The Anthropocene Gap
Chapter 1: Planetary terra incognita
The year 2016 will be critical for the history of planet Earth. This is the year when the International Geological Congress will meet to finally settle the debate of whether humanity formally has entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. This might seem like a superfluous subject for a scientific meeting to discuss considering the explosion of the concept in current policy and scientific debates. Not only did The Economist and National Geographic already in May 2011 produce special issues on this new era; in 2012, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) broadcasted a series of documentaries on the 'human epoch', and publishing giant Elsevier inaugurated the new journal Anthropocene in 2013. Yet, the scientific debate has not been settled. And similarly contested concepts attempting to define humanity's impact on Earth - such as 'the great acceleration' and 'planetary boundaries' - are widely circulated amongst academics, concerned non-governmental organizations and policy-makers. Any institutional and political analysis of global environmental change on a human-dominated planet, should build on a firm understanding of these concepts and their associated scientific and political debates. As I will elaborate, these disputes are becoming increasingly intense and difficult for outsiders to grapple. The reason I believe is simple: as research insights from the Earth system sciences gradually propagate through media and policy discussions, they renew existing environmental political controversies. This time, the debates are not only the familiar ones, such as the contested tension between economic growth and sustainability.