We must adapt to a new era in the Earth's history by adopting a novel model of economic growth and investing more in technological innovations for the poor, argue Paul J. Crutzen and Christian Schwägerl.
After 10,000 years of the Holocene, the arrival of the Anthropocene — the human era — is an undeniable reality that should be recognised formally, they say. Renaming our current geological epoch will stress humanity's responsibility as supervisors of the Earth, and highlight our immense intellectual power to shape our future.
This epoch describes humans' dominance of biological, chemical and geological processes on Earth. By cutting down rainforests, moving mountains to access coal and acidifying coral reefs, we are not just changing the climate but also the biology and geology of the planet "from climate to DNA", say the authors.
Investments in science and technology must increase significantly so we can replace fossil fuels and move towards a sustainable 'bio-economy' to prevent resource wars, they argue.
We need innovations tailored to the needs of the poor — climate-proof crops for small-scale farmers, for example — while global agriculture becomes organic and high-tech. And to maintain biodiversity, we need a 'green infrastructure' of large areas where organisms and genes can flow freely.
The strategic plans for global conservation and climate change mitigation agreed at the recent UN summits in Nagoya, Japan and Cancún, Mexico offered some hope, say the authors.
"After years of stalemate and the infamous Copenhagen collapse, there is now at least a glimmer of hope that humanity can act together. Between now and 2020, however, the commitments on paper must be turned into real action," they conclude.