Human impact on Earth is so profound and all pervasive that many conclude we have caused a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene or Human Age. We humans, with our world population approaching 9 billion people, have become a geologic change agent. Our technological effects, immense resource consumption, widespread pollution of land and water, vast landscape and climate impacts, and our sheer numbers and ubiquitous presence have altered the entire planet. There remain no parts of the Earth’s landscapes, no body of water, and no wildlife and natural places, that are untouched and unaffected by humankind. No place is so remote not to bear evidence of and impacts by humans. We could even say that nature is no longer “natural.”
There is a growing public awareness of these difficult truths, which are being reported more frequently by our media (though seldom with enough of a sense of urgency). The National Geographic Society for some years has been attempting to raise public awareness in its publications, documentary films, and online articles, including its November 2015 special issue on climate (“Cool It”), which explains that dramatic changes are happening now and will likely accelerate. Without drastic alteration in human practices and behaviors, things will likely get much worse for most of the world’s human and natural communities. One hopes a catastrophic, worldwide “Pearl Harbor” or more Katrinas and Fukushimas will not be needed to wake up humanity to the urgent necessity for an overhaul in our economies and behaviors. Earth is our only home, and for our lasting well-being we had better figure out how to achieve harmony with it. Does humankind have the ability and will to change/ameliorate our Earthwide, oceanic, and atmospheric impacts?
Those of us on the front lines of land, water, and wildlife conservation squarely face the realities and dimensions of changes happening to our Earth and its ecology. The magnitude and effects of the changing climate will require recalibration of environmental and natural resource conservation strategies.
A newly established branch of ecological science called “reconciliation ecology” studies ways to maintain biodiversity in human-dominated ecosystems. Michael Rosenzweig, in his book, Win-Win Ecology (2003), first articulated this concept based on the theory that the earth’s biodiversity cannot be saved only within designated nature preserves, and that global biodiversity can only be maintained within human-dominated landscapes; doing so will contribute to human well-being.
Below we recommend several other recent publications for your reading and contemplation.
Diane Ackerman, in her popular book, The Human Age: the World Shaped by Us (Norton, 2014) observes that climate change and its effects have become so widely visible, and wildlife and fresh, clean water are so much scarcer, that few people remain foolish enough to deny the evidence. She portrays hope and optimism that we are opening doors to a full-scale revolution in sustainability with smarter and greener relationships with our environment. Ackerman questions whether nature is “natural” any longer in this Anthropocene Age. But she portrays hopeful signs of changing attitudes and approaches, mixing human self-interest with compassion for balancing with and sustaining the “natural” environment. NASA’s “Blue Marble” photograph of the Earth from space some fifty years ago awakened people to the image of the whole planet for the first time. Now we are at a turning point. We control our destiny. We have choices. We have to decide what kind of world we want to live in, how we design that human-made sphere, and what sort of beings we wish to become. We still and forever remain part of nature.
Joel K. Bourne, Jr., a North Carolina-based environmental journalist and writer for National Geographic, in his book, The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World (Norton, 2015), awakens us to the facts that the Green Revolution of the mid-twentieth century–-whose hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers, and improved irrigation staved off world famine, but with massive ecological devastation in its wake--has about run its course and cannot keep up with human population growth. The situation is compounded by widespread wars and consequences of climate change. It is no surprise that in the four decades since Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize for launching the Green Revolution in world agriculture, the populations of the world’s plants and animals have plummeted by more than half in what E.O. Wilson calls the planet’s “sixth great spasm of extinction.” We are entering austere and desperate times, with the delayed but portending specter of Malthusian catastrophe. The world’s population, leaping toward 10 billion people, in 2013 reached the point when urban populations surpassed rural population in size. But Bourne optimistically describes hopeful changes and innovations that may come to the rescue: what he calls a Blue Revolution, combining new agricultural economies, advances in agronomy, new energy, farming and food distribution technologies, aquaculture, and other new food sources and hybridized plants. He too concludes that we either change our ways or face obliteration.
In his book, After Nature: a Politics for the Anthropocene (Harvard, 2015), Jedediah Purdy, a Duke University law school professor, concurs that nature no longer exists apart from humanity, and that the world we inhabit is a world we have made. Purdy traces the history of how Americans have shaped their landscapes, recounting the legacy of the four principal ways in which Americans see and live in the world and relate to nature (i.e., providential, romantic, utilitarian, and ecological). He challenges us to construct new approaches to meet new problems. He believes there is no alternative but to interlink ecology, economy, and political engagement. Purdy reviews American environmental law in the Anthropocene, and explains how the consequences and complexities of climate change are breaking down our familiar approaches. He concludes that democracy is not doing well, despite the fact that the self-restraint inherent in a functioning democracy is exactly what environmental politics needs; nondemocratic systems give the public no way to resist environmental destruction. Technology itself will not save the world. We need to rebuild a collaborative democratic culture, and a different kind of home for ourselves in a different kind of world that is humane and lives peaceably with nature.
Wendell Berry in his new book, Our Only World (Counterpoint, 2015), and in his article for the “Together, With Earth” Spring 2015 issue of YES! Magazine, connects the dangers facing us in the future to a failure to live wisely and fully in the present. He observes that, “The future does not exist until it has become the past. . . . None of us knows the future. Fairly predictably, we are going to be surprised by it.” Berry sensibly posits that by practicing what is good for us now, we will produce a better and less dangerous future. (He also observes that there is sound biblical advice to enjoy and foster what is good today.) “All we can do to prepare rightly for tomorrow is to do the right thing today. . . . What we must not do in our efforts of provision (for the present) is to waste or permanently destroy anything of value.” Regardless of whether or not we accept climate change as fact, it is clear that the “alleged causes of climate change—waste and pollution—are wrong. The right thing to do today, as always, is to stop, or start stopping, our habit of wasting and poisoning the good and beautiful things of the world, which once we called ‘divine gifts’ and now are called ‘natural resources.’ . . . Maybe we could give up ‘saving the world’ and start to live ‘savingly’ in it. . . . It is the presence of good—-good work, good thoughts, good acts, good places-—by which we know that the present does not have to be a nightmare of the future.”
--Chuck Roe, SCP President
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Conservation, viewed in its entirety, is the slow and laborious unfolding of a new relationship between people and land.
There is in fact no distinction between the fate of the land and the fate of the people. When one is abused, the other suffers.
From the President
SCP President Chuck Roe looked at land conservation along the route of John Muir's "Southern Trek."
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