The Great Acceleration

The Great Acceleration. Click to enlarge. Image: Felix Pharand from Global Change and the Earth System (IGBP Synthesis) Steffen et al.

The start of the Anthropocene is the subject of intense debate. Our ancestors first began altering the landscape 10,000 years ago when they invented agriculture. Did this mark the onset of a new epoch? Did the Industrial Revolution signal the transition?

This set of 24 graphs, redrawn recently by Phelix Pharand, illustrate an explosion in the human enterprise around 1950. Was 1950 the kick-off? One lifetime away! Geologically speaking, this is a convenient date to begin: the first atomic bombs, detonated in 1945, have left a global radioactive signal in the geological record.

Each of the 24 graphs, known collectively as the Great Acceleration, begins in 1750, the start of the Industrial Revolution, and run through to 2000. If you want a closer look, click through to my Great Acceleration presentation on Slide Share.

I am working with colleagues right now to update these graphs through to 2010. We will be adding more graphs illustrating other relevant trends. Set for release in March 2012.


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