Blog

How best to chill a hot planet?

Even if we manage to slash our carbon emissions, planet earth is going to get a whole lot warmer this century. But maybe we can just chill the planet! For more than a decade, Ken Caldeira and many others have been discussing geoengineering solutions to global warming by cooling the planet using technical means – especially by altering the albedo, […]

You CAN get there from here

A new global “accessibility” map further demonstrates that humans now have easy access to almost all of Earth’s land. Using global data for roads and other transportation systems, researchers at the European Commission and the World Bank developed a map of access time, in minutes to cities. This has yielded many interesting statistics- for example, more than 90% of Earth’s […]

The costs of carbon

What is the best way to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere? We all know that reducing global warming will require reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. But there are so many ways to do this- by reducing our energy use (driving a fuel efficient car, using less electricity, …), by pulling carbon from the air […]

Remember the matrix! (no habitat is an island)

Conservation of biodiversity requires the conservation of habitat, and for a long time, this has meant preserving the largest possible “pristine” habitats and excluding humans. Now that humans have fragmented most of earth’s landscapes into mosaics that combine croplands, settlements, and remaining wilder and recovering habitats, the task of conserving or restoring large, unbroken wildlands is daunting, and often impossible. […]

Campfires degrade local ecosystems

Humans have been using fire since prehistory- indeed, it is one of our defining characteristics -distinguishing us from all other species. There is little doubt that burning of forests to attract game and later, to clear land for agriculture have had long-term global impacts on climate and the biosphere. There is also much evidence of serious ecological consequences to the […]

Forest change in China

An interesting new historical study of forest cover change in China from 1700 to present reveals that up to the 1960s, deforestation prevailed, while since the 1960s, forests have been recovering. Read the paper by Fanneng He et al., in the (Chinese) Journal of Geographical Sciences, here (may require permission): http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11442-008-0059-8 Reference: He, F., Q. Ge, J. Dai, and Y. […]

Guns, Germs and Carbon: post-Colombian pandemics drive global cooling

Diseases introduced by Europeans after 1492 are now known to have caused massive population declines in the Americas, and the failure of ancient agricultural systems across huge regions, many of which depended on the regular burning of forests. Now, researchers, led by Richard Nevle and Dennis Bird have investigated the climate consequences of this massive decline in agriculture and the […]

China’s rural revolution

China’s explosive economic growth has awed the world, and is now felt in every corner of the Earth. As a result, earth systems are being changed at unprecedented rates, while bringing more people into a modern lifestyle than ever before. While we normally perceive these changes in terms of rapid urbanization and industrialization, China’s ancient rural landscapes are also being […]

Dynamics of village change in China’s Yangtze Delta (new publication)

 China’s Yangtze Delta (also known as the Tai Lake Region) is home to some of the world’s most ancient anthropogenic landscapes. Rice was likely domesticated here 8,500 years ago, and the region’s nickname “land of fish and rice” sums up it’s long history of highly productive agriculture. Indeed, the region has long been a poster child for sustainable traditional agriculture […]

Pushing back the Anthropocene at the AGU

The Early Anthropocene Hypothesis holds that human alteration of climate began with forest clearing and rice production more than 6 thousand years ago. Here are my personal impressions of recent work supporting this hypothesis, from last week’s annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco (a conference of 15,000- so big its like Woodstock for Earth scientists). […]