Study: A New Force of Nature Is Reshaping the Planet

Planet Earth's Atmosphere

Scientists Erle Ellis has synthesized interdisciplinary research to illustrate how human cultural practices have historically enabled the transformation of ecosystems, advancing from the use of fire to the development of global supply chains. Highlighting the Anthropocene’s environmental challenges, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, Ellis argues for leveraging human society’s social and cultural capabilities towards sustainable coexistence with nature, emphasizing cooperation and the reimagining of our relationship with the environment for a better future.

Drawing together an array of interdisciplinary studies across archaeology, ecology, anthropology, and evolutionary theory, Erle Ellis, professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, explains the evolution of the cultural practices that have enabled societies to develop unprecedented capabilities to scale up and transform the ecological systems that sustain them.

From using fire to cook food and manage vegetation to the technologies and institutions that support intensive agriculture, increasingly urbanized societies, and global supply chains stretching across the planet, human societies have evolved the social, cultural, and ecological capabilities to reshape the planet and to thrive in the process.

Ellis is a leading scientist investigating the Anthropocene, the current geological age defined by the human transformation of the planet. He is the founder and director of the Anthroecology Lab, which studies relationships between human societies and ecosystems at local to planetary scales with the aim of guiding more sustainable human relations with the biosphere. He is currently a visiting fellow at the Oxford Martin School, where he recently presented his work on Anthropocene opportunities.

Towards a better future

While human societies have gained unprecedented capabilities to improve the quality and longevity of human lives, Ellis shows that the unintended consequences of these advances have generally been negative for the rest of life on Earth, from climate change to species extinctions to increasingly widespread pollution. These disruptive environmental challenges of the Anthropocene demand action if there is to be a better future both for people and for the rest of nature.

Yet, as Ellis demonstrates, portraying the Anthropocene as an environmental crisis ignores its most important message. When people work together, they can indeed change the world for the better. The urgency of current planetary environmental challenges does not mean that narratives of environmental crisis, limits, and collapse will be more effective in bringing people together to shape a better future. Successful efforts to shape a better future over the long term require harnessing these efforts to the unprecedented social capabilities of human societies and empowering their application through widely shared human aspirations.

Connecting to each other and nature

Ellis assesses the limits of the natural sciences to successfully forecast and manage the unprecedented transformative changes in societies, environments, and interactions that exemplify the Anthropocene condition. Rather, the capabilities that have always enabled human societies to survive and even thrive under challenging environmental conditions are social and cultural, built on the institutions, practices, and narratives that enable cooperative efforts to support the common good. And if there is to be a better future for the rest of nature, these social and cultural capabilities must be extended to life beyond human societies.

“Re-emphasizing the kinship relationships among all living beings—our common evolutionary ancestry—is a start, combined with new ways to connect people and nature, from remote sensing to webcams, to nature apps, to community conservation reserves, corridor networks, and ecotourism,” shares Ellis. “Aspirations for a better future must also make peace with the past through restoration of Indigenous and traditional sovereignty over lands and waters.”

Ellis emphasizes that the societal capabilities to shape a much better future than the one they are shaping now have existed for decades. The key to bringing them into action is to motivate their implementation by increasing public realization that these capabilities not only exist but can be implemented successfully through the unprecedented planetary power of our shared human aspirations to live in a better world.

Reference: “The Anthropocene condition: evolving through social–ecological transformations” by Erle C. Ellis, 1 January 2024, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2022.0255

30 Comments on "Study: A New Force of Nature Is Reshaping the Planet"

  1. “… the Anthropocene, the current geological age defined by the human transformation of the planet.”

    The Anthropocene does not exist. Proposals to adopt the term have not been approved by the international organization (ICS) chartered to approve such changes.

    • Gordon Chamberlain | February 13, 2024 at 5:02 am | Reply

      What would you consider global climate, species and ecosystem destabilization? Do you agree with their position? 105 nations have petitioned the Int Court of Justice that the court determine gov duties to address climate change. Have you added ecocide to the crimes being committed?
      Ref Stop Ecocide International

    • What has this guy been smoking? Yes, Humans have a long history of being self centered, competitive, violent and short sighted. This comes from the evolutionary pressures and realities of survival ingrained in our dna over a million years. Unfortunately, we have only evolved to respond to immediate localized catastrophes and only a small percentage will survive the evolutionary bottleneck rhat ensues. The current potential of multiple global ecosystem collapses we face are far too large, imminent and complex to be solved by a pep rally. BTW the geological epoch we are in is called the Holocene which begin approx 10,000 years ago and is when human civiization began and started to alter and degrade the environmen. Some think a new epoch Anthropocene sould be created to define recent changes that threaten humanity. Most feel this is included in the definition of holocene I tend to agree that the holocene will not end until humans are no longer a factor in the earth geologic evolution.

    • I agree with you. There are muktiple fpg pattons. I watch the jets fan oit from different directions, and I have been in civil aor patrol before. It is military based and not sire on what reas8n pr directive, good or bad. Some daus there are 125 lines which quickly join, and then the natural rotatuon of the Earth moves thesem I’m not sire of tryibg to master weather or modify sunlight or feed more rain to avoid drought is beh8nd some of the changes- I sispect. My reason os that most of humanity acts unaware even when it is po7bted out to them. Bottomline is: Earth changes. It always has. We are in a phase where we wish to avoid large human movements due to these changes. That, imo, is behind a large % of the visible data on which this writer bases his unproven theories.

      • This will npt let me edit for typos/ will not scroll back

        • Why is there no easy edit or delete button?
          My phone keys are too tiny – I wosh to remove this illedgable mess. I will never comment here again. Waste of my time to read this theory which is not well supported by actual science. Of course growing population will have challenges. One does not turn on one’s own species to attempt to ga8n results- but as I have related more than most to wildlife, directly, I’ll say an improved consciousness is desirable. However, it may not be neccessary to couch the desirability of that result in some new model of “science”.

  2. Long on verbiage, short on practical solutions. We’ve heard it all before, with and without the equivocation indicative of protection of corporate interests and the economic and political systems that underlie the destruction of the ecological systems on which all life depends.

  3. I agree. It took all of our ancestors working together to break this environment. It is going to take ALL of us working together to fix it. There is already a lot we can all do now. Let’s see some positive articles showing how individuals can do simple things that will have a huge impact. Neil Degrasse Tyson said it best: it is a lot cheaper to fix the planet we already have than to find a new one.

    • Gordon Chamberlain | February 13, 2024 at 4:48 am | Reply

      Are the organized crime, corp leaders and politicians causing extensive, negligent long-term damage to the env committing ecocide?
      It is wise to never include all us working together to fix the sustainability challenges we are facing .
      The book the Petroleum Papers documents decades of misinfo obstruction sabotage of legislation by fossil fuel corp and politicians in response to the climate change warnings. The EU parliament has voted to add env atrocities to the EU criminal code. This action is in support of the campaign to have the extensive negligent long term damage to the env, to our life support systems (LSS) prosecuted under national and the mandate of the Int Criminal Court
      Ref Stop Ecocide International

    • I am excited to learn International and local tribunals are seeking to determine leal means to bring over-exploitative industries and nations to account.I have started by re-wilding my back lawn. My front yard I plan for water drainage control with food cultivation beds using Permacultural principles.. It’s a start, anyway

  4. I’m sure the author of this article is very intelligent. However, he or she, must have been sick the day they covered run-on sentences. If everyone at the University of Maryland talks like this, when do they get a chance to breath?

  5. Nicolaus Jan Coetzee | February 12, 2024 at 6:25 am | Reply

    Not JUST twaddle, but mostly.

  6. Whatever you want to call it, humans have been a cancer to the rest of life on planet Earth. A cancer that has the ability to do better. Trying to appeal to our ‘better nature’, to instill respect for other lifeforms… Good luck with that in all senses of the term. We’ve had all of recorded history to learn to respect human life, and just look at us.

  7. cooking food over fire makes it softer more edible, easier for the human offspring to digest. so, if humans had not been experimenting with fire there would be no global supply chains chains today! They did not know what to do with the leftovers then and nothing has really changed since. Nature thrives & its organisms existence is mainly based on decomposition of natural materials aided through diverse moisture levels, but most activity performed by this present day ecologically evolved human creature is directed towards gradual elimination of both. I feel the silent evolutionary mechanisms are at play already processing a chemical resistant plastic friendly mentally distorted humanoid form that thrives only in highly contaminted or radioactive environments (somewhat like families living on, in, around garbage dumps and urban sewers).
    Inorder to maintain and be able to enjoy the same quality of life as our forefathers our only chance may be to divert all available resource towards achieving just that (which may not be happening anytime soon!)

  8. Humans have yet to control the temperature of the Earth’s waters. Use 1/2 of all renewable enery to create ice, particularly in the winter.

  9. Yeah, mostly blah, blah, blah.

  10. Who funds Erle’s research? Another classic case of sponsored research.

  11. ye who aren’t busy Being born are busy dying.

  12. The mothods of offsetting golobal cultural influences on the climate of ecosystems world wide for an uptick of quality of life within the consesnsus I have proposed is to be pertinent to not here. My work invested on this pivotal metter can be found in the recent depths of my fauxbook/meta/Zuckerberg designated open to the public access on or off, logged in or not, posts of my uploaded and administered feed therein. If you can be pleased to filter through the dramas Ive also posted about to that same feed, it may be worth all our whiles to apply yourselves to that integral research. As the army core of engineers have ingnored myvrequests for adaptation; you and yours may be our only hope beyond doubt.

    • Just reading this, one can readily see why the Army Corps of Engineers have ignored your requests. At first, I thought maybe you had to deal with a stuck “o” key – “The mothods (sic) of offsetting golobal (sic) cultural influenced…” – but it just snowballed downward from there, making it a tough read.

  13. Gordon Chamberlain | February 13, 2024 at 4:55 am | Reply

    Are the organized crime, corp leaders and politicians causing extensive, negligent long-term damage to the env committing ecocide?
    The book the Petroleum Papers documents decades of misinfo obstruction sabotage of legislation by fossil fuel corp and politicians in response to the climate change warnings. The EU parliament in Nov 2023 voted to add env atrocities to the EU criminal code. This action is in support of the campaign to have the extensive negligent long term damage to the env, to our life support systems (LSS) prosecuted under national and the mandate of the Int Criminal Court
    This while California is suing the 5 larges oil corp for decades of fraud and climate change damages.
    To find out more about the ecocide law campaign visit Stop Ecocide International

  14. Gordon Chamberlain | February 13, 2024 at 4:58 am | Reply

    PS What is the carbon footprint of putting unnecessary images in front of our posts and that this page is not operating in dark screen in response to the climate emergency?

  15. It matters less how we maintain the status quo with corporate or political power, but more that those engaged in polluting the planet, causing species to become extinct,or depleting resources without regard toward sustainability that these corporate, and governmental structures act to rechannel their efforts to restore the natural systems they have impacted.

  16. Why is it that people can’t get into their heads, that it’s not just about sustainability, renewal of energy, practicality or creating a viable resource without impacting the environment?
    It’s definitely about the neglect of realizing that right now, if all people and organizations as well as all goes don’t come to work together, this planet and all environments will die. There will not be a future for anyone or for any born in future generations to come. The ecosystem (is) what sustains life on this planet. Without it… we all die!

  17. T.reynolds,m.a. | February 13, 2024 at 4:08 pm | Reply

    Hopeless Helpless Deluded…
    Misinformation Disinformation Rampant Obfuscation, intended or not…the Wars for truth justice,
    Compassion & humanity were lost long ago…we live in the ensuing rubble chaos & decay… enjoy your offal diet & poison cocktails…watch a lot of
    Wasteland TV infomercials..The best prepared for future foibles are the giant worms on HG Wells
    Time travel beaches in the soft glow of a dying 🌞 sun…

  18. It’s a sad day to see that our ecosystem has become so severe by pollution of all sorts from our country and so
    many other countries as well. Creating the death of many animals and some extinctions too! Including human beings. Our country and the other’s responsible too should take the bull by the horns and take a strong stand and really do something about this devastating situation that is destroying our planet as we breath and even that is costing our survival! Get tough and don’t let other’s dominate your stand! The survival of our beautiful planet depends on you!

  19. An interesting article and idea but too simplistic to be of any practical use. To those of you who believe we are still in the holoscene, picture yourself ten thousand years in the future digging for evidence of our civilisation, whatever you decide to call it,it won’t be the holoscene

  20. I started my adult working career as a chemist with a major corporation in 1970. We were in the business of making pesticides. Herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. One of the major herbicides we made was Atrazine. This chemical is not very toxic. It has an LD50 of about the same as table salt. It has enabled farmers to grow corn with no competition with weeds. I moved to Louisiana in 1974 and worked in process development. The plant here made about 120 million pounds a year of Atrazine. I was told by the environmental people in the plant that our permit to release water required less Atrazine than the water in the river.
    What I’m trying to say is that in the years I’ve been alive , the release of toxins into the environment has been cut tremendously. In the past, the saying went like this. Dilution is the solution to pollution. As my first boss told me, in the past, sending toxins into the river was like pissing in the ocean. That no longer works. In fact, some plants clean their effluent water so well that it’s cleaner than the water in the river so they don’t put it back. It’s reused until it goes away through the cooling towers where it turns into water vapor that’s basically distilled water. This is the trend now. One of the factors in bringing in a new product to the market is whether we can dispose of the effluent economically.
    We really have made great strides in reducing or even eliminating pollutants. Now if we could just get China, India, and other countries to step up and cut their pollution.

  21. Maurice Marwood | February 15, 2024 at 6:15 am | Reply

    Man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind.

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