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As the study of our “house,” ecology considers interactions between humans and our environments. Hutchinson noted modern society’s effects, including from overconsumption, on the major cycles of nitrogen, carbon, and other elements, foretelling research on the Earth system. A major driver is agriculture, including the scale of pesticide use, an alarm sounded by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring. Industrial agriculture keeps crop ecosystems in a perpetual early state, Odum contends, trading off calorie production for services provided by more-mature ecosystems, such as water purification. Holling showed that ecosystems can exist stably in different states and be resilient to impacts. Pastoral ecosystems may not have a single equilibrium state, as shown by Ellis and Swift, with implications for development. Species play various roles in ecosystems, and their loss can affect key services, as noted by Ehrlich and Mooney. Conserving biodiversity will benefit from Indigenous knowledge, argue Gadgil and colleagues, including knowledge of the shifting baseline of fisheries, notes Pauly. As Earth urbanizes, rural to urban gradients present a growing research opportunity, McDonnell and Pickett argue.
Socio-environmental research has a rich legacy. Scholarship has evolved to be more interdisciplinary, as long before. Sustainability science builds on von Humboldt, Marsh, and Meadows. Research on social–ecological systems research is informed by Ostrom; resilience by Holling; vulnerability by White, Sen, and Beck; and CHANS by Marsh and Moran. Ecological economics emphasizes the economy as a subset of the Earth, leveraging Ricardo, Jevons, and Daly. Ecosystem services research, informed by Ehrlich and Odum, quantifies benefits from ecosystems. Industrial ecology views industrial systems ecologically, as done by Graedel, Ayres, and Kneese. Political ecology focuses on power relations, as did Marx, Polanyi, Shiva, and Blaikie and Brookfield. Environmental justice, pioneered by Bullard, considers unequal benefits and harms. Other systems research focuses on a given context, as on cities (Childe, Mumford, and McDonnell and Pickett), land (Melville), and food (Liangji, Malthus, Boserup, and Ho). Integrated assessments build on Meadows. Planetary and Anthropocene perspectives focus on the global scale (see Hutchinson, Boff). Legacy readings can help frame socio-environmental relationships and enrich collaborations.
Early research in anthropology and geography focused on the diversity of societies and cultures. Semple considered the land basis of societies, from hunter-gatherers to modern nation states. As against this environmental determinism, Boas argued that geography can modify and constrain culture but not create it. Rappaport showed how ritual can regulate, through feedback, the balance of broader ecosystems. Reflecting on work in the Amazon, Moran argued that socio-environmental debates reflect different levels of analysis. Humans altered human–environment relationships by domesticating plants and animals during the Neolithic revolution, as described by Childe. Mumford explores the evolution of cities and suburbs, including the separation of people from resources and urban pollution. We assume modern life affords leisure, but Sahlins shows the affluence of hunter-gatherers given lower environmental demands. How society adapts to natural hazards is explored by White, while Blaikie and Brookfield pioneer political ecology by showcasing the cycle of poverty and land degradation. Sustainable livelihoods require emphasis on equity and capabilities, argue Chambers and Conway.