In 2015, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) reassessed and updated its “Planetary Dashboard”, first published in 2004. It shows 24 “Great Acceleration” indicators divided into two different groups: socio-economic trends and earth system trends.
As different as the indicators may be, they have two key aspects in common:
- Almost all indicators show that the most dramatic shifts have occurred since about 1950, hence seen as the starting point of the “Great Acceleration”.
- Nowadays, major earth system trends are directly linked to changes largely related to the global economic system.
The twelve indicators visualise human activity: population, real gross domestic product (GDP), foreign direct investment, urban population, primary energy use, fertiliser consumption, large dams, water use, paper production, transportation, telecommunication and international tourism.
Each and every trend shows a similar pattern: that of accelerated change since the1950s. In our global society, socio-economic trends are having an increasing influence, both in absolute and relative terms, on earth system trends.
Earth system trends
The Earth system trends show major changes in environmental components, including biodiversity and natural cycles of carbon, nitrogen and water. These are mainly driven by human consumption and production. The trends shown are: carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, stratospheric ozone, surface temperature, ocean acidification, marine fish capture, shrimp aquaculture, nitrogen to coastal zone, tropical forest loss, domesticated land and terrestrial biosphere degradation. Some of these are identical to those of the Planetary Boundaries.
Earth system trends
From The Natural Step’s point of view, the “Great Acceleration” indicators not only show the enormous speed of change. They also clearly underline humanity’s new responsibility for our planet.
About the Anthropocene
Due to the growing influence of the socio-economic trends, more and more scientists are advocating changing the name of our current era from the “Holocene” to “Anthropocene”. The Anthropocene is an era that begins when human activities have a significant global impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems.
The video below, as well as the 24 “Great Acceleration” indicators, are vivid data visualisations capturing this new concept. The video, entitled “Welcome to the Anthropocene”, was produced by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and Globaia. It was shown at the 2012 opening of the UN’s Rio+20 Summit. It’s an excellent video, so please have a look at it: