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Episodes 2021; 44(2): 107-114

Published online June 1, 2021


Copyright © International Union of Geological Sciences.

The Great Deceleration and proposed alternative interpretation of the Anthropocene

Ron W. Nielsen*

Retired nuclear scientist from Department of Nuclear Physics, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, 2601, Australia

Correspondence to:*E-mail: ronwnielsen@gmail.com

Received: March 24, 2020; Revised: July 19, 2020; Accepted: July 19, 2020

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Is the Anthropocene a new geological epoch and can its beginning be determined? The so-called Great Acceleration data, used repeatedly in support of the concept of the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch, are closely examined. They are supposed to be characterised by a clear intensification of growth (sharp increase, acceleration) in the mid-20th century. They revealed the opposite effect: they are characterised by decelerations either at precisely the same time when accelerations were expected or over the entire range of data, the phenomenon described here as the Great Deceleration. Implications of this study are two-folds: (1) contrary to expectations, these data cannot be used to determine the beginning of the Anthropocene and (2) the common deceleration questions whether humans alone can cause a transition to a new geological epoch. Investigation of the growth of the genus Homo in the past 2,000,000 years suggests that what is now called the Anthropocene could be just a natural continuation of the gradual evolution of human activities and impacts over a long time, without a sudden intensification and without a convincing evidence for a transition to a new geological epoch.

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