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 […]

On Doctoring the Planet

Our planet is heating up in a hurry! Call in the Earth doctors! Let’s fix the planet! Now that we’ve pushed Earth systems out of the comfort zone, Earth and environmental scientists are increasingly being called on to address the big questions that affect all of us, like “How can we keep the planet habitable for humans?”. While the simple […]

Looking Back at the Cradle in the Rear-view Mirror

Are humans pushing earth systems towards environmental catastrophe? Or are we just worrying needlessly about the novel state of the earth that we have now created? Or both? In a Nature Feature entitled “A safe operating space for humanity” a team of scientists affiliated with the Resilience Alliance proclaim that “To avoid catastrophic environmental change humanity must stay within defined […]

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 […]

The tortoise and the hummer (and the nano!)

Today, the Tata Nano (Wikipedia entry), the first “people’s car” of the 21st century, rolled out of a dealership in Mumbai, hitting the streets at 56 miles per gallon (and 1300 lbs; its a 4 passenger vehicle!). Compare this with the pinnacle of US auto ingenuity, the Hummer, a 6 passenger vehicle built for one, weighing in at 6600 lbs […]

Save the planet? From who?

Millennia ago, our species reshaped the ecology of this planet and we have continued to reshape it ever more rapidly and intensively ever since. Today, we directly use or alter nearly all of earth’s terrestrial ecosystems– the rest we alter indirectly through climate change. Is it still relevant to discuss “saving the planet”? If so, who or what is this […]

Globalization is good for the biosphere

Finally some good news about global change: globalization is making us cooperate! This is no minor discovery. Poverty, global warming, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss- all of these will only be solved when all of the people of all nations collaborate sustainably in doing so- though all these solutions must ultimately be local as well, because all global problems are […]

A Fair Way to Solve Global Warming

It will not be possible to solve global warming without dealing with the dramatic global and local inequalities in carbon emissions and the wealth created from them. Since the Industrial Revolution began, some people and some nations have been pumping a lot more carbon into the atmosphere than others (and you know which one you are!). Moreover, those burning the […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]