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Earth Stewardship: science for action to sustain the human-earth system

Chapin III, FS, ME Power, STA Pickett, A Freitag, JA Reynolds, RB Jackson, DM Lodge, C Duke, SL Collins, AG Power, A Bartuska
Ecosphere 2
Journal Volume/Pages: 
2: art89

Human activities affect Earth's life support systems so profoundly as to threaten many of the ecological services that are essential to society. To address this challenge, a new science agenda is needed that integrates people with the rest of nature to help chart a more sustainable trajectory for the relationship between society and the biosphere. This paper describes Earth Stewardship, an initiative of the Ecological Society of America to provide the scientific basis for actively shaping trajectories of social-ecological change to enhance ecosystem resilience and human well-being. Principles for moving toward these goals include simultaneous attention to multiple scales and issues; consideration of both ecological and socioeconomic consequences; alignment of incentives with stewardship behavior; strengthening peoples' connections to valued places; and using demographic transitions as new opportunities for stewardship. Past experience provides guidelines for fostering Earth Stewardship. Early attention to sustainable pathways before problems emerge generally provides more cost-effective solutions than attempting to remediate entrenched problems. Defining sustainable pathways by assessing tradeoffs among alternative options requires careful attention to fine-scale processes, interactions, and feedbacks and to larger-scale controls and constraints. Many opportunities occur locally, through development of practices that match the properties of resources with the needs of their users. Substantial challenges remain at larger scales, including maintaining the diversity, productive capacity, and resilience of nature, which are essential for long-term human welfare. The knowledge needed to inform stewardship requires an interdisciplinary science that draws on the observations, skills, and creativity of a wide range of natural and social scientists, practitioners, and civil society. New questions and solutions will emerge when these groups work together to formulate the issues, design the research, and co-produce the observations, knowledge, and concepts that form the basis for solutions. The goal of Earth Stewardship is not to protect nature from people; rather it is to protect nature for human welfare.

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