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 […]

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 […]

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, […]

Guns, forests and carbon

Not only do humans burn away forests to enhance their food supply, they also do it when they battle each other! Or so says a study published by Zhen Li and his colleagues this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Li et al. 2009). By linking a careful investigation of paleoclimate indicators from sediments with burning […]

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 […]

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 […]