Are humans really different and does it matter if they’re not?



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[1] A disclosure. I was the Editor-in-Chief of Ecological Monographs who, in 2012, invited Ellis to explain why humans have reshaped more than 75% of the terrestrial biosphere from “natural” biomes to anthropogenically-determined “anthromes”. I also was the handling editor for the paper, which was published as a Centennial Paper in the journal, and is available as “green” open access online from the journal’s website:

[2] This list of units of selection is not meant to be exhaustive or exclusive.

[3] As I write this, the now nearly pandemic Zika virus has encouraged even the Pope to support contraception. So perhaps the first horseman of the apocalypse may yet slow human population growth. But history is not a source of optimism on this count.

[4] Ironically, that part of ecological research that currently focuses the most on transient, non-equilibrium dynamics – the study of tipping points and regime shifts – implicitly assume that either before or after the regime shift that ecological conditions are broadly stable. Botkin (2012: xii) expressed this cognitive dissonance most succinctly: “[i]f you ask ecologists whether nature is constant, they will always say ‘No, of course not.’ But if you ask them to write down a policy for biological conservation or any other kind of environmental management, they will almost always write down a steady-state [i.e., ‘nature is stable’] solution.”