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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]