The Great Acceleration

The Great Acceleration

Thanks to the University of Minnesota for sponsoring this video!

We’re in the middle of a rapid, unprecedented, and world-changing increase in the intensity and scale of human activity on this planet.

Thanks also to our Patreon patrons and our YouTube members.


To learn more, start your googling with these keywords:

The Great Acceleration – the dramatic increase in human activity, largely since 1950, that is evident across a variety of socio-economic and biophysical measures, and that has made humans into a planetary scale force

The Anthropocene – our current geological epoch (contested), beginning when humans first had significant impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems

Hockey stick graph – typically refers to the Mann et al 1999 graph of Earth’s temperature, but can also refer to any trend that’s roughly constant for a long duration and then has a drastic upwards shift


If you liked this week’s video, you might also like:

Welcome to the Anthropocene film –

Animated map of last 200,000 years of human population –

The history of emissions and the Great Acceleration –

The Hockey Stick Controversy –

An argument for ‘why growth can’t be green’ –

Can we stabilize Earth, or are we going to cross planetary thresholds? –

An attainable global vision for conservation and human well-being –


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Credits (and Twitter handles):

Script Writer, Editor and Video Narrator: Alex Reich (@alexhreich)

Video Director and Illustrator: Henry Reich (@MinutePhysics)

With Contributions From: Kate Yoshida, Ever Salazar, Peter Reich, David Goldenberg, Julián Gómez, Sarah Berman, Arcadi Garcia

Music by: Nathaniel Schroeder:

Image Credits: Hockey stick graph: by Klaus Bittermann. Used with permission.

Copper graph based on:

Life expectancy graph:

CO2 graph:

Girl receiving oral polio vaccine: No changes were made.



Barnosky, A. D., et al. 2014. Introducing the scientific consensus on maintaining humanity’s life support systems in the 21st century: Information for policy makers. The Anthropocene Review, 1(1), 78-109.

IGPB. 2015. Great Acceleration. Accessed Aug 2019.

Hellmann, J. Aug 2019. Personal communication.

Mann, M. E., et al. 1999. Northern hemisphere temperatures during the past millennium: Inferences, uncertainties, and limitations. Geophysical Research Letters, 26(6), 759-762.

McNeill, J.R. Oct 2019. Personal communication.

McNeill, J. R. 2001. Something new under the sun: An environmental history of the twentieth-century world (the global century series). WW Norton & Company.

Roser, M. 2019. Life Expectancy. Our World In Data. Accessed Sept 2019.

Phillipon, D. Aug 2019. Personal communication.

Polasky, S. Sept 2019. Personal communication.

Steffen, W. et al. 2015. The trajectory of the Anthropocene: the great acceleration. The Anthropocene Review, 2(1), 81-98.

Thompson et al. 2009. Our plastic age. 364. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B.

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