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Perspectives on our planet in the Anthropocene

Jonathan Williams A B and Paul J. Crutzen A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, D-55128 Mainz, Germany.

B Corresponding author. Email: jonathan.williams@mpic.de




Prof. Jonathan Williams is an atmospheric chemist. He completed his B.Sc. and Ph.D. at the University of East Anglia, England, and after working as a postdoctoral researcher at the NOAA Aeronomy laboratory in Boulder, USA, he became a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Germany, with a focus on the investigation of the chemistry of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the atmosphere. He has participated in many international field campaigns on aircraft, ships and at ground stations. He is editor on several journals and recently co-authored the textbook The Atmospheric Chemist's Companion.



Born in 1933 in Amsterdam, Prof. Paul J. Crutzen was trained as a civil engineer and worked with the Bridge Construction Bureau of the City of Amsterdam. In 1959 he joined Stockholm University (MISU) to study meteorology and atmospheric chemistry. His research has been especially concerned with the natural and anthropogenically disturbed photochemistry of ozone in the stratosphere and troposphere. Thereby he identified the importance of nitrogen oxides emitted by fossil fuel and biomass burning, especially in the tropics, as important sources of air pollution with potential impacts on ozone and Earth climate. He served as Director of Research at the National Center of Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, 1977–80, and thereafter, until his retirement in 2000, at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz. Until April 2008 he did part-time research at the University of California, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In 1995 he received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on atmospheric ozone.

Environmental Chemistry 10(4) 269-280 https://doi.org/10.1071/EN13061
Submitted: 19 March 2013  Accepted: 27 May 2013   Published: 20 August 2013

Environmental context. The term Anthropocene has been proposed as a name for the present geological epoch in recognition of the recent rise of humans to being a geophysical force of planetary importance. This paper provides an overview of humanity’s global impact in terms of population, energy and food demands, climate, air and ocean pollution, biodiversity and erosion, before giving a perspective on our collective future in the Anthropocene.

Abstract. Within the last 70 years (an average person's lifetime), the human population has more than tripled. Our energy, food and space demands as well as the associated waste products have affected the Earth to such an extent that humanity may be considered a geophysical force in its own right. As a result it has been proposed to name the current epoch the ‘Anthropocene’. Here we draw on a broad range of references to provide an overview of these changes in terms of population, energy and food demands, climate, air and ocean pollution, biodiversity and erosion. The challenges for the future in the Anthropocene are highlighted. We hope that in the future, the ‘Anthropocene’ will not only be characterised by continued human plundering of the Earth’s resources and dumping of excessive amounts of waste products in the environment, but also by vastly improved technology and management, wise use of the Earth’s resources, control of the human and domestic animal population, and overall careful manipulation and restoration of the natural environment.

This paper is the first in a series of annual invited papers commemorating Professor Sherwood (Sherry) Rowland, Nobel laureate and founding Board Member of Environmental Chemistry.


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