Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Anthropocene: be wary of social impact


As social scientists studying the work of the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy, we believe that the expertise of social scientists goes beyond developing a 'better' stratigraphic definition of the Anthropocene (E. Ellis et al. Nature 540, 192–193; 2016). Such knowledge should also be used to understand the likely consequences of any definition, particularly those given the weight of scientific credibility.

However it is defined, the Anthropocene could alter people's concepts of how humans interact with the natural world (see also N. Castree Nature 541, 289; 2017). Labels matter — a formal stratigraphic description might normalize human impacts on the planet and undermine efforts to minimize them, or lead people to ignore responsibilities for creating and managing the Anthropocene, which are unevenly spread around the world. Alternatively, it could inspire positive change and have a bigger impact on society than on stratigraphy. Social science can be used to develop concepts and a language for explaining the Anthropocene in both stratigraphic and political terms.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to George Holmes.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Holmes, G., Barber, J. & Lundershausen, J. Anthropocene: be wary of social impact. Nature 541, 464 (2017).

Download citation


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing