Love in the Anthropocene


Lovein the Anthropocene

Contemporaryindustrialized societies have created a dominant force that haschanged the nature of the Earth System processes. Their actions havealso altered the nature of the ecosystems that people rely on fortheir survival. Equally significant, the terrestrial ecosystemsinteract with the different Earth System processes that form theplanetary environment. The Planetary Boundary framework intends tomaintain the biophysical conditions that the Earth had since theHolocene epoch. However, Ellis et al. have the opinion that the PBframework cannot solve the environmental issues that humanity faces,and this is an analysis of their arguments.

Elliset al. affirm that the planetary boundaries framework fails toclarify the environmental challenges that humanity currently faces.However, the changes that the Earth System is experiencing originatefrom human activities, and they would be noticeable as the globalpopulation increases. The planetary boundaries that the frameworkproposes intends to establish thresholds where the internationalcommunity can consider human activities to be safe. The PB, asdescribed by Steffen et al., might not point out the sustainabilitychallenges since some of the issues are not noticeable on a globalscale. However, the forces that bring about environmental changeinteract and end up doing substantial damage before one can correctit (Jamieson &ampNadzam, 2014).

Environmentalissues have also evolved, and the challenges that people experiencedin the past are not similar to the current issues. Most environmentalproblems are not directly observable, and they are also moregeographically dispersed, making it difficult to ascertain theirorigin (Dunlap et al., 2000). As Steffen responds to Ellis, the PBframework deals with the entire Earth System. Therefore, the PBframework cannot be obscuring the environmental challenges on earth.Rather, the causes of these sustainability and environmental issuesare complicated.

Elliset al. also suggest that there is no need to establish boundarieswhen global thresholds are not present. Steffen’s response to thiscriticism, however, is appropriate. Components of the Earth Systemsignificantly affect the climate, and the identification of theirspecific thresholds is not very important when one needs to monitorthe PB levels. Ellis supports his assertion by claiming that humanpopulations do not require environmental resources to survive whenengineered ecosystems are available (Revkin, 2015). However, theengineered ecosystems are recent developments, and they mightadversely affect the Earth System processes in the long run.

WhileEllis et al. indicate that there is little scientific evidence toshow the connection between the well-being of humanity and state ofthe Earth System processes, they are not entirely correct. Althoughthe evolution of most species occurred before the Holocene,everything that people associate with contemporary humanity,including agriculture, developed just recently (Jamieson &ampNadzam,2014). Steffen’s response to the critique by Ellis et al. alsoillustrates that the argument that people can survive in a planetaryenvironment that is destabilizing is based on technological optimismonly (Revkin, 2015).

Elliset al. would also fail to prove that the Anthropocene’s ecosystems,which have been altered by humans, are the only ones that can supportthe modern society. Equally important, they do not see the value ofan environment that is safe and clean considering that efforts toplace a limit along the environmental change continuum are justrecent developments. The criticism by Ellis et al. on this issueindicate that they defend the old dominant social paradigm whileresisting social change, and this labels them as rearguards(Milbrath&amp Fisher, 1984).

Itis apparent that the human-altered ecosystem supports the currentstate of civilized humanity, and Ellis et al. also provide evidenceto validate their argument. For instance, theagriculturalproductivity in most regions is the result of engineered ecosystemsand technology. These productive technologies, however, wereintroduced less than a century ago, and they are also accompanied bymany other aspects illustrating the Great Acceleration (Revkin,2015). The discovery of additional energy sources from fossil fuelsfacilitatedrapid changes in human activities, and this helped inbringing about globalization (Assadourian, Prugh, &amp Starke 2013).Ellis et al. cannot prove that the Anthropocene ecosystem couldsupport humanity for long without interventions such as the PBlimits.

Elliset al. also suggest that human survival does not depend on theHolocene environment. Moreover, they support their argument byindicating that the engineering of ecosystems started with thediscovery of fossil fuels two centuries ago. The Earth Systemprocesses, however, continue to change as human activities alter theecosystem. For instance, the rate at which species are becomingextinct in the Anthropocene environment is more than 100 timescompared to recent geological epochs (Assadourian, Prugh, &ampStarke, 2013). This illustration indicates that the rapid shift inhuman activities might soon make the Earth system less hospitable tohumanity.

Theadverse effects brought about by the alterations that people bring tothe environment are apparent, and Ellis et al. are quick toacknowledge this. However, their suggestion that stopping the changeswould not lead to better environmental outcomes is misinformed. Intheir supporting arguments, Ellis et al. affirm that wild forests andother animal species are about to disappear and that this is theresult of human activities. Equally important, the changes in theEarth System processes are observable due to the growth in humanpopulation, energy demand, and a high rate of waste disposal(Jamieson &ampNadzam, 2014). Rockström and Richardson also respondto Ellis et al. regarding this issue by asserting that scientificevidence backs the need for managing environmental issues (Revkin,2015).

Elliset al. point out that robust evidence should guide the decision tolimit some of the human activities that are altering the environment.The PB framework, however, has sufficient evidence showing that theEarth System processes are already shifting, and failure to maintaintheir levels within the suggested thresholds would be disastrous. Forexample, Ellis et al. affirm that productive technologies have madeit possible to increase agricultural production. However, the greateruse of fertilizer alters the nitrogen cycle, and this has adverseimpacts to the vegetation cover (Assadourian, Prugh, &amp Starke,2013).

Elliset al. support their previous argument by indicating that native soilfertility is not necessary considering that nitrogen fertilizers havesignificantly increased the amount of reactive nitrogen.Nevertheless, the nitrogen cycle is one of the Earth System processesthat requires monitoring so that it might not interfere with socialdevelopment (Assadourian, Prugh, &amp Starke, 2013). By altering onecomponent of the terrestrial environment, the current generationmight not immediately notice its impact, but it will evidently affectthe entire Earth System with time.

Theargument that global metrics should not be used as a guide in makingenvironmental policies due to their misleading nature is incorrect.The identification of boundaries of the Earth System processes is thefirst step in ensuring the safety of humans’ operating space. Elliset al. provide an example of applying the right nitrogen amounts soas to minimize the adverse effects to the ecosystem, and suggest thatthis should only apply to the local context (Revkin, 2015). However,Rockström and Richardson indicate that there is evidence within theAnthropocene suggesting that policies should address environmentalchange at the local, national, and regional contexts (Revkin, 2015).

Thepolitical aspects that may hinder the adoption of the PlanetaryBoundaries framework make Ellis et al. question the validity ofdetermining global limits for the Earth System processes. Even thoughscientists cannot get into the political scenario and dictate globalpolicies regarding environmental conservation, the suggestion bySteffen et al. was that governance should consider the PB framework.Steffen’s response to Ellis et al. regarding this critique is thatthe recommendation for an institution to administer the PB frameworknever indicates that it would be the responsibility of scientists.Nevertheless, the implementation of measures that would maintainhuman operations within the PB zone can prevent environmentaluncertainties.


Thechanges that the Earth System is experiencing originate from humanactivities, and they would be noticeable as the global populationincreases.The PB framework cannot be obscuring the environmentalchallenges on earth considering that the causes of thesesustainability and environmental issues are intricate. Theidentification of global boundaries of the Earth System processeswould be the first step in ensuring the safety of humans’ operatingspace.


Assadourian,E., Prugh, T., &amp Starke, L. (2013). Stateof the World 2013: Is sustainability still possible?.Washington: Island Press.

Dunlap,R. E., Van Liere, K. D., Mertig, A. G., &amp Jones, R. E. (2000).New trends in measuring

environmentalattitudes: measuring endorsement of the new ecological paradigm: arevised NEP scale. Journalof Social Issues,56(3), 425-442.

Jamieson,D., &ampNadzam, B. (2014). Lovein the Anthropocene.New York: OR Books.

Milbrath,L., &amp Fisher, B. (1984). Environmentalists:Vanguard for a New Society.New York: SUNY Press.

Revkin,A. (2015). Can Humanity’s ‘Great Acceleration’ Be Managed and,If So, How? The

NewYork Times.Retrieved on 08 Sep 2016 from