Anthropocene Extinction Period


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


The Anthropocene is a geological designation of a period in world history that identifies an era of increased species extinction. Scientific researchers addressing this issues have linked the Anthropocene period to the beginning of the industrial revolution, about 250 years ago (some suggest different year from 1712 through 1760; see also, Anthropocene website). Thus, the term Anthropocene is used to describe the adverse impact of human development on species stability and the rapid rise in species extinctions witnessed since the industrial revolution (though some claim these effects expand past he industrial revolution and arise with the beginning of human agriculture around 8,000 BC). The Anthropocene is, in this view, the 6th period of extinction in world history.

The first reference to the Anthropocene was made by Eugene Stoermer in the 1980s. The idea was given greater support in the work of Nobel-prize winning scientists, Paul Crutzen. The term refers to the identification of a 6th wave of extinction that began, for some researchers, with the Industrial Revolution and thus is specific defined (using the “Anthro” designation) as a period where humans adversely impact species extinction rates. He elevated rate of extinction during the Anthropocene are linked to the acceleration of climate change, deforestation, and the expansion of the human ecological footprint (see variously: Parmesan and Yohe 2003; Thomas et al. 2003; Thuiller et al. 2005; Vackar 2012; see generally, Barnosky et al. 2011; Lomolio et al. 2001; Steffen, Crutzen and McNeil 2007; Steffan et al. 2011; Zalasiewcz et al. 2010).

Scientists estimate that the extinction rate during the Anthropocene is approximately 10,000 times the background rate – that is, 10,000 times higher than would normally be expected. For example of graphs depicting the historical trend in species extinctions see: species extinction graphs.

What are the implications of this scientific literature on the Anthropocene for green criminologists? Simply put, the link these scientific studies make between the industrial revolution and species extinction draw attention to, first, how humans influence species extinction, and second and more specifically, the role human production and consumption practices play in producing adverse ecological consequences that drive species extinction. Given the latter connection, green criminologists should pay greater attention to the macro-level dynamics of species extinction and call attention to that process rather than to case studies of the extinction threats to individual species.

Further Reading


Barnosky, AD. Matzke, N, Tomiya, S, Wogan, GOU, Swartz, B, Quental, TB, Marshall, C, McGuire, JL, Lindsey, EL, Maguire, KC, Mersey, B & Ferrer, EA 2011, ‘Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?’, Nature, vol. 471, no. 7336, pp. 51-57.

Lomolino, MV, Channell, R, Perault, DR & Smith, GA 2001, ‘Downsizing nature: anthropogenic dwarfing of species and ecosystems’ in Biotic homogenization eds J. Lockwood & M. McKinney’s, Springer, New York, pp. 223-243

Parmesan, C & Yohe, G 2003, ‘A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems’, Nature, vol. 421, no. 6918, pp. 37-42.

Shandra, JM, Leckband, C, McKinney, LA & London, B 2008, ‘Ecologically unequal exchange, world polity, and biodiversity loss: a cross-national analysis of threatened mammals’, International Journal of Comparative Sociology, vol. 50, no. 3-4, pp. 285-310.

Steffen, W, Crutzen, PJ & McNeill, JR 2007, ‘The Anthropocene: are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature’, Ambio: A Journal of the Human Environment, vol. 36 no. 8, pp. 614-621.

Steffen, W, Grinevald, J, Crutzen, P & McNeill, J 2011, ‘The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, vol. 369, pp. 842-867.

Thomas, CD, Cameron, A, Green, RE, Bakkenes, M, Beaumont, LJ, Collingham, YC, Erasmus, BFN, de Siqueira, MF, Grainger, A, Hannah, L, Hughes, L, Huntley, B, van Jaarsveld, AS, Midgley, GF, Miles, L, Ortega-Huerta, MA, Peterson, AT, Phillips, OL & Williams, SE 2003, ‘Extinction risk from climate change’, Nature, vol. 427, no. 6970, pp. 145-148.

Thuiller, Wilfried, Sandra Lavorel, Miguel B. Araújo, Martin T. Sykes, and I. Colin Prentice. 2005, ‘Climate change threats to plant diversity in Europe’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 102, no. 23, pp. 8245-8250.

Vačkář, D 2012, ‘Ecological footprint, environmental performance and biodiversity: a cross-national comparison’, Ecological Indicators, vol. 16, pp. 40-46.

Zalasiewicz, J, Williams, M, Steffen, W & Crutzen, P 2010, ‘The new world of the Anthropocene’, Environmental Science & Technology, vol. 44 no. 7, pp. 2228-2231.

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