Queimadas em Novo Progresso, Pará - Foto: Fernando Souza - AGIF-AE/arquivo

Challenging the Anthropocene

Agronomist, PhD in Ecology from the University of Stirling (UK). She studies the ecology of the Amazon rainforest. Titular researcher and former director of the Goeldi Museum. Counselor of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC).

Ima Vieira

Translated by Silvia Benchimol, Ewerton Branco and Eliane Milena Noleto da Silva


About 20 years ago, Paul Crutzen, a scientist, in the field of atmospheric chemistry, and Nobel Prize winner, declared humanity had entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, a period dominated by humans. Observed changes in the climate system, global biodiversity, and even geological processes indicated that humans had radically altered the planet. The formal recognition of this new geological era has been important to mobilize a worldwide ecological action.

The critical influence of land use in the tropics on the functioning of terrestrial systems has been consistently highlighted. Scientists have already demonstrated, for example, the interlinked chains of possible impacts brought by deforestation of tropical forests to biodiversity, soils, precipitation, temperature, and the carbon cycle at continental and even planetary scales.

Given that the tropics are some of the most populated places on Earth today, the home to an astonishing cultural diversity, including more than three-quarters of all languages, and that by 2050, we will have a substantial population, these regions are critical for exploring the birth of the Anthropocene and the implications for the future of humanity.

Unquestionably, since the 1960s, the Amazon socio-ecological system has been going through a phase of continuous dynamism, characterized by the transition of different stages – from a set of relatively untouched ecosystems to a complex mosaic of different land uses. As in other tropical forest biomes, in the Amazon there are several elements of pressure and human impact. Large hydroelectric projects, mining practices and prospecting, logging, agricultural and agro-industrial production contribute to the continuous deforestation and environmental degradation in the Amazon region today, but it is also necessary to look at the different environmental challenges faced by cities, where most of the Amazonian population lives.

The Anthropocene debates are expected to highlight that many of the problems faced by humanity are result from our inability to fully restrain and control the environmental changes that we are facilitating or producing. In the case of the Amazon, this includes, for example: high rates of forest loss; intensification of fires; the unpredictable increase of floods related to climate changes; the accumulation of garbage created by the consumption of industrialized products and the proliferation of diseases in dense human settlements.

In addition to creating new ecological cycles that can increase the presence of insects, residues, droughts and floods and put pressure on human populations, human activities also motivate the population to develop creative techniques to cope with environmental problems and the lack of support from the State in solving such problems.

End up with deforestation associated with agricultural commodity chains to reduce emissions related to the change of land use, protect sociobiodiversity, contribute to water and food security, promote respect for peoples’ rights and territories, and plan sustainable and resilient cities, are challenges to face. For this, innovative political arrangements will be necessary in the search for solutions to complex environmental issues, in a new geological era, characterized by irreversible human interventions in the dynamics of the planet. 

Will we make it?