The Anthropocene: age of human driven climate

Schellnhuber: “The emissions so far already suffice to suppress the next ice ages.”

Earlier this week I was in Potsdam to interview Professor John Schellnhuber, the founding Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). The interview coincided with the release of a new iconic paper in the scientific journal, Nature, titled, ‘Critical insolation - CO2 relation for diagnosing past and future glacial inception’ that finalises the assertion that we are in a new geological epoch called the “Athropocene”.


Man made climate

Schellnhuber says with restrained poignancy: “Humankind is a stronger force on Earth now than, you know, the orbital forces and all things like that. It is fascinating but also very scary!”

By looking at ice core data covering the last 800,000 years, the research shows how scientists can determine the function that causes periods of “glacial inceptions”, or more commonly known as ice ages.

Although there has been much speculation around the longer lasting role of increased levels of greenhouse gases, this paper confirms that “the timing of glacial inceptions can be explained  by the CO2 concentration and the -CO2 relation.” This is essentially warming or cooling of the planet based on the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The importance of the evidence that humans are now driving, climate led Schellnhuber to state: “I think it is a fascinating paper; one of the best I was involved with.”

Did we call off an ice-age 200 years ago?

The paper says: “Ice core data shows that at every previous glaciation period, CO2 in the atmosphere was lower, usually around 240 parts per million (ppm).” 

Before the industrial revolution atmospheric carbon was at around 280ppm, thus 40ppm above the level needed to trigger an ice age. There is a lot of speculation and uncertainty as to whether changes in land use by humans prior to the industrial revolution caused the increase from 240ppm to 280ppm. If this were to be the case then it would show that human action literally called off an ice age.

Predicting future ice ages

Schellnhuber makes it very clear: “Actually the next two natural ice ages would happen in eighty and ninety thousand years, but they are called off… by human interference. The emissions so far already suffice to suppress the next ice ages.”

It is precisely this human interference from burning fossil fuels that caused the initial speculation that we might be altering the Earth’s climate, leading Nobel Prize winning scientist, Paul Crutzen, to label it the “anthropocene”


Worsening impacts of climate change are taking effect around the world. Having evidence that the next ice ages will be delayed adds a layer of concern regarding the geophysical changes that occurring on Earth due to human activity.

We maybe the drivers of global climate but we appear to be asleep at the wheel, as the evidence for anthropogenic global warming has been around for decade. Only now are politicians, the public and big business starting to take the risks posed more seriously.

On the positive side we can sigh with relief that we have called off the next two ice ages that would represent a very difficult challenge for human civilisation. However, temper that relief with the growing likelihood that if we don’t wake up to climate change, it is unlikely that humanity will exist on Earth in anything like fifty thousand years!


More posts by Nick Breeze

The jet stream is responsible for what kind of weather we experience and it’s behaviour is changing. Dr Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University's Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, explains how a combination of factors are going to drastically impact agricultural systems in Europe and Eurasia.

It is easy to look at the fires in southern Europe and think that “global warming” is a regional problem often on someone else doorstep. This misconception could not be further from the truth because the “global” bit refers only to global mean temperature. As scientists start to look at what is happening around the world, it becomes very clear that the interconnected global system is changing for all.


Dr. Saleemul Huq Director International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh. In this short interview Dr Huq talks about his work and explains how those most vulnerable to the effects of manmade climate change are seeking recompense from the worlds greatest polluters.   


In 2014 Marks & Spencer became the only retailer in the world with carbon neutral operations. This huge undertaking across over 1400 stores has been rewarded with international recognition by the UNFCC winning Momentumn For Change award for carbon neutrality. 


UK based Carbon Tracker Initiative has played a key role showing big businesses, including fossil fuel companies, a route out of the business as usual high CO2 emitting path that is driving humanity towards catastrophe. Anthony Hobley has been at COP23 telling delegates “we are in a technology driven low carbon energy transition” and changing course “just makes financial sense”. NICK BREEZE catches up with him.

Nick Breeze: We are 2yrs on from Paris. Are we making any progress at the COP?


Earlier this week Environment Minister Michael Gove stated that he was convinced “climate change is a danger”, stating that it “is one of the biggest threats and challenges to biodiversity in the UK”.

By localising the issue to the UK, Gove seeks to belittle the global risk posed by climate change. This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief science adviser and founding director of the Potsdam Institute, Professor Schellnhuber was in London speaking at the Royal Society. When I asked him to respond to the Environment Minister’s comments he replied:  

In part 1 of this wide ranging interview, Anton Golub discusses why the world needs Lykke, the truth about financial regulators and why only 1% Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s) they assess make it onto the exchange.

Anton Golub: The core vision of Lykke is the vision of Richard Olsen, the founder of Lykke. I am a cofounder. I met him seven years ago when I joined him for an internship.

I sat down to eat my croissant and he sat down next to me and said: “Anton, we have to completely  change the financial system. It totally doesn’t work. Everything is broken inside.”