Great Acceleration

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Great Acceleration is the dramatic, continuous and roughly simultaneous surge across a large range of measures of human activity, first recorded in the mid-20th century and continuing into the early 21st century.[1][2] Within the concept of the proposed epoch of the Anthropocene, these measures are specifically those of humanity's impact on Earth's geology and its ecosystems. Within the Anthropocene epoch, the Great Acceleration can be variously classified as its only age to date, one of its many ages (depending on the epoch's proposed start date), or its defining feature that is thus not an age, as well as other classifications.[3][4]

Environmental historian J. R. McNeill has argued that the Great Acceleration is idiosyncratic of the current age and is set to halt in the near future; that it has never happened before and will never happen again.[5] However, climate change scientist and chemist Will Steffen's team have found evidence to be inconclusive to either confirm or refute such a claim.

Related to Great Acceleration is the concept of accelerating change. While not explicitly commenting on whether the Great Acceleration as a whole is set to continue into the near future, the common implication is that the particular trend of accelerating progress will not cease until technological singularity is achieved, at which point technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unfathomable changes to the Earth and possibly even the universe itself.[5] Therefore, while adherents of the theory of accelerating change do not comment on the short-term fate of the Great Acceleration, they do hold that its eventual fate is continuation, which also contradicts McNeill's conclusions.

In gauging the effects of human activity on Earth's geology, a number of socioeconomic and earth system parameters are utilized, including population, economics, water usage, food production, transportation, technology, greenhouse gases, surface temperature, and natural resource usage.[6] Since 1950, these trends have been increasing significantly, often at an exponential rate.[7]

Data classification categories[edit]

The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) has divided and analyzed data from years 1750 to 2010 into two broad categories, each with 12 subcategories.[8] The first category of socioeconomic trend data illustrates the impact on the second, the earth system trend data.

Socioeconomic trends[edit]

Socioeconomic Trends category of the Great Acceleration of the Anthropocene from 1750 to 2010. The data graphically displayed is scaled for each subcategory's 2010 value. Source data is from the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme
  1. Population
  2. Real GDP
  3. Foreign direct investment
  4. Urban population
  5. Primary energy use
  6. Fertilizer consumption
  7. Large dams
  8. Water use
  9. Paper production
  10. Transportation
  11. Telecommunications
  12. International tourism
  13. Technology

Earth system trends[edit]

Earth System Trends category of the Great Acceleration of the Anthropocene from 1750 to 2010. The data graphically displayed is scaled for each subcategory's 2010 value. Source data is from the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme
  1. Carbon dioxide
  2. Nitrous oxide
  3. Methane
  4. Stratospheric ozone
  5. Surface temperature
  6. Ocean acidification
  7. Marine fish capture
  8. Shrimp aquaculture
  9. Nitrogen to coastal zone
  10. Tropical forest loss
  11. Domesticated land
  12. Terrestrial biosphere degradation

See also[edit]

  • Accelerating change – Perceived increase in the rate of technological change throughout history
  • Accelerando – 2005 science fiction novel by Charles Stross
  • Buckminster Fuller – American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist
  • Future Shock – Book by Alvin Toffler
  • Post-World War II economic boom – Long period of worldwide economic growth following World War II
  • Technological singularity – Hypothetical point in time when technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible


  1. ^ "Definition of Great Acceleration". Future Earth. January 16, 2015.
  2. ^ Steffen, Will; Broadgate, Wendy; Deutsch, Lisa; Gaffney, Owen; Ludwig, Cornelia (April 2015). "The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration". The Anthropocene Review. 2 (1): 81–98. doi:10.1177/2053019614564785. hdl:1885/66463. ISSN 2053-0196.
  3. ^ "Definition of Great Acceleration presenting it as a basic feature and cause of the anthropocene".
  4. ^ "Alternative definition of Great Acceleration".
  5. ^ a b Mcneill, J. R. (2014). The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674545038.
  6. ^ Steffen, Will; Crutzen, Paul J.; McNeill, John R. (2007). "The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?". Ambio. 36 (8): 614–621. doi:10.1579/0044-7447(2007)36[614:TAAHNO]2.0.CO;2. hdl:1885/29029. JSTOR 25547826. PMID 18240674.
  7. ^ ANTHROPOCENE. "Welcome to the Anthropocene". Welcome to the Anthropocene. Retrieved March 10, 2018.
  8. ^ Broadgate, Wendy; et al. "The Great Acceleration data (October 2014)". International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. Retrieved 21 April 2018.