This past March, with the support of Oxfam, I was able to attend the Planet Under Pressure meeting in London.  The conference itself brought together many scientific experts and NGO representatives.  The conference itself was wrapped in a sense of urgency both sharing research on climate science and discussing solutions.  The conference had been in the works for several years, but comes at an especially poignant moment with the upcoming Rio+20 Earth Summit, which itself was a sub theme of many discussions.

Within the conversations about this moment in history and where the science stands, the concept of the “anthropocene” emerged with great momentum.  The anthropocene has been coined as the new era of the Earth’s geological history.  Earth itself is about 4.5 billion years old.  Throughout her history we have marked various epochs of changes in our climate.  Most recently we have been in what is called the Holocene, which began as the last Ice Age subsided and humans began to develop. The anthropocene is understood as the new era we have entered into since the Late Eighteenth Centrury with increased human development. There are a variety of arguments for this new era:

  • In the last 150 years humankind has exhausted 40% of the known oil reserves that took several hundred million years to generate
  • Nearly 50% of the land surface has been transformed by direct human action, with significant consequences for biodiversity, nutrient cycling, soil structure, soil biology, and climate

  • More nitrogen is now fixed synthetically for fertilisers and through fossil fuel combustion than is fixed naturally in all terrestrial ecosystems

  • More than half of all accessible freshwater is appropriated for human purposes, and underground water resources are being depleted rapidly in many areas


The science was clear and sobering as ever.  Scientists articulated and urgency for action at the political level, especially at the upcoming Summit.  There was also a recognition that the scientific community and civil society alike must reorganize towards creative global sustainability innovations and initiatives.  Our knowledge needs to move into action.  Although there is a lot of momentum towards the Rio Summit, we must create a greater momentum of innovation within the fabric of society throughout the world.  We must turn our urgency and knowledge into solutions, ideas, and change itself.

Having been to a number of UN Summits and conferences a like, I always find a bittersweet mix of hope and frustration.  I bring hope to the upcoming Rio summit knowing that thousands are headed to Rio to plead for real action and accountability for a sustainable future. And I try to keep a realistic perspective that all of our problems won’t be solved within one major Summit, but rather we need to harness the momentum headed to Rio of these incredible NGOs, global citizens, scientists, and business innovators.  We need to not only plead for action in Rio, but come together ourselves to build solutions and change that can ripple back through our home communities.




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