Building a Toolbox for Global Thinking

Acting locally: no problem. Thinking globally: big problem! To solve global problems, we need global understanding of local change. Yet no matter how hard we try, it remains extremely difficult to think globally. Even in a world where Earth’s entire surface is scanned daily by satellites and made available online. Even as all of human knowledge and most of humanity […]

Naturalism in the Anthropocene

What happens when a talented science writer brings together a diverse group of ecologists and conservationists chasing a new vision of nature? If that writer is Emma Marris, the answer is: Rambunctious Garden– a new book to be released this September 1. Using her great gift for storytelling, Marris tours the reader through the contemporary ecological labyrinth that constitutes “saving […]

Rocking the Anthropocene

If media attention is any measure of popular thinking- then we have indeed finally arrived in the Anthropocene. Thanks to the leadership (and hard work) of Jan Zalasiewicz, who initiated and convened the Anthropocene Working Group of the International in London two weeks ago, there has been a true media feeding frenzy on the Anthropocene (see recent media roundup below). […]

Anthropocene is forever

“Global warming is essentially forever.” states David Archer in a nice blog post at fast company about the long-term effects of our current carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Yet more evidence that the Anthropocene is here to stay. Reminds me of one of my first blog posts – Is managing global climate now our duty? Just as we’ve made the […]

Saved! by Ester Boserup

Human populations grow until they overshoot their carrying capacity and collapse. Game over. Thank you Malthus! (1798; and Ehrlich 1968). Not so fast! There’s something wrong with this story: it almost never happens. Human populations do collapse – but not because of population growth itself; collapses are most commonly related to disease, climate change or societal failures (eg. Zhang et […]

Brave new biosphere

What kind of biosphere do you want? Great question! And great to see it connected with beautiful prize-winning graphics at visualizing.org. But on thinking further, it seems clearer than ever that the inspiration behind this- the Planetary Boundaries concept, is going completely in the wrong direction. I had my reservations about the original planetary boundaries work- now these graphics concern […]

Think like a farmer

by Nick Magliocca “Farming is hard work, so why do more of it?” That is what many early farmers were probably thinking when deciding between fuller bellies or keeping their long off-seasons of leisure time– at least from the perspective of Ester Boserup. Since its 1965 release, Ester Boserup’s seminal study The Conditions of Agricultural Growth has changed the way […]

Botkin’s biosphere: ahead of its time

“We cannot expect nature to remain in a constant condition and thus provide us with a simple solution to the questions of what is “natural” and what is desirable.” (Botkin 1990, p 181) . Just one of many great thoughts in Daniel Botkin‘s 1990 classic: Discordant Harmonies: a New Ecology for the Twenty-first Century. I’d seen Botkin’s Environmental Science textbook, […]

The Biosphere we created: 1700 to 2000

“So how did the biosphere become anthropogenic anyway?” asked an astute audience member at my 2007 AGU presentation (powerpoint). I had just given a presentation on my work with Navin Ramankutty demonstrating that human populations and their use of land have reshaped most of the terrestrial biosphere into anthropogenic biomes, or anthromes (Ellis and Ramankutty 2008). Great question! I had […]

An early history of rice

When did rice change the planet? Rice is the most important food crop on earth, feeding more than half of all humans. Most is produced in Asia in the flooded paddy systems that form the core of the most intensively-managed of all ancient agricultural anthromes, the rice villages, where its high productivity in response to sophisticated irrigation schemes and traditional […]

On observing human nature

Ecologists are studying the least human parts of the most human ecosystems and the most human parts of the wildest ecosystems while favoring the Temperate zone over the Tropics (Nature News Article by Zoë Corbyn: “Ecologists shun the urban jungle”). That’s what we’ve learned since Laura Martin, a graduate student at Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources, came to me with […]