Great Acceleration

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The Great Acceleration is the dramatic, continuous and roughly simultaneous surge in growth rate across a large range of measures of human activity, first recorded in mid-20th century and continuing to this day.[1][2] Within the concept of the proposed epoch of anthropocene, these measures are specifically those of humanity's impact on Earth's geology and its ecosystems. In the concept, the Great Acceleration can be variously classified as the only age of the epoch to date, one of many ages of the epoch – depending on the epoch's proposed start date – or a defining feature of the epoch 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 tracking the effects of human activity upon the Earth, a number of socioeconomic and earth system parameters are utilized including population, economics, water usage, food production, transportation, technology, green house gases, surface temperature, and natural resource usage.[6] The Anthropocene is typically depicted as following the Holocene, to emphasize the central role of humankind in geology and ecology.[5] Since 1950, these trends are increasing significantly if not exponentially.[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]


  1. ^ "Definition of Great Acceleration". Future Earth. January 16, 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  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".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ "Alternative definition of Great Acceleration".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ a b c 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.