Anthropocene: Scientific Research

Edward Burtynsky, Oil Bunkering #4, Niger Delta, Nigeria, 2016, photo © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto

Anthropocene is a major new contemporary art exhibition featuring the work of world-renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky and award-winning filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier.

Proposed as a new geological epoch by the Anthropocene Working Group, the Anthropocene (from the Greek anthropos, meaning “human,” and cene, meaning “recent”) is defined by the permanent impact of human activities on Earth, such as terraforming through mining, urbanization and agriculture; human-caused extinction and biodiversity loss; and the global presence of materials such as plastics and concrete.

Interested in learning more? Browse through the following key facts collected by The Anthropocene Project team.

  • After growing at a gradual pace for most of human history, Earth’s population has more than doubled over the past 50 years. According to a 2017 United Nations report, the current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 8.6 billion by 2030, 9.8 billion by 2050, and 11.2 billion by 2100.
  • Since the Industrial Revolution of the mid-1800s, more than 390 billion tonnes of anthropogenic carbon emissions have been released into the air through cement production and the burning of fossil fuels. Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by approximately 120 parts per million (ppm) since 1850, including a rise of approximately 2 ppm per year over the past fifty years.
  • In 1950, less than 2 million tonnes of plastics were manufactured globally per year. By the early 21st century, this figure had risen to 300 million tonnes per year. The total cumulative volume of plastics produced to 2015 was calculated to be 5 billion tons — enough to cover all of Earth in plastic wrap.
  • In 2015, it was reported that, by weight, there would be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
  • A tenth of the world’s global wilderness (defined as an area “mostly free of human disturbance”) has been lost in just two decades, particularly in the Amazon and central Africa.
  • The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report for 2016 found that a staggering half of all monitored animal species had seen a significant decline in population since 1970, with freshwater species most severely affected.
  • Each year, deforestation accounts for the loss of approximately 18.7 million acres around the world — equivalent to twenty-seven soccer fields every minute.
  • Agriculture alone occupies approximately 35% of Earth's surface. Estimates state that food production will have to rise by 70% by 2050 in order to feed our growing population.
  • In 2016, renewable power-generating capacity saw its largest-ever annual increase, with an estimated 161 gigawatts (GW) of capacity added. Solar power represented about 47% of newly installed renewable power capacity, with wind and hydropower accounting for 34% and 15.5% respectively.

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