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Anthropocene risk


The potential consequences of cross-scale systemic environmental risks with global effects are increasing. We argue that current descriptions of globally connected systemic risk poorly capture the role of human–environment interactions. This creates a bias towards solutions that ignore the new realities of the Anthropocene. We develop an integrated concept of what we denote Anthropocene risk—that is, risks that: emerge from human-driven processes; interact with global social–ecological connectivity; and exhibit complex, cross-scale relationships. To illustrate this, we use four cases: moisture recycling teleconnections, aquaculture and stranded assets, biome migration in the Sahel, and sea-level rise and megacities. We discuss the implications of Anthropocene risk across several research frontiers, particularly in the context of supranational power, environmental and social externalities and possible future Anthropocene risk governance. We conclude that decision makers must navigate this new epoch with new tools, and that Anthropocene risk contributes conceptual guidance towards a more sustainable and just future.

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Fig. 1: Conceptual diagram of how Anthropocene risk interacts with more traditional notions of risk.
Fig. 2: Harvesting and imports of palm oil for the period 1961 to 2011.
Fig. 3: System diagrams.


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The authors would like to thank K. Pintauro and A. Sundin for their support in the development of the figures in this manuscript. P.W.K. was partly funded by the GRAID programme, V.G. was partly funded by the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics programme ‘Governance, Complexity, and Technology’ and S.E.C. was partly funded by European Research Council Advanced Grant 2016, Earth Resilience in the Anthropocene Project 743080.

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The design and development of the manuscript were co-led by authors P.W.K., V.G., M.D., N.M., C.F., M.N. and S.E.C. The writing and revision process was led primarily by P.W.K.

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Correspondence to Patrick W. Keys.

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Keys, P.W., Galaz, V., Dyer, M. et al. Anthropocene risk. Nat Sustain 2, 667–673 (2019).

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