Scientists studying the changes in Earth's ecosystems have recently taken to the term "Anthropocene", which describes the geological epoch in which mankind developed the ability to radically change Earth's environment through technology. Starting from the time that humans began farming on a large scale and escalating with the massive environmental effects of the industrial revolution, the Anthropocene accounts for changes in earth, oceans, and atmosphere that have affected the many biospheres beyond just the ones we live in. A new educational project aims to document these changes with satellite imagery and computer-generated visualizations, and recently released this animation of how the Earth has changed in just the past 250 years.
Our rapid industrialization and growth are obviously not without consequences, but tracking and identifying environmental "tipping points" of no return is not an easy task, as evidenced by the ongoing debate over climate change. And that's just one of the environmental thresholds we have to worry about:
Scientists are still trying to understand exactly where these tipping points lie, and what risks they pose. But even given the remarkable resilience of the Earth system, it’s increasingly clear that we’re heading into dangerous territory. Human society needs a stable environment; if things change too much or too fast, many societies may be unable to cope.
But we’re causing rapid changes in many areas. This has led a team of scientists to suggest nine critical boundaries we need to stay within to avoid unacceptable environmental degradation with serious consequences for societies. They suggest we’re close to or beyond at least four of them – ozone depletion, climate change, biodiversity loss and nutrient pollution. We’re also worryingly close to several other suspected tipping points.