Our future in the Anthropocene biosphere

Carl Folke, Stephen Polasky, Johan Rockström, Victor Galaz, Frances Westley, Michèle Lamont, Marten Scheffer, Henrik Österblom, Stephen R. Carpenter, F. Stuart Chapin, Karen C. Seto, Elke U. Weber, Beatrice I. Crona, Gretchen C. Daily, Partha Dasgupta, Owen Gaffney, Line J. Gordon, Holger Hoff, Simon A. Levin, Jane LubchencoWill Steffen, Brian H. Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

211 Scopus citations


The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed an interconnected and tightly coupled globalized world in rapid change. This article sets the scientific stage for understanding and responding to such change for global sustainability and resilient societies. We provide a systemic overview of the current situation where people and nature are dynamically intertwined and embedded in the biosphere, placing shocks and extreme events as part of this dynamic; humanity has become the major force in shaping the future of the Earth system as a whole; and the scale and pace of the human dimension have caused climate change, rapid loss of biodiversity, growing inequalities, and loss of resilience to deal with uncertainty and surprise. Taken together, human actions are challenging the biosphere foundation for a prosperous development of civilizations. The Anthropocene reality—of rising system-wide turbulence—calls for transformative change towards sustainable futures. Emerging technologies, social innovations, broader shifts in cultural repertoires, as well as a diverse portfolio of active stewardship of human actions in support of a resilient biosphere are highlighted as essential parts of such transformations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)834-869
Number of pages36
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
These literatures have illustrated the importance of connectivity and cross-level interactions for understanding the role of technological and social innovation and transformative systemic change. The work emphasizes the importance of fostering diverse forms of novelty and innovations at the micro-level, supported by the creation of “transformative spaces”, shielded from the forces of dominant system structures. These allow for experimentation with new mental models, ideas, and practices that could help shift societies onto more desirable pathways (Loorbach et al. ; Pereira et al. , ). The examples of the “Seeds of a Good Anthropocene” project reflect ongoing local experiments that, under the right conditions, could accelerate the adoption of pathways to transformative change (Bennett et al. ). As multiple demands and stressors degrade the ocean, transformative change in ocean governance seems required, shifting current economic and social systems towards ocean stewardship, e.g. through incorporation of niche innovations within and across economic sectors and stakeholder communities (Brodie Rudolph et al. ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Anthropocene
  • Biodiversity
  • Biosphere stewardship
  • Climate
  • Resilience
  • Social-ecological

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Review


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