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      The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives

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          Abstract

          The human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system. Although global-scale human influence on the environment has been recognized since the 1800s, the term Anthropocene, introduced about a decade ago, has only recently become widely, but informally, used in the global change research community. However, the term has yet to be accepted formally as a new geological epoch or era in Earth history. In this paper, we put forward the case for formally recognizing the Anthropocene as a new epoch in Earth history, arguing that the advent of the Industrial Revolution around 1800 provides a logical start date for the new epoch. We then explore recent trends in the evolution of the Anthropocene as humanity proceeds into the twenty-first century, focusing on the profound changes to our relationship with the rest of the living world and on early attempts and proposals for managing our relationship with the large geophysical cycles that drive the Earth's climate system.

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          Most cited references 33

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          Climate Change 2007

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            Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2 degrees C.

            More than 100 countries have adopted a global warming limit of 2 degrees C or below (relative to pre-industrial levels) as a guiding principle for mitigation efforts to reduce climate change risks, impacts and damages. However, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions corresponding to a specified maximum warming are poorly known owing to uncertainties in the carbon cycle and the climate response. Here we provide a comprehensive probabilistic analysis aimed at quantifying GHG emission budgets for the 2000-50 period that would limit warming throughout the twenty-first century to below 2 degrees C, based on a combination of published distributions of climate system properties and observational constraints. We show that, for the chosen class of emission scenarios, both cumulative emissions up to 2050 and emission levels in 2050 are robust indicators of the probability that twenty-first century warming will not exceed 2 degrees C relative to pre-industrial temperatures. Limiting cumulative CO(2) emissions over 2000-50 to 1,000 Gt CO(2) yields a 25% probability of warming exceeding 2 degrees C-and a limit of 1,440 Gt CO(2) yields a 50% probability-given a representative estimate of the distribution of climate system properties. As known 2000-06 CO(2) emissions were approximately 234 Gt CO(2), less than half the proven economically recoverable oil, gas and coal reserves can still be emitted up to 2050 to achieve such a goal. Recent G8 Communiqués envisage halved global GHG emissions by 2050, for which we estimate a 12-45% probability of exceeding 2 degrees C-assuming 1990 as emission base year and a range of published climate sensitivity distributions. Emissions levels in 2020 are a less robust indicator, but for the scenarios considered, the probability of exceeding 2 degrees C rises to 53-87% if global GHG emissions are still more than 25% above 2000 levels in 2020.
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              An Earth-system perspective of the global nitrogen cycle.

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
                Proc. R. Soc. A
                The Royal Society
                1364-503X
                1471-2962
                March 13 2011
                March 13 2011
                March 13 2011
                March 13 2011
                : 369
                : 1938
                : 842-867
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Climate Change Institute, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
                [2 ]Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
                [3 ]Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, 55128 Mainz, Germany
                [4 ]School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057, USA
                Article
                10.1098/rsta.2010.0327
                21282150
                © 2011

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