Precursors and antecedents of the Anthropocene




Heyd, Thomas

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Social Sciences


There seem to be two sorts of debates about precursors and antecedents to the Anthropocene. One concerns the question whether the concept of the Anthropocene was captured by earlier terms, such as “noösphere” or “the Anthropozoic Era”. The other concerns whether the full-scale transformation of Earth systems was already, at least partially, triggered sometime prior to the 19th century Industrial Revolution. This paper takes a wider perspective, which may be seen as orthogonal to these debates, by enquiring whether there are other biological agents in Earth history who may have generated a new Epoch, and also by seeking to identify historical and prehistoric antecedents in human–nature relations that may foreshadow the Anthropocene. One conclusion is that humans are certainly not the first biotic agents becoming drivers of planetary system changes. Another conclusion, ironically, is that some cultural innovations that were adaptive under earlier conditions presently have become collectively mal-adaptive and contributory to the hazards of our new Epoch. Finally, it is suggested that while it may be unclear whether we can manage the socio-political challenges of our times, our adaptive versatility in principle ought to suffice to successfully manage the climate challenges of the Anthropocene.



precursors, anticipations, Anthropocene, adaptation


Heyd, T. (2022). “Precursors and antecedents of the Anthropocene.” Social Sciences, 11(7), 286.