On the Passing of a Great Mentor

Roger M. Spanswick, Professor of Plant Biology, chair of my Ph.D. and undergraduate advisor, died on February 12, 2014 at the age of 74. Roger Spanswick mentored me through some of the biggest transitions in my life, educationally and just in growing up. Though my current work is nearly impossible to connect directly to the work I did with Roger, […]

A tale of two planets: The Anthropocene revisited

Is the Anthropocene recent? Defined solely by the accelerating impacts of an industrial society that threatens the future of both humanity and the biosphere (Barnosky et al., 2012, Rockstrom et al., 2009)? A closer look at the history of human use of land yields a very different story. Today in PNAS, my colleagues and I present a new global history of […]

Global tipping points in the terrestrial biosphere?

Is our planet now threatened by rapid global changes caused by human forcing of the terrestrial biosphere past a planetary tipping point? Two different articles in Nature have suggested that the answer may be yes (Rockstrom et al. 2009, Barnosky et al., 2012). Such is the question that Barry Brook, myself and colleagues evaluated recently in a peer-reviewed journal article […]

All is not loss: Plant Biodiversity in the Anthropocene

What are we humans doing to biodiversity in the Anthropocene? Causing Earth’s sixth mass extinction? (e.g. Barnosky et al. 2011 and others). How about something completely new to biodiversity on this planet? How about a massive globalization of species leading to the widespread emergence of novel ecosystems enriched with exotic and domesticated species (Hobbs et al. 2009). That’s the main […]

Thinking Systems

As the fate of the Earth system becomes ever more intertwined with human systems, “thinking in systems” has become more essential than ever. I’ve read books on systems theory (e.g. Allen & Hoekstra 1993), but a refresher is always good, so when I came across Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows (Amazon recommends!), I thought- here’s a great […]

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 […]