The Anthropocene translates roughly to “human” “times” and it is the proposed current geological period that started when the activities of human beings collectively began to have big impacts on Earth system processes, so much so that it leaves a record in Earth’s geology. While it is hard to untangle when exactly the Anthropocene should start, the leading proposal is around 1950, when human population and technology really started to grow rapidly.
The first Earth Day was organized about 2 decades after the Anthropocene “officially” started. Back then the public was already seeing how much impact humans were having on the planet and they were concerned. In the 1970s, America responded and passed all of our major environmental laws, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act. Today, 50 years later, we know a lot more about how human activities are changing the planet, including the threat of global climate change. And like those folks celebrating the first Earth Day, we again have the great opportunity to respond and protect what we love.
Stewardship in the Anthropocene
One big question with the Anthropocene is what the heck are we going to do about it? How can we respond? The concept of stewardship is helpful here. Stewardship can be defined in different ways, but generally it refers to the job of ‘caring for the land and species.’ At CMNH a number of our scientists use their research to inform how people can live and care for the land to produce things they want while taking care of nature. We want to find these beneficial land-use and stewardship practices and share them more broadly. If more people can find ways to support the human economy while also protecting the health of ecosystems, the Anthropocene may cease to be a problem.
Examples of Stewardship Research
Ancient Canyon Live Oak, Santa Cruz Mountains
Curator of Anthropocene Studies, Dr. Nicole Heller conducts field work in California, where she works to adapt conservation frameworks to better include people and their positive stewardship practices in conservation decision-making. She is working with a group of scientists, farmers, foresters, conservationists, and Indigenous tribes to map and monitor all the different stewardship practices on the landscapes and understand how those practices work together to affect ecological and social health.
Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles, Dr. Jennifer Sheridan, conducts field work in Borneo, where she works with a consortium of scientists and a large palm oil producer to assess how spatial arrangement of forest and plantation can maximize biodiversity conservation. Because deforestation for oil palm plantation is the largest driver of deforestation in this biodiversity hotspot, such partnerships are critical to effective conservation.
Curator of Birds, Chase Mendenhall is a leader in establishing methods for monitoring changes in biodiversity and quantifying factors that enhance re-diversification of human-disturbed landscapes. This work has largely been conducted in Costa Rica.
Matt Webb and Jon Rice installing decorative bird safe window film.
Since 1961, Powdermill Avian Research Center (PARC) staff have operated one of the North America’s best bird banding programs, recording the timing of bird migration and a broad variety of life history and ecological attributes of migrating birds. PARC uses their data on birds to inform a wide variety of stewardship actions across the landscape to help birds survive. In one project, PARC works jointly with the American Bird Conservancy and select industrial partners to develop window glass that birds can see and avoid collisions.
Nicole Heller is Curator of Anthropocene Studies at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences working at the museum.