top of page

Plausible and desirable futures in the Anthropocene: A new research

Xuemei Baia, Sander van der Leeuwb, Karen O’Brienc, Frans Berkhoutd,
Frank Biermanne, Eduardo S. Brondiziof, Christophe Cudennech, John Dearingi, Anantha Duraiappahj, Marion Glaserk, Andrew Revkinl, Will Steffenm, James Syvitski


Foundational text

While the concept of the Anthropocene reflects the past and present nature, scale and magnitude of
human impacts on the Earth System, its true significance lies in how it can be used to guide attitudes,
choices, policies and actions that influence the future. Yet, to date much of the research on the
Anthropocene has focused on interpreting past and present changes, while saying little about the future.
Likewise, many futures studies have been insufficiently rooted in an understanding of past changes, in
particular the long-term co-evolution of bio-physical and human systems. The Anthropocene perspective
is one that encapsulates a world of intertwined drivers, complex dynamic structures, emergent
phenomena and unintended consequences, manifest across different scales and within interlinked
biophysical constraints and social conditions. In this paper we discuss the changing role of science and
the theoretical, methodological and analytical challenges in considering futures of the Anthropocene. We
presentthree broad groups of research questions on:(1) societal goals for the future;(2) major trends and
dynamics that might favor or hinder them; (3) and factors that might propel or impede transformations
towards desirable futures. Tackling these questions requires the development of novel approaches
integrating natural and social sciences as well as the humanities beyond what is current today. We
present three examples, one from each group of questions, illustrating how science might contribute to
the identification of desirable and plausible futures and pave the way for transformations towards them.
We argue that it is time for debates on the sustainability of the Anthropocene to focus on opportunities
for realizing desirable and plausible futures

bottom of page