The term “Anthropocene,” coined in the 1980s by the ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer and popularized at the turn of the twenty-first century by the atmospheric chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, has been used increasingly in the past decade to highlight human activity as a geological force and to underscore the rapidly escalating impacts of human behaviors on the planet—sufficient, many have argued, to launch a new geological age. While geologists and environmentalists continue to debate the validity of Anthropocene as a formal designation, climate change; mass extinctions of plant and animal species; and widespread pollution of sky, sea, and land make clear the extent to which humans have shaped global ecologies. An understanding of Asia—home to more than half the world's population, an increasingly significant contributor to global carbon dioxide emissions, the site of the Third Pole, and an area acutely vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels—is vital to an understanding of the physical, chemical, biological, and cultural processes that comprise the Anthropocene.

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