The Age of Humans The Age of Humans

Your Guide to All Things Anthropocene

Documenting an era of manmade change

In 300 years of fundamentally altering the Earth and its climate, what have we learned? (uschools / iStock)

For over a year, we at have been telling crucial stories on the front lines of global change. We've showcased the good, the bad and the uglysolutions, casualties, and key scientific and technological advancements in an effort to illustrate the scope and consequences of this critical time in our planet's history. Today we know that much of these changes owe to humans, whose activities have transformed—and continue to transform—the fundamental nature of Earth's climate, natural resources, and biological diversity on an unprecedented scale.

This profound influence has led many scientists to assert that we have entered a new chapter in Earth’s geologic history: the Anthropocene, which translates roughly into “the age of humans.” Popularized by Nobel Laureate and noted atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen in the early 2000s, the concept has since become a mainstay of the scientific and popular lexicon. But just how profound has humanity's contribution been? For how long has this been happening, and what steps can we take to address it?

In the past century and a half, some of the brightest philosophical and scientific minds have applied themselves to answering these questions. We reached out to key researchers and experts across the Smithsonian Institution to give their take on a few of the seminal research papers that have shaped our understanding of this new chapter in Earth's history. Here, we present them as a brief annotated guide. Taken together, they show the arc of how we came to understand the extent and nature of the Anthropocene—and how much we have still left to learn. 

Topic areas:

Air | Water | Earth | Biodiversity






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