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December 17, 2015 / Rob Dyball

ESA Human Ecology Symposium Accepted!

Human Ecology, Human Economy: towards good governance of the Anthropocene.

This proposal from the Human Ecology Section for a symposium at the Ecological Society of America has been accepted. Join us at Fort Lauderdale in August 2016

Further information on ESA Human Ecology Section activities, including travel awards, will be blogged here and follow us on facebook and Twitter @humanecology

Principle organizer: Robert Dyball, Australian National University and Chair Human Ecology Section. Email

Co-organizer: B Larry Li, University of California at Riverside and Co-Chair Human Ecology Section. Email

Moderator: Robert Dyball, Australian National University and Chair Human Ecology Section. Email


  1. Katherine Richardson, Copenhagen University. Email
    Title: The Ecological Challenge for Good Governance of the Anthropocene
  2. Robert Costanza, Australian National University. Email
    Title: Ecological Economics for Just and Sustainable Futures
  3. Molly Anderson, Middlebury College. Email
    Emerging Forms of Food System Governance, from Local to Global
  4. Candace May, University of Louisiana, Lafayette. Email
    Governance Systems and Livelihood Adaptations in Complex and Changing Environmental Conditions: the case of Louisiana coastal restoration
  5. Larry Li, University of California at Riverside. Email
    Building the Three Pillars in Harmony: the case of urban development in China
  6. Steward Pickett, Cary Institute. Email
    The Legacy of Past Paradigms of Governance and the Challenge for the Future

Session Description

Within a conceptual framework of human ecology, this symposium sets strategies for meeting the complex and contested challenges of living well in the Anthropocene. The first speaker, Katherine Richardson, sets Earth system thresholds above which social-ecological processes become increasingly risky and eventually unsustainable. Staying below these thresholds is a central challenge for humanity in the Anthropocene. However, many human communities currently cannot access sufficient environmental resources to maintain a minimally dignified existence. So the further challenge is to raise such individuals’ living standards above these ‘dignity floors’. The ultimate goal is for all humanity to converge on a safe and equitable operating zone, where social-ecological process are just and sustainable. Robert Costanza takes a broad, transdisciplinary, systems view of the interdependence of humans and the rest of nature in the Anthropocene. Using integrated modelling and scenario planning, he shows that conventional economics cannot deliver just, sustainable, and desirable futures. He argues for an alternate ecological economics, which could sustainably and fairly govern collective human behaviour. Molly Anderson, focuses on achieving regular and reliable access of all people to food. Through case studies, she presents new and emerging forms of governance that can deliver access to culturally appropriate food across a range of scales. Candace May looks at governance system and livelihood adaptations in complex and changing environmental conditions. She provides examples from coastal restoration in Louisiana, which identify potential sources of socio-environmental conflict and opportunities for successful governance practises. Larry Li describes large-scale urban planning and developments in China. He shows that the ‘three pillars of sustainability’ – economic, social, and environmental – do not have to be in tension, as is often depicted. Good governance in the Anthropocene, he argues, will require that these three elements are advanced together. Finally, Steward Pickett reflects on the specific challenges of good governance of social-ecological processes in the context of existing urban developments, which embody a range of problems as legacies of past decisions. Overcoming the lingering influence of paradigms that are past their use-by date is a major obstacle to achieving good governance in the Anthropocene. At the close of the last speaker’s address, all speakers will convene in a questions and answer session with the audience.

Session Justification

This symposium proposal directly relates to the conference theme of ‘Novel Ecosystems in the Anthropocene’, which is a highly appropriate theme to commence ESA’s second century. The Anthropocene is by definition the period in earth’s history when human culture emerges as a significant planetary force. In the Anthropocene it is no longer effective to study social systems and ecosystems in isolation from one another. Consequently, this symposium makes a significant contribution to ecological understanding by blending ecological insights with understandings of some of the major social and institutional drivers that govern change processes in the Anthropocene. Couched within the conceptual framework of Human Ecology, it is necessarily interdisciplinary. It demonstrates the novel synthesis of ecological and social sciences that will be a major feature of ecology in the Anthropocene. This novel synthesis will ultimately determine ecology’s future capacity to address contemporary public policy concerns, education, and outreach activities. All of the speakers are either ecologists in their own right, or relate their disciplines to ecology. Disciplines represented include ecology, ecological economics, environmental sociology, urban ecology, and food system studies, with coherence provided by the overarching framework of human ecology. The title ‘Human ecology human economy: towards good governance of the Anthropocene’ captures the core argument that if novel ecosystems in the Anthropocene are to be functional, rich, and healthy, then we need to understand and regulate the environmental impacts of the human economy. This symposia provides some perspectives on how this challenge of good governance of the Anthropocene might be met.

Session Summary

Within a conceptual framework of human ecology, this symposium sets strategies for meeting the complex and contested challenges of living well in the Anthropocene.

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