The future of our planet depends on sweeping changes in human activities to prevent a mass extinction event, ANU Emeritus Professor Will Steffen will tell a Flinders public lecture this week.
Australian Climate Change Councillor Professor Steffen will give an overview of the rapidly evolving landscape planet Earth, posing the question: “Where on Earth are we, as a species, going?”
Professor Steffen is the only Australian on an international committee of experts involved with the collection and analysis of geological data to scientifically prove a case for the official declaration of a new era or epoch in the Earth’s 3.5 billion year history.
Called Anthropocene, the epoch will confirm the decisive influence humans are exerting on the state, dynamics and future of the Earth system. It is widely acknowledged that the Earth is currently in this period.
Professor Steffen says the declaration of the Anthropocene period in the geological time line is important because “it will prove it’s a real environmental phenomenon” and add weight to global initiatives to curb the physical and biosphere damage being caused by human activity which is changing the course of evolution.
Climate change is one of these signals, Professor Steffen says.
“With a business-as-usual attitude, and without sweeping changes to the way we live, future generations of humans – within two to three generations – will have to live very differently,” he says.
“More and more animals are becoming extinct and endangered due to loss of habitat and pollution and this cycle has been gradually speeding up in every decade since the Anthropocene period commenced in the mid-20th century.
“Climate change is an important part of this change, but so are other changes to life in the biosphere and geosphere.”
Palaentologists have so far described five mass extinction events where more than 75% of species on Earth disappeared.
Along with being a member of the 35-member international Anthropocene Working Group, Professor Steffen is a Senior Fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and works with the Canberra Urban and Regional Futures and ACT Climate Change Council.