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Over the past century, the total material wealth of humanity has been enhanced. However, in the twenty-first century, we face scarcity in critical resources, the degradation of ecosystem services, and the erosion of the planet’s capability to absorb our wastes. Equity issues remain stubbornly difficult to solve. This situation is novel in its speed, its global scale and its threat to the resilience of the Earth System. The advent of the Anthropence, the time interval in which human activities now rival global geophysical processes, suggests that we need to fundamentally alter our relationship with the planet we inhabit. Many approaches could be adopted, ranging from geo-engineering solutions that purposefully manipulate parts of the Earth System to becoming active stewards of our own life support system. The Anthropocene is a reminder that the Holocene, during which complex human societies have developed, has been a stable, accommodating environment and is the only state of the Earth System that we know for sure can support contemporary society. The need to achieve effective planetary stewardship is urgent. As we go further into the Anthropocene, we risk driving the Earth System onto a trajectory toward more hostile states from which we cannot easily return.
There is growing recognition that humans are faced with a critical and narrowing window of opportunity to halt or reverse some of the key indicators involved in the environmental crisis. Given human activities’ scale and impact, as well as the overly narrow perspectives of environmental research's dominant natural sciences, a major effort is necessary to place the perspectives and insights of the humanities’ and social sciences’ perspectives and insights at the forefront. Such effort will require developing integrated approaches, projects, and institutions that truly do so. This article's goal is to help mobilize the social sciences and the humanities on the topic of sustainability transitions, but also call for a meaningful research agenda to acknowledge the profound implications of the advent of the Anthropocene epoch. We formulate the need for an innovative research agenda based on a careful consideration of the changing human condition as linked to global environmental change. The humanities and social sciences will need to change and adapt to this pressing, historic task.