Word! Anthropocene on the rise

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Anthropocene has made the leap out of the Ivory Tower and continues to rapidly gain popularity both in the public and academia. The term 'Anthropocene' is credited to Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer who proposed that it was necessary to distinguish a new geological epoch of human domination of the planet (PDF).1)Crutzen, P. J., and E. F. Stoermer (2000). "The 'Anthropocene'". Global Change Newsletter 41: 17–18 In 2008 a formal proposal was put forward to officially utilize the Antropocene but it is currently under study by a committee. Yet not everyone thinks we should be renaming a new geological epoch after ourselves. While others are in a fierce debate about when this epoch really began. Want to know more about the Anthropocene? This site has some great resources.2)If you have not guessed by now, I have no intention of wading into this debate at the moment, mostly because I don't have much of an opinion. I have never used the term much but could see how it could be semantically useful. Is it capable of galvanizing the public to Achieving Sustainability? Doubtful.

Last year, Michael Schoon commented on his blog that the Anthropocene was one of those words which is common in academia but unknown to the general public. He was definitely on to something. I dove into my usual Google-based data sets3)Specifically Google N-gram (word frequency in published books), Google Trends (proportion of search queries with the term) and Google Scholar (database of academic articles). to see how the popularity of the word Anthropocene has evolved over its 15 year life. The results were quite interesting.4)I know that not labeling a graph axis is bad, bad! But the different data sets were normalized so we could visualize the trends together. Besides which the absolute values are somewhat meaningless (e.g. In books published in 2005 Anthropocene made up 1.88 x 10^-9% of the words).

Antrhopocene2008

We can immediately see that through 2008, Anthropocene gradually gained popularity in books and academic papers (Ngram and Scholar) but it had as of yet made no impression on the public. There were effectively 0 Google searches on the topic (Trends in green). Unfortunately at this point we lose the Ngram dataset and are forced to rely on the one I created based on the number of Google Scholar results.5)I simply searched for Anthropocene with it restricted to one year at a time and recorded the results.

Anthropocene2014

Academic use of Anthropocene continued to grow. In fact it accelerated more rapidly than can be seen here. On Google Scholar there were more results for the year 2014 than for all the first ten years (2000-2009) combined! What is really interesting is that Anthropocene makes a dramatic appearance on Google Trends in 2011 and its use since then has grown rapidly. How did Anthropocene make the jump from academic jargon to public popularity (or at least public existence)? Did the weight of academic interest in the topic breakthrough to popular writers? The proposal to formalize the term gained some press in 2008 but it did not have immediately staying power--did it stick in the minds of science writers?

Are there other Sustainability words or concepts that you'd like to dive into next, drop me a comment with ideas.

Aaron Redman is the founder of Achieving Sustainability and what passes for an administrator in these parts. Currently he is working on his Sustainability PhD at ASU while raising a baby daughter and taking advantage of nap time to foment discussions on this here blog.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Crutzen, P. J., and E. F. Stoermer (2000). "The 'Anthropocene'". Global Change Newsletter 41: 17–18
2. If you have not guessed by now, I have no intention of wading into this debate at the moment, mostly because I don't have much of an opinion. I have never used the term much but could see how it could be semantically useful. Is it capable of galvanizing the public to Achieving Sustainability? Doubtful.
3. Specifically Google N-gram (word frequency in published books), Google Trends (proportion of search queries with the term) and Google Scholar (database of academic articles).
4. I know that not labeling a graph axis is bad, bad! But the different data sets were normalized so we could visualize the trends together. Besides which the absolute values are somewhat meaningless (e.g. In books published in 2005 Anthropocene made up 1.88 x 10^-9% of the words).
5. I simply searched for Anthropocene with it restricted to one year at a time and recorded the results.
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