Sustainable science in the anthropocene

  • The anthropocene – the epoch of humankind – is currently a topic of great interest. What consequences does the idea of humanity as a geological force have for the undertaken path of sustainable development? What new questions are arising for sustainability science? Diagnosing contemporary society from an anthropocene perspective could change the relationship between natural and social sciences, as well as between society and science: science will be needed even more as a critical authority and must be organized to an even greater extent in a transdisciplinary manner. New forms of social participation in the process of producing scientifically legitimated knowledge are indispensable.∗ More than ten years ago the Dutch chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen coined the term “Anthropocene” to describe the period during which humans have begun to significantly influence biological, geological and atmospheric processes, thus becoming a relevant geological force on planet Earth (Crutzen and Stoermer 2000, Crutzen 2002). In the earth sciences the anthropocene represents nothing less than a transition to a new epoch and is therefore being discussed intensively. Until 2016 data have been collected by geologists from the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) to provide evidence that might help answer the question whether a turning point has been reached in the history of the Earth (Zalasiewicz et al. 2011). A decision will be made as to whether and when a new epoch in Earth history has begun. The significance and consequences outside the geoscientific discourse of identifying an “epoch of humans” (Zalasiewicz 2013) has, so far, only been understood to a small extent. Yet this change of perspective is one of the most important in the last 100 hundred years, for it means society and nature have become so closely intertwined that they can no longer be studied independently of each other. Natural spheres and societal spheres have merged into one large system (Guillaume 2015, Becker und Jahn 2006). A well-founded acceptance of the concept of the anthropocene, however, has been lacking, especially where transitions to a sustainable development are being researched. It remains unclear whether the concept of the Anthropocene will lead to a new fundamental understanding of the relationships between nature and society and, if so, what opportunities this new understanding might open for shaping these relationships in a more sustainable manner. And lastly, and equally importantly, it is still unclear whether science’s role and responsibilities will change in the course of developing visions of the future. With this article we hope to stimulate further discussions of these issues.

Download full text files

Export metadata

Additional Services

Share in Twitter Search Google Scholar
Author:Thomas Jahn, Diana HummelORCiDGND, Engelbert SchrammORCiDGND
Parent Title (German):Institut für Sozial-Ökologische Forschung: ISOE-Diskussionspapiere ; Nr. 40
Series (Serial Number):ISOE-Diskussionspapiere (40)
Publisher:ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung
Place of publication:Frankfurt am Main
Document Type:Working Paper
Date of Publication (online):2016/07/29
Year of first Publication:2016
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2016/07/29
Page Number:12
Last Page:10
Institutes:Angeschlossene und kooperierende Institutionen / Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung (ISOE)
Dewey Decimal Classification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 33 Wirtschaft / 330 Wirtschaft
3 Sozialwissenschaften / 33 Wirtschaft / 333 Boden- und Energiewirtschaft / 333.7 Natürliche Ressourcen, Energie und Umwelt
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht