Tools for the Carbon Economy

By Jonathan Dandois Will the census of the future ask homeowners how many trees they have on their property? With humanity now faced with a changing climate under even the most stringent efforts to reduce carbon emissions, carbon accounting has become a hot topic for scientists, politicians and economists. While carbon accounting at the scale of individual households and their […]

Burning the biosphere before you were born

Millennia before humans discovered coal, indeed, millennia before there was civilization, Homo sapiens had discovered fire and was making extensive use of it. In a study just published by Bill Ruddiman and myself (Ruddiman and Ellis, 2009), we show that early farmers using fire likely cleared vast areas of forest thousands of years ago, even when human populations were small, […]

The Nature within now matters most

Should we conserve nature even if it is not wild? Humans have transformed 40% of earth’s ice-free land into crop fields, pastures and settlements, and have embedded another 37% within used and populated landscapes (anthromes). While 23% is still free of people and their use of land, these remaining wildlands are mostly found in the driest and coldest parts of […]

Rewriting the history of global climate change

For thousands of years, humans have been changing global climate, maybe even helping us avert the next ice age, all long before the Industrial Revolution. Interested? Then you should read Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate by Paleoclimatologist Bill Ruddiman. I’ve just finished reading it – and I give it my highest recommendation- especially to those […]

What is a human habitat?

by Jonathan Dandois Here is an open question to the group and readers: Is there a typical human habitat, and if so, what does it look like? More than likely, there is a distribution of different habitat types that humans occupy at a global, regional, and even local levels, but perhaps there are some common patterns. I realize that the […]

Our landscapes are reflected in the clouds

When we change our landscapes, we change the clouds above and thereby climate – this from new evidence just published by Jingfeng Wang (Wang et al., 2009) and a team of researchers in Rafael Bras’s climate lab at MIT. By observing cloud patterns and other climate parameters in deforested areas of Brazil, their work demonstrates that local and regional patterns […]

The human jungle

Are pristine rainforests the only ones that matter? We know that forests do change as they age, developing some unique characteristics when mature, and that some species cannot live outside of large swaths of ancient tropical forests. But what about the rest of tropical forests- the younger ones, the forests that people live in or have cut in recent decades […]

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 […]

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): 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 […]