressing problem. In the World Report 2012 which calls Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations ( Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations / FAO ) sustainable fisheries policy: Almost 30% of fish stocks are overfished, about 60% in the exploitation of border worldwide.

Remodeling large areas of land

Loss of land through coastal erosion

The rising sea levels - as a result of man-made global warming - and increasing extreme weather also lead to increasing coastal erosion : In addition to the actual coastlines, this threatens a large number of coastal cities and ports worldwide, but also results in a gradual loss of land.

environmental pollution

Water pollution

Light pollution

The light pollution as part of the general Pollution affects an average of about 80% of the world population, in Europe and the US even 99%, and has consequences for flora and fauna . In 2001, Italian scientists from the University of Padua , together with the American National Geophysical Data Center (NOAA) , compiled a world atlas of light pollution ; a new edition appeared in mid-2016.

Air pollution

Intentional anthropogenic air pollution : Pick-up at Rolling Coal , "Rolling Coal"

Air pollution is particularly high in third world countries , Russia , the People's Republic of China and other emerging countries . About 90% of the decline in wheat yields in India is due to the direct effect of short-lived pollutants such as soot and ozone , the rest to their contribution to warming .

Methane concentration in the earth's atmosphere since 800,000 before our time

When using coolants (originally considered environmentally friendly) such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or fluorocarbons (HFCs), parts of it escape into the earth's atmosphere , rise and destroy parts of the stratospheric ozone layer : an ozone hole is created every year over the Antarctic in particular .

Greenhouse gases of human origin contribute to the greenhouse effect :

  • Methane contributes 25 times more than CO 2 and with around 20% to the anthropogenic greenhouse effect (see global warming potential ). There is far more methane in the earth's atmosphere than ever during the last 650,000 years; the methane concentration rose annually between 2000 and 2006 by about 0.5 particles per billion, since then at a rate more than ten times higher. The rapid increase in recent years could be related to the production of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing .
  • The global warming potential of " laughing gas " ( nitrous oxide , N 2 O) is 298 times greater than that of CO 2 .

Radioactive dust

The radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere since July 1945 and intensified until the 1960s is an unmistakable sign of human changes to the earth: in all samples that have been taken from the biosphere worldwide since then , radionuclides can be detected that had never existed on earth before.

Littering with plastics

The five largest circulating ocean drift currents on earth

Plastic parts and their decomposition products collect especially in the great vortices of the oceans. In some marine regions they swim close together on the water surface. The North Pacific Gyre (Engl. North Pacific Gyre ), this phenomenon nicknamed Great Pacific Garbage Patch (dt. Great Pacific Garbage patch ) introduced. Numerous environmental toxins accumulate on the surface of the pieces, some of which are shredded to nano- size .

Microplastics have now been found in organisms that live exclusively in deep-sea trenches. This shows how extensive plastic waste has now spread in the oceans.

A plastic bag is only used for an average of 25 minutes; their decomposition process takes between 100 and 500 years, depending on the type of plastic.


The concept has met with criticism in the humanities literature. The Anthropocene would emphasize the role of humans as a species raised out of nature and not provide an alternative to the uninhibited reshaping of the earth by humans. On the contrary, the previous human interventions in natural cycles would be used as an occasion or justification to - this time with the claim of repair - to influence ecological control mechanisms again in a targeted manner and with greater goals. Geoengineering proposals would make man the ultimate ruler of the earth, even if they were communicated under the aspect of responsibility for previous interventions and further development. Instead, a (re) integration of humans into the natural environment would be required, which is precisely not compatible with a prominent position.

In his criticism of the idea of ​​the Anthropocene, Jürgen Manemann points out that this concept is based on a model of civilization that is characterized by the mania for feasibility and perfection. This can be seen not least in the inner dimension of the idea of ​​the Anthropocene, which aims at trans- or posthumanism. Instead of more technology and more knowledge, it is necessary to initiate a cultural change. To do this, civil society would have to be transformed into a cultural society. The counter-concept to the idea of ​​the Anthropocene is a new human ecology that shows ways of cultural renewal of people and at the same time helps to creatively develop new structures that help develop basic skills that enable people to lead a humane life in the face of the climate catastrophe .

Criticism within the earth sciences is based on the fact that the Anthropocene does not have a globally definable beginning, as is necessary for a periodization. On different continents, humans have massively intervened in the natural balance at different times. In America or Australia, features appeared later than in the Middle East or southern Europe. On the other hand, human interventions have gradually increased since the end of the last Ice Age , and there is no clearly defined boundary. The epoch corresponding to this assessment has already been recognized, namely as the Holocene , from which the Anthropocene should be separated.

Last but not least, criticism was raised of the fact that mankind of industrial societies defines itself as a geological epoch, although the permanence of human influences on the earth or the applicability of the term human (anthropo) to future, genetically optimized and technology-supported beings by no means is secured.

The German Stratigraphic Commission writes:

“On the one hand, it is a matter of formally establishing an Anthropocene, like all other stratigraphic units, with a GSSP and Golden Spike. The DSK does not consider this to be sensible, even if the entry into the textbooks could make the unit much more popular. As an informal term, it is already on everyone's lips, so that the Working Group [of the 'Anthropocene' of the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy of the ISC] is probably also driven by this public impact with its project. But you have to be careful that scientific concepts are not mixed up with political world views. So maybe it is better to place the Anthropocene on the field of geoethics and not on stratigraphic tables. "

- E. Mönnig (DSK) : “On the Anthropocene Debate.” February 27, 2016




  • United Nations World Decade 2005 to 2014 - Education for Sustainable Development, Reinhold Leinfelder : Everything is interrelated - challenges and opportunities for education for sustainable development in the Anthropocene




  • Luciano Floridi takes up the term in chapter 9 of his book The 4th Revolution (2014) under the heading The Costs and Risks of the Anthropocene
  • The anthropological volume Der Anthropos im Anthropozän (2020), edited by Hannes Bajohr , deals with the change in the concept of man in the Anthropocene .


See also



Video on demand

Web links

Wiktionary: Anthropocene  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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