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Anthroecology: A New Synthesis

November 11, 2015 - 9:45 am

Why did behaviorally modern humans and no other multicellular species in the history of the Earth gain the capacity to transform an entire planet? Biology alone cannot explain this – Homo sapiens is just another …

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The ecological systems that suppport all life, including ours

Global Change

Humans are changing the earth, causing global warming, biodiversity loss and pollution


Anthropogenic Biomes (anthromes) are the global ecosystems created by humans


Understanding the processes that sustain human populations and their ecosystems


Tools and techniques for landscape and global ecology

Global Change »

Dear Anthropocene Working Group (about that Comment in Nature)

December 8, 2016 - 4:52 am

ellis_etal_nature_comment_2016In the interests of transparency and to clarify that my critique of the Anthropocene formalization process is not a critique of the people of Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) of which I am a member, I’ve decided to post my email to the AWG informing them of my recent Comment in Nature. I’ve edited very slightly:

Dear Anthropocene Working Group,
I am sending the attached as advance notice of a Nature Comment to be published today.

Scientifically, I hope the comment speaks for itself, though I am very glad to discuss further with you any of the issues it raises.

But I also want to make sure that all of you know and understand my intentions in writing this.

Even though this comment could be seen as just a pure criticism of AWG’s efforts, that is absolutely not my intention.

I am proud to be part of AWG. I continue to admire and respect the high level of scientific collaboration and collegiality on constant display in AWG. The Anthropocene proposal has come so far - and it could not have done so without AWG and its fine leadership. Be sure that the concerns I’ve raised do not in any way represent a diminution of my respect for AWG. Even while it has become clear that I am an outlier in the group in many of my views, I’ve always felt welcomed as a colleague and I hope that this feeling will continue. I did include text relating to this in early drafts- but of course the Editors edited that out…

I wrote this as a call to move forward in Anthropocene formalization with substantial participation by social scientists and with a more archaeological, social-process-oriented approach. The emergence of human systems, shaped by social and cultural processes, are driving planetary change and leaving stratigraphic evidence. I am convinced that AWG and the Anthropocene formalization process will benefit by including a robust scientific understanding of human social processes and their stratigraphic records at regional to global scales. I think that can only come by including a very substantial number of social scientists, especially archaeologists, in AWG/Anthropocene formalization.

I have raised similar concerns within AWG earlier- but like most groups, this level of structure/process change is rarely possible through internal discussions alone. And it is also clear that many archaeologists and social scientists have opted not to engage with AWG or Anthropocene formalization - just avoiding this entirely.

So- I felt that more effort was needed to help move the Earth sciences and the social sciences closer together to embrace human sociocultural processes as Earth system processes in their own right, and to include the stratigraphic evidence of major shifts in these processes at the center of the Anthropocene formalization process.

In the end, the goal is a more robust, inclusive, open AWG/Anthropocene formalization process that is properly backed up by substantial and sustained institutional support through greater funding and other resources.

And Jan and Colin are still my favorites as leaders for such an expanded effort.

I think there are actually some real opportunities to fund this.

Either way- I hope that the Comment will stimulate a whole new level of productive scientific work on the Anthropocene by AWG and others.


Here are some news items relating to the Comment:

What Time is it? Early Anthropocene @theAGU & Straw Poll

December 20, 2015 - 8:30 pm

It was a great week at the American Geophysical Union(AGU) Meeting in San Francisco, especially with the many sessions sponsored by IGBP – the international scientific program that brought you the Anthropocene- as part of …

Blogging on!

March 25, 2015 - 1:29 am
Kuehne and Olden. 2015. PNAS

The Human Landscapes Blog is back! Last year, I began an upgrade to WordPress - and got stuck- much harder than expected.  More importantly, after starting to use twitter (@erleellis, @ecosynth, @globalyzer), I’d basically stopped blogging.
Yet, I’d been …

On the Passing of a Great Mentor

February 16, 2014 - 4:53 am

Roger M. Spanswick, Professor of Plant Biology, chair of my Ph.D. and undergraduate advisor, died on February 12, 2014 at the age of 74.
Roger Spanswick mentored me through some of the biggest transitions in my …

A tale of two planets: The Anthropocene revisited

April 30, 2013 - 2:41 am

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 …

Global tipping points in the terrestrial biosphere?

March 6, 2013 - 7:04 pm

Is our planet now threatened by rapid global changes caused by human forcing of the terrestrial biosphere past a planetary tipping point? Two different articles in Nature have suggested that the answer may be …

Thinking Systems

December 16, 2011 - 11:34 pm

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 …

Building a Toolbox for Global Thinking

September 6, 2011 - 10:24 pm

Acting locally: no problem. Thinking globally: big problem! To solve global problems, we need global understanding of local change. Yet no matter how hard we try, it remains extremely difficult to think globally. Even in …

Naturalism in the Anthropocene

August 25, 2011 - 7:58 pm

What happens when a talented science writer brings together a diverse group of ecologists and conservationists chasing a new vision of nature? If that writer is Emma Marris, the answer is: Rambunctious Garden- a new …

Rocking the Anthropocene

June 4, 2011 - 12:59 am

If media attention is any measure of popular thinking- then we have indeed finally arrived in the Anthropocene. Thanks to the leadership (and hard work) of Jan Zalasiewicz, who initiated and convened the Anthropocene Working …

Anthropocene is forever

March 26, 2011 - 4:20 pm

“Global warming is essentially forever.” states David Archer in a nice blog post at fast company about the long-term effects of our current carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Yet more evidence that the Anthropocene is …