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The Great Acceleration

Miriam Huitric explains what is meant by the Great Acceleration.
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So we know we’re putting out too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Let’s stop and take a look at what that means over time, but focusing now- -on the time from the end of the industrial revolution at the end of 18th century, to today.
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We need to start with this industrial revolution- -because that’s when important technological advancements took place- -that set a path for our current trajectory. The industrial revolution saw the movement of labour- -from being human labour to machine labour. This means we could increase the amount of production we did. These technologies also meant we could transport materials- -as raw materials to factories to be produced. But also to take the products to markets, wherever they were needed- -or where we wanted to create them. So, these were important steps. They’re changing how quickly we can produce things- -and how far we can distribute them. The next big step in technological advances took place after World War II.
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What happened then was we again had technology that could be adapted for commercial use. For example, artificial production of fertilizers. We had vehicle advancements. A big change was access to cheap, accessible use of fossil fuels- -in the form of coal and oil, and later, gas. This actually hugely expanded the capacities and scope- -that had been established after the industrial revolution. And what we see is this curve taking place. In fact, if we look at other curves, we can look at other greenhouse gas productions. Like methane and nitrous oxide. We can also look at the loss of tropical forests- -or the number of marine fisheries that are being fished at their maximum level. They all follow this curve.
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The amount of freshwater use. So we are seeing many indicators from our biophysical realm, from Earth- -that are showing that we are having an impact, or things are changing. If we look at the human indicators, they follow the same curve. Global population. GNP. International tourism. The number of large dams we have built. They follow the same curve. This is called the Great Acceleration. It is demonstrating that we are having increased activities. And those activities are having an impact on the planet’s processes at the planets scale.
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So, that means we have not been aware of the impacts of our actions. And now we are in a situation where we need to… …bend these curves. It’s going to require awareness, understanding and action.

Miriam Huitric, a researcher in sustainability science, introduces the Great Acceleration that makes the relation between our actions and impacts on Earth processes visible. What enabled the Great Acceleration and was it planned by design?

This video was filmed in a recording studio in Stockholm, Sweden.

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