The notion of the Anthropocene underscores that humans have become natural forces themselves; we are responsible for climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the disruption of biogeochemical-cycles and the depletion of natural resources. In other words, the impact of human activity is planetary in scale and significant to the timescale of the planet’s history.
Currently, we are using the wrong tools to address our planetary impact, because traditional sciences offer an anthropocentric approach. They speak in terms of Earth, globe, and world, when the category should be planet. Earth references the ‘critical zone’: The thin surface of the planet that is critical to the maintenance of (human) life. The globe refers to ‘globalization’, or the mobility and ‘integration’ of humanity through technology. The world is the imagined reality of humans, constructed and experienced through human-made artifacts.
The planet is non-anthropocentric, because it out-scales the human species, considered as one species amongst many others. To think in planetary terms is to understand the Earth’s functioning as a web of symbiotic material and energetic relationships, not necessarily subject to human direction. In this respect, Earth System Science (ESS) provides a relevant approach, as it understands Earth as a system of systems. ESS explores phenomena holistically, as a network of interdependent systems immersed in a planetary-level complex system.