Sleepwalking toward a new ecology

The pace of ecological change is quickening and I see little sense of urgency to address the negative consequences that are unfolding. The increasing speed of change is a direct consequence of two interacting drivers — resource use and climate change. The long standing processes of human use of natural resources and resulting habitat degradation have increased in scale and impact as our population has continued to explode. As defense analysts have demonstrated, climate change is both a primary driver and amplifier of change, making these ongoing trends more acute.

Will Steffen and colleagues recently published updates of the famous “Great Acceleration” graphs, which showed major socio-economic trends in resource use from 1750 to 2000. It is no surprise that none of these crucial trends show any evidence of slowing over the last decade (Steffen et al., 2015, Anthropocene Review 1–18). Although the starting point remains an issue for academic debate (Zalasiewicz et al., 2014, Quaternary International 1–8), there is little doubt that we have entered a new geological epoch whose hallmark characteristic is the impact of humans. The scientific community has declared this to be the Anthropocene epoch (my personal preference was for the term Homogeocene, but this never gained traction).

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Environmental scientist and educator; forest and climate change ecologist.

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