We’ve been changing the world around us for millennia. But the scale and speed of change in the last 60 years have been incredible, leading scientists to call events since the 1950s the ‘Great Acceleration’.
Since the end of the Second World War, the human population tripled, and the global economy exploded driven by new technology, a new global system of cooperation and huge investments.
Our increasing demand for natural resources and polluting habits are ratcheting up the pressure on ecosystems all over the world. Three quarters of all the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide that humans have ever caused came over the same period.
The acceleration shows no signs of letting up. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, the world’s population was 1 billion; it’s now seven times that, and by 2050 it’s predicted to pass 9 billion.
We’re already catching more fish, cutting down more forests, emitting more nitrogen pollution, bringing more land under cultivation and driving more species into extinction than ever before. All these activities – and many more – are wearing down the Earth’s resilience. We don’t know how much more it can take before we start seeing abrupt, unpredictable shifts that could threaten the planet’s ability to support a global interconnected society.
The magnitude of disturbance that a system can tolerate before it shifts into a different state. The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity and feedbacks.