12,000 years of Anthrome Culture

Ever since Navin Ramankutty and I introduced anthromes in our 2008 paper, “Putting people in the map”, I’ve been working to shift global thinking on people and nature. Today, our PNAS paper “People have shaped most of terrestrial nature for at least 12,000 years” presents evidence supporting a new paradigm for global ecology and conservation. Our work confirms, through a […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

The war with nature is over and we’ve won!

What happens when humans finally win the war with nature and end up in charge of ecology? A question for the future? Think again. In “Peak Wood: Nature Does Impose Limits”, John Perlin describes what happens when human societies, starting in prehistory, have completely transformed their ecosystems and ultimately themselves, by clearing away forests to improve hunting and gathering, for […]

The remotest place on Earth

People are everywhere these days, but if you really want to “get away from it all”, the remotest place on Earth, aside from Antarctica, turns out to be Tibet. This from a New Scientist article (and related blog post) that explores travel times in the global accessibility map we discussed in a blog post last year. The “remotest point on […]

China’s villages are changing the world

If you still think of rural China as remote, traditional, and unchanged for millennia, think again. China’s ancient village landscapes are among the most dynamic and densely populated on Earth, with a global extent more than twice that all of Earth’s cities combined (2.5 million km2 vs. ~1 million km2). It should therefore come as no surprise that long-term changes […]

Carbonware: Googling forests, Windows on your carbon

With carbon, climate and COP 15 in the news, Google and Microsoft are now battling over carbon mindshare, introducing the latest web-based “Carbonware” designed to help combat carbon emissions and global warming. These add to a growing list that includes the many “carbon footprint calculators” designed to enlighten us on our carbon emissions and the activities we undertake that cause […]

Inconvenient food for thought

“How do we feed a growing world without destroying the planet?” asks Jon Foley’s new 3 minute video (see below). It’s a great question. To get enough food for our existing billions, we already use about 40% of Earth’s ice-free land to produce crops and livestock. And we are using this land more intensively all the time, using up more […]