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 […]

Thinking Systems

As the fate of the Earth system becomes ever more intertwined with human systems, “thinking in systems” has become more essential than ever. I’ve read books on systems theory (e.g. Allen & Hoekstra 1993), but a refresher is always good, so when I came across Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows (Amazon recommends!), I thought- here’s a great […]

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 […]

Brave new biosphere

What kind of biosphere do you want? Great question! And great to see it connected with beautiful prize-winning graphics at visualizing.org. But on thinking further, it seems clearer than ever that the inspiration behind this- the Planetary Boundaries concept, is going completely in the wrong direction. I had my reservations about the original planetary boundaries work- now these graphics concern […]

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 […]

On observing human nature

Ecologists are studying the least human parts of the most human ecosystems and the most human parts of the wildest ecosystems while favoring the Temperate zone over the Tropics (Nature News Article by Zoë Corbyn: “Ecologists shun the urban jungle”). That’s what we’ve learned since Laura Martin, a graduate student at Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources, came to me with […]

Used biosphere for sale (looks good on paper)

Looking for a new view of an old biosphere? Now, you can buy a wall-sized version of our first Anthropogenic Biomes map over at Maps.com. The map includes pictures of different anthromes and is based on the paper “Putting people in the map: Anthropogenic Biomes of the World”. Excellent for classroom use or anywhere else people ponder the planet. (Full […]

Getting in touch with your human ecosystem

Do you feel uneasy? Maybe your local ecosystem has taken a turn for the worse. According to ecopsycology, we humans suffer profound discomfort when our habitat feels like it is being degraded. As discussed in an article in this week’s NY times magazine. Ecopsychology proposes that “an imperiled environment creates an imperiled mind”, and an imperiled planet can have the same […]

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 […]

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 […]