Welcome to the Anthropocene

The Earth has sustained life for three billion years. Human beings have existed for just 200,000 years, yet our impact on the planet is so great that scientists around the world are calling for our period in the Earth’s history to be named the ‘Anthropocene‘ – the age of humans. The changes we are now making have exacted a heavy toll on the natural world around us, and now threaten the planet’s ability to provide for us all.

The ‘Sixth Mass Extinction’

  • Species are becoming extinct 100 times faster than they would without human impacts.
  • Populations of wild animals have more than halved since 1970, while the human population has doubled.
  • Only five times before in our planet’s history have so many species and so much biodiversity been lost so quickly. The fifth was when the dinosaurs were wiped out. That is why scientists and conservationists call what is happening now the ‘sixth mass extinction’. Some have even described the loss of biodiversity today as ‘biological annihilation’.

Anthropocene air, water and weather

  • Because of industry, agriculture and fossil fuel use, carbon dioxide in the air is at its highest level for millions of years. At the same time, disruption of other chemical cycles is turning seas and rivers into dead zones.
  • Climate change is already affecting the world around us. Global warming is causing glaciers to melt, sea levels to rise, species to go extinct and severe weather events such as floods, droughts and hurricanes to increase

Two hundred years ago, there were less than a billion people on Earth. Today, there are 7.6bn and our population is still growing. According to the United Nations, unless we take action there is likely to be 30% more of us by 2050 and 11 billion people by 2100.

Every one of us places demands upon our planet—the very demands that have caused the changes that threaten us and the natural world we depend on.

Turning things around

We can and must ease the pressure on our world. As individuals and communities, we can take action such as buying less, reusing and recycling more, moving towards a plant-based diet and ensuring what we do use and consume is as sustainable as possible.

Above all, we can choose to have smaller families.

As long as our numbers are growing, the value of every other action we take risks being cancelled out by the demands and needs of new people joining the population.

Saving the World

Unsustainable global population growth is not inevitable. United Nations projections show that if we start taking action now, we can end it and actually start bringing our numbers down to a sustainable level within the next few decades. What we need to do is not difficult.

 

  • Empower women worldwide with the freedom to choose
    their family size— through education, social change and
    economic development.
  • Give people the help they need to lift themselves out of
    poverty.
  • Ensure everyone can access and use modern family planning.
  • Challenge beliefs and social norms which encourage large
    families and oppose contraception.
  • Encourage people to have smaller families wherever they have
    the choice to.

Join the Campaign

Action will not be taken unless people understand the need for it. Population Matters is calling on organisations which educate the public about the natural world to step up to the challenge of informing people about the current crisis and what we can do to end it. 

Museums, zoos, conservation groups, educational institutions and other organisations cannot shy away from telling the truth about the impact our behaviour and numbers are having.   

Contact the educators

Contact museums and other organisations in your area to ask them to provide more information about human impacts and population. You can send a link to our briefing with your email, or order a hard copy free from our shop to send with a letter.

Please follow the campaign on Facebook and Twitter and share our posts and graphics. (You can find many other graphics on our infographics page).

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Download the factsheet

Learn more in our fully-referenced “Welcome to the Anthropocene” briefing.