Researchers determined our impact on Earth via the “Anthropocene Equation”
Even though astronomical and geophysical factors have been the dominating influences on our planet’s system for the past 4.5 billion years, it seems that humanity is now a prime driver of its change. This new geological period in which human activity profoundly shapes the environment is often described as the Anthropocene and researchers have even developed a mathematic equation to describe its effects. According to the so-called ‘Anthropocene equation’, our intense activity on earth causes climate to change 170 times faster than in the past, and in the opposite direction! The equation, published in the journal ‘The Anthropocene Review’, was developed by Owen Gaffney, analyst at Stockholm Resilience Centre and Future Earth and Professor Will Steffen, climate change expert at the Australian National University.
According to Gaffney, they developed the equation “by homing in on the rate of change of Earth’s life support system: the atmosphere, oceans, forests and wetlands, waterways and ice sheets and fabulous diversity of life”. “For four billion years the rate of change of the Earth system has been a complex function of astronomical and geophysical forces plus internal dynamics: Earth’s orbit around the sun, gravitational interactions with other planets, the sun’s heat output, colliding continents, volcanoes and evolution, among others,” he wrote. That rate of change has lately changed dramatically, with global temperature being until recently in decrease at a rate of 0.01 °C per century while the current rate (last 45 years) is a rise of 1.7 °C per century. Indicatively, the warmest 12 years since records began have occurred since 1998.
The “Anthropocene Equation”
Τhe rate of change of the Earth system (E) has in the past been a function of astronomical (A) and geophysical (G) forces plus internal dynamics (I). However, lately the effect of industrialized societies (H) has become disproportionally large. This new trend is depicted in the anthropocene equation:
The analysts suggest that the rate of change of the Earth system over the last 40 to 50 years is purely a function of industrialized societies.
“In the equation, astronomical and geophysical forces tend to zero because of their slow nature or rarity, as do internal dynamics, for now. All these forces still exert pressure, but currently on orders of magnitude less than human impact. We are not saying the astronomical forces of our solar system or geological processes have disappeared, but in terms of their impact in such a short period of time they are now negligible compared with our own influence,” Steffen said.
“What we do is give a very specific number to show how humans are affecting the earth over a short timeframe. It shows that while other forces operate over millions of years, we as humans are having an impact at the same strength as the many of these other forces, but in the timeframe of just a couple of centuries.’’ The research concludes that the rate of change of the Earth system needs to drop to zero as soon as possible, while a failure to reduce anthropological climate change could “trigger societal collapse”.